This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Babbling in Babel,” rooted in Genesis 11:1-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.
Today’s preparatory text: Acts 2:1-15
By Chuck Griffin
I’ve made a living through the use of the English language all of my adult life. Part of that time, I have attempted to serve Christ’s kingdom via preaching and writing. Our ability to communicate in nuanced detail often is a tremendous gift. We need to remember that words have their limits, though.
Languages reflect cultural differences in how our minds work, so they often reinforce cultural barriers. One of my favorite examples is the German word schadenfreude, which has no English equivalent. It describes an emotion that is familiar to most people, the improper joy we sometimes feel when another person experiences misfortune.
The emotion likely is universal, but in naming it, the Germans have a better grip on this dubious feeling than we do. I have suggested “malevejoy” as an English equivalent, but it has yet to be an entry in Dictionary.com.
I’m sure many of you quickly realized the preparatory text linked above is part of the story of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit ignited the first followers of Christ.
When I hear the Pentecost story, I see great beauty in that moment where everyone, regardless of which language a particular listener may have spoken, suddenly understood what was being declared about “God’s deeds of power.” United in Christ, many of those people discovered that language barriers and other cultural impediments had been torn down.
I also think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1, where he spoke of the critical importance of love. In the process, he mentioned “the tongues of mortals and of angels.” That little phrase gives me images of heaven, a place where a higher, better language—one as godly as can be—will keep us in perfect union with the Creator, and of course, with each other.
I imagine the heavenly language to be so much more than mere words. It must engage all the senses at once, employing a grammar of motion, music, color and other means of communication we cannot even imagine.
Knowing language has such potential, I feel inspired to do a better job of incorporating Christ into the mortal language available to me now.
Lord, may our words reflect your holiness as we draw from your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.