Eh, Paganus!

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Donna Ialongo

Preached on: June 4th, 2017



No recording

Scripture Text:

Acts 2:1-21


“And at this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”

Many times when people talk about this passage from Acts of the Apostles, this story of the first Pentecost, they say the disciples were “speaking in tongues. St. Paul talked about speaking in tongues in the first letter to the Corinthians — he called it glossolalia. And by that he meant that people spoke in unknown, strange languages that almost no one could understand. And, he said, it was a gift of the Holy Spirit to speak those tongues and another gift to be able to understand them.

But on this Pentecost day in Jerusalem, people were hearing known languages. They heard what they needed to hear in their native tongue. It was as if the Holy Spirit was a Star Trek universal translator.

Let me explain. On the original Star Trek show with William Shatner as Captain Kirk, whenever they visited a planet with a new species of intelligent beings, they carried a device about the size of an old-fashioned, 20-year-old, clunky cell-phone. And when they met the new species, they’d turn it on, and, no matter what the space aliens said — let’s say they were Klingons — the Captain and his crew heard English. And whenever the Star Trek people spoke, the Klingons heard Klingon. It was wonderful and solved all sorts of plot problems. I think that’s pretty much how things worked that first Pentecost day.

Jerusalem was crowded. There were Jews there from all over the world for the holy day. The Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jews all over the known world, had begun over 500 years before the birth of Jesus —during the Babylonian captivity. On that Pentecost day, there were more Jews living outside of Palestine than in it. There were 2MM Jews in Judea and Galilee, but there were 4MM outside of those areas.

Now, imagine that you’re a Jew from Pamphilia or Phrygia, or Rome and you’ve made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. You don’t know anybody. You don’t speak Aramaic, the language Jesus and his disciples spoke. Getting lodging and food is really difficult. You do your best to make people understand what you need, but it isn’t working that well. You’re always getting lost and you don’t know how to ask for directions. You begin to wish you’d brought someone with you who spoke Aramaic.

By that Pentecost morning, you’re really frustrated. And there you are. Standing in the marketplace. Suddenly you hear someone speaking your language. You hear Pamphilian, or Phrygian, or Latin. And, if you were from Rome and heard Latin, you’d shout: “Eh, Paganus!”

“Hey, Countryman!”

What a wonderful feeling it would be to hear that voice. You would feel connected because you’d be hearing your mother tongue. And you’d know that things would be OK.

I know that feeling. I know I used this story once here before — seven years ago, but please indulge me.

Once I was hopelessly lost in a residential section of Kyoto, Japan. Now, Japan is not like Europe where you can read signs and maps easily. After all, we use the same alphabet that Europeans use. I was lost in Rome once (I get lost often); I did have a map. The street sign at the corner said I was at the Via Garibaldi and the Via Nicola Fabrizi. I saw on the map where those streets crossed. And I knew I could use the map to find my way back to the hotel.

Not so simple in Kyoto. I had a map, but street signs there are in three separate scripts: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. And there are 80,000 characters – not 26 letters.

So, I looked at the sign and then looked at the map.

No luck.

I looked at the sign again and then looked at the map, trying to find those Japanese characters.

No luck.

And then I looked at the sign . . .

Well, pretty soon I was hyperventilating; panic had set in. And then suddenly I heard a voice speaking English. She said, “Honey, I’m telling ya. We’re not lost. We’re going to get out of here.” I ran around the corner to get to her: “Are you an American,” I said.

“Yes,” she said and we embraced like sisters who hadn’t seen each other in years. We had each heard our mother tongue. We were lost together but we knew together we’d find our way.

That must have been what it was like for the Jews from Pamphilia and Phrygia and Rome that Pentecost morning. They heard their mother tongue and they knew they’d be OK. And even more importantly, they also heard about “God’s deeds of power.”

The Holy Spirit was working in them that day the same way it worked in the disciples. I like to think that they took home what they heard and shared it with their families and friends, that they were the first evangelists to Pamphilia and Phrygia, and Rome.

What a great and glorious day that was for the church.

I ask myself, is it an isolated story? A once-upon-a-time story? That day so long ago, when the Holy Spirit came and gifted those visitors so that they heard exactly what they needed to hear?

My answer is “No.” I think Pentecost is possible every Sunday. When I preach, whenever so many preachers preach, we pray that we and you will be given the Pentecost gift. To quote myself from last week, we preachers pray that when we stand here and speak, the Holy Spirit will come between our words and what you hear, and that you will hear exactly what you need to hear — that you will hear me speak, but you will hear me in your own language, the language of your heart.

I also pray that from time to time when you hear all of us who are preachers, you might want to shout out, “Eh, Paganus!”


Why? Because through the miracle of the Holy Spirit, you will have heard what your heart needed to hear. And I pray that in your heart you will say to me and to all your preachers, “I will listen to you, because you and I, we’re a bit lost, but you and I, we will find our way together.”

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