We hosted the area wide meeting of Spanish-speaking Church groups yesterday. It was such a blessing to worship together. Mike Mendez (the father, the one with the great head of hair) translated my opening remarks into Spanish, and then translated the sermon of our guest speaker, brother Carlos Hugues, into English. Otherwise the service was conducted in Spanish. This posed only slight difficulties for us English speakers. Despite the language barrier we worshipped together fervently, in Spirit and in Truth.
The songs we sang were set to familiar tunes, and there is so much Spanish in the air that even those of us who have had no Spanish language training can follow along. We all know that Salvador is savior, Dios is God, Corazon is heart, amor is love, Cristo is Christ, agua is water, and Senor is Lord. I could list 20 more words we English speakers identified because they are in common usage, or recognized from a shared background in Greek and Latin. We English speakers sang along with the Spirit and the Understanding.
The same familiarity of vocabulary made following the scripture readings just as easy. I wish that the prayers of brother Ismael, and brother Rigoberto had been translated, as well as brother Chavez’ remarks around the communion table. Their words were so heart-felt and reverent, that even without translation we were all led in adoration of our Father.
Brother Hugues’ lesson on Hebrews 2.1-4, encouraging us not to neglect our great salvation, was a powerful and challenging reminder of what is truly important.
For weeks we announced this meeting as a “Spanish Language” service, but it was truly a Pentecost service. On the day of Pentecost following the death-burial-resurrection-ascension of Jesus the Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles and they began to preach. The miracle of the day was that although 16 different ethnic groups were gathered in Jerusalem, and only 12 apostles to preach to them, everyone heard the gospel in their native language. Something like that happened Sunday evening.
It wasn’t that we all miraculously understood Spanish. There are three logical reasons why language didn’t pose much of a barrier. One reason is that most of us know more Spanish than we realize. Another reason is that we humans communicate in more ways than just with words. But there was something else at work – a common language we Spanish speakers and English speakers share when we share a Salvador. We share the language of the Gospel.
Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God. Which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness to him, he cannot comprehend them because they are spiritually valued. I Corinthians 2.12-14
Whether one speaks Spanish or English, Hope/Esperanza means something to the Christian it means to no one else. The miracle of Pentecost persists because we share the language of the Gospel.
Christianity has been chided recently for using a specialized vocabulary that is out of touch with most folks – especially young folks. It is true that we can throw theological jargon around like incantations, use those words as Shibboleths, or as a way to keep the uninitiated at arm’s length. We sometimes fetishize words of our own making - “trinity” for instance, which are not even in the Bible. But the vocabulary of the gospel – words like: sin, salvation, grace, redemption, peace, hope, and atonement –are necessary to the message itself. These words unite us across language barriers.
These gospel words will form no barrier to the one seeking God, as Paul tells us in the passage above. For the worldly person, the one with no interest in God at all, his own disinterest is the barrier – not gospel words.