The Miracle of Mother Tongues (Pentecost, A)
Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Below are some notes from my Pentecost sermon on Acts 2:1-21. This is not a full manuscript of what I preached, but a general outline. Apologies for not including more details. Feel free to ask more in the comments below and/or read the texts in my bibliography.
The Miracle of Mother Tongues (Acts 2:1-21)
I grew up in an immigrant family, speaking Spanglish, a unique mixture of American English and Spanish dialects from Ecuador, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
A clear example of this is my Grandma's usual greeting to me, whenever we meet face to face or over the phone: “Hi, mi lindo niño!” This means "Hi, my beautiful child!" It mixes English greetings with Spanish words of affection.
When I hear Spanish, and especially Spanglish, I have warm feelings and associations with my upbringing. I feel closer to people who speak like my mother and my grandmother speak.
In Acts, the Holy Spirit creates the Miracle of speaking a foreign language, specifically speaking other people's Mother Tongues!
The Mother Tongue is usually reserved for private spaces between close family and friends. But on Pentecost, this private speech is spoken in public.
Instead of speaking Greek or Latin like good Roman citizens, the Spirit invites Jesus' followers to speak the intimate languages of mothers cooing their children.
“Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (Acts 2:7b-11)
The Spirit invites us to share these close and intimate spaces of love with our sisters and brothers in Christ. God wants us to join together in marvelous ways.
There is an invitation from the Spirit to the apostles: Will you continue to speak the mother tongue of your neighbors? Will you humble yourself to learn another’s language? Will you understand their food, land, history, quirks, and all the things that make them a “people”?
There is also an invitation to the hearers from all these countries. And the listeners have to decide whether or not to receive that intimacy. Will I allow these crazy foreign preachers to be this close to me? Will I accept them in this space that I usually protect from outsiders? Or will I reject and taunt them for their lavish displays of love?
“But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine’” (Acts 2:13)
The Holy Spirit is at work to restore people to unity, to heal divisions of all types. And it begins with the ability to speak to and listen to one another.
Pentecost is not about asserting our Christian dominance or exceptionalism. That is not that kind of “power” that Jesus promised (Acts 1:8).
Instead the power that the Holy Spirit gives is the power to humble oneself and submit to another people. The Spirit is giving us the power the speak new dialects because we love strangers so much.
(You can call me “mi lindo niño” and you can teach me to speak to you in your mother tongue).
This is admittedly awkward and weird. It takes risk and discomfort to welcome someone different into your close, personal space. They will change you... until your "we" becomes bigger.
Will you shrug it off as too silly or undignified, too much like we’re drunk? Or will you accept God’s invitation into the intimate?
Davis, D. Mark. “Pentecost and Shavuot” Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. Published 28 May 2017. Accessed 4 June 2017. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2014/06/pentecost-and-shavuot.html.
Jennings, Willie James. Acts (Belief: A Theological Commentary of the Bible). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.