Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον… meditation

Οτως γρ γπησεν  θες τν κσμον, στε τν υἱὸν τν μονογεν δωκεν, να πς  πιστεων ες ατν μ πληται λλ’ χζων αἰώνιον. 

John 3:16 in Koine Greek.

What if there was someone you have grown to love that spoke in a language foreign to your own, what would you do? Language is one of those most fundamental communication symbols. We take it for granted but it is an amazing thing that we can take sounds like a, e, i, o, u and add them to other sounds, string those sounds together and make what we call words that translate into a meaning in the mind of another person. Of course, the people you are trying to communicate with have to have a common set of sounds that mean similar things in their mind to be able to communicate with each other. Think of how often the meaning of words has changed between generations. For example if I said to you, “I’ve got a backlog,” you would think what? (Probably I’ve got a lot of work on my desk to do.) But in Colonial times it meant the biggest log in the fire. Or if I said, “that’s fantastic,” you would think? (Usually that something is incredible.) But centuries ago it meant that something existed only in your imagination. Learning a language is an art, it’s not simply stringing sounds together that can be uttered without any real meaning, but it is the necessity of learning the heart and soul of a culture and a people, learning what makes them tick and what brings them to tears. It is listening to and learning the desires and needs, hopes and dreams of the people you are trying to communicate with, even if you speak “the same language,” if you don’t learn the desires and needs, hopes and dreams of the people you really want to communicate with you’ll never get beyond simply asking Dónde está el baño, which understandably is an important question but you can only get so far with it.

But when that connection happens, it is amazing. Think about a moment in your own life when someone actually listened to what you were saying, not just from your words but from your heart and when they talked with you, you knew they understood what you were trying to say, what you were feeling. A connection happened that went beyond words to the very heart of who you are.

That can only be a taste of the fantastic event that happened during Pentecost in our reading from Acts 2:1-21. This was a well-attended high feast day in Jerusalem and both Jews and devout God-fearers from across the known world where all in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. The disciples of Jesus after the amazing events of the resurrection, the resurrected Jesus walking and talking with them for 40 days, the ascension into heaven and the great commission to go and make disciples, they had begun to change from the people who had deserted and abandoned Jesus, even cursing they never knew his name- to an expectant group waiting together for God’s promise to be fulfilled. It did. On the day of Pentecost when God’s Spirit came upon them, they rushed out into the crowds without any fear of the people who would persecute and eventually kill them and spoke the Good News about Jesus. As the crowds from every nation heard this good news they didn’t need translators because every word the disciples spoke in God’s Spirit was heard in the language of their heart, the language their mother had whispered to them at night when they cradled them in their arms.

But there was something about this message that was so fantastic that it went beyond words but spoke to their deepest needs and desires, that spoke to their heart and they found the answer to what they were looking for in Jesus and three thousand were baptized that day. Just imagine all of the things that separated those three thousand people, language, culture, preferences, values, ethics and the list could go on and on. It would have been so easy for the disciples to simply label people and say if you are an Israelite come to this special cottage meeting for our message, but if you are a Phoenician or Asian, if you come from a culture that sacrifices babies (which some of those did) or you don’t speak Hebrew you need not come. But the message of Jesus was so powerful that day spoken in the spirit that it cut through every label and spoke to the heart and soul of the people.

It would be so nice if something like Pentecost happened every time we spoke about Jesus and people heard the words coming out of our mouth in the language of their heart without us even trying. But that only happened once for those first disciples and like us, after that they had to go through the hard work of learning how to communicate to the heart of the people they were speaking with. But I think this is a good thing because learning to communicate, not just to be understood but learning to understand; is something that changes our own heart. It makes us more compassionate towards the people we are learning to communicate with, more loving. It also forces us to learn how the hope we have in Jesus speaks to our own heart as well and in understanding learning how to articulate it in a way that makes sense both to them and us.

Learning to communicate well forces us to move beyond labels. Like those ancient disciples on Pentecost, they could have stopped at the labels Phoenician, Asian and Hebrew but the message they had to speak was so powerful it cut through all of those labels to the heart of each person. So to with us, the labels that are thrown around today like homosexual and gay, Arab, black or white and so many others that make it so easy to forget that the people labeled are real people. Real people with desires and needs, hopes and dreams, real people just like us. If there is a label it is the only label that matters and it is the one we all share in common: people who need Jesus.

Because God himself cut through every label that separate us from Him, labels like broken and lost, enemy and rebellious; and spoke to our heart in Jesus, if God would do this for us can we do any less for those in our world?

Οτως γρ γπησεν  θες τν κσμον, στε τν υἱὸν τν μονογεν δωκεν, να πς  πιστεων ες ατν μ πληται λλ’ χζων αἰώνιον. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

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