The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s032a14 Pentecost  8/6/2014

‘how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’   Acts 2.8

Pentecost is called the birthday of the church and the church has often claimed to be the sole repository of the Holy Spirit.   But such a conception is entirely alien to scripture, for the gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out on the early disciples to enable them to relate to those around them: the Parthians, Medes, Elamites and etcetera.   When anyone seeks to understand and to relate to someone else it is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work, for surely it is the result that is the purpose, it is the relationship that is important, with people as they really are, not as they might be forced to pretend to be, not the name of the God who inspires it, nor the name of the church (or lack thereof) under whose aegis it happens.

Others do not have to learn, understand and communicate in the language of the Church; it is the members of the church who are inspired and enabled to listen to others, to learn and speak their language.   The trouble with much of what passes for ‘christian education’ is that it is the former rather than the latter which is the paradigm.   People have been encouraged to read their bibles, learn the words of the liturgy off by heart and inevitably to fail to completely measure up - because there is always something more to learn.

The purpose is not to impose our theory of creation, the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, or the doctrine of subordination of women on everyone else.

I have just had callers at our door wanting to talk to me about a pamphlet on ‘The Future’.   Another example of church people wanting to relate to me on their terms.

I was delighted to hear an interview on Radio NZ with the author Sarah Kate Lynch where she spoke of her time in Paris.   While her husband was with her she enjoyed it immensely.   But after he returned to New Zealand and she stayed on a bit longer, she lamented not being able to speak the language.   She still loved Paris, but if she had known the language she could have shared chance conversations and jollity in shops and other places.   Knowing the language would have meant she could have interacted more with the people around her. (1)   And it made me recall my visit to Taizé in France in 2008 and realising how out of place I felt with my very rusty high school French! 

And again I heard Michael Crowley interviewed on creative writing in prisons.   The former youth justice worker and probation officer talked about the power of creative writing in rehabilitating prisoners.   For the past 15 years, Michael has worked in a range of roles in Britain with young offenders and people at risk of offending, using writing as a technique to change thinking and behaviour to prevent crime, by creating empathy with victims.   He made the comment that learning another language engenders empathy.  (2)

 I immediately thought of some parts of the church and their lack of empathy for others who don’t speak their language.   I thought how those parts of the church miss out on real down-to-earth communion with others - because of their religion! 

John records Jesus saying to the disciples: ‘I have called you friends’.  (3)   We become friends with others when we take time to understand their world, to learn their language, to understand their shibboleths.   This is precisely the purpose of the incarnation; God coming to understand our world fully, to learn our language and to understand our shibboleths.   But the purpose is not to sanctify a particular language - the English of 1611 or 1662 - or to set our particular shibboleths in stone.   The purpose is to enable us and encourage us to be friends with others.  

I simply don’t remember how many Mac operating systems I’ve used.   I bought my first Apple IIc in 1983 and now I am using a Macbook Air using OSX 10.9.3.   No doubt the operating system will upgrade itself sometime in the next month or so.   Similarly with my iPhone.   I bought my first one, a 3, in 2007 and now my 5 uses iOS 7.1.1.   And what amazing things can be achieved with a device which essentially has an on - off button and a touch screen!   I can do everything with it: communicating across the globe to tuning my cello!

Now I recognise that there are purists who know about computing and programming and use PC’s and nothing else.   Certainly when one knows what one is doing a PC is the only thing.   But for the average person the Mac has always been user-friendly.   The hardware and software have been continually upgraded to make it more and more user-friendly.   And I guess I reflect that for the church it is the opposite, others have to change and be friends with the church.   The church doesn’t have to change and be particularly friendly with anyone else.   Which makes me wonder why the Holy Spirit, supposedly uniquely given to members of the church, is given to actually do nothing at all!   There seems some logical disconnect here ..

Jesus says: ‘I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.’ (3)   I remember a presentation on workplace bullying back in Australia - and one of the ways of bullying an employee is to withhold information necessary for the performance of their duties.   Jesus tells us what he is on about: he is on about being friends with us and with all people.   He does this because this is what God wants, for him to make friends with people, and hence for people to be friends with others.   There is no hidden agenda.

Though it does require work - because we are not just dealing with computer programmers and aficionados, we are dealing with real people who have enough difficulties just living life without becoming religious.

As I said, Jesus contrasts the master and the friend.   I wonder how many marriages have been ruined by men insisting on being the master in the relationship?   Master - servant relationship is about obedience.   Friendship and love are about mutual respect and egalitarianism.   Indeed wanting to be boss destroys any possibility of love.   It is well recognised that parents cannot teach their own children - it destroys the proper relationship between parent and child.

Just as the Apple operating system continuously upgrades to iron out glitches and become user-friendly with more and more people who are less and less computer literate - so too the church has to continuously upgrade to be in the world, experiencing an ever wider cross-section of people unrelated to those who attend worship, to become friendly with them.

Of course, one of the intense frustrations of computing is the seemingly inbuilt continual obsolescence.   The cynic will want to say that this is all about ensuring that people will buy upgraded products in the (near :-) future.   But I can still remember the pride I had when I was able to buy my Apple IIc.   What a marvel it was!   What amazing things it enabled me to do.   Now it is relegated to some scrap-yard, long forgotten.   And it is relegated to the dump because more user-friendly machines came along, machines that can do far more, and far easier.   I understand that some modern machines have less features; concentrating on the everyday tasks people do so they can become the size of tablets and so far more portable.   It is interesting how many people in waiting lounges in the hospital have their ‘Kindle’ or whatever :-)

We too have to look at our church and see if we have become just way too cumbersome to be attractive or useful to anyone, and do like Microsoft who have ‘advised that they will no longer be supporting Windows XP and Office 2003 beyond April 9.  Windows XP PC’s won’t be able to run many ‘newer’ applications or work with new hardware due to unsupported drivers.  Also PC’s running Windows XP will become easy prey to malware as there won’t be any new security updates and bug fixes.   According to Microsoft, Office 2003 can’t provide modern mobility and cloud capabilities.’    We as the church need to downsize and focus on what has always been important - our friendship and communion with others who are different.

But I have been reflecting that parts of the church will do just about anything rather than be friends, affirming and inclusive of all!   It seems Jesus’ words are still true of the church: ‘Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you?’  (4)   When clergy or lay people have to cajole, manipulate and bully others for the kingdom they have missed the message entirely!   If we actually have something of value to offer the world surely it will be obvious enough to others and it will be recognised as such.   And I want to postulate that being friends, affirming and inclusive of all in the name of God is precisely that which we have to offer the world.   If we as church actually did this, people would be ‘beating a path to our door’.   There is no point bishops and clergy berating lay people for their lack of evangelical enthusiasm when the church is still operating on a pre-1950’s model of ‘parishioners are to be seen and not heard’. 

Then when I got to the end of these words I read this from Derek Penwell who describes Franklin Graham as the very antithesis of what I am saying: ‘Speaking as a Christian pastor, I attest that following Jesus is difficult enough without having to live down the advanced billing from folks like Franklin Graham, who are convinced that God has nothing better to do than to figure out new categories of people to despise.’  (5)
John 15.15
Luke 6.46