Sunday, 15 May 2016

Diversity and unity

Pentecost has for the church been a time of celebration.  We decorate our buildings with red and celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as it settles upon the disciples and Apostles gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2.1-).  We concentrate on the excitement that this brings, the expectation, the wonder in tongues of fire and rushing wind.  This is the exciting side of the Spirit the rush, the high that has been experienced by movements of renewal through out the history of the church.  It's legacy is exuberant expounding of God's love for the person whose life is changed and can for many become wearing.  It can quite often be seen as being false and theatrical as it is easy to create an appearance to attract and motivate others whilst not actually being spirit driven.

Is the fire of the Spirit in your heart? (

There is an other side of this that we can read and is either overlooked as being too mundane or blown out of all proportion in misunderstanding or for its exuberance and flashiness.  I am of course speaking of the Apostles and disciples ability to talk in tongues.  In the experience that is reported it is of interest to note that the writer specifically details that all of those present heard the disciples talking in their own language (Acts 2.11b).  There was no misunderstanding of the message that was being given all heard and clearly understood, not having to struggle with the difficulty of translating from one language to another.  Diverse as they were in their own cultures and language groupings they were able to understand the message clearly and distinctly making them into one cohesive whole despite their differences.  It is quite clear that what we think, today, as speaking in tongues is not what we perceive here as we associate this phrase with glossolalia, sounds which are structured in the form of a language which may or may not be interpretable (Acts 10.44-46).  In this report each person understood their own language.

Place oneself within a place where there is a number of different languages being spoken and you can quickly become disconnected or you sharpen your focus to those conversations / words that are being spoken in a language that you understand.  In South Africa, worship services within the Anglican church could become very confusing as often anything up to 11 languages could be used within the worship.  You may find yourself next to a person saying the Lords prayer in Zulu on one side and Setswana on the other while you are trying to say it in English.  Each person hears their own language and responds within that language.  The true gift that is given here at Pentecost is the gift of communication.  The ability to transmit the Christian message within the confines of another's cultural and language norms.  If we want to do this in the normal fashion we have to spend hours, months and days just trying to fathom the internal structure and grammar of the language.  It is the one thing that we are often poor at giving praise for especially to those who have a facility for language. We often do not even think or operate on the fact that this is a gift from God which needs to be truly praised.

In the normal course of events our words and our idioms lose a portion of our thought as they go through the process of translation. The other language / culture colonises ours in ways that may lead to misunderstanding of our intent.  In the same way our content is not only conveyed in language but also in tone and in the physicality of gestures and body positioning.  Again a different language as Sign language proponents will tell you.  Each of us reads these arcane signs so that they have meaning for us but that meaning may be as diverse as our very lives and our cultural upbringing.  No wonder it appears to be a babble of noise that leads to misunderstanding in the world especially for those who do not belong to the faith community as we speak of love and act in a manner that interprets love differently for each one.  In order to be clear and ensure our message is not misinterpreted by the translation what is the message that we need to communicate.

The disciples all spoke and yet the same message was delivered.  The intent was the same for all of them.  They came out of the same place and were embedded within the same reality.  We nowadays do not.  We need to go back to basics we need to be reminded of the message as we turn to Christ and remind ourselves the "I am the way, the truth and the life." (Jn. 14.6).  This is the message that needs to be mirrored in our totality as it was in the disciples.  The act of communication was on in terms of their lives.  They acted, spoke and lived in Christ and God.  Their communication was complete as all heard and believed.  They heard intellectually, they heard physically and they heard their faith.  This is how the message becomes realised and is communicated to those around us.  It is only when we act physically in concert with living and speaking the Gospel will we be able to communicate the Gospel message.  This is when the Spirit grabs us, this is when there is growth and renewal, this is when we energise and worship; forgetting ourselves, our needs, our wants.

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