Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
One of the many things I have been waiting upon in this wonderful technological age is instant translation. Douglas Adams in his wonderfully funny Science Fiction spoof Hitchhikers Guide of the Galaxy invented the idea of the babel fish. It was a fish that you stick in your ear. Douglas Adams wrote: “The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.” It was instant translation.
As of this writing such a device does not exist. However, there is a service called: Yahoo! Babel Fish which was a free Web-based multilingual translation application. In May 2012 it was replaced by Bing Translator, to which queries were redirected. Although Yahoo! has transitioned its Babel Fish translation services to Bing Translator, it did not sell its translation application to Microsoft outright. As the oldest free online language translator, the service translated text or Web pages in 36 pairs between 13 languages, including English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. The internet service derived its name from the Babel fish, a fictional species in Douglas Adams's book and radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that could instantly translate languages. In turn, the name of the fictional creature refers to the biblical account of the confusion of languages that arose in the city of Babel.
So along comes Pentecost and we find God reversing the idea of Babel. God decides to give us suddenly a clearer understanding of one another. Now Pentecost has been called the birthday of the Church. The miracle occurred at the hearers' ears, not in Peter's pronouncement. Everyone heard in his or her own language. Peter who spoke only a simple fisherman's blend of Hebrew and Greek proclaimed the Gospel to people from the ends of the known earth! The Holy Spirit moved over 3000 of those hearing him to make commitments to Jesus. Unity, not uniformity, resulted from Peter's preaching. Uniformity is a type of shallow conformity. It is a cookie-cutter approach. Unity, on the other hand, is a collection of diverse elements around a center strong enough to hold them together. Jesus is that center in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost. The barriers between people fell on Pentecost. The biggest barrier is still language to this day.
This celebration commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples. John's gospel states this occurred on the same day Jesus arose, but Luke places it at he Jewish feast of Pentecost fifty days later. The church calendar reflects that Luke's version determined the date of our Christian Pentecost. This is a day and season of anticipation.
The Church awaits once again the Spirit, who will guide them into all truth, equip them with all boldness, and enable them to respond to God's grace in Jesus Christ with a powerful life of witness and service.
From the beginning of time humankind has sought the favor of whatever gods they could conceive. For the purpose of blessing the hunt, safeguarding the tribe, bringing forth the harvest, and all other things that were obviously beyond human reach. That God would choose to be worshipped was not a new idea. That God would choose to send Jesus for the purpose of enabling His Spirit to dwell with humankind no human could have thought it possible. The instruction book that did not accompany you to your family at your birth is now delivered at Pentecost. How shall we live? is answered: by the leading of His indwelling Spirit. The human impossibility: union with God's Life is now proclaimed as the Divine possibility: Christ in us.
The story of the tower of Babel is the last story in the primeval history of Genesis. The stage has been the universe and God's action therein. Now, the stage is a plain in an ancient region of the world. Mankind, not God, is taking action. The action is rebellious and defiant. It seeks to know the will of God so as to be able to circumvent it. These were not modern technological people, but they were intelligent. They did not think they could build a 100-mile high tower into the heavens. They were building a ziggurat. It was a step pyramid used for observing the heavens. They were building an astrological religion and were getting ready to make astronomy their servant.
This is the concluding chapter in the story of the spread of sin throughout the world. When they were scattered, they took their "fallenness" with them to the ends of the earth. Sin, which began as alienation from God transformed into alienation from family members. Now an undivided secular society seeks to make a name for themselves. The loss of a common language is the price they paid. They lost their unity seeking their own glory.
The same Greek word, synchynno, is used in Genesis 11:7 and Acts 2:6. Universal language is not restored at Pentecost, rather, universal understanding in produced. This is the touch point of the Genesis and Acts texts. What people failed to understand at Babel became clear to the people in Jerusalem on Pentecost: God initiates movements toward humankind. Humankind cannot supersede God's initiatives, nor force God to act by any use of religion.
In Acts 2 the action takes place in Jerusalem. Luke has his Gospel begin in Jerusalem (Lk 1:5ff) and end there (Lk 24:52) Jesus' last temptation occurs in Jerusalem (Lk 4:9-12) His ministry is described as a journey toward Jerusalem. In Acts the Church begins in Jerusalem. It is a place of testing and suffering. As Jesus moved toward Jerusalem to fulfill His ministry, the Church will accomplish her mission by just the opposite action: moving away from Jerusalem into the world.
There are three manifestations of the Spirit: 1) v.2 "a rushing mighty wind" 2) v.3 "cloven tongues like as of fire" 3) v.17 "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh". The Spirit is breath. Air in motion is wind. Therefore, the breath of a new life comes with the Spirit. Fire is purifying. Fire is symbolic upon every Christian altar as the presence of God. Therefore, new life in His presence is available and it is available unto all humankind.
The outline is: 2:1-4 event; 2:5-13 reaction; 2:14-21ff Peter's speech. The day of Pentecost had come. This word is used in two other places in Luke's writings. one, Lk 2:6 the birth of Jesus, and two, Lk 9:51 the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem. The scene described in Acts 2 seems to have been prophesied in Lk 3:16. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Early on ecstatic speaking was thought to be synonymous with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Being supernaturally understood was what happened at Pentecost. How shall they hear today?
