Use your tongue to inspire peace, healing

An African folktale tells of a great and powerful chief who loved to eat. Once he asked his cook for the most delicious meat for dinner. He thought it was delectable and was surprised to hear that it was tongue. The chief said, “Who knew that the tongue could be so flavorful, so rich and savory in taste!”

The next day the chief asked for the worst cut of meat, and it was truly the worst thing he’d ever tasted. When he was told that it was also tongue, he wondered aloud how this could be and the cook responded: “The tongue can be used to bring great delight and inspire creativity, compassion, healing and peace. Or it can be used to bring about cruelty and divisiveness. We must always be careful to be the master of the tongue.”

This year on May 28, the Christian church celebrates Pentecost which lifts up the story from Acts 2 where we find the believers not joining in with the festivities of celebrating the first harvest, but instead gathering together in one place, still laying low, looking over their shoulders, afraid because of their belief in Jesus and the controversies that surrounded that. During this gathering “a sound like the rush of a violent wind… filled the entire house where they were sitting.” [v. 2] And then “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” [v. 3] Was this dramatic experience what they were expecting when they gathered to pray? And just as dramatically, each one spoke a different tongue and bore a different gift to the outside world yet they were each able to understand one another. As we think about the story of the chief and the cook, it appears that the believers were using their tongues to inspire imagination and creativity, compassion, healing and peace.

Before this all happened, I’m sure they were kind of like most of us as we learn or enter into something new. Excited … ambivalent … anxious… just plain scared. “Okay, we believe in Jesus … we’ve been baptized … we’re all together … but … now what?” And the holy spirit, who has been with them all along by the way, makes herself known rather spectacularly, encouraging and empowering them, giving them the courage and gifts to move beyond their gathered community to share the good news. As they share their message in different languages, they speak the simple truth in a way that everyone can hear and understand.

That’s so much of what Pentecost is all about when we think about the birth of the church. It’s recognizing God’s spirit in the community’s commission and authorization to continue the work of Jesus. It’s a call to us to speak boldly. We are called to recognize God’s spirit while speaking loud and clear with a clarity that never a doubt could arise in the heart of the simplest person. As we celebrate Pentecost, we recognize how the power of the spirit transformed a small, discouraged and disorganized group of followers into a courageous movement that took the gospel to nearly all of the known world.

May we be inspired by this group of followers and use our tongues to speak boldly, not bringing cruelty or divisiveness, but inspiring creativity, compassion, healing and peace, sharing the love of God in a way that all can hear and understand.

The writer is the chaplain at Ohio Living Dorothy Love.