Saturday, June 3, 2017

Speaking their language

Acts 2:1-21

How many of you speak a language besides English? … (hands, comments)
I love languages. In High School and College, I studied Spanish and French. My skills are pretty rusty, but if I was immersed in the culture, the languages would come back.
In today’s reading from Acts, language plays a big part in the story. The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and go out into the crowd and speak to the people there. These folks are Jews who come from all parts of the Mediterranean area. They speak the hometown language – not Aramaic. So, they – and we – are amazed that they can understand what the disciples are saying. They are also amazed at what the disciples are saying about Jesus – that he has been raised from death.
The whole scene must have been wild – with tongues of fire and the noise of a violent wind signaling the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps today we might think of a laser light show at a Rock Concert. God certainly got their attention! Through the disciples, God was speaking their language.
The disciples were sent to tell the world, all nations, all peoples, the good news of Jesus. In order to tell the story they needed to be able to speak the language of the people in that nation. On that day, Luke reports that the disciples spoke in languages they did not know, and their listeners heard and believed.
Two thousand years later, there are few people in the world who have not heard of Jesus. They may not believe, but they have heard. When I was growing up, the mission field was Africa and Asia. Now, today, it’s next door and across the street.
It used to be we could send out a mailing telling people about an event, and they would come. It used to be that evangelism consisted of knocking on our neighbors’ doors and invite them, and they would come check us out. That used to work. But it doesn’t work any more.
We need a new method, a new language to reach out to our neighbors. Actually, it’s not a new language we need; we need to listen to and speak our neighbors’ languages.
… Here are a couple of stories about what that might look like. These are not all Christian stories, or stories of believers sharing the good news. But they do show us how to speak another person’s language.
The first story has been in the news lately. Tampa’s 10News told the story of Raven Britton who spent 5 hours commuting every day getting her kids to daycare and herself to work. The story intended to point out the need for improved mass transit in the area.
A number of people responded to the story with offers of rides and money to pay bus fare. Julio Sanchez went a step further. He owns a car repair business, and decided to give Raven a car. It’s not a new car, but it will run well and get her around town in lots less time.
Julio told a little of his own story. When he was twelve, he left Cuba on his own, and someone helped him by giving him food and a place to stay. He decided it was time to pass it on. Somehow, the Holy Spirit helped Julio and Raven speak the same language, and they were both blessed.
… The second story was also in the news. There was a report about teachers using Hip-hop rhymes to learn the facts of a lot of different topics: math, science, history. By teaching with rhythm and rhyme, students found it easy to memorize a lot of data and recall it for a test.
For example, here is a little bit from a program called Flocabulary. It helps students understand a lesson in grammar about first, second and third person, me, you, and he or she.
Everybody wants to know my point of view,
First person is me, second person is you.
Third person is he, third person is she,
Everybody wants to know my POV.
Most young people today know hip-hop songs, know the rhythms and how to rhyme, and admire hip-hop artists who do it well. If we are going to reach younger folks with the good news of Jesus’ love for us all, we need to learn to speak their language.
We can say hip-hop doesn’t belong in church. Or we can learn to use it to reach those who speak it. For example, here is a verse from a song by a Christian Rapper named Timothy Brindle. It should be spoken fast, but I can’t do it faster and know that you will understand what I am saying.
"You're the Lion, yet the Lamb/ You're divine yet you're a man/ You're Messiah and I AM / You're triumphant in your plan/ Resurrected in all power and might/ Exalted in all glory and honor—the Father showered the Christ." [The Excellency of Christ]
If you are like me, and not exactly fluent in rap, in the ways of communicating with young people, it doesn’t take much. It just takes the Holy Spirit. And a willingness to be used for God’s purposes. I figure that if the Spirit can help the first disciples speak in languages they didn’t know, the Spirit can help us too.
… One more story. ELCA Global Mission shared a story about Sudanese refugees who came to the USA years ago. Many of them were called “The Lost Boys of Sudan.” Some of them have become Lutheran pastors, and are now ready to return home to share the good news of Jesus. They will go home, even though there is still conflict, because they are needed. They know the language of their people; they know the hurts, the fears, the sad events. They wish to go to serve their people with the help of the Holy Spirit.
… Our neighbors who don’t know Jesus as a loving, forgiving, divine being are missing something. You know it, I know it. In order for them to hear about Jesus, we need to listen to them to learn their language, to hear what they are saying.
Are they hurting? Are they angry with God because a loved one died? Are they suffering from broken relationships? Are they struggling financially? Are they literally hungry? Are they seeking a God who is not angry and punishing? Are they seeking a God who loves and forgives?
When we know what language they are speaking, we can allow the Spirit to guide us and put words in our mouths – and to help the other person’s heart to hear us. When we speak their language, they can hear Jesus speaking to them.
I like to end with a challenge. Pay attention to the challenges, because sometimes I ask the next Sunday how you did! So, this week, I invite you to listen to someone, and figure out what language they are speaking. Do you understand the words? Do you understand the meaning that underlies the words? Do you find an opportunity to tell someone, in any language, that Jesus loves and forgives them?

Please pray with me. Loving God, you speak to us in many languages. Help us to hear you, and help us hear the meaning behind the words others are speaking. Help us share your love and forgiveness wherever we go. Amen.