Sermon Audio and Text
Our sermons are now available on this page as audio files and also printable text format.
“No Translation Needed”
Acts 2: 1-21
May 23, 2021
Language is a fascinating thing, isn’t it? We have a diverse church in a diverse community; many of you either were born in another country or have lived in other countries, and thus speak more than one language. I am envious of people who have that ability. Having taken high school Spanish, as well as a community Spanish class as an adult, I have un poquito knowledge of the language, but as with many things, and with language ability especially, if you don’t use it you lose it.
In college and seminary, I took Hebrew and Greek, with Hebrew being my favorite; I loved Hebrew. Something I found interesting is that Hebrew is a more efficient language than English. It may take several English words to translate one Hebrew word. There are other languages that are also more efficient than English. For instance, in Hawaiian, “pana po’o” means, “The act of scratching one’s head in order to remember the location of a misplaced object.” One word to say all that! The Indonesian word “mencomot” means, “Stealing things of small value, mostly for fun rather than out of necessity. “Schadenfreude,” a German word, means, “A feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.” And then there’s the lovely Greek word, “Psithurism,” which means “the sound of leaves rustling in the wind,” which is not only an efficient word, but also an example of onomatopoeia---a word that sounds like what it is.1
Language is fascinating. Language can be complex, and simply substituting one word for another does not always yield the intended result. The situation, the nuances, the subject matter, the emotions, all come into play. I read an interesting article by Kevin Hendzel, an award-winning translator, linguist, physicist, and author. In writing about the art of translation, he said that often when he meets people at parties and they learn that he is a translator, they say, “So, how many languages do you speak?” As if translation is simply a matter of spitting out one word for another in an equivalent substitution. Instead, he said, translation requires an understanding of both the subject and the meaning the person intends to convey.
As a physicist, he said, “In my case, for example, I’d arrive at such parties after having worked out certain issues in my translation work such as the principles underlying optical excitation of Rayleigh waves by interband light absorption or coherent acoustic resistance to an electron-hole plasma or approaches to calculating the electronic structure of alloys. So my response to this friendly question of ‘how many languages do you speak?’ would be a bit playful and would always be delivered with a smile: ‘I speak science.’”2
As Christians, we have a Spirit-given language that allows us to communicate the truth of the gospel: It’s the language of love. We speak “love,” a language heard across cultures, a language that bridges divisions, and when we speak this language, there is NO TRANSLATION NEEDED.
When this passage begins, we see that Jews from all over had gathered in Jerusalem for the important festival of Pentecost. Pentecost was the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which came 50 days after Passover. Pentecost literally means 50th day in Greek. Jews were there from “every nation under heaven.” If we had a globe, we would see that the places covered the hemisphere, from Africa up through the Middle East, Asia Minor, and West into Europe. An amazing assortment of people, with their own languages, cultures, and customs.
And in the midst of them were the Christians. Acts 1:13 gives a list of some of the names: Peter, James, and John and the other disciples; some women disciples, including Jesus’ mother, Mary; Jesus’ brothers, and others who had come to believe. Altogether, there were 120 believers gathered there.
They were together in that place, when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A wind rushed through the crowd, and tongues of fire appeared among them and rested on each one. And then, filled with the Holy Spirit, they all began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
All of those people from all the different places heard the disciples speaking in their own languages! They were amazed! Aren’t these people all Galileans? They asked. How is it that they suddenly can speak all these other languages?! Some wanted to understand, while others preferred not to know, and said with scorn, Those people must be drunk.
So Peter stood up and explained to the crowd that what had happened was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, that God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh.
It symbolized a reversal of the Tower of Babel, when the people’s decision to build a tower to heaven in order to make a name for themselves resulted in their division into groups with different languages.
Here in Acts, people from different places were united, not by a desire to make a name for themselves, but by the desire of the Christians to make known the name of Jesus Christ, to share the good news of the gospel. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they were beginning to fulfill the great commission Jesus gave them, to go and make disciples of all nations.
Today we have the same command: to share the good news! To make disciples. And we also have the same Holy Spirit—the Spirit that descended on the disciples on Pentecost lives within us, and we have the same power. We have the power to communicate in the language of the Spirit of Christ—the language of love. The language of love! Think about what we can communicate when we speak the language of love!
One of the ministries of our church is collecting food for SERVE. Every other week, our Mission Team members gather in the church parking lot, and you---members of the church and community---bring boxes and bags and cans of food, which the Mission Team then delivers for SERVE to distribute to people in need. When we share that food, we are speaking the language of love.
As you heard this morning, we are now partnering with SON to help homeless people in our community. When they step onto the church property to access services in the SON mobile unity, they are hearing the language of love, God speaking to them in action. If you follow the church Facebook page, you may have seen one of the SON clients tag the church several weeks ago, when he received his COVID vaccine in the mobile unit. His comment was, “Protegido y Bendecido.” “Protected and Blessed.” That man heard the language of love.
And then of course, a long-time ministry partner of our church is BEACON, offering language, literacy and citizenship classes for adults since 1992. For years, we have provided space for BEACON to offer classes, and many of our members have volunteered as well. In the 2019/2020 year, BEACON served 300 students and had 136 volunteers! The students came from 52 different countries and spoke more than 24 languages.3
During the past year, BEACON adapted by offering online classes, but because of the challenges of online learning, were able to serve only about half the usual number of students. Now, BEACON is preparing to resume in-person classes in the fall, and this past week, our Session affirmed continuing our important relationship with BEACON. This fall, we will once again offer space for classes, and volunteers will be needed, so I encourage you to consider becoming a volunteer. You can go to the BEACONLITERACY.org website for information. I am so thankful that we are part of this life-transforming ministry, which allows our church to speak the language of love to people from all over the world who are now our neighbors here in Manassas.
We are called to enact the gospel in the world. There are people all around us who need to know about Jesus, who need to hear the good news. Some of them are within our own church. Others are out in the community and beyond. Through our kindness, compassion, and grace, our forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, the world hears the message in the most powerful language of all: the language of love.
On this Day of Pentecost, let us give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift that called the church into being, calling us who are followers of Christ to make disciples, so that all people will know God’s love. My friends, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we speak the language of love. So let us go forth to share the good news in the language given to us by God, the language of love. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
- “23 Fascinating Words with No Direct English Translation,” Huffington Post, February 20, 2014.
- Kevin Hendzel, “Translation is not about words. It’s about what the words are about,” Word Prisms, December 14, 2012, kevinhendzel.com.
- BEACON for Adult Literacy Annual Statistical Report for 2019/2020, beaconliteracy.org.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church