You Are the Voice of God (Don’t Panic!)
Because we know the story of Pentecost so well, it is all too easy to dismiss it. The tongues of fire descend on the apostles and they begin to proclaim the gospel in all the different languages of the multi-national and multi-ethnic group gathered in the city.
If we stop and think for a moment, however, we might question and wonder that this is the way in which the Holy Spirit chose to manifest.
Presumably the Holy Spirit could have come and empowered the disciples to do anything.
They could have been empowered to heal people or feed people, to do the same types of miracles that Jesus did.
But instead they were empowered to speak, not just speak, but communicate. What do you make of that?
Well, it says something about the nature of the work the disciples are called to do to birth the church. It must be primarily a task of communication, both speaking and teaching.
Deeds of power are useless without the words that explain them, that tell who is responsible for them and what they mean.
That’s why we have a sermon on Sunday morning.
The Eucharist is incredibly important, but if we didn’t have the opportunity to listen and speak and reflect on Scripture and the Eucharist and what they mean in our lives, we wouldn’t get very far in our Christian walk.
And the disciples wouldn’t have gotten very far in building the church if they did not have the ability to communicate the nature of the gospel.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is first and foremost a breaking down of the barriers to communication that exist in our lives.
This has important implications for us in two ways.
First of all, we see that we need to communicate the gospel. The church is not going to grow by your just living your life and being awesome.
You have to share with other people what God is doing in your life, what makes St. Luke’s the place that you want to come to over and over again.
I know that feels intimidating in a society that doesn’t want to talk about religion, but the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone.
The Holy Spirit came to Earth specifically to empower you to do this.
You don’t have to find the words yourself.
You only have to pray and open yourself to the Holy Spirit to help you find those opportunities when your voice could make a difference in someone’s life.
But helping us to bravely and effectively evangelize is not the only aid to communication the Holy Spirit brings us.
It can help us profoundly in all our relationships.
We all have moments when we know we have to have a difficult conversation, with a loved one, with a boss or employee, even at church.
What if you prayed for the Holy Spirit to speak through you and guide you to the right words when you know one of those conversations is coming?
Sometimes those conversations catch us off guard.
Someone drops a bombshell on us and we’re struggling to react in the moment without flying off the handle or bursting into tears.
Again, what if your spiritual discipline was to pray for the Holy Spirit to descend upon you in those moments?
We know from our story today that the first gift of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to speak words of grace and truth, words of healing and transformation.
And don’t forget that communication is a two way street, and that goes double for communication invoked by the Holy Spirit.
What would have happened if the disciples had burst out of the Upper Room, aflame with the Holy Spirit and ready to speak the Word of God, and instead of crowds of people waiting for them, there were only empty streets and the sound of crickets chirping? Well, that would have been rather inglorious, wouldn’t it?
But that didn’t happen.
There were crowds of people waiting for them, people from all over the world as it was thought of in that time, people from every language and people and nation.
That was not a coincidence.
Those people, from whatever else they were doing that morning, answered a prompting within themselves to gather at this place in Jerusalem.
That inner prompting was the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit gathered them around so the disciples could speak to them and teach them the gospel.
So we immediately have to ask ourselves: do we know when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to listen?
That’s probably a much subtler and easier to ignore manifestation of the Spirit’s guidance.
We’ve all felt those moments when we just know we have to speak.
But are we actively listening for the opportunity to listen?
Communication is a two way street, and I know for myself, I could always stand to listen more than I speak.
So I invite you to join me in a spiritual discipline of praying for the Holy Spirit to empower me to listen, to help me look for opportunities to listen, to be present in my listening so I might have the gospel proclaimed to me.
We thought at first that the gift of communication is a strange way for the Holy Spirit to announce herself to the world.
Why not something more dramatic, like healing or feeding or walking on water?
But another reason this happened is to remind us that this power is not just for the original 12 or even the larger group gathered together for prayer.
This power is for us, here and now.
If the disciples had gone out and walked on water, that would have let us off the hook.
We would have thought, “Well, there’s no way we can replicate that, so no one can expect us to add 3000 members to the church the way they did.”
But all they did was speak.
So all we have to do is speak.
But somehow that is harder than all the deeds of healing and feeding and service that come so easily to us.
And here is the other reason the Holy Spirit came as the Communicator.
Remember what Jesus is called in the great cosmic sweep of eternity?
Jesus is the Word, the living Word of God, the Word made flesh.
One person said that Jesus was everything God wanted to say to us.
Jesus is a communication of the heart of God to us, in incarnate form.
But at this point in the story, Jesus has ascended to the Father.
And so the Holy Spirit comes to us, both the message and the medium, empowering us to take up the task of making the Word flesh and alive among us.
And here’s the last important thing to realize about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit speaks through us, helps us to communicate, gives us the words that break open chains and bring new life in Jesus Christ.
But along with speaking, the Holy Spirit listens.
Just as we are called to do, the Holy Spirit listens to the secret fears of our hearts, our joys both small and great, our worries, our plans, our desires, our temptations.
The Holy Spirit is always listening, and wants you to speak the truth of your heart in prayer.
I heard a story on the radio this week that was about a man who could no longer remember the sound of his father’s voice.
His father had died four years previously, and those of you who have had loved ones die know that after a time that long, it can be difficult to remember the exact tone of that person’s voice.
Just as his or her face fades away, the exact pitch and inflections he or she used when speaking grow more and more vague as the years pass.
We probably see a photograph of that person every so often, and the image of his or her face immediately snaps back to our consciousness.
But it is probably much more rare to hear a recording of his or her voice, and so that most basic of human means of communication fades from our memory, and it is another loss, another grief.
And yet, we know that if we did hear that person’s voice, even speaking just one sentence, we’d immediately know who it was, even without seeing him.
You could hear that person speak, hear that person sing, hear that person laugh, even hear that person sneeze, and you’d never mistake it for anyone else.
Instantly, a wave of memories and affection would wash over you.
Speaking and listening is among the most intimate and primal forms of communication we possess.
A parent can recognize his or her individual child’s cry among a roomful of screaming babies.
Our voices are fingerprints of our personalities and relationships.
Let me tell you something that you need to know today: there are people in this world who can no longer remember the sound of God’s voice.
There are people in this world for whom God died in their lives so long ago that the loving and tender voice of God is a distant and fading memory.
And with the loss of the memory of God’s voice, they are also suffering the loss of the memory of God’s love.
This is why it is so critical for us to embrace the gift of the Holy Spirit and speak God’s voice into the world.
We are to speak, laugh, cry, and sing with the voice of God, the voice the Holy Spirit places into our lives.
And we are to listen for the people who have forgotten the sound of God’s voice.
You will know them by their pain and by their anger.
Their voices have been silenced, and will only be heard if someone offers to listen out of true love, with no agenda other than to be present and hear their truth.
Jesus was the incarnate Word, the communication of God, the speaking and listening of the heart of God to the world.
And when he ascended to the Father, he left the speaking and listening of the Word to us, his disciples.
But as we said, we don’t have to do it alone. We were given the Holy Spirit, God’s own first gift to those who believe.
You have the gift.
You have the ability to hear the Word, and you have the ability to speak the Word.
Are you going to use it?
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