Back when I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to visit my ancestral home of Glarus, Switzerland. After leaving the rest of the group behind, I was all alone, and had very poor German skills. After a few hours there, I began to wonder what the heck I was doing. No one seemed to speak English, and everyone was yelling at me! After a little while longer and a lot of walking, I heard a group of people talking ENGLISH!! All of a sudden, the discomfort went away as they talked to me and explained the community and, most importantly, that the people were not yelling at me. Switzerdeutsch is a very rough language and it always sounds that way. Learning from that group and then being sent off changed my experience from being lost and frustrated to a marvelous weekend of discovery and learning.
I cannot help but think about what it was like on that day of Pentecost where all who were gathered were able to hear the message of God in their own language (especially thinking of the comfort I found bumping into a group of English-speaking people in a foreign land!). What hope and power there must have been in the welcoming comfort of the message in their native tongue.
Today, much of faith and Christianity has devolved into pious discussions concerning who is right and sadly, who can be part of the faith and who are excluded. To me, this is a very personal thing! As I have said many times before, church is where we should all be able to come together and be accepted as children of God. The basis for all of this is the fact that God has created this world and created each of us.
Knowing that we are created in God’s image is important because it helps us realize the gift God has given us. Moreover, it stands as a clear symbol that God has made us to be who you are called to be. However, there is another important message, which is to accept yourself; this is one of the biggest difficulties that we face as individuals. As a mentor of mine has told me many times, “You cannot hear the love in this world until you open your heart to hear the love that is in there!”
Oftentimes we are beaten down by the judgments in this world. Many who are at work or in school are judged by their weakness or difference. However, the message of God is that God did not create us to be compared to each other, for we all possess different skills, abilities and knowledge. This makes us inherently different, while at the same time recognizes that we are all seen as equal in our incompleteness.
Knowing that God has created us in this way should give us strength to take control of our lives and listen to the ways in which we are called to be or not to be part of the world. I often tell people in counseling that the commandment “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev 19:18)” starts with the commandment to love and understand yourself so that you can begin to understand and empathize with your neighbor.
Thus Pentecost becomes a celebration of the church, the individual’s faith and a calling to welcome all into God’s House! While we do not speak all of the languages that are found in our community, we can learn to love those who are in our midst, seeing that we are all children of God! And this can be a place where we can learn to love ourselves, love our neighbor and love God.
The theme this year for Pentecost is “All God’s Children Have a Place in the Choir.” This comes from a favorite children’s song by the same name. It is a perfect children’s song, since it makes you giggle, but behind it is a very serious message: God does not exclude anyone from his choir or the church or the community. I ask that this year, you invite a friend or neighbor to join us for this very special day as we celebrate Pentecost and the fact that God loves us so much that his spirit is here!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen