Acts 2:1-12; Psalm 104:25-31; Romans 8:22-26; John 15:26-27, 16:12-15
How many different languages do you speak? Many of you, of course, have at least a passing knowledge of at least one other language besides English. Several of you are fluent in at least one other languages. Me? It’s been a while since my last Spanish class in college, and even longer since I took Latin in Middle School. I learned a little Greek in seminary, but New Testament Greek has a pretty limited vocabulary, so that I know just enough to convincingly pronounce Greek words, like pentekoste, which means “fiftieth”.
When the day of Pentecost had come, Luke tells us in the book of Acts, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind... Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them... All of them were filled by the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Jerusalem was crowded that day with Jewish pilgrims who had come to make an offering of the first fruits of their wheat harvest fifty days following the offering of the barley harvest during Passover. Did they hear the rush of wind? Did they see the tongues of flame? We only know that they saw the disciples of Jesus Christ spilling out from an upper room into the streets, and that they heard the disciples proclaiming God’s saving deeds in all the languages of the world. Greeks heard it in Greek. Egyptians heard fluent Egyptian. Pamphylians heard perfect Pamphylian.
In many Episcopal churches this Sunday, the story of Pentecost will be read in a wide variety of languages, many of which come from countries halfway around the world, and many of which are just plain English. Even the English, though, will sound like many languages, for some will read from directly the bible. Some will read the story in their own words. There will be male and female voices, very old and very young voices, loud and soft voices. Voices that are tired, voices that are excited, voices that are angry, anxious, hesitant, happy, grieving. A wide variety of languages.
So it is here, on this campus, and on the campus just down the interstate, where children and families and faculty and staff from all around the world gather to harvest the first fruits of knowledge. Here at St. Andrew’s, whether we teach Spanish or Italian or Mandarin, whether we know Greek or Egyptian or Pamphylian or just English, we all speak many languages. Our words and actions and voices and memories and emotions, our hands and faces and postures, our experiences and our silences, our teaching and our learning and our working, all of who we are speaks.
Much of what many of you say I do not understand - it is like a foreign language to me. I don’t know the language of calculus, or economics, or set-building, or weight-lifting. I don’t know Mandarin, or robotics, or the aesthetics of art or the life cycle of sea urchins. I don’t know how to raise money or perfectly match letter days and classrooms available and courses offered. It’s all Greek - not New Testament Greek, but real Greek - to me.
We speak a wide variety of languages, and yet... We also speak just one. It is a language of passion, a language of commitment, a language of loving what we do. In the vocabulary of ministry, what we have are, I think, not just jobs but vocations. Jobs are particular incarnations of the unique and widely varied sets of gifts and graces each one of us possess. We are hired to do a job. Our vocation, though, is a calling. It is a fire somewhere far deeper down than the sines and cosines and scripts and scores and timelines and outlines and easels and ladders and laptops that are the tools of our trades. Our vocation is far more than the knowledge we have accumulated or the training we have received. It doesn’t come with a degree or a certificate or a contract. Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and theologian, describes vocation this way: “God calls you,” Buechner writes, “to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Here we are, then, the faculty and staff of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School gathered in one place. The air is still, and while we hopefully won’t see any tongues of flame it’s soon going to be hot as blazes in Mississippi. Nonetheless, the Spirit of God moves among and around and in us, just as it does each and every day we gather on our campuses and do our jobs, live out our vocations, meet the world’s deep need for creative and inquisitive young minds with our deep gladness in shaping them.
We left this chapel last August spilling out into our classrooms and offices, proclaiming truths in all our many languages, and speaking a common language of passion and compassion not unlike the language spoken by Jesus as he endeavored to teach by word and example how wondrous this life can be. Today as we leave we will spill out in different directions, ready to be still for a time, to be quiet, to rest our voices and our vocation. The Holy Spirit is in this time, too, this time of refreshment and renewal, carefully tending the embers of our heart’s fire until they are ready to burn again, moving through us not as a rushing wind but as the air we breathe, praying in us with sighs too deep for words.
Veni sancte spiritus. Ven espiritu santo. Viens saint esprit. Come, Holy Spirit. In you God’s energy is shown, to us your varied gifts make known. Teach us to speak, teach us to hear; yours is the tongue and yours the ear. (att. Rabanus Maurus, 776-856) Amen.
Artwork: "Pentecostes," contemporary Mexican icon; "Apparuerunt illis dispertitae linguae" by Salvador Dali; "Unquenchable Light" by Kathy Thaden; "Pentecost" quilt by Linda Schmidt