Sermon: May 20, 2018 – Pentecost Sunday – Leaning a New Language


Text: Acts 2: 1-13

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound 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? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

There are a couple of things happening in this text that I can really relate to. The first is what is described here as the rush of a violent wind. I remember the day like it was yesterday; but in fact it was 18 years ago, to this very day. It was May 20, 2000. We were in Denver and on a Sunday afternoon a very pleasant day suddenly turned very ugly. In about 20 minutes time a rush of a mighty wind swept over us and the temperature dropped from a very pleasant 75 degrees or so, to around 35 degrees. The skies went from bright blue to a dusty gray and then to almost black. At first it began to rain, but soon the rain turned to snow. Before it was all over, this mighty wind and dropped the temperature more than 40 degrees and had dropped about 8 inches of wet, heavy snow. It was an event that sticks with you.

There is also something happening in this text with regard to language. As the story goes a lot of people were speaking a lot of different languages, but somehow in all that chaos, those who needed to hear a specific language were able to do so. I can relate to the different language issue, having travelled in some foreign countries you do hear some different languages. Even here in the United States, if you visit a National Park, for example, chances are you will hear a few different languages being spoken by visitors to the park. But what is really frustrating, at least for me, is when something seems like it is in a different language, but it is still English. As technology invades more and more aspects of our lives this seems to be happening more and more frequently. I remember the first time I heard the term “e-mail”. I didn’t have any idea what it was or how it might work. It was English, but it may as well have been in a foreign language. Has anyone shopped for a new TV recently? It used to be you had a couple of choices, black & white or color and 19” or 25” and that was about it. Now there are numbers and LCD’s and LED’s and some other kind of CD and 1080 this and 2040 that, I can’t keep track of it all.

What I also find interesting is that it seems like, at least at times, that a whole new language arrives on the scene all at once. So thinking back to our text, it is like a whole new language descends upon everyone like a rush of a mighty wind. It happens that suddenly, and you are expected to keep up and somehow know what everyone is talking about. I know that has happened to me on a number of occasions; I mentioned e-mail and TV’s, cell phones are another one, I’m just now figuring out what an “app” is, and computers, well let’s not even talk about computers. You just get one termed figured out and it is obsolete before you have a chance to apply it to anything.

I have had this same experience with a whole new language suddenly showing up like a rush of a mighty wind with the topic we have been discussing recently that is currently creating some waves of discontent in the United Methodist church. What I’m referring to is the issue of homosexuality, or as the new language likes to put, the issue of full inclusion of our LGBTQA sisters and brothers. I remember when I was just figuring out what LGBT stood for and what it meant, when all at once, like the rush of a mighty wind, another few letters were added. I remember thinking it won’t be long and we will have to recite the entire alphabet!

I’m hoping to be able to help you with this language interpretation a little bit today, but to just tell you what each letter stands for doesn’t really help your understanding. It still leaves you thinking; “why do we need so many letters”? And simply knowing what a letter stands for doesn’t mean you understand it. I know what the letters stand for in the equation E=MC2, but that doesn’t mean I can explain it to you.

As I have thought about this, I have decided that maybe a good approach is to help you with what might be another language problem. I mentioned computers a couple of minutes ago. Now I need to make a disclaimer here; I am not a computer technician and only understand the basics of a computer on a very elementary level. So as I explain some parts of the computer language, it may be that I understand some parts of the system incorrectly. But I think I’m close, and for this example, close is close enough.

You may have heard that computer language is binary. This means that almost anything a computer does can be broken down into 1’s or 0’s. These are the two numbers of computer language. There are only two, so it is “bi” meaning two, and they are numbers so it is binary, meaning two numbers.

What is fascinating is how the options of all that code expand with just these two numbers and a few choices about the numbers. If you consider just one little piece of information, say a letter for example, that one bit of information has four options. It can be a 1 or a 0, and it can be on or off. If you introduce another bit of information, now you have 8 options, and then 16, or 32, or 64 and then 128 and 256 and so on. It’s possible some of these numbers sound a little familiar to you. This is the result of binary code, and it all starts with something being either a 1 or a 0 and then it is either on or off.

I don’t know if you remember the first computers that were monochrome, or just one color on the screen, but it wasn’t long and you could get a computer that had 16 colors, and then it was 64 and it seemed like overnight the color combinations went to six million. Now we don’t think anything about it. It is just normal; in fact the image on the screen exceeds reality in many cases. That’s true of your phones now as well. But the important thing to remember is that all of this technology is possible with binary code; just two numbers, and two choices, either on or off.

There are many people who view human sexuality as binary code. In other words we are either male or female, and like magnets, opposites attract. If that’s all there is, then it remains pretty simple, but it isn’t all that simple, it is much more complex; even more complex than a computer. As research and science have discovered, human sexuality is not binary code.

As I understand things, there are at least four different elements that combine together to create what we now call our sexual orientation. For most of us, that sexual orientation is what we refer to as “straight”, meaning that we are either male or female and we are attracted to the opposite gender. But there is more to it than that.

The four elements of our sexual orientation that I mentioned a minute ago are these four items: our physical gender, our gender identity, our gender attraction, and the strength of that attraction. In computer language, that means we are now dealing with 0,1,2, and 3’s but it is even more complex. It is more complex because each of those things is not an “either, or” situation, or like a computer, “on or off”. Each one of those four areas is in reality a sliding scale that moves from 100% on each end to neutral position in the middle.

For example, you might be aware that every day there are babies born that have non-developed gender organs so it is impossible to determine gender. There are also babies born with both male and female organs and everything in-between. This means our physical gender is not always 100% male or female, it is sometimes on a sliding scale, and sometimes it is mixed.

Gender identity is not physical gender identification. Your gender identity is what you are between your ears, in your mind, and how you think about and how you interpret the world around you. For most us, our physical gender matches our gender identity, but that is not true for everyone. There are those who are born one way, physically, and yet think another way. Once again, this is not simply on or off, it is a sliding scale. All of us have some attributes of a different gender identity within our experience of the world.

The third element of our sexual orientation is the question of attraction. Once again, what most of us experience is that opposite genders attract. This is made more complicated because this aspect is also on a sliding scale, some individuals are attracted to only one gender and some are attracted to both. For some individuals this attraction is the same gender they happen to be physically, and for others it is the opposite gender they happen to be physically, for others it is both.

The fourth element of that comprises our orientation is the strength of that attraction. This is true of all of us that the strength of our attraction ranges from very strong to very weak. In what we consider to be a straight male, the attraction toward the opposite gender female would be strong, while the strength of the attraction to another male would be weaker, or non-existent. There are individuals who experience zero attraction to either gender regardless of what gender they happen to be. These individuals are A-sexual, and that is what the “A” stands for when we speak of the LGBTQA community.

I’m hoping that you can begin to understand that given the complexities of this topic, it is difficult to categorize all people in just a few broad sweeping groups. The truth is that to do so with just six letters is still probably extremely inaccurate for many individuals. But I think it is important for us to understand that all these letters are not designed to irritate us, or to call attention to themselves or even to try to be different. All the letters are intended to do is to communicate that this is a very complex subject; more complex than even computers.

To reduce our human sexuality to a single expression is like saying that even though computers are able to accomplish all sorts of tasks, we should only use them for addition. Any other use of a computer is sinful and an abomination, which is just crazy.

So the next time it feels like a rush of a mighty wind has swept over you and the new language of the LGBTQA community causes you to struggle, just remember how complicated this topic truly is.

Food for thought and go in peace. Amen.




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