by Antonio Reyes
Five years ago, I attended the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) Board of Directors meeting held in Berlin, Germany. Part of our planned activities for that Sunday—the third in Pentecost—was to attend worship in a congregation of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK).
On June 25, 2017, therefore, I, along with Chairman John Ehlers of the United Kingdom and Bishop Thor Henrik With of Norway, attended service at Berlin’s Trinity Lutheran Church.
This church, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Gottfried Martens, has exploded in size in recent years due to the hundreds of Iranian and Afghan converts who have joined the congregation. When we entered the building, greeters met us. We were then ushered into the worship area. There were many churchgoers already present. What surprised us was that there were many people who spoke different languages. There were those who spoke German, English, Farsi, Dari—plus my companion who spoke Norwegian and I who have my own Philippine language. Many different languages were spoken and heard during that time of worship.
Given the season on the church calendar, I couldn’t help but think of the readings from Pentecost. The Old Testament text for the day is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. At that time, the whole earth had one language and the same words. Everyone understood each other, and thus they plotted to build “a city and a tower with its top in the heavens”—to “make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord was not pleased with what He saw! So He came down to “confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” The people were dispersed and were separated from each other; God confused them by giving them different languages.
The second reading for Pentecost is the Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-21). At that time, many people from different countries and different languages had gathered in Jerusalem. They were there to celebrate the Feast of Harvest—the day of first fruits. In this story, we see the fulfilment of the promise of our Lord Jesus in John 14:15-17 (the Gospel reading for Pentecost), where Jesus said: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost. “When the day of Pentecost arrived,” we read, “they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
The disciples, moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit, stood up and proclaimed the risen Jesus. They proclaimed that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, those who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, would be saved. That day, the Holy Spirit created saving faith in the hearts of many who heard the Gospel proclaimed, and 3,000 souls were added to the Church.
The Holy Spirit, who dispersed the people of old because of their pride and arrogance by confusing their language, is the same Holy Spirit who gathers people of different languages, colour, and culture through the Gospel of Jesus Christ during Pentecost. He is the same Holy Spirit who works at Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, Germany. And He is the one and the same Spirit who works throughout the whole world today in Word and Sacrament. People of different colours and cultures and languages are still called together to worship as one, united in our one Lord Jesus, having one faith, one Baptism, and one Holy Spirit who is their Helper.
Today, we celebrate the Birthday of the Church: the day of Pentecost! The Holy Spirit continues to gather us in the Word and Sacraments where He gives us the assurance that, because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have forgiveness of sins—and where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation!
We have that eternal life today. The same Holy Spirit guides and leads us to live a sanctified life. The Holy Spirit helps us to produce good works and to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to others, that they, too, might believe in Him and have life eternal through Him. Amen!
Rev. Antonio Reyes is President of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines and a member of the International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors.