Sunday, May 27, 2007


Acts 2
14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17" 'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

Two weeks has passed and now I’m ready to confess: I should call my mother more often. I couldn’t make this confession on Mother’s Day, because she was here, and would use the words of my confession at some later date. Part of the issue is my parent’s carefree lifestyle. She will often call me and say “we’re going away for a few days and I don’t know when we’re back.” How can I be expected to know when I can reach her? As a result of this confusion, I don’t call enough.

My mother does, however, call me. She often gets voicemail, and the message is almost always the same: “Michael, it’s your mother. We don’t know where you are or what you are doing. Why don’t you call us sometime? Bye, we love you.” There are a couple of noteworthy things to say about this message, an interesting melange of affection and guilt. First up, is the insinuation that I’m doing unknown things in some unknown place. I have to say my life just isn’t that interesting or varied. Ask anyone.

Secondly, why the self-identification? While my mother’s voice is not the most distinctive on the planet, it is my mother’s voice, and the words “it’s your mother” always give me a chuckle. I think it’s part of a vast guilt-making enterprise, and I’m sure if I didn’t call her back the next message would be something like “it’s me, the woman who gave birth to you.” It turns out that scientists have been studying this (voice recognition, not guilt-making) and have discovered some very interesting things:

[Researchers] tested 60 women in the final stage of pregnancy. All the mothers were tape-recorded as they read a poem out loud. Then the mothers were divided into two groups. Half the fetuses heard the recording of their own mother. The other half heard another mother, but not their own. In both cases, the poem caused a change in the baby's heart rate. The heart rate accelerated among those who heard their own mother's voice, and decelerated among those who heard a voice other than their mother's. Deceleration of the heart rate is "an attention mechanism." The heart-beat among fetuses who heard an unfamiliar voice slowed down, the researcher said, because they were paying close attention to a voice they did not recognize. In other words, they were trying to figure out who was talking.*

In other words, 42 years of voice recognition (make it 43 if you count the time in utero) means I know who’s calling and what she’ll say. The miracle of modern science.

Another scientist, looking at the same study, might point to a million years of human evolution and imagine that knowing your mother’s voice is an import survival skill. Thinking of our distant ancestors, from the first moment a toddler can toddle off, the ability to hear your mother’s voice and respond to it may be a life or death proposition. It makes sense that this skill would begin to develop before birth, when the audience is most attentive. From the very first, we know who we are (a child of our mother) to whom we belong.


Speaking and listening is at the very centre of Pentecost. Throughout the story, words are spoken and words are received. First appeared the gift of tongues. Words were spoken in many human languages, descriptions of “God’s deeds in power” were shared in languages that found their source throughout the known world. To those willing to listen, a transforming message was proclaimed. But others refused to hear, suggesting instead that they speakers were filled with new wine. Enter our friend Peter.

Preaching for the first time, Peter enables the next act of speaking and listening as he recounts the story of Jesus. It is a remarkable sermon. Beginning with “let this be known to you, and listen to what I say” he uses all the tools of rhetorical speech-making to engage his audience. He begins with the events of the day, and grounds them in the context of scripture. He shares (from the Greek) the prophecy of Joel. He describes Jesus the Christ and the way this prophecy has been fulfilled. As we learn at the conclusion of the lesson, three thousand were baptized and added to their number that day.


Speaking and listening, Peter and the earliest followers of Jesus are part of a dialogue as old as time:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Creation begins in speaking, as the words of the Creator speak to the darkness over the surface of the deep and light is born. And the speaking continues: the world is spoken into existence and all the creatures that make the world their home. We too are spoken into being, and the same dialogue between creature and Creator appears again and again the words of scripture:

1O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
3You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.

13For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully
and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).

I can think of no better way to celebrate a baptism that reflecting on the words of Psalm 139 and imagine that the baptism is part of this speaking and listening that has happened from the very first day of creation. We gather as the early church gathered to seek the Spirit, to hear the Word proclaimed, and to give our lives to God through the Sacrament of Baptism. It is a powerful reminder of who we are and to whom we belong.

The church has long recognized that several things are happening at baptism: We are purified from our sins: "you were washed, you were made holy, you were made righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 6.11); we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus, “dead and buried,” as Paul says, “with Christ, by baptism,” able to live new lives with him.

Finally, we are named as Christ's own and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit: "he has sealed us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (1 Cor. 1.22). This is the Pentecostal meaning of baptism: marked as Christ’s own, dedicated to God’s Kingdom, and filled with the Spirit. The Spirit moves among us and we are commanded to follow: we cannot know where the Spirit will lead, and we may resist her direction, but follow we must.

All in all, all the speaking and all the listening, all the bidding of the Spirit is a call to relationship. God’s wants to mark us and name us, hear our inmost thoughts and the longing of our hearts. God wants to speak and listen, to move among and within us call us home.

I want to conclude with the words of Henri Nouwen, quoted from his spiritual journal entitled “The Inner Voice of Love,” written to record his own desire to live more fully with God:

God says to you, "I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God." (p. 113)



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