Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gospel Interpreters Save Lives in All Languages

Acts 2: 1-12
I remember seeing on the door of one of the offices at St. Raphael’s a bumper sticker that said, “Medical Interpreters Save Lives in Other Languages”.  I wish I had that service a few years back when I was in Israel and I found myself in Shaare Zedek, ironically translated, the Gates of Righteous, Hospital.

A hospitalization of four days was not one of the experiences I had planned to have, but there I was in need of medical care and was zoomed off by Hasidic paramedics in an ambulance to the closest hospital.  I got the best of attention and the worst of food.  You see Israel is on the cutting edge of technological advances in medicine so I knew that I would get extraordinary care.  And I did.  And, the food was kosher and while I’ve had some delicious kosher food, this was not by any stroke of the imagination even recognizable. 

But the food was not the problem.  The problem was, everyone from housecleaning, to the technicians to the doctors were Hebrew speakers.  I am not, for all intents and purposes, even though I had studied the language in preparation.

I knew that I was in God’s hands when on the third day the cardiologist and a team of 10 other doctors and residents did rounds.  There I was in bed, hooked up to monitors, not quite sure what the next step was going to be save for a few short, broken English translated phrases about drips and medications.  I was surrounded for ten minutes with the team standing above me and unintelligible words swirling around my head.

While the empathetic patient in the bed next to me was able to translate a bit of important information like diagnosis and treatment, I was at God’s mercy and the hands of everyone else.  And when I was released they gave me some meds, a bill, which was nothing, I repeat, nothing compared to US medical healthcare costs, and a five page medical report, you guessed it, in Hebrew!  I needed an interpreter so that I could understand some vital information to my health.

It’s frustrating not being able to understand what is happening especially when you need essential information such as a medical diagnosis and your treatment options and plan.  I think that’s what God already knew that day when the disciples were gathered once again in that very familiar and safe upper room.  For what good is a plan particularly God’s plan if others can’t understand it?
The beginning of the Book of Acts is very a critical juncture for the disciples, and Jesus, and for the life of the early Christian community.  By now Jesus has ascended.  Their confidante, their rabbi, their beloved was gone and they would see him no more.  Before he left he makes a promise and then he gives them a charge. 

He promises that the Holy Spirit will come to the apostles; that they will receive power.  And he charges them to witness throughout Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and in fact, to the farthest corners of the earth.  How the Holy Spirit comes to them and how they are to be witnesses is what we heard in today's scripture. 

You see they were hole up in that upper room in Jerusalem. Maybe they were sitting near or in the open windows just to catch a cool breeze after the hot blazing sun of the day. By now many of the pilgrims who had converged on Jerusalem for Passover had gone back home but many of them stayed and made Jerusalem their home.  It had been 50 long days since Jesus’ resurrection; the apostles were probably tired, probably sad and confused too.

Then, without warning, a great wind filled the house and what appeared to be flames lighted on their heads.  The Holy Spirit had taken control and when the Holy Spirit takes control…watch out!   They began to speak.  Each one of them had their own story to tell of how they had experienced Jesus, of how he had called them from their fishing nets or their almond groves, of how he helped them along the way. 

Each one of them could witness in whatever language needed to be heard that day in Jerusalem by all of the people around. They were not speaking in tongues, their witness was not gibberish or slurred, they were not some sorry drunkards from the farmlands of the Galil.  They spoke intelligible languages, it was Parthian, and Phyrigian, Hellenistic Greek and Aramaic, it was Cappadocian and Elamite however the people needed to hear the apostle’s stories, and they were given the ability to tell it.  And tell it they did.

So Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit and his charge to be witnesses came true on that Shavuot, that Pentecost day way back.  But there is one catch.  The apostles had to expose themselves; they had to leave that safe upper room haven. Had they stayed in that room how would we know those old, old stories?   If you stay inside this church how will others know about how God has impacted your life, how the grace of God has been gifted to you through Jesus Christ?  We each have our own authentic story to tell and we each have been given the ability, the voice, and the gift to tell it.  I cannot tell your story.  Your spouse, your neighbor cannot tell your story.  Only you can tell your story of salvation.

Remember last week when Chris Casella told his story of how God’s grace had impacted him while on the mission trip?  It was clear that what he did made a difference to his life, to the life of another person and to his God.  We should all be so moved to tell our story like Chris.  If you don’t think you have a voice, think again. 

Earlier when our scripture was read, we heard the same message but in different languages all at once.  What they read was a poignant passage from 1 Corinthians where Paul is encouraging the people at Corinth to use the gifts that they have been given to tell their story and to bear witness to the Gospel message, he says,
God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God [himself] is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!          1 Corinthians 12: 4-7                  from  The Message by Eugene Peterson

All kinds of things to all kinds of people and everyone benefits.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are given gifts galore.

What is your story to tell and how can you tell it?  Well think for a minute.  How have you been picked up from the valley of depression?  How have you been cured from illness or have made it through the night at the bedside of a child or a spouse or a parent?  How has God helped you through cycles of addiction?  When did you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were completely and totally blessed?  When did you know that you are loved?  When has Christ shined the brightest for you?   These are our collective stories and interpreters are wanted to interpret the great good news of Jesus Christ.  Similar to the bumper sticker, “Medical Interpreter Save Lives in Other Language”, Gospel Interpreters Save Lives in All Languages!

If everyone on this planet stopped telling their story, their witness of Jesus amazing grace in their lives….if everyone stopped then the Gospel would die and that’s not how its supposed to be.  You have the power within you to carry that gospel on.

Those days in Shaare Zedek for me…well God’s healing power was with me in the quick actions of the Hasidic paramedic who assessed what I needed in the ride to the hospital.  God’s mercy was with me in the reassuring words of the patient next to me in that room when the doc’s couldn’t communicate with me.  God instilled within me a trust to believe that I would be taken care of and be healed.  God, through my belief in Jesus Christ, saved me that day and that is my story to tell you today.  I’ve got many more and I bet you do too.

Amen, may it be so.


Dina said...

What a great sermon!
Sorry about the food and the language problem though. With so many Anglo immigrants working at Shaare Zedek, you would think they would have interpreters available.

Suzanne said...

Thanks Dina. I would have thought so too. In fact the first doc in the emergency room spoke English but after that when I was transferred to observation and then the floor no such luck. I didn't even think to ask for a translator!