Sermon " As the Spirit Gave Them Ability"
John 14:8-17 [25-27]
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
A woman named Amy was in a Moscow train station and she shared this story. “I’d been in Russia for a week and I don’t speak Russian or understand it. For several days, my ears had been in a sea of gibberish, random sounds that I couldn’t understand. Then, in an instant of clarity, I heard English from the other end of the platform.”
“It was like a beam of light, piercing through all other sounds, straight to my ear. American English, no less. My native language. It was a homing beacon, sharpening my senses to its signal. I felt every molecule in my body relax as I focused on the voice and understood the words. It felt like coming home.”
Have you ever been alone in a crowd? That happens when no one talks to you, or you’re a stranger and don’t know anyone, or when you don’t speak the language. It’s isolating, and it can feel really bad.
Let us think for a bit about what it meant, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually, to devout Jews from every nation under heaven, including Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, and others, living in Jerusalem, to hear the good news of the gospel proclaimed to them, each in their native language.
This language event communicated respect. It said, “You and your culture matter. You don’t have to become culturally like us to be a follower of Jesus. Who you are is worthy in the eyes of God and in ours.
Hearing the good news of Jesus proclaimed to them in their own language was inclusive and promoted equality. It said that there is a place for you in the Jesus movement and that no particular language or people have first place.
The phrase “welcome home” has incredible emotional resonance for us. It’s means more than “welcome to this house or apartment where you eat and sleep. We say “welcome home” to people coming back from war. We say it to people who have been adrift, who have tried one thing and another and finally have found their place.
“Welcome home” means welcome to the place where you belong, where you are comfortable, where you fit in, where you can relax, and certainly, where you understand and are understood.
After a long and challenging day we just want to be at home. Someone who is lost, a traveler, someone at the end of their life, just wants to go home.
When the devout Jews from all the nations under heaven, who for one reason and another were in Jerusalem where everyone spoke Hebrew, and heard the good news of Jesus Christ proclaimed to them in their native language, this language event hosted by the Holy Spirit said to them, “Welcome home.”
This is one reason the early church grew so quickly. It was a community of radical welcome, inclusion, and equality on a number of levels, between women and men, between poor and rich, and between people of different ethnicities and race, and this early church offered true welcome. Being with these Christians felt like spiritually coming home.
For many people, including women who had no legal rights and little social status, and for those who were enslaved, being in a community that welcomed and valued them and treated them as equals, where they speak publicly and lead, probably felt like a home that they had not known existed. They might have said, “Now I know what it is like to have a home.
Coming home, being at home, inviting others into and sharing our home, is one way for us to understand the Pentecost event.
A particular phrase in the Pentecost story from Acts really jumped out at me this year. The disciples were gathered together and Holy spirit arrived in wind and fire, and Verse 4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.” As the Spirit gave them ability.
The word “ability” is an important one these days as we increase our awareness of what it means to be differently abled. The point is that everyone has abilities, and they are not all the same. Some people’s ability to get around depends on their legs, and others depend on their wheelchair, but they both have ability. Some people hear with their ears and others who are deaf, hear with their eyes. Some folks are neurotypical, and some with autism are neurodivergent.
One of the ways we make a congregation home is to make sure that those with varying abilities, different ways of living and moving through the world, are able not only to participate, but to speak and be heard, to receive and give, and not only to be led, but to lead, as the Spirit gives ability.
Elijah, my son, is ten weeks old. As an infant mostly what he likes to do, and is able to do, is look at things. One thing he really likes to look at is light.
Elijah knows what room of the house he is in based on the light. His room has a lot of indirect sun from the south, and the kitchen has indirect light from the north. The living room is much darker, and the primary light source is overhead. In our bedroom we have white Christmas lights strung around the posters of our bed, and he loves to look at them. When we carry him through the house he turns his head from side to side, looking for these sources of light.
Recently I took him into San Francisco to Hans’s office because Hans’s supervisor gave him a little baby shower. It was kind of a rough day for Elijah. I’m not sure I would have noticed this without a baby, but the office lighting was pretty aggressive. It was artificial, and it was very bright.
As you walked down the various hallways the overhead lights turned on in a kind of strobe effect. It was stressful for him.
When we got back to Berkeley and I took him into our house he was visibly relieved. He relaxed. He was back in his familiar place. He was back in a place where it is quiet, where there were no strangers, and where the light is natural and dim. He was home. Even though he’s only ten weeks old, he knew it. Even without words, he could see it and he could feel that he was home.
One of the greatest gifts that God gives to us as people of faith, as children of God and followers of Jesus, is a place to be at home. We are first and foremost at home in Jesus. That is what Jesus is talking about when he said in John that when the Spirit of truth comes, we will know the Spirit, and the Spirit will abide in us, and we in the Spirit. We will be at home in one another.
Secondarily, we are given a home as the body of Christ, the church. In Christ we are the adopted children of God and therefore siblings to one another. All of us, regardless of language, ability, age, gender, orientation, income, or color, are related through Jesus our connection to Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And when we gather as the body of Christ to worship, to hear the word, receive the sacraments, and to create community together, we’re at home.
This, then, is the gift of Holy Spirit gave first at Pentecost, but now at all times, and it is the gift we have to give to a lonely world filled with people seeking identity and meaning and a place to belong. A place to be at home. Home is where we’re welcome, where we can speak and be understood, where the light is natural and not too bright, where we can be ourselves, whatever our abilities, and be loved and valued.
May we be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and may we speak words of welcome and create communities of equality and inclusion, where people, including us, feel at home, as the Spirit gives us ability. And she will. Welcome home. Amen.