The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday
Sunday, May 12, 2013
I needed a translator. Badly. There I was in an old beat up Volkswagen bus in some dingy back corner of the Dominican Republic. We bumped down the road full of pot holes, blasting merengue music. The driver yelling at pedestrians and beating on the side of the door, trying to drum up business, and not even slowing down for stop signs or red lights, but driving like a man possessed. And there was this young girl sitting next to me. Pawing me. Making suggestive glances. Speaking in blazing fast Spanish. This was public transportation in the Dominican Republic. I needed a translator. Badly.
Then there was this guy in the front row, flashing his pistola. Making menacing glances at me. Speaking in blazing fast Spanish. I needed a translator. Badly.
To make a long story short, as you can see, I escaped that VW bus unscathed. With my heart in my throat, I nearly jumped out of that VW bus when I saw the Episcopal Church to which I was headed, and ducked inside. All this happened during seminary, when I went to go study in the Dominican Republic. See, seminary was more than just praying in a quiet chapel and learning ancient Greek. Seminary was about getting hit on by Dominican girls. Seminary was about almost getting mugged. In a sense, what I learned at seminary, was that everybody needs a translator.
Now, God’s native language is love. But love is a hard language to learn. It’s much harder to understand God’s all-encompassing forgiveness, than it is to conjugate irregular Spanish verbs. It’s much harder to realize that God loves you, yes, really, you, than it is to realize that Dominican girls want American husbands.
So, like students, we have to learn how to speak God’s language of love. And learning a new language is really, really hard. Because when you learn a new language, you have to actually re-wire your brain. The way you learned how to speak English has to be un-learned, and then re-learned for Spanish. And when you’re learning a new language, you’re going to sound like an moron. I can’t tell you how many times I made a fool of myself in the Dominican Republic. Once I mixed up the words “slavery” and “goodness.” That was awkward. And I called one of the Dominican men a “very good looking girl.” That was even more awkward. But that’s alright – I was learning a new language.
When you are learning the language of love – God’s language – sometimes you’re going to make a fool of yourself. You won’t get it right. Your prayers may be self-serving and shallow. But that’s alright, you have to start somewhere. You may not think that Jesus really meant the whole “forgive your neighbor thing”- but that’s okay, you’ll get there. You’re still learning the language of love. Nobody becomes fluent overnight.
But just because you are not fluent in God’s language of love, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to speak it. Because the world so desperately needs to hear of God’s love. You don’t need me to tell you that. Our families, friends, neighbors, and those who are alone are thirsting for a language, they want to hear that sweet language of God’s love. If only somebody will translate for them. The world needs a translator. Badly.
This is exactly what the disciples did on Pentecost. They took God’s native language of love and translated it to the peoples gathered in Jerusalem. The disciples took what they had received from God – this all-encompassing love – and told anyone that would listen. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Asians, Phyrgians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, Arabs. The disciples translated the love of God that they felt in their own hearts, to the people gathered there. The disciples made fools of themselves. They didn’t conjugate all their verbs correctly. They spoke with funny accents. The disciples weren’t fluent in God’s language of love, so much so that the crowd thought they were drunk. But all the same – they tried. They spoke of God’s love using whatever means available.
And the same with the Church. We use whatever tool given to us in order to translate God’s love to this world that so badly needs to hear it. In the fifteenth century, Gutenberg perfected his moveable printing press. And who adopted the printing press and used it to translate God’s love? The Lutherans. That is one of the reasons that Luther’s ideas spread so quickly, because they printed inexpensive Bibles and pamphlets using this new-fangled technology to translate God’s love.
Then, in the nineteenth century America, came the telegraph system. And who adopted the telegraph system to translate God’s love? The Methodists. They used the telegraph system to communicate to their churches that had spread out across the country. This is one of the reasons that the Methodist Church grew so quickly and is now one of the largest churches in the United States. Because they used that new-fangled technology to translate God’s love.
Now we come to another crossroads. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Tumblr. Reddit. Google+. This is the social media revolution. One billion people are on Facebook. That would make Facebook the third most populous country in the world. Revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt coordinated their uprisings by using Twitter. These are powerful, powerful tools. And we, as the Episcopal Church, have an opportunity.
Now, I like Lutherans and Methodists, but I’m tired of losing to them. The Lutherans beat us to the printing press, the Methodists beat us to the telegraph. Now is the time to fully embrace this new-fangled technology to translate God’s love.
Because this is the way of the world. Katherine, who will be baptized this morning, is growing up in a digital, screen-filled world. And if the Church wants to translate God’s love to her and her generation, then we need to speak her language. Imagine if Martin Luther had said, “phhhh, who needs the printing press? We can still copy things by hand.” Imagine if the Methodists had said, “phhhh, who needs this telegraph thing? We’ve still got the Pony Express.” Katherine will not grow up with a book in her hands, much less a telegram. And that’s not really the point. The point is that the world desperately, desperately needs to hear God’s voice of love, and we have to speak it. Or write it. Or type it on a screen with our thumbs.
Some will scoff at this. Some will say that it’s silly for the church to do such things. Some will say that Facebook and Twitter is all a waste of time. Just like the scoffers thought the disciples were drunk. But they weren’t drunk – they were filled with the Spirit of God. They were translating God’s native language of love.
This world needs a translator. Badly. This world has heard enough of the dark and terrible news. This world needs some love. We need a translator. Badly. And that is the Church’s job. To say that God loves the world, no matter what. On this day, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Church, and upon you. And the Holy Spirit gives you the grace to speak in God’s native language. The language of love.