Have you noticed in life that no one actually speaks the same language? We say we are English speakers and we studied English in school but it seems like there are so many variations in meaning that it is like we are speaking a foreign language to one another. It gets so complicated that it can be hard to keep up with sometimes. Language can be a tough thing to navigate.
And that’s just the challenge of English. Go to a foreign country and have a whole new set of language difficulties. You kind of expect challenges in a foreign country, at least to a certain degree. Chevrolet made a really great car in the 70s called a Nova. It was a muscle car that sold like gangbusters here. In Mexico, not so much. Why? Nova means ‘It doesn’t go’ in Spanish. Here in the US even regional differences can create some surprises. If you go to Georgia and order tea, you better like sugar because you’re going to get what we call sweet tea if you don’t specify otherwise. And depending on where you are located it is a crawdad, crayfish, or a crawfish. What other language challenges have you run into?
Then communication in personal relationships with significant others? Oh my! That’s a minefield for everyone. It’s so important to navigate well that anyone who has done premarital sessions with me will tell you they’re not a qualification course for whether to get married or not. They’re a course on communication so you can sort out whatever comes up.
Personal relationships with people we run into? An entirely different set of challenges there and a set of challenges that we run into every day. No matter where you go there seems to be commentary dedicated at tearing someone else down. Name calling, misquoting, spinning an interesting interpretation about what someone else has said or done seems like the order of the day, most days. We live in a mixed up world where the rule is ‘never read the comments’ because in the online world the comments so frequently end up in mean and vile dark places.
Which is ironic given today’s reading, don’t you think? The power of the Holy Spirit came down on the church, that’s what we call the Pentecost event and the Holy Spirit is what gives today’s body of Christ it’s power to do anything. It’s the same Holy Spirit, now and forever. The same Holy Spirit that let the early church communicate with one another is the same Holy Spirit that is too easily ignored today as we intentionally talk past and over one another as we name call, misquote, and misinterpret what others have said and done.
I think the languages here are not the spoken dialects that we’ve come to know as languages that are hard to learn and understand. Maybe it really was that and the holy spirit was acting like Google translate for everyone. Whether it was or wasn’t an early version of Google translate, the people gathered together somehow understood each other. Which I think comes down to building off foundation of being One in Christ like we talked last week. If you act like a follower of Christ, if your actions and deeds bring Christ’s love to life, if the way you treat other people is the way we kind of understood Christ treated others, then other people will understand. THAT is the language of the Holy Spirit working in each of us.
Why do we care about any of this? That’s the part that Paul is talking about in Galatians. If we manage, either through intention or through misunderstanding, to get sideways with people around us, we’re not getting the Good News of Jesus out. If you call me names or accuse me of saying things I didn’t say or doing things I didn’t do, I’m probably not listening to anything else you have to say, am I? Think about that for a second, how long does it take to stop listening to someone who accuses you of saying or doing things you didn’t do? Turning that around, how long does it take someone to stop listening to you if you are accusing THEM of saying or doing things they didn’t do?
Not a terribly effective approach to communication, is it? The silly thing everyone knows this and yet still wants to tear others down in the hopes that they’ll come to their senses and see the light of truth, whatever truth they happen to be sharing.
A better approach is to let the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts, actions, and the words we say. We can make choices to stiffarm the Holy Spirit away and do our own thing but as we’ve talked about many times, going our way rather than God’s way doesn’t usually end up particularly well for any of us. Instead, we can get out of our own way and let the Holy Spirit do what she will, guiding us to share the love of Christ through the things we say and the things we do.
Language can be a roadblock and a challenge at times. But there is an easy solution. Let the love of Christ through our actions of serving and caring for others speak on our behalf. They’ll understand exactly what we’re saying then.