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The Gift of Babble
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on June 8, 2014

Christ Church Andover
Year A, Pentecost
June 8, 2014

Click for the Readings for the Day of Pentecost

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be always acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

As we were preparing for marriage, Chris and I went through the required marital counseling sessions with a colleague of mine. One of the exercises that Chris and I had to do during our premarital sessions was about sussing out our ‘love languages’. If there hadn’t been snacks at this premarital counseling session, I’m pretty sure that Chris would have walked out the door at this point. But we trusted our priest and started talking about what he called the 5 Love Languages. This was important, Tad (our priest) said, because we can often state or believe that we are being loving, but whether or not the other person can see, or interpret, that *as* love, is another issue altogether. It’s not the love itself, he said to us. It is knowing that how we show it - the way we demonstrate that love - can differ from how those we care about receive it. Each ‘love’ language—words of affection; physical touch; acts of service; tangible gifts and quality, intentional time—appeals differently to different people. For example, it might be that you experience love from a partner or spouse because they do the little things for you—the picking up laundry or doing the dishes. And so it might make sense that you do the same for them. But if they enjoy being surprised with a gift, or being told ‘I love you’—if they experience love through a different lens, one needs to adapt one’s ‘language’ and how you communicate that love. What is love to one person, might not be love to another. We speak different languages, Tad told us. And it’s a lifelong process of learning together how we speak to each other communicating our love and what is important to us.

And so it is with this feast of the Pentecost.

Pentecost is that funky celebration that oftentimes unofficially, and non-liturgically, signals the start to summer. At its essence, it is the observance of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, descending upon the disciples after Jesus’ ascension. It was the promise that we would not be left alone, but given the Holy Spirit to guide us, to infuse us with the presence of God that Jesus offered while he was here with us for that short, short while. In our reading from Acts, we have the story of the Spirit raining down upon the disciples in tongues of fire, appearing on the heads of the disciples. If you are familiar with bishops’ miters, or that funny pointy hat that bishops wear (at least Episcopal bishops), those are supposed to represent that tongue of fire resting upon the disciples. It was then that the disciples and all around them could hear the gospel being proclaimed in their own language, even though the cacophony sounded like a gaggle of drunks to the crowds surrounding them.

Different Christian denominations find different meaning in this descent of the Spirit. Pentecostals imagine that speaking in tongues is the proof or realization of one’s own relationship with the Holy Spirit—in fact, being able to speak in tongues is a coming of age experience for many individuals. Other denominations claim this feast as the birthday of the church. It was the first time when the power of the Spirit was given to the people, and it was then up to them as a community to ‘be’ church; to ‘be’ the presence of God in Christ in the world. Another riff on Pentecost is one focused on evangelization. The multiple languages, the breadth of people who could hear the gospel in their own tongue, those words bringing an intimacy of experience—Pentecost was an invitation to go out and bring the gospel to others in words they understood and had meaning for them.

But this week, I have been thinking about the different languages that the disciples spoke. More specifically, that gift of language the Spirit given to each disciple. The disciples were different. We tend to lump them together in our stories, but if you go through the gospels and Acts, they come more alive as individuals. Some were fishermen, but many were not, and they all had varying degrees of understanding what was going on with Jesus—and perhaps different approaches to how they believed in this Son of God. They came from different places. They had different stories. Some were poor, some were not. They were all men, I’ll give you that, but the disciples often included the women who had gone to the tomb, and Mary and Martha—we wouldn’t have stories about them in scripture if someone had thought they weren’t worth including. Given the odds and numbers, I bet at least one of the disciples was annoying, and others irritating at times. I bet that some of them (*Peter*) were not all that bright. But this is the kicker: the gift of the Spirit was given to each one of them in a language they could understand.

It is often a miracle and wonder to me that the church continues two thousand years after Jesus lived and died and rose, given the hands that it has been placed in for so long. We are faulty. Sinful. Broken. Distracted. Lazy. Navel-gazing. But we are created in the image of God, and today, at Pentecost, we are affirmed that despite all of the ‘baggage’ we bring with us, we are entrusted with the Spirit, and really, the church. The kicker that comes with this gift and trust is that we have to work out how to communicate with each other about how to ‘be’ the church. And just like that morning in Jerusalem, sometimes the languages that we hear our fellow brothers and sisters speaking sounds like babble—a drunken chorus of crazy people. And sometimes it sounds like a gorgeous multilayered piece of music, not unlike what we hear from our choir every week. And that is our gift and challenge—the two often come hand in hand—as Christians. It is our call and vocation to listen to the different ways we are to begin to understand what the kingdom of God might look like. And just like the love languages that Chris and I learned about in our premarital counseling, sometimes the challenge is simply realizing that my language and your language aren’t always received the same way.

One of the best ways we affirm this gift is through baptism, and we will offer that sacrament to four young ladies today. We don’t know who or what these children will be in their lives yet—we haven’t vetted them, or checked them out, or tested them to see if they would be a good, contributing member of this community (or, for the record, their families!). We haven’t affirmed that they believe the same way that we do, or believe in the same things that we believe. What we do affirm and offer is to join them to us in the hope of resurrection, and then seal them with the Holy Spirit—that yes, that tongue of fire that rested on the disciples will rest also on them, giving them the varied gifts to offer to their community. And we don’t expect the same gifts from each of them—just as we, as the body of Christ—don’t expect every one of our members to have the same gifts as the next person. What we do expect is that we learn to listen to the differences and recognize that it is only in hearing the full breadth of our different ways of proclaiming the gospel, that we are bound together and see God in God’s fullness and glory.

Just as we assume that the disciples were all the same, we can assume that we are as well. And in many ways we don’t seem diverse—we trend here at Christ Church to being white, to being at a family-centered stage of life, to being nice suburban folks. But if you look more closely, and listen carefully, the reality, the truth, of the varied gifts of the Spirit given to this body of Christ in this place are obvious. We don’t need to be the same type of believer or Christian. But we are required to witness to and stay in community with those who, just like the five love languages, speak and enact their faith in ways different from ours.

The babies being baptized here today will know us and their faith because of the varied ways we live into being made in the image of God. Their understanding of God will be enlarged because of how widely God can work in and through people. And they will come to recognize how their gifts—their profound and God-given gifts, unrealized as of yet—can be part of that glorious seemingly-drunken cacophony of voices because they are of God. And you can too.


Last Published: July 8, 2014 10:00 AM