Peter's speech establishes the link between the witnesses of the Church to the ministry of Jesus. The Spirit is present wherever Jesus is lifted up and where He is lifted up, He will draw all people unto Himself. In trying to explain salvation to the Indians of the Hudson Valley the missionaries realized that there was no Indian word for salvation. In searching for a way to communicate they noticed children circling an earthworm with hot coals from a fire and watching the worm seek an exit from the ring of fire. He moved systematically around the circle and finding no exit returned to the center and curled up to die. The children would then remove and release the worm. The missionary seized upon this and said," After the worm curls up without hope, the delivering hand is salvation. Jesus is the one who delivers us from our fires."
In John 14 Jesus is saying farewell and explaining how this transition is going to go. He will return to the Father and send another to come along side and be the presence of Jesus with the disciples. Although the disciples cannot anticipate Pentecost, they are being prepared to recognize the coming of His Spirit to lead them into all truth. Philip's request to be shown the Father draws from Jesus incredulity. Jesus fixes the true line of faith by saying anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done. He is preparing them for the day when they shall receive His Spirit and in His Name go into the whole world. The word for the Holy Spirit can be translated Counselor, Comforter, or Advocate. Combined the definitions reveal a drawing along side of another to comfort and guide while at the same time saying, "He is with me." The whole church year since Advent has built to this event. All His miracles, healings, teachings, and travels have brought Jesus to this week where He equips His followers to be the Body of Christ in the world guided by His Spirit. As God sent His, so He sends us. As He could do nothing except the will of God, so we cannot do anything for Him except through our Father's will. We too are under orders. In verse 17 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit living in them will not be much different from His living with them. The authority will be the same. The purpose of our fellowship will be that none be lost. The power of our ministry will be our obedience to His will.
John 14:8-17 outlines like this: 1) vs. 8-11 The Revelation of the True God, 2) vs.12-14 Jesus' Ministry and Ours, 3)v.15 The Symbiotic Relationship between Love and Obedience, 4)vs.16-17 The Comforter is Sent. One must have God revealed. Ours is a faith of revelation. One cannot sit upon a rock in nature and come up with the Gospel. It is not an outgrowth of natural theology. Those He abides within will only recognize him.
Jesus invites all who will to receive His Spirit to continue His work upon the earth. The disciples shall do greater work. Remember that Jesus while upon this earth could save no one, but after His death and resurrection the disciples have the privilege of bring others to the risen exalted Jesus who is mighty to save. It takes faith and prayer in unison to be able to accomplish the will of God concerning Jesus' ministry through His Church. Verse 15 is the key to our effectiveness. The motive for one's obedience must be love or all is lost. As one looks at Christ Jesus, one sees the love in His eyes that kept Him upon the cross for our sake. His gaze is strengthening, because one sees in it not condemnation, rather, one sees love. Christ then prays for the Comforter to be given and God gives Him. He shall lead the disciples into all truth. Having His Spirit abiding in oneself is the gift of Jesus Christ to every Christian soul. He says according to our text continually: "Believe...Love...Obey"
It is the correct order of the Christian life.
The World is divided by geography and culture but most of all by language. We fail often to understand one another. We fail to hear one another. Pentecost the birthday of the church offers a deeper understanding between each individual. It offers a world no longer divided by language.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
“The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with the nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen it to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
Waverly Labs has a lofty goal: to eliminate language barriers with the help of technology.
The company's first product, the Pilot translating earpiece, started as an Indiegogo campaign in 2016. Now, the Brooklyn-based startup says it has sold 27,000 units and has begun shipping to its early customers.
The Pilot looks like a fairly standard pair of wireless earbuds. They fit snugly in your ear canals and can be used to play music from your phone.
But Waverly Labs says they can also translate languages in real time, enabling a conversation between two people who speak different languages. (https://www.businessinsider.com/waverly-labs-pilot-earbuds-translate-languages-in-real-time-2018-3)
And then there’s Google. One innovation that gathered a lot of press coverage in 2017 was the Google earphones that can translate. The bold promise of this novel gadget had early adopters in countries where it was first available rushing to the Google store.
But two months after its launch last October, review after review published by the influential media and tech websites showed that Google’s first wireless earphone, the Pixel Buds, failed to deliver the promise. A review in Wired UK said they “aren’t just bad, but utterly pointless.” The Guardian saw the “flawed” earbuds as “a missed opportunity.” Gizmodo said “it’s not even close to being good.”
