Wednesday, June 3, 2020


A Sermon by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Acts 2:1-21

If you are good at languages, you are fascinated by this event.  Here is a virtual summary of the languages of the eastern Mediterranean, and what was once called Mesopotamia.  Their religion was – the Jewish faith of the Old Testament.  Yet, they were as diverse as the people after the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel.  Suddenly, they heard, each one, in their own language… the news about Jesus and his great love.

If you are NOT good at languages, you are even more fascinated by this event.  It would be like a gathering of people from Western PA suddenly speaking all the languages of the people at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and without the need for headphones.

Did you know that 88.98% of Pittsburgh residents speak only English?  Now, there is another 11.02% wo speak other languages.  From Afrikaans and Albanian, to Vietnamese and Yiddish – and even that one particular language that is spoken nowhere else on the planet: Pittsburghese, (if ynz will pardon the expression, n’at). 

How is it that we hear...?  The phenomenon of Pentecost gave the church a reach beyond one culture.  Suddenly, by God’s initiative, the disciples of our Lord, were filled with the Holy Spirit, so they could share the Gospel beyond themselves.  It would be marvelous, wouldn’t it?  To be able to speak in other languages?...  Without taking any classes, or reading textbooks, or suffering the challenges of pop quizzes.

How do we hear what God has to say?  What are the secrets of that great blessing?

We hear because God wants us to hear.  God brings the message to us.  It may come – as it did on the first Pentecost – through unlikely agents.  Humble fishermen and backwater people who hailed from the equivalent of the hills and hollows of West Virginia.  We might not expect such people to have anything to say to us.  We would be wrong.

God can use whom god may choose to convey the message of grace.  The people who heard on that Pentecost, had not awakened that morning thinking – “Today I am going to hear a message from God.”  The event of Pentecost tells us that God can break into our ordinary routine with extraordinary power.  God has been doing it all along.  

We remember that Moses was tending his father in law’s sheep – minding his own business, when God spoke from the bush that burned but was not consumed.  On Pentecost, flames appeared again, God spoke, anew.  When God speaks, People listen.

How is it that we hear? We hear because God wants us to hear.  We also hear what God wants us to hear. The Pentecost message was unlike any other. The promised Messiah had come, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.   He communicated what God is like.   He spoke words of insight, and blessing, with authority. His words were confirmed in his work. Teaching, caring, healing, enraging with people in their hardest struggles. Suffering and dying, and being raised to new life.  Promising this to all who believe.

The world of medicine will tell us that hearing depends on a series of complex steps that change sound waves in the air into electrical signals. These sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through a narrow passageway - the ear canal - which leads to the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and a combination of mechanical and electrical and fluid processes cause chemicals to rush into the cells, creating an electrical signal. The auditory nerve carries this electrical signal to the brain, which turns it into a sound that we recognize and understand.

From the mouths of the first followers of Jesus, to the ears of the next followers of Jesus – the entire process depends upon God, who created us, and gave us the gift of perceiving and understanding sound.
On the first Pentecost, the miracle of hearing was amplified by this new miracle of comprehension. The word began to spread. And it has been spreading ever since.

This Pentecost morning, I am glad you can hear me.  And I am glad you can understand what I am saying.  But on this Sunday, as on every Sunday, that is only part of the process.   We depend on the real, but usually unseen, presence of God’s Holy Spirit, to convey what God wants conveyed.  We all depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to make that wonderful connection between the message – and its meaning for us today, for our world, for our intentions, and for our future.  With the Holy Spirit, the ministry of the word becomes a ministry of limitless power.  

“All of that is well and good,” someone will say, “but what if I haven’t been hearing anything lately?”  What if?  It may be that a person has forgotten to listen. ‘Thinking about other things, or nothing at all.  Distracted.  Convinced that God is not interested in speaking to them.  They say: “God has more important things to do than speak with me.” Or, “I am probably not worthy of God bothering with me.”   Don’t let those thoughts guide your ways.  God cares so much for you, it is as if you are the only person on this earth.  No one is a bother to Jesus. If you have not heard, do not be discouraged.  Trust that God has a desire to speak to you – and will – just when and how God sees fit. In a way that you will understand. In a way that will cause your faith to deepen, and strengthen.

This Pentecost moment, can happen at any moment.  Bringing something marvelous to hear, and something wonderful to tell: the wonders of God, in ways we can hear, and understand. In Christ may it be so.  Amen.

This is an original sermon by The Rev. D. John A. Dalles, Interim Senior Minister and Head of Staff of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA .  It was delivered on the date indicated in the text. You are encouraged to read it and reflect upon it.  Please keep in mind that the sermon is Copyright © 2020 John A. Dalles.  Permission from the author is required to reproduce it in any fashion.

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