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The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams

The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams is a retired Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor serving as Interim Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA. 

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

Higher Ground


Can We Talk?

Acts 2:6-11, 14-17

May 31, 1998

When I sat down to write what I wanted to say to you today, I first had to deal with two distractions. The first was my anxiety about you. Yes, you. I wondered who you were and what kind of sermon you might be accustomed to and what you might be doing as you listened to this broadcast. Are you driving down a highway with one eye on the road and the other on the lookout for a place to stop and get a cup of coffee? Are you in the kitchen making coffee? Perhaps you are fishing off a dock, or sailing a boat across a lake. I read recently that most people listen to the radio by themselves. Are you by yourself? I hope that for the few minutes we are together today, God will bless us with connectedness. I am going to trust that in the Spirit of Christ, we will be one.

Okay. So that takes care of one distraction. The other distraction I am dealing with is the wind. Yes, the wind. This evening as I write, the wind is really blowing in Georgia, which is my home. The trees in the yard bend and sway. Pine cones ping against the deck. Our springer spaniel has crawled beneath the desk where I sit. For some reason, though, I want to open the window. So what if the rain blows in? Oh, yes, fresh air is filling the room. I breathe deeply. How alive I feel all of a sudden. The dog is still afraid, but I am not. In my anxiety about how you and I, who hardly know each other, could communicate. I was about to forget about the community-creating, life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. And here I am the Pentecost preacher!

On Pentecost, the Christian church around the world recalls the dramatic events of a day long ago when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the followers of Jesus. They had come together in Jerusalem for the traditional Jewish festival of Pentecost, held each year, seven weeks after Passover, to celebrate the giving of God's law to the people. A great deal had happened in the seven weeks since the crucifixion of Jesus at the time of Passover. Indeed, the single most important event in human history had occurred. Jesus had been raised from the dead. He had ascended into heaven. The circle of the apostles, broken by the betrayal of Judas, had been mended by the addition of Matthias. Now the question was, what will be next for the twelve and for all the rest who had loved Jesus and followed him while he was on earth? What will be next for the world God loved and sent Jesus to save?

They all were there, the Book of Acts tells us, "together in one place. And suddenly, from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting." Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

Acts 2:6-11. "And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and the visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. In our languages we hear them speaking about God's deed of power.'"

Can you imagine such a thing? There I was having difficulty imagining how I could communicate with you with my southern accent and Presbyterian ways, and here is the heart-stopping testimony of Pentecost, telling us that people who are really and truly different from one another can communicate meaningfully and coherently with one another through the power of the Spirit of God. The bickering, bitterly divided world in which we live has obviously not gotten the word yet about this possibility.

The purpose of Pentecost is not to make everybody be like everybody else, or to have everybody speak the same language, either literally or figuratively, using some sort of spiritual Esperanto. "In our own language we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power," they said at Pentecost. This is the most amazing aspect of the whole thing, isn't it? Not the tongues of fire, not the sudden rush of a mighty wind, but the claim that people who are different from one another can hear and be heard by one another.

Are you married? If you are, then you know what I mean when I say that sometimes, husbands and wives can speak different languages. Are you a conservative person? Maybe you consider yourself a liberal or a centrist who cannot imagine what would cause anybody to be anything other than what you are. Perhaps you have a friend/family member who has gone in a completely different religious or ideological direction from you, and when you are together you find it impossible to talk about anything but the weather.

There are those who believe that it is no longer possible for people who are not alike to talk to one another. Just give it up and stick to your own kind. Do you agree with that? I don't. I don't believe it because I live in the age of the Holy Spirit, which began at Pentecost and will not end until the end of time. Here, now, the Spirit of God is still blowing like a mighty wind into stuffy places where only old possibilities are being considered.

Of course, if you take advantage of the new possibilities, some people might think you are drunk or crazy. On the day God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus, enabling them to communicate with one another, observers on the scene concluded that they were drunk. "All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean,' but others sneered and said 'They are filled with new wine.'"

Peter, the apostle, offered this explanation for the unprecedented phenomenon they were witnessing: 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel. 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."

The gift of the Spirit to all flesh was the sign of the beginning of the new age for which the people had longed since the time of the prophets. A new age. A new language. New life. New possibilities for community riding into our closed-up world on the wind of God.

You perhaps recall the story that preceded the story of Pentecost. It is the story of Babel. You recall how it was that all the peoples of the earth had forgotten that God was God and they were not, and how they decided to build a tower that would reach up into heaven, but God confused their speech in order to save them from their idolatry. Babble was the frustrating, enmity-building result. In Jesus, that whole downward spiral is reversed once and for all. Peter's Pentecost sermon makes it clear that, in Jesus, all things are centered and set right at last. "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deed of power, wonders and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know, this man handed over to you..., you crucified and killed....but God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power."

On the wall of my office at the church is a poster I picked up in Central America in the 1980s. At its center is the person of Jesus. Around his feet is a crowd of smiling people who are obviously enjoying one another. The words at the bottom of the poster read, "Comunidad, lugar de encuentro con Christo ~ the place of our encounter with Christ." Here is the real miracle; the closer we come to him, the closer we come to one another.

When I was a kid, I had a radio that was my lifeline. It was a beautiful aqua blue plastic, but what radio wasn't back then? I would wake up to the gravelly voice of deejay, who knew just what to say to motivate me into some sort of motion in the morning.

I went to sleep at night listening to call-in requests from strangers, with whom I felt a connection, even though I didn't know them, and they didn't know me. Whatever else, we were, all the listeners out there in radio land, we were real people, with real longings and real needs, longing to love and be loved, to hear and be heard, to accept and to be accepted.

Let me close with a little story from the south. Richard Rubin, who writes now for a fancy magazine, was a radio announcer in Alabama when he was young. His responsibilities consisted of reading news and emergency weather bulletins on the air. One night, he was reading just such a bulletin, when a tornado came through the small town from which he was broadcasting, and ripped the main transmitter out of the ground. A week later, when the station was finally back on the air, the first person to call in was a middle-aged woman named April, who shouted into the deejay's ear: "Praise Jesus! I reckoned you were dead."

We trust in God, the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life, everywhere the creator of community and understanding. Go on. Open the window where you live.

Come Holy Spirit. From your breath all creation drew life in the beginning. By your spirit, breathe new life into the children of earth now. Come, Spirit of understanding, show us all things and all people in the light of eternity. Amen.


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