Where Google fails, it’s unlikely anyone else will succeed, since, of course, any translation earpiece will only be as good as the underlying machine translation (MT) engine powering it. Add to that the need for advanced speech recognition, natural language generation and other technologies and the utopia of a fluent conversation in two different languages facilitated by tech is still a few years away. (https://slator.com/features/whats-translation-earpieces/)
With a global population of over 7 billion people and counting, it’s no surprise that there are over 6,000 different recognized languages spoken among us all. Add to this the unique customs of the various cultures on the planet and you’ve got some extensive language barriers to attempt to conquer in order to get to a place where everyone can communicate clearly with each other. Through the years translators have worked hard to remove these communication blocks, and today, they’re getting a big boost from technology. (https://www.itcglobaltranslations.com/removing-language-barriers-through-translation-technology/)
With the programs and translation tools available today, technology is helping to bridge the gaps language has created among the global population. As professional translators, ITC Global Translations has access to cutting edge translation tools that help us create glossaries and translation memories that are then used to accurately translate your documents. This rigorous translation process supported by our advanced translation tools allows all parties to communicate effectively regardless of how specialized the message may be.
Communicating in real time has been enhanced by computerized translation tools also. Google has introduced a free app and online tool that can translate any content including conversations. Microsoft also announced recently that they have been working on real time translations for Skype. Reports are that there are some kinks to still work out, but, the prospect is exciting none the less. New translation tools like these are making the most of technology to create an opportunity for global businesses as well as family and friends around the world to minimize language barriers and communicate effectively in real time.
Although these new translation tools are adept at telling you which words to use to communicate with your audience, they’re not able to understand the cultural nuances at play enough to localize your content. This isn’t necessarily important when you’re chatting with your pen pal on Skype for example, but, if you’re using the software for a business meeting with a new client in another country, culturally inappropriate use of language or gestures may cause you some communication issues at the very least. At this point, only professional translators can create translations that impart your entire message clearly to each individual listener, and it may be that computerized translation tools are never up to this all important task.
Computer translation tools will also likely never be able to inform you on the cultural appropriateness of your logo for example, or the choice of colors on the company website. This is why, no matter how advanced computer translation tools may become, only experienced translators can provide localization services like these that are tantamount to any business’s overall success in the global marketplace.
As technology assisted translation tools improve, many of the language barriers that exist among us will be shattered. Even if these tools can’t localize your message to the culture of the area, being able to accurately understand each other’s words goes a long way toward creating a true global community.
Noise, Alex Waibel tells me, is one of the major challenges that artificial speech translation has to meet. A device may be able to recognize speech in a laboratory, or a meeting room, but will struggle to cope with the kind of background noise I can hear surrounding Professor Waibel as he speaks to me from Kyoto station. I’m struggling to follow him in English, on a scratchy line that reminds me we are nearly 10,000km apart – and that distance is still an obstacle to communication even if you’re speaking the same language. We haven’t reached the future yet.
If we had, Waibel would have been able to speak in his native German and I would have been able to hear his words in English. He would also be able to converse hands-free and seamlessly with the Japanese people around him, with all parties speaking their native language.
At Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, where he is a professor of computer science, Waibel and his colleagues already give lectures in German that their students can follow in English via an electronic translator. The system generates text that students can read on their laptops or phones, so the process is somewhat akin to subtitling. It helps that lecturers speak clearly, don’t have to compete with background chatter, and say much the same thing each year.
The idea of artificial speech translation has been around for a long time. Waibel, who is also a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, “sort of invented it. I proposed it at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] in 1978.” Douglas Adams sort of invented it around the same time too. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy featured a life form called the Babel fish which, when placed in the ear, enabled a listener to understand any language in the universe. It came to represent one of those devices that technology enthusiasts dream of long before they become practically realizable, like portable voice communicators and TVs flat enough to hang on walls: a thing that ought to exist, and so one day surely will.
Waibel’s first speech translation system, assembled in 1991, had a 500-word vocabulary, ran on large workstations and took several minutes to process what it heard. “It wasn’t ready for prime time,” he acknowledges. Now devices that look like prototype Babel fish have started to appear, riding a wave of advances in artificial translation and voice recognition. Google has incorporated a translation feature into its Pixel earbuds, using Google Translate, which can also deliver voice translation via its smartphone app. Skype has a Translator feature that handles speech in 10 languages. A number of smaller outfits, such as Waverly Labs, a Brooklyn-based startup, have developed earpiece translators. Reviews in the tech media could reasonably be summarized as “not bad, actually”.
The systems currently available offer proof of the concept, but at this stage they seem to be regarded as eye-catching novelties rather than steps towards what Waibel calls “making a language-transparent society”.
One of the main developments driving artificial speech translation is the vogue for encouraging people to talk to their technology.
“We’re generally very early in the paradigm of voice-enabled devices,” says Barak Turovsky, Google Translate’s director of product, “but it’s growing very rapidly, and translation will be one of the key parts of this journey.”
Last month, Google introduced interpreter mode for its home devices. Saying: “Hey, Google, be my French interpreter” will activate spoken and, on smart displays, text translation. Google suggests hotel check-in as a possible application – perhaps the obvious example of a practical alternative to speaking travellers’ English, either as a native or as an additional language.
You can do this already if you have the Translate app on your phone, albeit using an awkwardly small screen and speaker. That kind of simple public interaction accounts for much usage of the app’s conversations feature. But another popular application is what Turovsky calls “romance”. Data logs reveal the popularity of statements such as “I love you” and “You have beautiful eyes”. Much of this may not represent anything very new. After all, chat-up lines have been standard phrasebook content for decades.
