Sermon: Another Language for Rejoicing

A painting, with yellows the dominant colors, showing 12 persons beneath a roof with halos and small flames above their heads. Three others stand outside and look in.

Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21

by Eric Anderson

Fulfillment hardly ever looks like what we’d expected.

At least, not the fulfillment of God’s promises.

There are plenty of human fulfillments that look exactly like the picture in the catalog, or the image on the screen. This microphone, for example. It looks exactly the same as it did in the photo on the Internet when it was ordered.

All right, I admit that it’s bigger than the picture. But you and I are used to making that translation.

When we’re shopping, we get pretty angry when the promise doesn’t match the fulfillment, when what looked like a one pound bag of coffee arrives and turns out to hold four ounces, when medium size drapes over me like a tent (or worse, when it fits so tightly that I can’t move my arms and yes, I’m sure my size is medium because it always has been and I can’t possibly be gaining more weight than I want to and…).

When fulfillment doesn’t match expectation, we get legitimately angry. We call it false advertising. We call it “bait and switch.” We call it fraud.

But with God: Well, with God we could make an excellent case for false advertising.

Let’s take this prophecy of the prophet Joel’s, for example.

First of all, the big things didn’t happen, or at least, they didn’t happen in that moment. There wasn’t an eclipse that day, and you may have noticed that eclipses happen at least a couple times in your area in your lifetime. In fact, about the easiest prediction you can make about the Lord’s great and glorious day is that there will be solar and lunar eclipses before it happens – because they’ve already happened many times. So has fire and smoky mist. We had quite a bit of that at this time last year.

But if the people, both residents and visitors to Jerusalem, could be excused for not recognizing the astronomical signals on that Pentecost, shouldn’t they have recognized the sons and the daughters prophesying in the eager proclamation of the disciples?

Well, no. Probably not. There’s nothing in Joel’s words about speaking other people’s languages. There’s nothing in Joel’s words about a sound like a violent wind. There’s nothing in Joel’s words about the exuberance the apostles showed, an exuberance so great that they were mistaken for drunk at nine o’clock in the morning.

It was Simon Peter who made the connection between the five-hundred-year-old words that Joel originally addressed to people who were praying for the end of an infestation of locusts. He felt the presence, the movement, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He searched his memory of Scripture for something that described it. He could also have turned to Isaiah or Ezekiel, who also speak of an outpouring of God’s Spirit.

Essentially, he told the people, this gift of the Spirit you’ve been hoping for: it doesn’t look like what you thought. It looks like this.

Noisy. Overly exuberant. Confusing in one sense, with people doing unfamiliar things. Clear in another sense, with people unexpectedly speaking languages they could understand. They looked drunk at nine o’clock in the morning.

They’d found a new language – several new languages – for rejoicing in the grace of God. The human languages of those guests and visitors around them. The emotional language of enthusiasm. The spiritual language to find a Scriptural interpretation for their experience. The language of courage to take all this out into the public, and away from their place of relative safety.

Rachel Hackenberg writes, “Together: it’s often where we find God. And when we’re struggling to find God, together is how we hold on.

“Together is also a place where we can become stuck…

“When Pentecost day began, the disciples were all together in one place.

“When Pentecost day ended, the disciples had gone out from their one place. Together multiplied. New togethers formed. New dreams sparked. New songs arose. New witnesses testified. New generosity flowed.”

New languages rejoiced.

Yesterday, the ‘Aha Pae’aina elected a new Conference Minister for the Hawai’i Conference. The Rev. Dr. David Kentner Popham comes to us in early fall, I believe – his start date is still being worked out – from serving as Associate Conference Minister in the Central Atlantic Conference, with the New Jersey Association as his area for ministry. He brings an open and generous heart to us, a wealth of experience with imagining and working toward new futures, and a new language in which to speak to us.

You see, despite not having lived in the state of his birth for many years, Pastor David comes to us with a noticeable Kentucky accent.

With that accent, he brings a distinct voice, a particular understanding of the movement of the Spirit, and a willingness to speak and listen to the languages we bring. The worst thing I know of him is that we disagree about the proper components of strawberry shortcake. I mean, he’s just plain wrong, and he’s persisting in his wrongness.

You can ask me about that later.

I recognized something, though, as he described how the Holy Spirit worked with him, bringing him to conversations with the search committee, bringing him to yesterday’s vote at the ‘Aha. Originally, he wasn’t going to submit his profile. He had plenty of good reasons, but if I can venture to guess the deepest ones, it was that he didn’t feel that Hawaiian churches would be interested in a middle-aged white guy from New Jersey, and he didn’t know what he could bring to Hawai’i.

I recognized that. Four years ago, that was me. I had no notion that the Spirit would or could bring me to Hilo. That had never been part of the way I thought my career might go – pity my limited imagination.

As he spoke, I said, “Ah. It’s the Spirit. I don’t know what she’s up to, and she’s surprising us all again, but there’s the Holy Spirit.”

One of our languages for joy in the years to come will have a Kentucky accent, just as you’ve come to terms with my somewhat malleable New England accent as it takes on some Hawaiian shapes.


Karoline Lewis writes, “So, maybe this is why we need Pentecost Sunday, every year, and a Pentecost season, the longest season of the church year; and with texts that all say something different about the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. Because there is a difference between noting inherent characteristics of the Spirit and standardizing her activity. There is a difference between believing in the promise of her activity and prescribing that activity.  There is a difference between certainty of the Spirit’s activity and fixing her activity so that her future is predicated on our predictions.”

Dr. Lewis and I are both using “she” because the Hebrew references to God’s spirit, the “ruach Adonai,” use the feminine.

What will our other languages for joy be? How will we share our experiences of the Holy Spirit with one another? How will predict the Spirit’s movement when the Spirit is demonstrably unpredictable?

Well, we won’t. But. There are signs.

Amy G. Oden writes, “This gift of the Holy Spirit that marks the birth of the church is a gift expressly for those outside the Jesus movement, those who had lived displaced in a language-world not their own. We cannot miss this! It is a spiritual gift given not for the disciples themselves, but for the outsiders listening. God’s gift reaches outward to those outside of this immediate circle of Jesus followers. It seems that one mark of the Holy Spirit’s gifting is that it empowers us to connect to others.”

When our new languages of joy resonate with each other, that’s splendid. It’s wonderful. But when our new languages of joy resonate with those around us, that’s the Holy Spirit. Let me read Rev. Oden again: “One mark of the Holy Spirit’s gifting is that it empowers us to connect to others.”

To connect to others.

Get ready to be surprised: surprised by the unpredictable inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Get ready to be surprised: surprised by the new ways you find to speak and share the joy within you. Get ready to be surprised: surprised by the others with whom you suddenly connect, who take on some of the joy you share, who find their own joy in the language that you speak.

The Holy Spirit will give you another language for rejoicing, a language in which you can share.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Another Language for Rejoicing

Are the prepared text and the recorded words identical? Of course not.

The image is a painting of Pentecost ca. 1300 by Giotto di Bondone – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

Scarlet Tears

Scarlet Tears

Pastor Eric provided today’s anthem: his song about the 2018 Puna eruption.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on June 9, 2019

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