“Lost (and found) in translation”

A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on June 4, 2017

Texts: Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13; John 7:37-39

Clare L. Hickman

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale

June 4, 2017—Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13; John 7:37-39


           The Spirit comes as fire, dancing above our heads and setting us alight. The Spirit comes as water, welling up within us to give us life to us and bring life to all the world. The Spirit comes as a variety of gifts, not to set some people apart, but to call what is best and truest out of each and every one of us.

          It is the nature of the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Creation. She makes something new of us. She moves us from one place to another, whether that be in our life journey, or in the workings of our heart and spirit. She urges us on, she lends us her power, because she wants all the children of God to be able to grow and change and reach out in new ways.

And so the Spirit also comes as inspiration, giving us words that leap across boundaries of misunderstanding and capture people’s hearts, sweeping away all the possible confusion and barriers in order to bring the good news to all people. “Each of us hears and understands,” the crowd marvels as they hear the disciples preach, “We hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power!”

Granted, some of them were convinced that the disciples were drunk. Because humans, let’s face it, have a superpower when it comes to resisting news that challenges us, even when the news is good. Even when the news is about liberation and healing; even when the news is about new life that comes after everything seems to have died; even when the news is about the offer to turn your life around and be in right relationship with God and all the people in your life. Even then, we might prefer to misunderstand.

Even when the person we are trying to tell the good news to is our very own self. Even then, the Spirit might have some work to do, to get us to understand. To get us to accept. Because sometimes the chasm of mis-communication lies within our own hearts and minds. We hear the words, we hear the promise and the challenge, but they get twisted into unrecognizability as we run them through the translator that lives in our head.

We do this. At least, many of us do. It’s like we’ve got ninja moves when it comes to hearing and reinterpreting things, questioning them and turning them about. Sometimes we have entire scripts on permaloop in there, drowning out any other input, turning our emotional life into one long Feelings as a Second Language course. For instance, maybe there’s a thing or two in your past that make you skeptical about the existence of love, or dubious that there could in fact be something admirable about you. Which means you can receive a compliment and turn it about in so many directions that you end up insulted. Or you hear the message about your gifts and how they are needed for the work of the Kingdom, and somehow filter that to mean the community of God needs everyone but you.

Or perhaps you’re fluent in the language in which God’s attention means only judgment and damnation rather than healing and renewal. And maybe this idea of your miserable lack of worth was reinforced by your parents, or your teachers, or your ex-husband. Which means you hear the call to repentance and forgiveness and your sociopathic translator whispers in your ear that this couldn’t mean you, because you are beyond hope of redemption.

My scripts tell me that my value lies in what other people think of me. They tell me it’s crucial for people to like me, and never be mad at me, or disappointed in me. I’m getting better at letting that perfection thing go, as I get older and have more years of continuing to be imperfect (go figure) under my belt. Apparently, people can still love and admire me, even when I mess things up on the regular. But still … the script is old, and deep, and it has worn a groove in my brain that the Holy Spirit needs to overcome every time She wants to remind me that I am a child of God, that I am beloved, but don’t need to be any more beloved than anyone else.

There are grooves in our brain that the experiences of our lives have worn, and some of them make it harder for the Good News to sink in to our hearts and minds and spirit. Nadia Bolz-Weber suggests that part of the work and power of God is to spackle over some of those grooves, so that the gospel can flow smoother and stronger through our crazy, resistant psyches (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2016/12/thoughts-always-repeat-advent-sermon/). So that we can hear the promises of redemption, the promises of forgiveness, and the promises of healing, and believe them. So that we can receive the call to work for the kingdom, and not argue with it. So that we can invite others into those same promises and that same work. So that we can believe in our own power, our own worth, our own necessity, while also believing in other people’s power, worth and necessity. So that the creative, recreative force of the Holy Spirit can flow through us, making us new and then renewing the world around us, through us!

I mean it! No matter how much that translator in your brain wants to tell you that it’s not your job, or that you don’t have what it takes to do this job: that voice is not the voice of God. That voice is not an accurate translation of the word of God. That voice lies. Because it is your job. Jesus says so. And you DO have the power to do it. Jesus says that too, and to make it true, he sent the Holy Spirit. Who comes as fire, dancing above our heads and setting us alight. Who comes as water, welling up within us to give life to us and to all the world. Who comes as a variety of gifts, calling what is best and truest out of each and every one of us. Who urges us on, and lends us her power, that we might be good news, not only to ourselves but to the whole world. May it be so. Amen.

Clare Hickman