Waverly Labs used the chat-up function as a hook for its Indiegogo funding drive, with a video in which the company’s founder and CEO, Andrew Ochoa, relates how he got the idea for a translator when he met a French woman on holiday but couldn’t communicate with her very well. Trying to use a translation app was “horrible”. Phones get in the way – but earpieces are not in your face. The video shows what might have been: he presents a French woman with an earpiece, and off they go for coffee and sightseeing. The pitch was spectacularly successful, raising $4.4m (£3.4m) – 30 times the target.
One customer said the company’s Pilot earpiece had enabled him to speak to his girlfriend’s mother for the first time. Some even report that it has enabled them to speak to their spouses. “Every once in a while, we’ll receive an email from someone who says they’re using this to speak with their Spanish-speaking wife,” says Ochoa. “It baffles me how they even got together in the first place!” We might surmise that it was through the internet and an agency. Ochoa acknowledges that “the technology has to improve a bit before you’ll really be able to find love through the earbud, but it’s not too far away”.
Many of the early adopters put the Pilot earpiece to entirely unromantic uses, acquiring it for use in organizations. Waverly is now preparing a new model for professional applications, which entails performance improvements in speech recognition, translation accuracy and the time it takes to deliver the translated speech. “Professionals are less inclined to be patient in a conversation,” Ochoa observes.
The new version will also feature hygienic design improvements, to overcome the Pilot’s least appealing feature. For a conversation, both speakers need to have Pilots in their ears. “We find that there’s a barrier with sharing one of the earphones with a stranger,” says Ochoa. That can’t have been totally unexpected. The problem would be solved if earpiece translators became sufficiently prevalent that strangers would be likely to already have their own in their ears. Whether that happens, and how quickly, will probably depend not so much on the earpieces themselves, but on the prevalence of voice-controlled devices and artificial translation in general.
Here, the main driver appears to be access to emerging Asian markets. Google reckons that 50% of the internet’s content is in English, but only 20% of the world’s population speak the language.
“If you look at areas where there is a lot of growth in internet usage, like Asian countries, most of them don’t know English at all,” says Turovsky. “So in that regard, breaking language barriers is an important goal for everyone – and obviously for Google. That’s why Google is investing so many resources into translation systems.”
Waibel also highlights the significance of Asia, noting that voice translation has really taken off in Japan and China. There’s still a long way to go, though. Translation needs to be simultaneous, like the translator’s voice speaking over the foreign politician on the TV, rather than in packets that oblige speakers to pause after every few remarks and wait for the translation to be delivered. It needs to work offline, for situations where internet access isn’t possible – and to address concerns about the amount of private speech data accumulating in the cloud, having been sent to servers for processing.
Systems not only need to cope with physical challenges such as noise, Waibel suggests, they will also need to be socially aware – to know their manners, and to address people appropriately. When I first emailed him, aware that he is a German professor and that continental traditions demand solemn respect for academic status, I erred on the side of formality and addressed him as “Dear Prof Waibel”. As I expected, he replied in international English mode: “Hi Marek.” Etiquette-sensitive artificial translators could relieve people of the need to be aware of differing cultural norms. They would facilitate interaction while reducing understanding. At the same time, they might help to preserve local customs, slowing the spread of habits associated with international English, such as its readiness to get on first-name terms.
Professors and other professionals will not outsource language awareness to software, though. If the technology matures into seamless, ubiquitous artificial speech translation – Babel fish, in short – it will actually add value to language skills. Automated translation will deliver a commodity product: basic, practical, low-prestige information that helps people buy things or find their way around. Whether it will help people conduct their family lives or romantic relationships is open to question – though one noteworthy possibility is that it could overcome the language barriers that often arise between generations after migration, leaving children and their grandparents without a shared language.
Whatever uses it is put to, though, it will never be as good as the real thing. Even if voice-morphing technology simulates the speaker’s voice, their lip movements won’t match, and they will look like they are in a dubbed movie.
The contrast will underline the value of shared languages, and the value of learning them. Making the effort to learn someone’s language is a sign of commitment, and therefore of trustworthiness. Sharing a language can also promote a sense of belonging and community, as with the international scientists who use English as a lingua franca, where their predecessors used Latin. Immigrant shopkeepers who learn their customers’ language are not just making sales easier; they are showing that they wish to draw closer to their customers’ community, and politely asserting a place in it.
When machine translation becomes a ubiquitous commodity product, human language skills will command a premium. The person who has a language in their head will always have the advantage over somebody who relies on a device, in the same way that somebody with a head for figures has the advantage over somebody who has to reach for a calculator. Though the practical need for a lingua franca will diminish, the social value of sharing one will persist. And software will never be a substitute for the subtle but vital understanding that comes with knowledge of a language. That knowledge will always be needed to pick the nuances from the noise. (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/17/is-the-era-of-artificial-speech-translation-upon-us)
Pentecost forever protected us from the despair Kierkegaard revealed in his parable entitled The Silenced Petition. He tells of an ancient pagan who was renowned in pagandom and praised for his wisdom. Once he sailed with a truly wicked man on a journey. When the ship was in distress the wicked man lifted up his voice in prayer, but the wise pagan said to him:" keep quiet, my friend; if heaven discovers that you are on board, the ship will go under." We HAVE been found out and the word is 'come home', not 'go to hell'. Believe the Good News first broadcast from Jerusalem on that Pentecost long ago.
