The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
By now, most of you know that I’m a big fan of personality typologies. Enneagram. Myers Briggs. Heck, even astrology. Each of these different typologies uses different criteria to break down and sort who and how people are into different categories.
At first, the most life-giving thing for me about learning these different typologies was really seeing myself in them. They make me feel understood. They make me more understanding of my struggles and shortcomings, and how those struggles and shortcomings, when flipped around into different situations, when used more thoughtfully and intentionally, also reveal my gifts, my unique ways of authentically loving others and the world.
But as I dove more deeply into some of these typologies, something shifted. These typologies weren’t just about me getting to know myself. They were a way for me to recognize that other people are vastly different from me. I know that sounds obvious, but I don’t think it really is. I think most of the time, we assume that people share our motivations. We assume that people want the same things as we do for our lives and for the world. We assume that our way is the best way of doing things, and other people know that but just can’t get their stuff together enough to make it happen.
These typologies, at their best, teach us that those assumptions aren’t really accurate. They show us that we are all fundamentally different. In the enneagram, I—an Enneagram One—am motivated by what I feel is right and good. Integrity is one of my highest values. But an Enneagram Six is motivated by preserving their security and the security of those they love.
I would put myself at risk—stand at the head of a protest, challenge my bishop—for the sake of acting with integrity. While an Enneagram Six might keep quiet about their values if they thought speaking out would put their job or life or family at risk.
Neither approach, neither type, is better or worse. We need people who will speak out for what is right. We also need people who see the potential pitfalls, the potential danger of certain actions and behaviors, no matter how seemingly noble.
There’s also this other kind of typology called the five love languages. That’s more of a pop typology—a best-selling book for relationships. I’m not going to get into them. If you’re interested, you can google them—not now, of course. But I mention them because actually I think all these typologies are a kind of love language. They are a way to learn how to speak each other’s languages to love each other more fully.
What does this have to do with Pentecost, with the coming of the Spirit, with the birthday of the Church? you might be asking.
Well, we hear in the Acts of the Apostles:
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at the sound of the violent wind the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
The Spirit came down upon the twelve disciples and then rushed out into Jerusalem where Jews from the far corners of the diaspora—Mesopotatia, Egypt, Arabia—had gathered. And suddenly they could speak each other’s native language.
In researching for this sermon, I read a story about an American woman whose work had taken her to Moscow for a few weeks. As you might imagine, there aren’t very many English speakers in Moscow, so this woman had been moving through that time struggling to understand and be understood.
Have any of you been in that situation? I have. Once when I visited a college friend in Slovakia. Another time in rural Guatemala where the native Mayans only spoke their local language. Even if you’re the kind of person who gets excited being around new and different people and cultures, it gets exhausting. Very exhausting.
This woman talked about how she was in a subway station in Moscow, the unfamiliar sounds and cadence of Russian swirling around her, when through that din she heard English. And not just English, but American English, her English. She felt her body release. She even teared up. Just hearing someone speak her native language, the language that informed and infused her whole body, her whole being, made her feel, for a moment, like she was home. For a moment, she felt like she could be her full self.
I wonder if on that day of Pentecost, that’s how the Mesopotamian Jews, the Egyptian Jews, the Arabian Jews felt. They’d been in Jerusalem, exhausted by the unfamiliar sounds and cadences of Aramaic and Greek, when suddenly they heard their native language all around them. Suddenly, for a moment, they felt like they could relax, like they were home.
The Spirit comes to teach us how to create home for each other. And for ourselves.
And I want to make a distinction. A house or apartment is the place where you live, with a roof and walls and doors and windows. A home is a place where you can bring your full, authentic self and feel safe, where you feel like you belong. Isn’t that what the Kingdom of God is?
I know that some of us may have grown up in houses but not homes. I know some of us currently live in houses but not homes. Some of us actually need to leave our houses to go home. Remember that show Cheers? “Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”?
I’m not saying that a bar is the healthiest place to call home, but…in certain cases it is? I know that up until the early 2000s, bars were one of the only places gay and trans and gender-noncomforming folks felt at home.
Some of us might feel most at home with people who aren’t our biological family. Maybe it’s with a group of close friends. Maybe it’s with a team of some sort. Maybe it’s at church.
The Spirit comes to teach us how to make the world home for all people, in all the different ways God made us. Including ourselves.
That sounds nice, right? Not so fast.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where the disciples were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
We can read this now and be like, “How exciting! How dramatic! How magical!” But let’s put ourselves in the disciples’ place. They are in a house when suddenly the sound of hurricane force winds fills the space. I don’t know if the actual wind came, too, but honestly it’s even creepier to think that the sound without the wind filled the space. And then, licks of actual fire appeared out of nowhere and rested on each of them and they all started speaking in different languages.
Let’s imagine that happening right now, here, in this place. First, the sound of a wild and terrifying wind. Then little fires floating in the air and settling on each of our heads. Then each of us suddenly speaking a language we do not know. Would we have any chill if that happened right now, here, in this place?
The Spirit does not always come sweetly, quietly. It shakes the disciples up,
probably even frightens them.
Sometimes creating home is challenging. It’s scary. It calls us out of our comfort zone.
Sometimes it means acknowledging that our house isn’t a home, and we need to find our home elsewhere. That’s hard. It can be heartbreaking. It means learning your own love language and trusting that how you are, how God made you, matters. That you deserve to be seen and held and understood.
And sometimes it means being willing to do the hard work of learning someone else’s love language—the different ways they feel seen and held and understood. It means acknowledging that our way of being, our way of doing things isn’t the only way.
Because, unfortunately, the Spirit rarely comes like it did the first time around, suddenly granting everyone the ability to understand and be understood. We have to work at it.
But that’s why the Spirit came. To call us to build God’s Kingdom right here, right now. To give us each different gifts to do that work. That we may all feel at home, as we are, in all our uniqueness, just as God created us.