Kurt Jacobson
7 min readMay 28


“Astonishing Exchanges”

May 28, 2023

Acts 2:1–21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” ***

I’d like to teach the world to sing

In perfect harmony

I’d like to hold it in my arms

And keep it company

I’d like to see the world for once

All standing hand in hand

And hear them echo through the hills

For peace through out the land

(That’s the song I hear)

I’d like to teach the world to sing

In perfect harmony

This song was part of an ad campaign by Coca-Cola many years ago. The TV ad became one of the best-loved and most influential ads in TV history.

This commercial was unusual in its time because it took the idea of marrying happiness with universal love of Coke. The story behind the ad is unusual, too. An executive working for Coke’s ad agency was enduring a delayed layover at an airport in Ireland and he noticed many hot tempered travelers, who after some time to cool off were talking and joking while drinking Coca-Cola. The ad executive wrote the line “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” on a napkin and shared it with British hit songwriters Cook and Roger Greenaway.

The musical duo took a previous jingle called “True Love and Apple Pie” and reworked the song into a radio ad for Coca-Cola in 1971. Soon after it was adapted for Coke’s “Hilltop” TV commercial.

It’s the real thing. Coke. Watch the 1:00 ad here:

The song became so popular that its creators revised it, adding three verses and removing product references to create a full-length song appropriate for commercial release. Both versions became huge hits. (From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki “I’d To Teach the World to Sing”

I believe the world needs a revival of the “Hilltop” commercial.

I have been thinking about how we identify with the concept of togetherness in today’s world.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Today, the Christian Church celebrates the third and final great festival of the year.

The Day of Pentecost marks the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost — from the Greek pentekostos, meaning “fiftieth,” originally was a Jewish festival celebrating the summer wheat harvest, and the revelation of the law at Mount Sinai. It was celebrated 50 days after Passover and was marked by pilgrims coming to Jerusalem from all over the world for the event.

In the Christian tradition of Pentecost, the Book of Acts provides the account of the Holy Spirit descending on 120 believers in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus’s resurrection. Emboldened by the Spirit, these people testified to God’s saving work while the Apostle Peter preached to a bewildered crowd of Jewish skeptics. This drew three thousand converts from around the world in one day. For Christians, Pentecost marks the birth of the Church.

This account of Pentecost in Acts is fantastic. It challenges the imagination. Tongues of fire. Rushing wind. Bold preaching. Mass baptism. Yet this is not a story about spectacle and drama. It is about the Holy Spirit showing up and transforming ordinary, imperfect, frightened people into the Body of Christ. It is about the Spirit carrying us out of suspicion, tribalism, and fear, into a radical new way of engaging God and neighbor.

We read that the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” “At this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”

Early in my career a member of the congregation I served was a student scholar of languages and he enlightened me on fascinating aspects of language. He authored papers about how languages convey identity, culture, history, even spiritualities. He would tell me that the language we speak orients us in ways that set us apart — to see differently, hear differently, process and punctuate reality differently. However, he also emphasized that languages speak across borders of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, culture, and politics.

Language is prominent in this reading of Pentecost. When the disciples and their friends began to speak in foreign languages, the crowds gathered outside their meeting place understood them. They were not confused by the message and for everyone the message came across with perfect clarity in their respective languages.

What the crowd found baffling was that God would speak to them in their own native tongues — that God would welcome them with words hearkening back to their birthplaces, their countries and cultures of origin. As if to say, “This Spirit-laden place, this fledging community of faith, this new Body of Christ, is yours. You do not have to feel like outsiders here; we speak your language, too. Come in. All are welcome.”

As Christians, we place great stock in language. In words. We are people with a story, like our friends in other faith traditions. We love the creation stories of Genesis, in which God births the very cosmos into existence by speaking: “And God said.” “In the beginning was the Word,” we read in John’s dazzling poem about the coming of Jesus. In worship, we use words to express our faith in the languages of liturgy, creed, prayer, and music. In short, we believe that language has power. Words make worlds. And unmake them, too.

The amazing thing about the words and languages unleashed at Pentecost is that their articulation required surrender and humility on both sides. Those who spoke had to brave languages beyond their confidence. They had to risk vulnerability and trust that no matter how awkward, inadequate, or silly they felt, the words bubbling up inside of them — novel words, strange words — were nevertheless essential words — words precisely for the time and place they occupied.

But speakers need listeners and the crowds that Pentecost day included listeners who had to take risks as well. They had to suspend disbelief, lower their defenses, and open to wonder instead of contempt. They had to widen their inner circles, and welcome strangers with accents into their midst. Imagine if the mindset in the Christian church and the USA today was to widen inner circles, welcome foreigners and open to the wonder they bring instead of suspicion and contempt.

On the Day of Pentecost there were still naysayers. Not all people present managed to open their minds and accept people who were different from them. Some sneered because they could not bear to be bewildered, to have their neat categories of belonging and exclusion explode in their faces. Instead, like their ancestors at Babel, who scattered at the first sign of difference, they retreated into the well-worn narrative of denial: “Nothing new is happening here. This is not God. These are blubbering idiots who’ve had too much to drink.”

But even in that atmosphere of suspicion and cynicism, some people spoke, and some people listened, and into those astonishing exchanges, God breathed fresh life.

Something happens when we listen to each other’s languages. We experience the limits of our own words and perspectives. We learn curiosity. We gain an enlarged sense of together. We discover that God’s “great deeds” are too superior for a single tongue, a single language. Only one people.

This year, the good news of Pentecost comes to pull us away from turning in on ourselves and forgetting that we are part of a much larger whole. We live in a world where words often advance conspiracies and have become toxic, where the languages of so many cherished “isms” threaten to divide and destroy us. The troubles of our day are global, civilizational, catastrophic. If we do not learn the art of speaking and listening across the borders that currently separate us, we will burn ourselves down to rubble.

It is no small thing that the Holy Spirit loosened tongues to break down barriers on that incredible day. In the face of differences, God compelled people to engage. Out of the heart of deep difference, God birthed the Church.

So happy birthday, sisters and brothers in the Body Christ. Receive the Holy Spirit. Speak and listen. We are all in this together.




Ed de Guzman



Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.