The Silenced Petition Is prayer hazardous? An ancient pagan, who in pagandom was renowned and praised for his wisdom, sailed on the same ship with a wicked man. When the ship was in distress the wicked man lifted up his voice in prayer, but the wise man said to him: "Keep quiet, my friend; if heaven discovers that you are on board, the ship will go under."
Life is described without His spirit by T. S. Elliot in The Waste land, (move this comma up) Movement I, The Brutal Dead. It refers not to people who are dead and buried, rather, it refers to people who are walking dead in a modern city. A crowd flows across the London Bridge. They are depressed, looking down at their feet, having given up, but trudging on. Elliot says he had not thought that "death had undone so many. (T.S.Elliot, Collected Poems 1909-1962(New York: Harcourt, Brace & World: 1933-1963) pp. 51ff)
The Day of the Locus by Nathaniel West is set in Hollywood. Here a commercial artist, Todd Hackett, works on his masterpiece that he wants to call The Burning of Los Angeles. He is killed by a mob while waiting for the arrival of movie stars at a premiere before the painting can be completed. The novel ends with his screaming blending with the police sirens. His dreams and his reality never got together. (Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locus (New York: Bantam Book, 1959)
The ebb and flow of life is like the seasons of a tree. As the cold weather approaches the tree gathers its life force
in its trunk and roots, withdrawing it from the leaves. The leaves fall off, having died, and the tree looks barren. As the warm weather approaches, the sap begins to rise in the trunk and push out into the branches and produce new growth. The disciples huddled in the upper room represented a conservation of life force. They thought they would be next at any moment. The Spirit coming was the change of season that pushed them out of that room into the world and produced new growth.
If in this pulpit I stood on a thick mat of dry Indian rubber, I could lift my hand and touch a live cable carrying thousands of volts of electricity without any harm to myself, for the simple reason that electricity will not come in unless it can go out. The same is true of the power of the Holy spirit. If I try to make my religion a soul-saving smug little bit of self-satisfaction for myself; if I say my prayers and read Daily Light or In His Steps or even the New Testament, only to save my own soul, my devotions will become so self-centered and stagnant that I shall be self-poisoned. Power comes in when it can get out. (Leslie D. Weatherhead, Key Next Door (Abingdon: Nashville, 1960) p.166)
Pentecost is not about us. Dr. Lynn Henderson, former minister of Ben Hill United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia said in a sermon about Little Jack Horner who sat in the corner eating his Christmas pie: "I have always wants some good psychiatrist to get hold of Jack Horner, because he had some kind of problem sitting off by himself in that corner. He was some kind of recluse or introvert off in that corner. He also had grandiose ideas. He didn't create the plum seed. He didn't plant the plums. He didn't bake the pie. He didn't even make the crust. He didn't make the Pyrex dish, or turn on the oven. All Jack did was wait until it cooled off and stuck in his unwashed thumb, spear a plum and say," what a good boy am I." Pentecost moves us beyond self-congratulations.
Dave Dravecky, a major league pitcher, lost his arm to cancer. He was a pitcher without an arm! Huddled in the upper room the disciples were Christians without their Christ. What good could either ever be again? Dravecky wrote a book When You Can't Come Back that tells the rest of his story beyond his loss. Upon his return home from the hospital without his arm, he found out that all his son, Jonathan, wanted was to wrestle with him and play football in the front yard; His daughter, Tiffany, only wanted to hug him; and his wife, Jan, only wanted her husband back. He could do all these important things. It was enough that he was alive. At Pentecost the Christians without Christ received again Christ in the form of His Spirit. Once again it was enough to be alive.
I cannot save myself, but God will not save me without my self. I have to give myself to Him and His Kingdom if I am to be included. The relationship is one of my giving my weakness and Him giving His strength. Pentecost reminds me of the painting Helping Hands that shows a grandfather pulling the oars against a choppy sea toward he shore. He is straining against the ocean and his veins are standing out on his neck. Every muscle is tensed to the task at hand. Seated between his legs is his little granddaughter who had her hands also upon the oars. There is no tension in her hands as they rest upon the oars. Her face is beaming with delight. When they get to shore she will no doubt tell her grandmother, "We did it!" and her grandfather will not contradict her. He knows who did what, but the fact that she was willing to be with him got her full credit. As the Church was born and moved out from Pentecost cries of "We did it!" filled the air, but we knew the truth.
