I grew up going to a fairly charismatic Episcopal Church. It was big in the Alpha movement, an evangelical program designed to help people find a place for Jesus in their lives. As a part of that 10 week program is the Holy Spirit weekend. It makes sense that you’d spend some intentional time talking about the Holy Spirit because a lot of what she’s about can be pretty intimidating.
Since the Day of the Pentecost, it has been the Spirit calling us out of our comfort zones. It is the Spirit who imparts gifts in baptism. It is the Spirit who on that first post-resurrection Pentecost appeared as a mighty wind and tongues of fire. One topic that inevitably gets dealt with on the Holy Spirit weekend is the whole idea of Glossolalia, the gift of tongues. There are some churches that argue that one is not actually grafted into the book of life by the baptism of the Spirit without the gift of tongues. This argument gets its foundation in the Pentecost story where the first outpouring of the Spirit comes with universal speaking in tongues. Except, not quite.
Glossolalia is not the gift the disciples received in that upper room on Pentecost Day. Glossolalia is talked about in Scripture, Paul makes very specific references to it in 1 Corinthians 14, but what he talks about is a private prayer language. What the disciples experienced on Pentecost wasn’t a private event, but a very public utterance of the Good News in every language under heaven, which gets the fancy Greek name of xenoglossy.
The universal gift of the Spirit on Pentecost Day wasn’t a one-on-one prayer language with God, but the conviction and the ability to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is, no doubt, a whole lot scarier than being able to hide in one’s prayer closet and speak in the tongue of angels. Xenoglossy comes in many forms: it might mean you can speak a foreign language you never could before. More likely, it means having the ability to share the Good News, in word and deed, in a way that the people around you can understand. Quite simply, xenoglossy means speaking the language of love, and that is the gift of the Spirit.
On Sunday, when you once again hear the familiar story of the tongues of fire, don’t get nervous that you don’t have a prayer language of your own. The Pentecostal gift of xenoglossy might make you more nervous, but take heart, that we’re all in this together, all called to spread the Gospel, the stories of God’s deeds of power in Jesus and in our own lives, in a way that the world around us can understand.