Medes and Parthians, Cretans, Romans, Jews and Arabs, and so many more, probably from every race and tribe, people and nation that Luke had ever heard of. So many, but there are more.
Of course there are more peoples than Luke had heard of, whole continents full. But the languages are even more diverse than that. Even withing languages there is breadth. The Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove, a wind, a flame, a breath. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Advocate, or Comforter. The Greek word is Paraclete. A paraclete was someone who stood next to you when you were challenged in court, they might have helped in your case, but more importantly they stood by you and supported you as you tried to reveal the truth. She is the Spirit of not only of comfort and guidance, but of Truth.
So many names and titles.
Our language is how we reveal the truth. Do you speak English? Then you reveal the truth in English. Do you speak Italian? You get the picture. And it goes deeper still.
Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple wrote,
“Wherever there is response in the hearts of men to the manifested glory of God, whether that manifestation be in nature, or in history, there the Spirit of Truth is at work. He inspires all science and all art, and speaks in the conscience of the heathen child.”
Do you speak science? Do you speak history? Do you speak art, or math, or music? These are languages that reveal the truth. And let’s not forget that the Holy Spirit is our comforter. Do you speak hospitality? Do you speak food? Do you speak grief? Do you speak hugs, or calm presence and support?
She is also our Advocate. Do you speak up? Do you cry out for peace and for justice? Do you dream dreams and see visions of the moral arc of the universe? These things reveal the truth.
All these languages, all this babble of sound and noise. Languages can reveal the truth, but they can also hide it. Tongues can lie, history can be distorted, data can be massaged. Hugs can be disingenuously manipulative. Silence can be used to hurt. The vision and dream of our forebears means we stand today on ground stolen from the Kalapuya people. And all of creation groans under the weight of humanity.
We have so many languages, so many ways to reveal the truth. How can we know? We are stuck with Pontius Pilate, asking ourselves, “What is truth?”
One way is to look at what the languages are saying, and then to look at the results of what is said. What fruits do they bear? Paul wrote to the Galatians that the fruits of the Spirit are Faithfulness, Self-Control, Patience, Goodness, Gentleness, Joy, Kindness, Peace, and Love. Do the things that I am hearing or revealing, produce these?
It’s a good way to look at the world, but it still relies on our own subjective internal language, and we do not know how to think as we ought. It relies on our perception of the results, which is small and limited.
A better way is to turn to the Spirit of Truth herself and to trust her.
When we are baptized, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The priest lays hands on us and prays,
“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”
It’s a beautiful and familiar prayer, called the prayer for the seven-fold gifts of the spirit: wisdom, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, understanding, piety, and the fear of the Lord. They are amazing, wonderful, and trustworthy gifts, and they mean that as we pray over the language we use, and the truth we reveal to the world, we are not alone. We have a guide, if we listen to Her, who will lead us into all truth, and through us reveal that truth to the world.
And it goes deeper still. The Holy Spirit does not just give us gifts, it turns us into a new person, someone we thought long gone.
The prayer we just heard is taken from a familiar passage in Isaiah 11,
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”
All of this can now be said of us. This same Spirit dwells in us. She was part of what marked Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one.
It really is to our advantage that Jesus has gone to the Father. He has sent us the Spirit, and now we too are anointed, created anew, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s forever.
May all of our words please Him.