A Palestinian Priest, Elias Chacour, tells of a powerful day of worship at his church in Ibillin, Israel, in 1966. During the liturgy for Holy Communion he realized how far the reality of peace was from the passing of the peace they were routinely participating in during the service. When the service was over he made a decision. He literally ran to the two doors into the sanctuary and locked them. He then marched back up the isle and turned and faced the people he loved and expressed his sadness with the present state of affairs. He said,
"This morning while I celebrated the liturgy, I found someone who is able to help you. In fact, he is the only one who can work the miracle of reconciliation in this village. this person who can reconcile you is Jesus Christ, and he is here with us. We are gathered in his name, this man who rode in triumph into Jerusalem with Hosannas ringing in his hears. So on Christ's behalf, I say this to you: The doors of the Church are locked. either you kill each other right here in your hatred and then I will celebrate your funerals gratis, or you use this opportunity to be reconciled together before I open the doors of the church. If that reconciliation happens, Christ will truly become your Lord, and I will know I am becoming your pastor and your priest. That decision is now yours." (Elias Chacour, We Belong to the Land (New York: Harper Collins, 1990) pp. 30-31) Ten minutes passed and no one moved. Then Abu Muhib, an Israeli policeman stood up, stretching out his arms, said, "I ask forgiveness of everybody here and I forgive you." Pentecost occurred for a second time in Israel.
Pentecost represents in our present society the divine possibility of His Kingdom coming in spite of the current events that bombard us from the television and radio. It is the irrepressible will of God in Spirit form, seeking those by whom He shall be taken into the world and to the ends of the earth as Good News. The resurrection was good news for Jesus, but fond his disciples a few weeks later huddled in fear, charged to carry His love to a dying world, and absolutely clueless about how this could be accomplished. Then there was heard the rush of a mighty wind, and as they say, the rest is history. Jesus' last promise was His best promise, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the ends of the earth." Pentecost proved these to be the words of a gentleman. They are the same words Stanley Livingston read to his friends at the docks as he prepared to go to Africa as a missionary. A mighty wind and tongues of fire speaking words one can understand turned the world upside down.
In many Asian cultures, it is common practice to bow upon meeting someone. The bow partly symbolizes one person encountering the divine in the other. It is a physical way of acknowledging the presence of what Christians would call the Holy Spirit in each person. Some might translate the gesture as "the holy in me greets the holy in thee."
Behind all of the debate about abortion lie two questions - when does life begin and what is the potential of that life? As bioethicists remind us, many full-fledged human beings do not have the 'potential' used to justify taking the life of the unborn child. Many people cannot speak, have arms, feel pain or tell witty jokes. Yet we regard taking their life as a crime - a crime made more reprehensible by their handicap. Indeed it is frequently the case that what appears to be an impossible impediment in the life of a person turns out to be transformed by the power of God.
St. Patrick's Breastplate, his famous prayer of the 5th century (the Lorica), contains the words:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise.
This beautiful morning prayer from the Celtic tradition also appears in various forms in many hymnbooks.
Climbing in the Apennines in Italy in the summer of 2003, in a group of nine, we had nearly reached the summit when the woman next to me said "I'm afraid of heights." Secretly wanting to ask her why she had climbed a mountain, I held my tongue. But she was glued to the spot with fear, and could not move. She reached for a hand hold in the rock, but had no confidence in any of them. It was not until I reached down from above her and firmly grasped her forearm with my own that she was finally able to go on. The firmness of my stance and grip overcame her fear.
The story of humanity growing prideful and over-reaching itself by trying to be like God has provided the theme for numerous science fiction novels and films through the years, from Frankenstein to Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde to The Invisible Man. In Jurassic Park a rich man hires a laboratory full of scientists to unlock the genetic secrets of fossils to recreate the ancient dinosaurs for exhibition in a theme park. One of the scientists, however, warns that it is dangerous to fool with "Mother Nature." The confident entrepreneur and staff of course, ignore him-until one of the beasts escapes and proves to be far smarter and more unpredictable than anyone thought possible. The bloody chaos that ensues ends amidst spectacular fireworks (how else in a special-effects driven movie?), and the characters that survive admit to the wisdom of the skeptical scientist. Whether Babel is a tower or a DNA-tampered-with dinosaur, the project will end in disaster for anyone who refuses to admit that there are some boundaries to human pride and capability.
Isaac Watts provides a good reminder of the futility of human effort in his great hymn of Pentecost:
Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove, With all Thy quickening powers,
Kindle a flame of sacred love, In these cold hearts of ours.
In vain we tune our formal songs, In vain we strive to rise;
Hosannas languish on our tongues, And our devotion dies.
Dear Lord, and shall we ever live At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee, And Thine to us so great?
(Words in public domain)
Watts himself is a good example of what God's Spirit can do with human weakness. Shortly after arriving at his first parish, one of the free churches (the young Watts had turned down an opportunity for an education at Oxford because it meant he would have had to become an Anglican), the clergyman became seriously ill. He did not fully recover, remaining a semi-invalid for the rest of his life. And yet he went on to write over six hundred hymns, plus three volumes of sermons, as well as books on a wide range of subjects-theology, grammar, psychology and more. Not bad for a man with a weak body but a strong faith!
Many people believe they can reach up and climb their way to God all by themselves. In Blessed Are the Cynical: How Original Sin Can Make America a Better Place, Mark Ellingsen cites a recent Barna Research Group poll, which reveals that only 27% of mainline Protestants, 9% of Catholics, and 30% of all Americans believe that we are not saved by our works.
