Text: Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost A)

Sermon Title: How is it that We Hear, Each in Our Own Language?

Martin Luther did something unthinkable nearly 500 years ago. He took the worshipservice everybody in western Europe knew by heart and translated it into German. The nerve!Everyone grew up hearing prayers in Latin. Some people even knew what the prayers meant, butthat was the few people who learned to read and write Latin. Worshiping in German followedLuther�s insistence that people read the Bible in a language they understood. Translating theprayers into German did not end Dr. Luther�s boldness. He replaced the chants priests and monkssang with hymns, and set the hymns to tunes people knew�popular songs, even a couple ofbarroom melodies. Oh, the trouble those Lutherans started!

Soon after that the Swiss decided to worship in their own languages�at least the French-speaking Swiss in Geneva and the Germans in Basel. The Dutch got in, too, and so did theEnglish. The Swiss, the Dutch and the English formed their own churches, and each praised Godin a language other than Latin. Lutheran ideas moved into Denmark, Sweden, Norway andFinland. Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish became languages of prayer. Then the marchto praise God in the language people spoke stopped, at least for a while. The people whoworshiped in English had the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayerwritten in 1662. Who could match the language of those books? It was poetry designed forpraising God in all of God�s holiness. German Lutherans had Luther�s translation of the Bibleand the Deutsche Messe. How dare we stray from the traditions our founders gave? That attitudeheld strong after English, Germans, Swedes and other Europeans discovered America. They kepttheir language and worship from the old country even as their children learned American Englishin school and worked with fewer people who spoke German, Swedish or Finnish. One Lutheranchurch in Syracuse stood out from the rest: First English Lutheran. It was the first Lutheranchurch to offer worship in English instead of German. Over time the other Lutheran churchesrealized most of their people knew enough German or Norwegian only to sing the hymns andrecite the prayers. They went back to what Martin Luther did that was so daring: preach, sing andpray in the language people used every day. Whether everyone liked it or not, German, Finnishand King James English had become another version of Latin. The world had changed. TheChurch needed to change in order to share the word of Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord.

People never like change, but sometimes change is Biblical. I doubt the disciplesunderstood how much following Jesus would change them. They spent three years walking withhim, listening to him, learning from him. Jesus� death and resurrection changed their world. Thencame Pentecost. Their old way of life became history. The Holy Spirit filled the disciples andthey began talking in many languages�a tongue-twisting list of languages�that reached out tomany parts of the world. No way was God sending them back to netting fish in the Galilee. Godhad plans for them. God gave them gifts they needed to share Jesus� forgiveness with people theynever met. God even gave them abilities to cross the borders of what they always called home toreach into foreign countries. Different languages, different ways of speaking to and aboutGod�the Holy Spirit gave much to the disciples as a gift. They changed so much that even theirtitle changed. They were no longer disciples, followers or students, of Jesus. They becameapostles�people Jesus sent into the world to share the word of God�s love for the world.

What did those apostles do? They brought people together in Jesus� name. They createdchurches. Martin Luther inherited the church the apostles built�and he changed it. What was sonew about that? People change. Their language changes. Jesus remains the same, but the waypeople spoke to him and about him changed. This process goes on. People prayed in Germanhere a hundred years ago. We pray in English, but have you noticed the way we talk is changing.Grandparents need someone to translate what their grandchildren say�and that does not mentionunderstanding cell phone texts. It is a different world out there�and it does not have to be �outthere.� The Holy Spirit that turned disciples into apostles still fills the Church. The Spirit givespeople the ability to talk in different languages. A hundred years ago talking in differentlanguages meant Christians sent missionaries to China and teachers to Africa to teach the localpeople English, German or French. That was then, this is today. The fastest growing �religiousgroup� in America claims to have no religious preference. They hear about Jesus and the church,and do not care. What do they really know about us or our Lord? We need a new language toreach them because the old words mean little to them. We may need new music and new ways ofbeing the church, too. Does that sound frightening? It does to me, but do not be too frightened.Our spiritual DNA already knows how to deal with a world filled with different languages.Martin Luther translated the Bible into German because he wanted people who did not knowLatin to study the scriptures. He turned Latin prayers into German so each woman and man couldspeak with God personally. Americans turned his German prayers into English. Reaching out topeople in a different language is what we do. The Holy Spirit gives us all the ability we need. Thequestion is whether we let the Holy Spirit move us in Christ�s name for the kingdom�s sake.

I remember starting my seminary studies thirty years ago. I said: �I don�t need acomputer. My typewriter will do just fine.� It did, until I wrote my first twenty-five page paper. Idiscovered a word or two I left out on page 11. Retyping fourteen pages made my weekend! ThenI discovered the computer would let me insert two missing words, correct my spelling mistakes,add footnotes where I wanted footnotes . . . Now I hardly write a sermon let alone a large paperwithout a computer. I learned the language of computers, which connected me to thousands ofpeople serving God who also use computers. New language? Yes. New way to do the old workof church? Yes. New Lord and Savior? Absolutely not. God�s Spirit still lives and works in usand on us. We will find the language and way to share God�s love in Jesus thanks to the Spirit.