“Tongues of Fire for a New Day”

An image of a wooden Cross with swirls of red and orange coming from the image. A picture of a dove flying is in front of the Cross with the text "Paentecost" in the foreground.

Presented to the First Congregational Church in Salem, NH May 23, 2021

It has long been held that communication, or rather miscommunication, is one of the leading causes of conflict in our world. And this idea makes sense; for, if you cannot communicate effectively with another person, how can we resolve the issues in our world – our country – or even those conflicts in our personal relationships. That said, communication begins with language. And, when each person is speaking the same language, it would seem easier to communicate our thoughts and feelings. A reality, I suspect, contributed to the choice of 178 countries to have a single National language. However, the United States is not one of them. We are one of six countries who do not officially recognize any language, even though many people in this country do speak an Americanized version of English. Now one would think our multilingual country would help us find grace when someone is speaking a different language. Yet, we all know that even the most faithful people sometimes forget the blessings bestowed upon us on this day of Pentecost. We sometimes forget grace and patience during conflict especially when confronted by someone who is yelling at us in a different language. Our reactions to these conflicts are a problem, but one we understand. One which I hope everyone of faith is continually seeking forgiveness for as we learn and grow together.

Yet, what about when the person before you seems to be yelling in the same language. When the words spewed forth are Americanized English but the meaning – the meaning of the words is completely different than what you understand. Does this reality cause the conflict to escalate? I believe it does. I believe we forget about Grace and attack the person back verbally.

And we have seen this lack of grace and miscommunication play out many times amongst friends – couples – and even in many churches. Recently though another version of this miscommunication of words has come to the forefront of our world. It is not new – but it is escalating conflicts here in the United States. For you see, what many people fail to realize is that we are not all speaking the same language – even when we are all speaking an Americanized form of English. Even when we all live in the same area or go to the same church. There is also a generational language. A language which offers completely different meanings for the same exact words – and this miscommunication of words amongst generations is escalating conflicts instead of the unity offered on this new day when tongues of fire appear above the heads of every disciple.

Before we continue would you pray with me?

Holy God, invoke in us the blessings of Pentecost – light the tongues of fire above our heads once more this day – reveal o’ Holy One Your Truth to the wholeness of your disciples gathered here; so, we may all understand the languages which are foreign to us and become one whole fellowship in Your Holy kin-dom. May these words speak of Your Grace and inspire Your Truth in all our hearts. 

Now beloved I do believe the conflicts, like racism, facing our world today are much deeper than a simple miscommunication of generational languages. Much deeper but still relevant as our miscommunication amongst generations is escalating the conflict of racism, a truth which we have all witnessed over the last year. For, words like racism are taking on new meanings in the world today which according to the Millennial generation refers to an overarching system of power which limits people due to their ethnicity. Therefore, just by being Caucasian in a culture predominantly white, we are considered racist. However, we must understand that this term for the Millennial generation is neutral and not one meant to attack an individual person’s character.

Yet when I was growing up in the eighties, a racist was understood as anyone who hated anyone else because of their ethnicity. In other words, the KKK individual who hated all black people, the black person who hated all Asian people, or the individual native American who hated all white people. Now this reality may not seem that different except when we realize that my experience of the X- Generation revealed an overwhelming majority who deplored racists. We generally tried to accept everyone as equal – offer the same opportunities regardless of skin color – and fulfill the dream of the civil rights movement from the Baby Boomer generation before us. Therefore, being a racist for us is seen as a direct insult to our character. 

Do you start to see the problem? The Millennial generation has been talking about racism as something like a big tent we all live under and the X-Generation has understood racism as something more akin to a knife stabbing us. In other words, we are miscommunicating, and our arguments are escalating into divisions because the basis of our communication – our words understood generationally – have become a foreign language to each other. Yet, we all want the same thing – to live as Christ who loves one another equally regardless of ethnicity.  

This reality though is not new; for, humanity has had a multitude of divisions. This truth can be witnessed in our reading from the book of Acts. The very story of the Pentecost, celebrating the birth of the church. Here on this day, devout Jews from every nation came from Parthia to Asia. These people came faithfully together yet they all spoke their own language. They were all divided by their own homelands. They were all separated by distinctions of their particular culture. However, they all came together as one people to worship God. Not knowing the church would be born; but because, they were faithfully celebrating the Feast of Weeks. The celebration of when God gave the Jewish people the Torah, fifty days after Passover. In this unifying act of faith, God rewards them and us with the miracle of Pentecost. The miracle which the theologian Christopher Matthews supposes is the reversal of the confusion of languages which happened when humans challenged God at the Tower of Babel, the story from the book of Genesis which explains why we have over 6,500 languages in the world. 

Yet, the Jewish people came together today not to challenge God; but, in the loving unity of worship as one community of faith. Although they had differences in language, God made the impossible – possible. She sent the Holy Spirit to grant all people the ability to hear one another not in the language being spoken but in their own native language. Beloved, the Good News is found in that miracle. That miracle of tongues of fire from the Holy Spirit which were placed above every disciple’s head that day – today – and tomorrow. The Good News that God will grant us the ability to hear one another – reveal the way to communicate with one another – and recreate the church in each generation. He will do this miracle for all who are willing to come faithfully together, seek the unifying worship of the divine, and welcome the rebirth happening around us every day. 

And the church – much like language – is reborn or recreated in every generation. We are not the same fellowship as our parents; nor will we be the same fellowship in our children’s age. Many of our parents would not have worshipped online, even if it had been available let alone on Wednesday evenings. However, our voices spoke up and said that worship online is how we can continue to come faithfully together, seek the unifying worship of the divine, and welcome the rebirth happening around us every day. Much like how the Millennial Generation has said racism needs to be redefined for our black sisters and brothers are still suffering. We need to come faithfully together, seek the unity of the divine, and welcome the rebirth happening around us every day. So yes, even though many of us speak a different generational language, I am also witnessing the Good News of Pentecost happening today. For even though the new definition of racism feels like an attack for the X-Generation, many souls right here in this community are hearing the Spirit move through their words. We are hearing in our native tongue the desire to bring unity and equality to all people. 

This miracle though is not about our different generations, miscommunication, or even racism, it is about God’s Grace poured out through the Holy Spirit for all people who are in conflict. The gift of Grace for all disciples who come faithfully together, seek the unifying worship of the divine, and welcome the rebirth of the church happening around us every day. A message which seems particularly important today as we celebrate the discernment, confirmation, and fellowship of Jack, Luke, and Abby. For, we are recreated into a new church by each of you and your presence, faithfulness, and voice. I have witnessed the gifts the three of you bring – the language of a new generation seeking unity and equality for all people and I have grown in my discipleship because of you. Thank you. I have also witnessed you hearing through the Spirit the language of older generations and it would seem to me that you have grown in your discipleship as well.

This blessing, beloved, is the miracle of Pentecost – the call of today – the call to everyone who hears these words – the call to let the Tongue of Fire alight upon your head and hear one another through the Holy Spirit – hear in your native language – hear the meaning of each generation’s words even if those words seem painful – feel like they are changing our worship – or sound like a foreign language. For it is only through the Holy Spirit will we be able to hear one another and be recreated as the church which we are becoming each new day. May this call of unity and acceptance guide all our interactions this week as we celebrate the rebirth of our fellowship through Christ. In God’s eternal Grace for all people, we pray. Amen

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