Jonathan Edwards lamented the fact that many of his parishioners thought they were quite capable of reaching up to God, without any assistance from God whatsoever. According to Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden notes that most of Edwards's church members were people who were willing to admit to particular sins. But in their view, sin was not the result of a rebellious heart. Rather, as they saw it, sin was simply a failure of will power. If they just tried harder, if they simply exerted more self-control, they believed they could solve the problem of sin single handedly.
In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past can Improve our Future, Neil Postman comments that like the people at Babel long ago, we today are so fascinated by the fact that we can invent so many different things, we rarely consider whether those inventions should be undertaken. We figure that if something can be done, it should be done. According to Postman, that attitude originally emerged in the nineteenth century.
How we deal with the diversity of the people in the world around us is one of the challenges we are invited to explore at Pentecost. Our preference might very well be that life would be simpler if everyone were exactly the same. Or at a minimum, we might propose, life would be simpler if everyone at least shared the same religion. A passage in the Muslim holy book addresses that same issue: "If God had so willed, He would have made all of you one community, but [He has not done so] that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you the truth about that which you have been disputing" (Qur'an 5:48)
God reaches down and is involved in each of our lives in ways that perhaps we are unaware of. For centuries people have seen evidence of God's handiwork in creation through the so-called Divine Proportion. That number, equal to approximately 1.618, recurs repeatedly throughout the created world. For instance, if you were to measure the distance from the floor to your knee and multiply by 1.618, you would get the distance from the floor to your hip. Or if you measure from the floor to your belly button and multiply by the Divine Proportion, you get the distance from the floor to the top of your head. Or if you measure from the tip of your finger tips to your elbow and multiply by 1.618, you get the distance from your finger tips to your shoulder. That very same number likewise appears in the world around us. If you were to count the number of male bees in any hive anywhere in the world and multiply by the Divine Proportion, you would have the number of female bees in the hive. Scientists sometimes refer to that number as PHI. Perhaps some would say all of that is merely coincidence. But is it coincidence, or is it a subtle way of God reminding us that God reaches down and is involved with all of God's creation?
As the Day of Pentecost demonstrated, the arrival of the church in a community can cause quite a disturbance. According to the Daily Herald (12/14/03), residents of the Muskegon River Valley in Michigan aren't entirely happy that the word of God is coming to their area. The Harvest Bible Chapel is establishing a 615-acre property just north of Grand Rapids to provide its 10,000 members an opportunity to enjoy outdoor recreation. The property is expected to have a youth camp, an adult camp and conference center, an 18-hole golf course, two marinas, a chapel, and 101 condominiums for parishioners to use. The neighbors aren't too thrilled about the new construction. The residents of Croton Township, who number only about 3,000, wonder what is going to happen when the church facility is fully occupied. Plans say the chapel will hold 300 people, the conference center will seat 1,000, the youth camp will accommodate 480, and 404 will fit in the condominiums. Those who live nearby say that "it's like putting Cedar Point in the middle of a corn field." Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion at the Hartford Institute for Religious Research says that many mega-churches run into the same kind of opposition. Those who live close to the facilities criticize the mega-churches for not "acting" like a church. But from the mega-churches' point of view, they are acting like the church by providing their members with resources to support them far beyond the traditional Sunday morning services. Harvest Bible Chapel started with about 18 members 15 years ago when they first met in a conference room at a local high school. The church eventually grew and moved into a 100,000-square-foot former warehouse. Subsequently the church has spawned daughter churches in five different locations. John Vaughn, founder of Church Growth Today, says there are about 800 Protestant churches across the United States that have at least 2,000 members.
One of the miracles of Pentecost was the ability for different people to understand each other. Nowadays, even though both people might be speaking English, communication does not necessarily take place. In U. S. News & World Report (11/25/02), John Leo observes how certain groups use particular euphemisms that aren't always understood by other people. For instance, a "traffic-calming road insertion" is a speed bump; "unacknowledged repetitions" is plagiarism; a "relationship manager" is a salesperson; and a "persistency specialist" is a bill collector.
With the emergence of the digital world, not everyone comprehends the language of that world. The British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph (3/3/03), reported about a teacher who became upset when a student turned in an essay written in text messaging short-hand. The teacher was concerned that she was not able to decipher anything that the 13-year-old was trying to say. The girl's essay began: "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc." Translated into traditional English, the message reads: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girl friend, and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place." Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, believes that the rise of text messaging is connected to the decline in English grammar and writing skills among many young people.
The Christian Science Monitor (8/27/03) ran a feature describing how many immigrant families want their children to learn English, while at the same time retaining use of their mother tongue. According to the U. S. Census, 11% of the population was born in another country. That is the highest that percentage has been since 1930, and it marks the highest total number of immigrants in the history of the United States. At least 10 million school-aged children live in homes where families speak a language other than English. According to author Carey Myles, who wrote Raising Bilingual Children, there is a growing acceptance that a person can be an American and still have associations with another culture. That, she says, marks a significant change from earlier generations where complete assimilation into the American culture was the expected norm. Families that want to raise bi-lingual children use a variety of approaches. In some families, one parent will speak only English to the child and the other parent will only speak another language. In other families, the minority language is used at home while English is spoken everywhere else.
