I was 18 years old the first time I preached a sermon. I had no idea what I was doing. Well, perhaps you find yourself thinking the same thing today. To make matters even more difficult, I was preaching my first sermon to an all Spanish speaking congregation in Leon, Nicaragua. So there I was--- a recent high school graduate standing at the front of a beautiful sanctuary in Leon with an incredibly patient translator. I would speak a line aloud...pause...and he would deliver it to the gathering more eloquently than the original. I really should have studied more Español in high school.
On Pentecost, we are confronted with a bizarre story in Acts in which the early followers of Jesus, shortly after Jesus' death, are speaking to a diverse gathering of people, women and men, Jews and Gentiles. While Latin was the official language in first-century Roman occupation, most people would have been somewhat familiar with Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic depending on your region and religion. However, while first-century people may have been familiar with multiple languages, people usually only conversed in their native tongue. This is one of the reasons that the in-breaking of God's Spirit during Pentecost is a profound and transformative political event in the life of first-century Jesus followers.
In Acts 2, Luke writes, "All the people present are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in languages they’ve never spoken, as the Spirit empowers them...They are amazed because each of them can hear the group speaking in their native languages."
The Spirit empowers Jesus' disciples to speak of the transformative good news of Jesus Christ and allows them to be heard in every person's native language. In this moment, the Spirit sets ablaze all that divides and distinguishes this diverse group of people gathered on Pentecost. God's love is personal and intimate. God's Kingdom calls each person to set ablaze prejudices and distinctions that segregate God's people and invites everyone to be participants in God's radical movement of love. As Luke says, "God's love makes no distinctions." The Spirit shows no favoritism for a single tribe, people group, ethnicity, gender, or religion, but rather moves into the life of each individual, transforming us into deeper love.
The skeptics at Pentecost are left scratching their heads, "Ok, but what does this all mean?" It means that the Temple curtain has torn and God's Spirit is on the loose bringing liberation to the oppressed and hope to the hopeless, always undermining the powers and systems of oppression by infusing each of us with the power and ability to love without distinction.