Language is a funny thing. Especially when it is translated – sometimes the results are messed up and very humorous. Examples are:
- In Chinese, the “Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan: ‘Finger-lkin’ good’ was translated ‘Eat your fingers off’.
- IN Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan: ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ came out as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”.
- When Parker Pen marketed a ball point pen in MExico, its advertisements were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’. Instead the advertisement was translated as ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’.
- In Italy, Schweppes Tonic Water was wrongly translated into Schweppes Toilet Water.
- From English to Japanese, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’ (from Hamlet) ended up being translated as ‘It is it is not – what is it?’
- The Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish speaking countries. Why? Because “No Va” means ‘It does not go’ in Spanish.
- Clairol introduced a curling iron called the ‘Mist Stick’ in Germany only to find out that ‘mist’ in German means manure.
- Finally, when Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the U.S. with the beautiful baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, since most people can’t read, companies routinely put pictures on the label to show what’s inside – and that is why no one bought the food.
Even when 2 people can understand the same language, there is plenty of confusion. Things get lost in translation. And our words are important, they have power.
Proverbs 12:18 reminds us that “Reckless words pierce like a sword.” Job tells us that words can be like a blustering wind (8:2) and they can crush our spirit (19:2). And Proverbs 10:19 proclaims, “When words are many, sin is not absent.”
It was just a little over 2 years ago, when Cindy and I traveled with a clergy group to Guatemala on a mission trip. It is essential to have a translator. The Holy Spirit is our translator.
I think that is why, what happened at Pentecost in the book of Acts really gets my attention and draws me in. Acts begins with the disciples seeing the appearance of the resurrected Jesus ‘over a period of 40 days’.
Then just before he ascends to heaven, he said to them in Acts 1:7-8, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive ‘power’ when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After this, Jesus was taken up and disappeared in the clouds. Two angels sent them on their way.
They returned to Jerusalem, buried Judas, chose a new disciple named Matthias – and then they remained in the upper room praying and hiding. Ten days later, it was the Festival of Weeks (we know this today as Pentecost – Pentecost means 50).
The Festival of Weeks was a harvest festival for the Jews. It was a celebration of thanks and also commemorated the day when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. In other words, this was a very important festival for the Israelites, second only to Easter.
Acts 1:15 records they were all together in one place, all 120 followers. When suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Pastor and writer Barbara Brown Taylor described what they heard as “a holy hurricane’.
‘Then they saw’ what looked like ‘tongues of fire’ that separated and rested above each one’s head. And the wind did not blow out the fire.
This event was actually a fulfillment of what John the Baptist preached which is recorded in Matthew 3:11. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with ‘the Holy Spirit and fire’.”
Fire represents purification, enlightenment and ‘a burning away’ of all sin to make a person ready for new growth. It is an emptying that makes room for God’s Spiiit.
Then Luke explains, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4)
Meanwhile, the noise drew a crowd. The Festival of Weeks brought all devout Jews who were required to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. Drawing near, they heard the disciples speaking.
In this crowd, there are Jewish believers from all over the continent. There are ‘well over 17 different language’ and even more regional dialects and accents. Luke writes that the crowd was awed and amazed because ‘every person’ could understand what these disciples were saying in their own language.
Someone asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” Another person asked, “What does this mean?” Others in the crowd made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2)
Some scholars have asked, “Is this really a miracle where the disciples are speaking in many languages – or was it a miracle of hearing? I think it was both, the disciples were speaking in different languages and they all hear Peter in their own.
On this particular day, all impediments or hindrances were pushed aside. The barriers of race and culture, of language and religion, of gender and age, and of slave and free were dismantled by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this moment, God created an even playing field and everyone really heard and understood Peter.
This is the first time this happened, since God divided the people and gave them different languages at the Tower of Babel.
You may recall, in Genesis 13, the people of the world came together for ‘the wrong reason’ – and so God split them up and created many different languages.
But on Pentecost, all the people were allowed to hear the “good News’ and it transformed lives.
Peter spole from the book of Joel 2:28-29 and proclaimed, this is what God said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Then he told them about Jesus.
Luke records that over 3,000 people believed and were baptized on that day – and they were the start of the early church. With the coming of teh Holy Spirit, there was a re-creation and a renewal of mankind. All of this began with the work and promises of Jesus.
Jesus told his disciples in John chapters 15 and 16, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Pastor and author E. Paul Hovey wrote, “The word ‘Counselor or Comforter’ as applied to the Holy Spirit needs to be translated ‘with strength.’ Jesus promised His followers that ‘The Strengthener’ would be with them forever.”
And Christian evangelist and author David Wilkerson wrote, “When you strip it ‘of everything else’, Pentecost stands for power and life.”
But I think it is important to notice also, that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. If the language of God is love, hearing, understanding and believing ‘the truth of who Jesus was and what he did’ – leads to love and unity.
Jesus prayed in John 17:23 “May they be brought to complete unity to – let the world will know that you sent me – and have loved them – even as you have loved me.”
The early church celebrated Pentecost in many ways, but it is especially important to Methodists because John and Charles Wesley had Pentecost moments in their lives. They wrote 32 Pentecost Hymns. And when the Methodists and EUB’s joined creating The United Methodist Church it was considered a Pentecost Moment. Our Cross and Flame symbolize that!
The great Methodist missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones often said, “Unless the Holy Spirit fills, the human spirit fails.”
If we want transformation, we have to invite the Holy Spirit back in! So I proudly proclaim, “Come Holy Spirit”, you are welcome here.
Your assignment is … pray this week for God to give you a Pentecost moment. Then, if you have one, testify about it. Amen