Versions of the Truth

May 15, 2016, Author: Rev. Ann M. Aaberg

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Scripture – Acts 2:1-21 – Pentecost Sunday – May 15, 2015

I didn’t understand what they were saying. I was driving along in my car listening to an author being interviewed on the radio and I could not, for the life of me, understand the title of the book. I turned up the volume; I listened more closely. It was definitely English; the rest of the utterances of both the interviewer and the author were crystal clear but I just couldn’t catch the title. And I wanted to know it, because it sounded like the perfect gift for my daughter on Mother’s Day. The title was “Parent…” something – sounded like axe!

I was unable to write down the name of the author because I was driving but, when I got home, I figured I’d search out the book on line and maybe would at least recognize the author’s name and be led to the right title. I found it quickly: Parent Hacks.

Do you know what a hack is? Hack, the verb, is familiar to all of us, I believe: to cut, slice, chop, or sever with heavy irregular blows. We hack away at things. Many of us are familiar with the verb hack when it comes to hacking into computers, right? Breaking the code to get access. A computer hack is the noun for the person who does that. But, parent hacks? They better not be chopping up my granddaughter!

Well, I bought the book, gave it to my daughter on Mother’s Day and asked for an explanation of the title, the full version of which is: Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids. “It comes from life hacks, Mom.” Life hacks??! What??

Here it is, according to the informal meaning of the noun hack: a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing something. You can see how it comes from hacking into a computer, right? Circumventing the password, getting by the cryptic codes to get a short-cut result. So life hacks are tricks to get the job done easily, whatever it is, in a complicated world just as parent hacks are short-cut methods to get around problems posed by raising kids. Example? Keep a roll of that blue painter’s tape in your diaper bag for when the sticky paper tab on the disposable diaper unexpectedly rips off, as it occasionally does. Bath time? Put a laundry basket in the bathtub to contain baby and keep her safe without the hassle of filling a separate baby tub. There are 132 more.

Now the word “hacks” is a pretty clear example of how those speaking the same language, living in the same time in history, in the same area of the country, can still have trouble understanding each other. And this particular example is totally unintentional on the part of the communicator. What is more troubling is how, using the exact same language, we can nuance our statements so as to remain unassailable or to keep our options open, to escape commitment, to avoid blame. Kind of like presidential politicians… You don’t have to turn up the volume to catch those but you do have to pay close attention.

The volume was turned up pretty high on the Day of Pentecost. There came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind…or was it a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind? And the apostles were filled with the Holy Ghost…oh, I’m sorry, the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. The whole thing was apparently loud enough that a crowd gathered outside and, even though they could all hear their own language coming out of this backwoods bunch of Galileans, they were still perplexed. What meaneth this?

Bible scholar and author Marcus Borg and others interpret the phenomenon of the Day of Pentecost as the resolution of the story from the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, about the Tower of Babel in which all the builders were struck by God with different languages and the inability to understand each other, thus rendering their project a failure. In the new reign, God renders it possible for all people from everywhere to hear and understand the good news of Jesus Christ in their own languages. Well, we may hear it the same way, but whether we’re drunk or sober, at any time of the day, we still don’t understand it the same way.

The three versions of Acts 2:1-21 which we just heard illustrate this well. The first, which you heard from my voice, was the King James Version of the Bible, compiled between 1604 and 1611, around which there are several myths and misunderstandings. Certainly, the most poetic version, it still disappoints people to learn that it does contain translation errors and to learn also that Jesus himself never said “thee” or “thou”. The second version we heard was the translation we use here, the New Revised Standard Version, or the NRSV, and it is widely recognized as being much closer to the original Greek and Hebrew because the folks who compiled it skipped over the history of translations and went straight back to the original language to translate directly into English. Yet, those who have studied the Bible closely know that there are sometimes many different meanings for the same Greek word and, conversely, sometimes there are no direct English translations for some Hebrew words. So we also get newer contemporary versions of the Bible like The Message or like The Voice which you heard this morning attempting to offer the Bible in language that is more accessible to our informal post-modern culture of readers.

Yet even if we are all looking at the exact same translation, as many of us do in our pew Bibles on Sunday mornings, there are varying interpretations of the meaning. Were Adam and Eve literally the very first human beings on earth or is their story based on a compilation of myths handed down from previous ancient cultures? Was there really a man named Noah and a real ark? Was Mary literally a virgin, never having been with a man, or was she simply a young maiden? And when the Lord comes as we heard this morning, will it be a great and notable day, a great and glorious day or a great and dreadful day?

Clearly, understanding the Bible for ourselves for today takes intentional study and ongoing research and open and accepting dialogue. Similar to our seeing through today’s political rhetoric calls for varying our news sources and closely following remarks over a longer period of time than just 24 hours. Similar to our understanding contemporary words and phrases means listening intently and asking questions.
But there may be several hacks available to us as we struggle to understand what God intends for us and for our world: maybe call them “Christian hacks” which will enable us to cut through multiple translations and a variety of interpretations. And just like Parent Hacks, these are in no particular order: listen, love, pray and give. Listen for God inside and out; listen to each other. Love God and love one another. Pray for help and for faith and in thanksgiving. And give. Give away all that keeps you from listening, loving and praying.

New people join our church just about twice a year, as they did [will] this morning, each with different reasons and perspectives. Some come and stay because the message they hear in this place softens and heals from the more rigid church message they heard earlier in their lives. Some come and stay because the message they hear in this place is almost exactly the same as what they’ve heard throughout their church lives, offering them reassurance and comfort. Some come and stay because the message they hear in this place offers a challenge to expand their previous assumptions or to put their faith into action. Yet they’re all hearing the same thing.

A respected colleague of mine, Rev. Ann Plumley, pastor in Manchester, CT writes: “…the day of Pentecost comes to show us that there is still more to know, and a purpose for knowing that lies beyond our individual lives….Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit draws us together and gives us to one another so that we may hear and see and know with greater clarity.”

My friends, on this day of Pentecost and in the days to come, may God truly grant us wisdom and understanding and may God give us the “hacks” we require: ears to listen, the hearts to love, the willingness to pray and the courage to give. Amen.