Wind who makes all winds that blow
gusts that bend the saplings low,
gales that heave the sea in waves,
stirrings in the mind’s deep caves
aim your breath with steady power
on your church this day, this hour.
Raise, renew the life we’ve lost,
Spirit God of Pentecost.
Fire who fuels all fires that burn
suns around which planets turn,
beacons marking reefs and shoals,
shining truth to guide our souls
come to us as once you came:
burst in tongues of sacred flame!
Light and Power, Might and Strength,
fill your church, its breadth and length.
Holy Spirit, Wind and Flame,
move within your mortal frame.
Make our hearts an altar pyre,
kindle them with your own fire.
Breathe and blow upon that blaze
till our lives, our deeds and ways,
speak that tongue which every land
by your grace shall understand.
-Thomas H. Troeger, 1983
This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. Disciples of Christ is not a hand-raising, dancing-in-the-isles kinda church (that one might associate with a Pentecostal church) but we follow the liturgical calendar and the flaming tongues of the Spirit made its way around the calendar again. I’m pretty sure we sing this hymn every year but for some reason this year the lyrics said something to me.
Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds and ways, speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.
The story of Pentecost is a strange and interesting one. The disciples were gathered together trying to figure out what came next now that Jesus was gone; when what came next was a mighty wind. The Holy Spirit descended on them in the form of flaming tongues and they were each gifted the ability to speak in different languages. They were charged to continue Jesus’ ministry and spread His good news. The townspeople thought the sight of these men babbling their strange languages so ridiculous that they thought they were drunk. Well now, that’s a bazaar story. It kind of reminds me of another bazaar story.
A group of people wanted to build a tower so tall they could reach God. In their dedication to the structure they forgot their purpose and put their work and their monument before their Lord. As punishment they were all stricken with a different language and couldn’t communicate with each other. The tower was never finished and they all went in opposite directions. That’s my best recollection of the story of the tower of Babel without looking it up. As a little kid I heard this story and my interpretation of it was something of a Native American fable…and that’s how we ended up with so many languages throughout the land. As an adult I can appreciate the lesson the story has to tell and understand it for what it is.
When we sang the final verse of the hymn I started thinking about these two stories and their similarities. Many languages and one purpose. I can’t help feeling like the Pentecost story has come full circle and brings back together those who can’t understand each other. We find it difficult to find common ground with those different from ourselves. Even Christians can be at odds with each other and shut our ears to what the other has to say until anger and hate fills our speech.
The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is blowing through our lives today as it did with the disciples and every time in between. Each and every one of us knows the language we need to spread the good news regardless of race, creed or religion. It’s a universal language that we all have written on our hearts. The language is love. Here’s something interesting about this language and the good news that we have been charged to share…they are one in the same. Love the Lord your God…Love your neighbor as yourself…Do unto others…Love your enemies…Feed the hungry and heal the sick. I could go on and on. It’s a language from which we can build a foundation to begin to understand those who are different than ourselves and those with whom we don’t agree. When we speak this language we remember that the crazy guy next door, down the street, across the country, across the ocean or across the aisle loves their children too. They want to provide for their family and want to feel appreciated and worthy, just like you and I.
…speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand. This is a language of love and compassion and it is a part of us, we just need to remember that we know how to speak it fluently.