I saw Antonio sitting in the back pew, as I made my way back from putting my sermon in the pulpit at Trinity, Sidney, my second to last Sunday there. I stopped to welcome him as a visitor to our congregation, and realized that English was not his favorite language. I switched to Spanish, which is still a dangerous thing for me to do. You see, if my first sentence is too smooth, then it may seem I’m more fluent than I am right now, especially in my hearing. Antonio brightened considerably, and assumed I was completely fluent. Off to the races in his first language, the language of his heart, me barely keeping up, trying to make mental notes, as Antonio had prayer concerns that had led him to our church that day. Then, somewhere I missed a turn, and suddenly we were talking about la Copa Mundial, the World Cup tournament that had just recently ended. Service time was creeping up, and I couldn’t seem to break away. Politely ending a conversation is hard in a second language!
After service, we talked for another 15 minutes, about his prayer concerns, and again about fútbol, (soccer). My prayer was and is that Antonio still benefited from the English language proclamation he heard that Sunday. It was great fun meeting him, and a reminder that I have plenty of work to do on my Spanish, before I can be an effective Missionary Church Planter in Spain.
I was also reminded how important for each one of us it is to hear God’s Law and Gospel in a language we understand well. We all prefer our first language, our heart language, but whether in our first, second or third language, there is something more important than perfectly understanding the human language, and that is hearing the language of Law and Gospel. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit overcame language barriers miraculously. Today He usually does it through normal means, the means of people, especially missionaries, learning in the old fashioned way whatever new language is needed for them to speak Law and Gospel. Then the missionary, at home or abroad, can clearly present the truth of our sinfulness, which would condemn us all except for the extraordinary good news of God’s self-sacrificing love, poured out in Christ to take away the sins of the whole world. Law and Gospel is the language that re-creates the hearts of sinners, the language that takes away sin and guilt, and delivers righteousness and peace and joy, by the power of Christ’s forgiving love.
For Antonio in NE Montana, and for the people of Spain, and for all people everywhere, our prayer is that someone speak God’s Word to them in a language they understand well, so that the Holy Spirit can use that Word to give eternal salvation through the gift of faith in Jesus.