I don’t watch a lot of television commercials, since I have a TiVo and zip through them. Sometimes, though, something catches my attention and recently, I’ve been seeing a commercial with a familiar character. Do you remember the guy who, was going all over the world shouting into his smart phone “Can you hear me now?!”
This guy in the horn-rimmed glasses, whose name is Paul Marcarelli, started touting the Verizon network in 2011. His message was that you can talk to just about anyone you want, no matter where they are, if you have the right equipment and the right wireless provider. Now, however, he’s switched sides. He’s being paid by Sprint—and he’s saying that all the network’s are about the same…so isn’t it better to go with the most affordable one?
I’m glad that the cellular phone connection problem has been solved. However, I’m not totally convinced the more global communication problem is solved. I still have many days where I feel like shouting “Can you hear me now?!” As Iread the news, as I read conversations on social media, as I hear debates and arguments and disagreements, I know that we are not hearing each other. And I often meet people who I know feel like they are not being heard.
We remain obsessed with staying connected, of being able to keep in touch. In the past decade or so, our lives have been dramatically changed by cell phones, email, texting, and Face timing. A bunch of technologies promise to let us communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, without giving it a second thought.
That seems like an amazing thing—until you realize that as even though these technologies ensure that we can hear each other (and sometimes even see each other)…no one has come up with a device that guarantees that we can UNDERSTAND one another.
That is a truly a daunting task. Today, there are at least 6,800 languages spoken, according to Richard Lederer in his book “A Man of My Words.” And even if you speak the same language—there’s still plenty of room for misunderstanding. The Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 600,000 words, and another 500 new terms are added every three months. And even if we used every single one of those words there is no guarantee that the speakers and the hearers would experience a conversation in the same way. In every conversation there are there realities, what was said, what was heard, and what was meant. Those three are rarely the same.
Today is Pentecost—a day of fire. The birthday of the church. A day filled with the Holy Spirit. Hanging above is the art project that we created ourselves, out of our own spirit-inspired prayers—prayers for
this community and for the world. In the middle is the shape of the flame—inviting us to look into the empty space and see the world in new ways. As Matthew said in his weekend letter “On Pentecost we are invited to look at ourselves, our church and our world through the lens of the Holy Spirit, which on this day manifests as fire.”
In today’s reading from Acts, we are bombarded with images: the flames leaping over the apostles, the cacophony of voices, the amazement of the onlookers…It seems incredible—a once-in-a-lifetime event. Today’s reading certainly underlines the drama of the moment: The disciples speaking in foreign languages, and each person hearing the words in their native language rather than the Aramaic that they expected. Here’s the other important piece: What the disciples chose to spoke about was about how God was working in their lives, about how God was working in the world.
The disciples were accused of being drunk, and Peter defends them, saying: how could we be drunk, it’s only nine in the morning! He quotes the prophesy of the prophet Joel, and he quotes a verse about the sun melting and the moon blowing up. It’s dramatic and strange. At the very least, it doesn’t sound how we would characterize a typical day in our lives.
But what if we looked at our lives through a flamed-shaped lens. Maybe we would see hints of Pentecost around every corner. I’ve been traveling a lot for business lately—and i’ve found myself in desert places, first in Las Vegas surrounded by the lights and noise of the casino. Below my hotel room, a fire show, of huge flames leaping up from an equally huge fountain happened hourly late into the night, complete with sonic booms. Those flames, though, wasn’t my reminder of Pentecost.
My days were filled with one meeting after another. Hours and hours spent talking about the business of selling electronic components, about technology trends, and about what organizations need to do to remain competitive. On the last day, in the afternoon, as one of the meetings wound to a close, I thanked the executive I had been interviewing for his time and clicked my computer closed. He hesitated and then said “Can I ask you a personal question?”
I agreed, secretly wondering what kind of personal question he might have for me. He cleared his throat nervously and said “I heard that you are ordained in the Episcopal Church, that you are a deacon. Is that true?” What followed was the best conversation I had all week… he told me about feeling called to ordination himself. About what it’s like to try to reconcile a heart felt calling and a secular career in technology. About the complexity of trying to live faithfully in a modern and complicated world. And I felt like i was able to hear his story and I felt like he heard me. I had encountered a brother in the midst of the chaos and crowds of an electronics trade show. And I felt blessed.
This year, this is my Pentecost story… It seems like a small thing—a handful of minutes in the midst of the chaos and lights of Las Vegas. And yet, it reminded me of who I am, and it reminded me that I am not alone—even in the most unlikely moments. God affirmed that holiness can happen anywhere.
Today, with Pentecost, we are celebrating a moment in time when the Holy Spirit allowed ordinary people like us to cut through all of the barriers that keep us apart from each other. Today, we lift up a moment that reminds us that we can learn to truly hear and understand each other. More than that, we reaffirm that the Holy Spirit remains with us—and continues to help us to hear and understand each other—to say to each other the things that God wants us to hear, and to hear the things that God is saying to us through others.
I recently started watching a documentary show called “The Book of John Gray.
” John Gray is an associate pastor at Houston’s Lakewood Church under Pastor Joel Osteen. He is the first black pastor at the mega-church, and he is about as different as the gentle and soft spoken lead paster as you could be. He is loud and colorful and funny—When he visits people in their homes, as he coms through the door, he often shouts “Watch out, there’s a big black man coming into your house but don’t be afraid! I’ve come to be a blessing to you today!” And then he grins. He is driven by the Holy Spirit. He is a breath of wind and a flame of fire. He is love incarnate. And he is 100% himself.
John Gray is a reminder that our calling may not be easy: We are called to show up and to be ourselves. We are called to stay alert and respond to those whom we meet. We are called to listen and to speak in love. When we do that, the Holy Spirit is there—and a world exists where we can hear each other and understand.
Today, we are reminded that God loves us enough to speak to us in our own language—and to put the language that others need to hear into our mouths.
Peace be with you. As God sent Jesus, so Christ sends us. We have been given the Holy Spirit—and an invitation to be God’s presence in the world. Thanks be to Holy Spirit. Can you hear me now?