Speaking in Tongues?
Our family has 2 cats, although at the moment we are hosting a third while my in-laws are out of town. Their names are Charlie and Ellie and they are 12 and 8 years old respectively. Now for those of you who have pets yourselves, whether they are cats, dogs, or anything else you should find what I say next to be normal, and for those of you who don’t, it’s ok. I often talk to my cats. I don’t just talk with my cats, I also interpret their meows to be actual responses when they respond to me. For example, the other day, and this is quite a frequent occurrence, I will walk into the kitchen and even if I don’t get food or drink, Charlie will follow me in there, sit by the refrigerator, and begin to meow at me. She’s expecting to be fed. I let her know that it’s not breakfast or dinner time and that she’s just going to have to wait for her next meal to get some food.
She will also find me sitting in my recliner and just sit down at the edge of it and stare at me. Sometimes I don’t notice her right away but when I do, I tell her to stop sitting there and to just come up and sit on my lap and I pat the armrest of the chair. She then immediately jumps up on the armrest and proceeds to lay on my lap. Aubreigh has become very interested in this phenomenon lately and now she likes to ask us what the cats are saying. For example, Ellie will jump up somewhere near us and she usually immediately begins to meow at us. I tell Aubreigh that is her asking us to pet her because she wants some attention. Or as many pet owners know when you are getting ready to feed your pets and they are rubbing up against your leg and, in my case meowing, then you know that they are excited that you are feeding them. Or when you get home after a long day or a vacation and they bark or meow at you then you know that they are happy you are home. On top of purring, Ellie also chuffs when she is being pet and she is extremely happy.
There are also the sound of a cat when her tail is being stepped on and she is both scared and hurt. There is the sound of the two of them fighting and you can tell based on their voices whether or not they are playing or one of them actually feels threatened by the other one. There are so many meows, chuffs, hisses, and purrs that each one of them has their own meaning behind it and if you pay enough attention, I tell Aubreigh, the better you will be at understanding the wants, needs, and emotions of the cats.
Now I don’t claim that I actually speak cat, but I do feel that I have a grasp on their language. For those of you who are excited about the upcoming Star Wars movie about Han Solo, I guess you could almost compare it to how Han and Chewie understand each other, yet neither one speaks the language of the other. Since I don’t believe I actually speak cat, at least not fluently, this isn’t a perfect parallel to our story of Pentecost that we have today.
After six weeks of hearing stories of the disciples being locked behind closed doors and unsure of what to do next the promise that Jesus gave them has finally arrived. The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit arrives suddenly and out of nowhere. The Spirit isn’t isn’t a gentle dove that comes down out of heaven and rests on Jesus at his baptism, no, the Holy Spirit is described as the rush of a violent wind that blew through the entire house and rested on the disciples like divided tongues of fire.
Last week we heard the disciples had gone out to see Jesus ascend into heaven as we experienced the ascension text with them, but as far as the stories that we have go, this is only the second time that the disciples have left the house since Jesus was crucified. Now sure they may have been out to get food to cook their meals, but I believe that it is very significant that the only times that they left being behind locked doors is when Jesus took them out to witness the ascension and now when the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit is finally upon them.
I also find it very fascinating that, also in our texts, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit come out of nowhere and enter into the house and have a profound impact on the disciples. We don’t know what they may have been talking about or what others who may have come to visit may have said to them, but it is only the visits by Jesus and outpouring of the Holy Spirit that are able to influence the disciples enough to move them from inaction into action.
Once they move from that period of inaction to action they are back out into the world and speaking in languages other than Aramaic. The only part that makes me sad is that it does not say that any of them were speaking Cat, although it does say Egypt and we all know how ancient Egyptians felt about cats, so it’s not a total loss there. Besides the snide comment that they are filled with new wine, the only question that the people gathered there can ask is, ‘what does this mean?’
When I read this I immediately thought of which tells us that whoever believes in Jesus will do the works that he does, and in fact will do even greater things than Jesus ever did. Of course Jesus could have spoken in tongues to a great crowd of people as well if that were his and God’s will, but by having so many disciples speaking in so many languages and eventually going out into so many different parts of the world and not just in Jerusalem, the apostles are able to do so much more in terms of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to more parts of the world than Jesus probably could have ever done in his lifetime as a human on this earth. So to ask, ‘what does mean’ speaks volumes to the power of the Holy Spirit and how much it has done and continues to do in the lives of people around this entire world we live in.
Peter helps to answer the question of ‘what does this mean’ in the part of his speech/sermon that we get in our text. Peter agrees that the meaning of the speaking in tongues and people hearing about the deeds of God’s power is all about the Spirit of God being poured out upon all flesh. It’s about the people of God seeing visions and hearing about Jesus and receiving that precious gift of the Holy Spirit. It is about God working in the world through each and every person in the world. The gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t just about speaking in tongues, or to cats, it’s about putting the power, love, and grace of God into the hands of the followers of Jesus.
Some people say that the day of Pentecost, is the church’s birthday, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because it truly is the day that God’s word begins to spread like wildfire and the apostles go out into the world and begin to found churches. I think, though, we need to not focus so much on the birthday aspect, as we do about the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit.
Had it not been for the Holy Spirit talking to me I would not be standing up here speaking with you today. I would probably be a history teacher somewhere at a school in California. How has the Holy Spirit spoken to you? What has God’s Spirit said to you and how has that changed your life? How have you used the Spirit to bring change to other people’s lives?
I briefly mentioned last week that the Spirit gives us gifts with which to serve. For the apostles the obvious gift was the ability to speak and spread the word through evangelism. We have all been given gifts by that same Spirit that came to the apostles on this incredible day of Pentecost. I was clearly given the gift of being able to speak to cats. What gifts, talents, and blessings have been given to you by that same Spirit and how might you use them for the glory of God?
Rejoice this day and always that God has blessed us with the same gift of the Holy Spirit that was given to the apostles all those years ago. Don’t be afraid to answer the question when someone asks you, ‘what does this mean?’ Take it as an opportunity and a blessing to share about Jesus, And lastly, remember the final words from Peter today, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’. You have been claimed as a child of God. Go out and live in the good news of Jesus Christ.