This Sunday, 4 June, is Pentecost Sunday on the Christian calendar.
Pente, or 50th day from Easter Sunday, is also when Pentecostal Christians celebrate the first Baptism in the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in other tongues (Acts 2). This day teaches us that God wants us to speak about Him not just in our own language, but in the language of our hearers. Three times in six verses we are reminded that what the Apostles said was in a language the hearers understood and identified as their “own” (Acts 2:6-11).
It is also the day when, long before Captain James Cook looked on our shores, Pedro Fernandes de Queiros, a devout Catholic, made a famous declaration in his native tongue, while exploring the Pacific. Even though Australia was yet to be charted, his speech in 1606, would forever identify her as Austrialia del Espiritu Santo (The Australian Land of the Holy Spirit). His full speech, set up the goal of being a missionary-sending headquarters influencing the world with the Good News of Christ. Pedro envisaged that Papua New Guinea was the top end of this great south land. Later, his second-in-command, Luis Vaez de Torres, successfully mapped the southern coastline of New Guinea while sailing through the strait that separates Australia and New Guinea, which still bears his name.
As we bear the name of Christ, it’s still important we remember our Christian heritage and Australian history. And that we continually communicate the Good News with our community. The apostles were empowered by God to speak in a new way, a language and method that was brand new.
Fire was the primary technology of the day, used for everything from agricultural clearing, to forging of tools, creating building materials, for cooking, heating, lighting and more. And suddenly, it started appearing above the heads of everyone as they left the prayer meeting in the upper room and spilled out on to public streets. Today, it would be almost as radical as an iPad suddenly materializing above your head as you walk into work, shops and schools.
“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1964. It means that the technology we choose influences how our message is perceived. If I hand you a parchment and quill, it conveys a traditional message even without knowing what content has been written.
The Holy Spirit was using a useful, current technology everyone was familiar with, but in a way that was so different no one really understood it – including the speakers! It would’ve been easy for others to judge it harshly. Some hearers had even started mocking and making false accusations.
But a wise, Godly leader, realised that this strategy was part of God’s calendar. Peter gave everyone the context that enabled them to find true meaning in both the message and the medium. Firstly, he refuted that the cause was too much beer for breakfast by reminding them of the time (verse 15). Then he explained it was fulfillment of the declaration Joel had made hundreds of years before (verse 16).
As we celebrate Pentecost Sunday in 2017, it might be time to ask the Holy Spirit to help us communicate about God in a language that our hearers understand. We might have to be open to using contemporary technologies and different methods that amaze some and are harshly judged by others. But then we might just see the fulfillment of the declaration Pedro Fernandes de Queiros made about our nation 411 years ago – a nation where the gospel is preached openly and we bear the name of our great God!