Tonight I get “hooded” at Lenoir Rhyne University. Tonight this Energizer Bunny, now at rest deep within this Spirit moment, really is awash in gratitude. This bunny could have never hopped so far had others not been walking with me, crying with me, pushing me—and dare I say, helping me move through a host of languages, i.e. the internal language of academics, the process language of the Church, the relational language of perception, the subtle language of possibility.
Although I had a fine seminary education my ordination track was through the TEEM process. It did not require MDIV completion. So I entered service to the Church a few credit hours short of MDIV degree completion. The MDIV was a goal—not a requirement—but the journey was not easy, not even close—and it would never have been possible had an incredibly faithful and capable community not left room in my process so to that rather than receive a TEEM certificate (which would essentially empower me to work in the Church, but not empower me to move forward in academic study) I could complete an MDIV. And now it is finished!!!!!!
One cannot know how many strains of language have been spoken and traversed to bring this day about. This certainly feels like one of those moments when one hears and recognizes another language—a life changing language. We Lutherans call this a moment of “Living Word.” It’s a word that changes us by its having been spoken. It is always external to us, always comes to us from an outside source. In my life I have heard it when:
- Harriet said, “Yes.” After I’d asked her, “Will you please marry me?”
- Dr. Troutman said, at Sean’s birth, “Come, see your son crowning.”
- Dr. Dorminey said, upon Stephen’s birth, “He’s here.”
- The Florida-Bahamas Synod Candidacy Committee said, “We look forward to journeying with you as you enter seminary to discern a call.”
- Over the phone Grandmother said, “Your granddaddy is dying. Come home.”
In all of those moments, “Living Word” shifted my world. Sometimes the word came in a language of joy, sometimes it came in a language of sorrow, sometimes it even came as a language of apocalypse. But in every case—-the language has at once been both familiar and unfamiliar, has at once been both hope and fear, has at once been both creation and apocalypse.
The language called “in” to me and called “out” of me a new reality and the new reality seemed to be spoken in my mother tongue; one that seemed natural, organic, and although I never seem to recall having been intentionally taught it. It seemed as though I’d always known it. This is the miracle that we know as Pentecost. This is the power of the “Living Word” that connects all, permeates all, encompasses all, transcends all. It brings to our perception the revelations and acts of God. It is what brings presence to relationships and takes language past the movement of data into the forming of real connection, authentic relationship, union with God and others.
We hear it in the words of our beloved. We hear it in the words of creation. We hear it in the words of vocational affirmation. We hear it in the words of a reality dying away.
These words affirm our worth, call us into a new life, declare our vocation, and summon us to die away. In all of these there is Truth. Truth that takes us from one reality into another. Truth that can be so easily lost if we get caught up in the sounds and sights of Pentecost. Aren’t we so easily captivated by all of the sounds? Aren’t we entranced by the flaming tongues?
St. Luke wrote,
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:1-21, NRSV)
It is so easy to lose the “Truth” communicated by living word should the flash and glitz of Pentecost overtake and overpower the story. The flaming tongues are not the story. The rushing wind is not the story. The multiplicity of languages is not the story.
Isn’t the story found in the hearing?
When your own story took flight and became enriched with meaning, wasn’t it because of the hearing rather than the hoopla? Vv. 7 & 8 are the point of the Pentecost Acts text aren’t they? “Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”
The tongues, winds, languages are the fanfare that give way to the hearing of our own native language. Apart from hearing, none of the fanfare has any worth. The power of those symbols comes only from the hearing. The hearing makes the symbols worthy.
I do not say that the symbols have no value—yet I do say that the value of the symbols is found in the hearing and that the symbols only serve to be a conduit that affords us a reception point for the miracle of hearing: presence, relationship, affirmation, vocation, etc., in our own native language. The symbols are the frame, not the picture. They are the star, not the constellation.
They draw us into the space where empowerment moves us to receive grace gifts in our own native language amidst the blur of other languages around us. And isn’t that what is happening in the text, the empowerment of people to receive the gift of the Gospel in their own native language? Aren’t our native languages those spaces where real presence, authentic being, and Truth revealed? Aren’t those the spaces where acts of God are made known? And when stories come “in” to us and “out” of us in our native language, aren’t we then at our most powerful, beautiful, and effective? Aren’t we then living Pentecost?