The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - June 4, 2017
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     I have a Facebook friend, or really more of a Facebook acquaintance.  Truth be told, I have never met him, not even sure if we have ever talked on the phone.  He worked for a company that developed a camper registration program we used, and he was our tech support guy.  After a few years of working with him, he announced to all his clients that he was leaving the company to go to seminary.  Really, I had no idea.  It was never anything that came up, but we emailed a few times, and then he requested me as a Facebook friend.

     He was raising money to go to seminary, an outfit called “New Tribe Ministries” located in Missouri.  I have done some research on this group, and apparently you attend there to get the theological background, and then you raise money to go someplace as a missionary.  So after a few years, he and his wife, and I think one baby at that point loaded up their mini-van in Washington state and drove to a town in Mexico I have never heard of.  They were switching off, taking the place of another missionary family that were headed someplace else.  They spoke a little Spanish, but apparently the language they spoke in that town was not Spanish.  For 4 or 5 years they lived in that town, were leaning the language, and leading Bible Studies and worship services. 

     Just about a year ago he got his new assignment.  He said that he needed a four wheel drive truck, as even if the mini-van were new it would have a hard time making it on the day long drive to the village he would be living in.  He sent pictures of some sections of the road in one of his newsletters, and I question the ability of a four wheel drive truck to make it along some of these muddy, deeply rutted paths.  In his new village there is already one missionary, who is working on translation.  The language they speak is different from the village he had been working in.  They have some system to teach missionaries these different languages which uses phonetics.  So the Bible, or at least the New Testament is being translated, probably from English to this language, and he will be learning the language. 

     This move will take time.  I mentioned that he has to raise all the funds himself, so every newsletter has a “donate now” button on it.  He did find a truck, was able to purchase it, register it, and has started to build a house for himself and now his family.  I think he has 4 small children now.  Very few materials can be purchased in this new village, so this truck is also being used to slowly transport all the parts of his house to the new village.  When he is finally able to move to this new village, he and his wife and children will start really working to learn this new language. 

     Now his theology and mine do not match too much.  The basis of his ministry is that new people in other countries need to hear the words of Jesus.  He views his work as saving these people from Hell; they will accept Jesus and be saved.  But his dedication I cannot help but admire.  To pack up your family and move to another country so that you can do ministry.  His wife has had at least two of her children, perhaps 3 in this small village in Mexico, and now they are going to an even smaller village with their babies, I think the oldest may be 6.  And while they are doing all that, they must learn the language, they will not be fluent in it before they arrive. 

     As I was reading the scripture this week, the idea of language jumped out at me.  Obviously in the case of my Facebook acquaintance, language is huge.  The person who has been translating the Bible into this native language has been at it for years.  In Jesus’s time there were many languages floating around.  Latin was the official language, but most Roman interactions were probably done in Greek.  Hebrew was the official religious language of the Jewish people, but Jesus probably spoke Aramaic in his day to day conversations.  It is great that here in New Hampshire we only have to learn English and can communicate with almost everyone. 

     Maybe it is not that easy.  On Wednesday I was at the fire station.  Chris was there, who is our one full time firefighter.  He and I get along well, nice guy.  But Chris uses some words often that I rarely use. Most of those words contain 4 letters, and I certainly will not put them into a sermon.  It is interesting that he can usually get two of them into every sentence. 

     I have found that I speak many languages.  Around Chris, I also will use some of those words.  I am usually not able to use two or more in each sentence, but can at least insert one here and there.  But when someone comes into the firehouse, we are on a call, I am home around my children, or when I am here I use another language.  Only appropriate words for those settings.

     Language helps me to connect on a different level to Chris.  If he saw me as “the minister” who objected to swearing, he would probably have less to say.  But we can go back and forth, using the language he is comfortable with. 

     I think this is true for most of us.  You may never swear, but if I put a baby in your arms right now, you would speak a different language.  You may sway and sing quietly.  You may play peek a boo.  With a child a bit older, how about having a pretend tea party?  Certainly a different language then you would use with a baby or your co-workers. 

     If you have a pet, you probably have a language you use with them.  “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, are you hungry, do you want your din din?” “Come on Cody, who’s ready for a walk?  Are you ready for a walk?”

     We have a language we use in the church.  I was in a meeting recently where we were talking about the bulletin.  It said “The story of the peace candle can be found in the Narthex.”  Um, where is the Narthex?  Of course many of us know it is in the back of the church, unless you are outside the church, in which the back of the church is the front of the church.  Reading through the bulletin, sermon is probably fairly well known, most of us have heard a sermon or two from our parents growing up.  But Offertory?  How about Doxology?  Is Doxology the song that we sing, or is that the actual act of bringing forward the Offering? Just start at the beginning with the prayer of invocation.  I don’t invoke things in my life except on Sunday morning when I lead a prayer of invocation.

     I realize that most of you don’t use Twitter, but you have heard the president does.  Last week he sent out something, very late at night, ending with the word covfefe.  From about midnight when it was sent out until the morning when it was deleted, there were all sorts of theories.  Now I don’t buy into conspiracy theories, but some said that it was a secret message to the Russians.  Other said that it was something in a different language, but nobody could find anything in any language.  In the morning the president posted a new tweet saying “Who can figure out the true meaning of covfefe?”  So obviously it came up at the press briefing, and the press secretary said “The President and a small group of people knew exactly what he meant.” 

     Now I think it was a typo, probably meant to type “coverage,” but the comment from the press secretary raises an interesting point.  What language does the government use that we don’t understand sometimes?  Does Healthcare mean insurance, getting to see a doctor when you are sick, or keeping you healthy?  Three very different meanings.  How about tax reform or entitlement reform?  Please understand that this is not a political statement aimed at anyone, but I am saying that in many ways we are speaking a different language, and when we are not talking the same language, even though both are English, it is hard to understand each other.

     How many of you deal with teenagers?  I am lucky, I only have one teenager living in our house now, and I have heard that boys are easier than girls.  And probably, compared to some others, Glenn and I communicate pretty well.  But there are times in which he speaks a totally different language than I do.  I fear that it will be harder and harder to understand as he gets older. 

     And then we have our scripture from this morning.  People from all over the ancient world speaking, and each one understanding the others as if in their native language.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all spoke the same language?  Not language like French or Spanish; it is really cool to hear other languages spoken, but if we had words, that could be translated word for word into other languages that everyone would understand the same meaning of. 

     Maybe that is one of our jobs as Christians.  When we say that we follow Jesus, what does that mean?  Are there different meanings and could we agree on a single meaning?  Now there are mysteries of the faith.  Very shortly we will celebrate communion, which is surrounded in mystery and ritual.  Is there a language we can use, that all would understand, while maintaining that mystery and ritual?

     I don’t know the answer to that.  Maybe in all areas of our lives there will be pieces in which we do speak in different languages, but in ways that we can still understand each other.  And maybe this story is more of a vision of a day in which communication will be clear and precise. 

     I do admire my Facebook acquaintance.  I did my two years of Spanish in High School and remember very little of it.  To learn a language that does not even have a Bible translation must be very hard.  And to be able to share the good news for the first time with someone does have a certain appeal to it.  But for now, I think where I will start is right here at home, working to learn the languages I hear spoken around me, speaking them when helpful, and working to interpret so that we all understand what the other is saying.