When you think of evolution you normally don’t jump to language. However, language does evolve and morph. Every year new words are added to Webster’s Dictionary. Twenty five years ago the word text was a noun and not a verb. A text was a book or manual. Now we text. Or, how about “Selfie?” Twenty five years ago if I had said, “I took a selfie” people would have looked at me like I was bonkers. These are just examples of how technology has changed the language; however, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Most of us in America believe that English is our national language. We don’t speak English. We speak American, and yes that is a language. If you lived with an English person for as long as I have you would know there is a difference. Americans and Brits not only have totally different dialects our vocabulary is different and we spell the same words differently. Time and distance changed the way Americans speak and thus a whole new form of English was created. If you don’t think that’s the case then ask yourself why people on the West coast sound so different from people in New England, the South and the Mid-west? Time and distance changed our dialects. These changes have occurred in just one language now throw in all the other languages throughout the world and what we have is a huge mumble jumble of confusion.
The hardest part about language is how necessary it is for relationship building. Granted, there are other ways of communicating aside from spoken language, but the ability to share thoughts and feelings with others is essential. It’s difficult enough to convey our thoughts and feelings in our own language and culture, but think how difficult it must be to translate those thoughts and feelings in another language? It makes me wonder why God chose to populate the world with so many different languages. I understand why diversity is needed in the world because homogenization leads to a pretty shallow gene pool. But, why did languages have to be part of that diversity? Wouldn’t it be easier to just have one language?
It may be easier, but it would also be limiting. In creation God created diversity and in diversity the fullness of creation can flourish. Language is used to describe feelings, emotions, experiences, ideas, beliefs, the list goes on and on. Each language has its own unique way of understanding the world through its cultural lens. In our diversity we experience the world around us differently and we have different ways of conveying those differences. If we only had one language then our ability to articulate our different understanding of the world would be limited. We need other languages and cultures to fully appreciate God’s beautiful work of creation.
Pentecost and the fiery tongues is affirmation that diversity of languages and cultures are all part of God’s plan. When the Holy Spirit fills the area and the disciples begin to speak they speak in tongues from every time and place. Each person gathered in Jerusalem from near and far heard the gospel in their own language. The proclamation of the gospel in many tongues is a true miracle because they heard the good news of Jesus in their own language. What they hear isn’t a translation from one language to another, but God speaking to each person in their own language. Why is this significant? Because the word, translate, means to betray. Every translation is a betrayal of the original meaning of the word, which is why the Koran is only to be printed in Arabic so that the original meaning won’t be betrayed. However, at Pentecost God speaks directly to all the people gathered in a way that doesn’t betray its meaning.
But more important than fiery tongues is the Word himself – Jesus. Jesus transcends language and communicates God’s love and mercy for all people through his sacrifice. Jesus is the embodiment of love a love that unites all of creation because Jesus is God’s Word. In Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan that compassion, empathy and understanding will be communicated between God and people. Through Jesus God intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. There are times when words fail us and we are incapable of expressing our pain, sorrow and despair. There are times when we look at each other and no longer see our differences, but rather our common humanity. There are times when we need the Spirit to intercede for us because there are no known words to do our pain justice.
There are times like Friday in Texas, and a couple months ago in Parkland, and a few months before that and a few months before that and before that when people are so overcome with grief, pain and frustration that words don’t do it justice. At that point the Spirit intercedes on our behalf. The Spirit creates that safe place to exude frustration. And, the Spirit also moves us beyond pain into action to be empowered by the Gospel to work for Jesus’ mission. The Spirit works to unite us in one body and one goal to do the will of God. And, what is the will of God? To do justice, love mercy and walk humble with our God. How do we do this? We love the Lord God and our neighbors as ourselves and when we do these thinks we embrace our diversity as the wonderful and unique gift God has given us and strive to make the world a better place.