What was the first language that was ever spoken? While most ancient languages are now long dead, it is possible to create family tress for languages. For example, French, Italian, and Spanish are all believed to originate from Latin. But as you go farther back, just like in human genealogies, the family tree becomes more difficult to trace. According to the Toronto Star (5/4/03), researchers at Stanford University think that perhaps the oldest language was a "clicking" language, such as exists in parts of Africa even today. The sound "tsk-tsk" is about as close to clicking as you get in English. But the African clicking languages combine the traditional vowel and consonant sounds with a variety of clicks that are made by placing the tongue against the teeth. The researchers identified two geographically isolated groups in Africa that speak with clicking, and they noted that the two groups significantly differ from each other genetically. Genetically speaking, they conjecture that the differences in the DNA of those two groups would have resulted from about 100,000 years of separation from each other. Researchers then theorized that perhaps both groups had origins in the same group, which employed a clicking language. The Stanford scientists doubted that people by themselves would independently create a clicking language to replace one without clicks. Therefore, the Stanford researchers concluded that there existed a clicking language at least 100,000 years ago in southern Africa.
The United States is fast becoming a nation of many languages. According to a U. S. Newswire (10/10/03) report, the U. S. Census Bureau says that nearly one in five people, or about 47 million people, in the United States age five and older speak a language other than English at home. That is 15 million more people than in 1990. A report, "Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000" found that 55% of the people who speak another language than English at home say they speak English "very well." The West is home to 37% of those who speak another language than English at home. California has 39%, followed by New Mexico at 37%, and Texas at 31%. After English, the most commonly spoken languages at home are Spanish (28.1 million) and Chinese (2.1 million)
A fellow named Lot went in the early centuries of the Christian faith to a hermit in the Egyptian desert known as Joseph. Lot said, "Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer, and meditation, and quiet: and as far as I can I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else should I do?" Joseph stood up and spread out his hands to heaven, and suddenly his fingers began to shine like ten flames of fire. He said, "If you will, you can become all flame."
Some of the early Christian desert fathers had a saying: "If you see a young man climbing up to heaven by his own will, catch him by the foot and pull him down to earth for it is not good for him."
"Before Pentecost the disciples found it hard to do easy things; after Pentecost they found it easy to do hard things" (A. J. Gordon)
"Before Christ sent the church into the world, he sent the Spirit into the church. The same order must be observed today" (John R. W. Stott)
"When the Spirit of God comes into a man, he gives him a worldwide outlook" (Oswald Chambers)
"Watches, cars, and Christians can all look chromed and shiny. But watches don't tick, cars don't go, and Christians don't make a difference without insides. For a Christian, that's the Holy Spirit" (Tim Downs)
"Without the power of the Holy Spirit all human efforts, methods, and plans are as futile as attempting to propel a boat by puffing at the sails with our own breath" (D. M. Dawson)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
O God of possibilities open our hearts to your presence as we come to worship you. As we turn our attention to your potential in us, may we be renewed and strengthened as we sing your praises. Great Creator, your works sing your praises. You provide food for all living creatures. You open your hand and fill all creatures with good things. Your renew the face of the ground. May your glory endure forever; may you rejoice in your works and show forth your creative power in the beauty and grandeur of the natural world, in mountains, seas and plains. We will sing to you as long as we have life; may our meditations be pleasing to you, for we rejoice in you. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is in me praise your holy name! Amen.
O Lord, how quickly and easily we forget we are your children. We confess that often we are consumed by fear and worry instead of being filled with trust and faith. We forget we have a loving Father who cares for us. We act as if we are all alone without help or hope. We struggle to find our own solutions instead of turning to you for wisdom or help. We want to live our lives oblivious to you and struggle with our problems in a futile fashion. We turn to every source of help but you. Forgive us. Hear us when we cry "Abba, Father!" Remind us we are heirs with Christ of all your gifts and blessings. Amen.
O God, just as you gave gifts to the infant church in Jerusalem, so you have gifted us with love and power and self-control by your Spirit. Take these offerings we return to you as expressions of our gratitude and praise. Convert them into tangible expressions of your love and power, through the instrument of your Church. May those who receive them use them lovingly and with a sense of stewardship, for we give them in the hope that they will build your church and advance your rule of love and justice. We pray that all may come to revere you as Lord, serve your purposes, and enjoy your presence and peace, through Christ. Amen.
O God, on this day of Pentecost, we remember your gift of yourself in the person of your Holy Spirit. As the wind blew that day, ruffling through the hair of your disciples, beating against the walls of their comfortable and sedate structures, blasting through their worries and questions, mighty in its life-giving and invigorating power, so may we be moved, disrupted, set aflame!
We love you, and long to be swept up in the power of your Spirit. We hunger for the rawness and newness experienced by the early Church, for that sense of the immediacy of your Spirit, and the adventure of being empowered and being ambassadors of your love and justice. So move in us that we can see the possibilities, and so fill us with your Spirit that we are moved to live for you, both as individuals, and as a worshiping community, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.