s032g97 Pentecost Somerton Park 18/5/97

"in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." Acts 2:11.

As I have lived my life I have heard a number of different ways the word "spirit" used.

One that first springs to mind is the old boarding and private school ethic of "making a man out of ..." So the school itself posed challenges to young men for them to accomplish - in the belief that in working through and overcoming these challenges their charges would become men. However besides this ethic the school had, there was also the unofficial and unseen rites of initiation amongst the houses and peer groups of boys, which "made" the students men. I was interested to read of someone recently commending this system. And I guess that some challenges are good for us all. We value that for which we have had to work. At its best, unfortunately this assumes that everyone else should come to maturity along our particular path. At its worst, it can result in a culture aptly described as "bastardisation" which was current in military establishments in years gone by. The danger lies in the unofficial and unseen rites between peers, where all sorts of intolerant attitudes can be fostered. It seems that the United States military is going through the throes of trying to expose and eradicate the physical and sexual abuse of recruits, and we can hardly expect that our own military is untainted by similar things.

In the end, these attitudes can produce a society where, rather than accepting people for whom they are, all are expected to conform to a prescribed level of socially acceptable behaviour. While I personally (as much as anyone else) would like a minimum level of socially acceptable behaviour, Jesus still crosses those lines to associate with the outcast and socially unacceptable.

Another use of the word "spirit" is that which has currency in charismatic circles. In the more extreme forms, those filled with the "spirit" speak in tongues, and demand that of others.

A more mainstream use of the word "spirit" is probably most associated with the "fire and brimstone" preacher, verbally consigning everyone who isn't there listening to him (or her) - to hell. Of what relevance or edification this is supposed to be to those who are actually there listening is a mystery to me.

Conservative Anglicans would look to the spiritual as the clergy, theologians and religious. That is those who were by ordination and / or training, conversant with biblical and theological themes, who are the "spiritual".

Today, when we celebrate the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles, we need to be clear precisely why the Holy Spirit was pour out - what that outpouring achieved. It we get it wrong then the fundamental "raison d'etre" is put in question. The Holy Spirit cannot be leading one person to do one thing and another person to do the opposite. Yet how often is this evident within the Church of today?

It is a truism that the Church is divided. One part of the Church claims the leading of the Spirit in the ordination of women, another claims the same authority in opposing it. Is the Holy Spirit leading us into closer ecumenical ties with other denominations, or should we be content with differences?

Our first reading from Acts today, the bane of all who read in Church, describes all those who were at that particular time visiting Jerusalem, and who heard the spirit filled apostles. These people were from all around the Mediterranean - it could be fairly said the nationalities listed covered the whole of the then known world. "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."

What did all these people hear the apostles speaking? Lets look at them in negative form. They did not hear them speaking the language of the bible or theology. So the apostles were not enabled by the Holy Spirit to give a learned dissertation on the atonement or justification by faith. The Holy Spirit was not poured out on the hearers to understand biblical or theological terminology. So if the Holy Spirit didn't do that then, the Holy Spirit is unlikely to do that now.

Secondly, the hearers didn't hear the Holy Spirit consigning to hell all whose attention wandered. So if the Holy Spirit didn't do that then, the Holy Spirit is unlikely to do that now. They heard "them speaking about God's deeds of power".

Thirdly they didn't hear the apostles "speaking in tongues" in the sense of St Paul's phrase the "tongues of mortals or of angels". Such a language or languages would have completely unintelligible to them, and that is clearly not the case here. So if the Holy Spirit didn't do that then, the Holy Spirit is unlikely to do that now.

Fourthly the hearers didn't find challenges put before them. Certainly an invitation is put before all at the end of Peter's address: "Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21) but the emphasis is surely on the "everyone" - not that anyone who didn't would be damned. So if the Holy Spirit didn't do that then, the Holy Spirit is unlikely to do that now.

We have now dismissed all the negative things, and before I move on to the positive thing that the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to do, I reflect that each of these first four, expects others - those "outside" - to change.

The key should be obvious by now. The real gift was that the apostles were enabled to speak "in our own languages". So instead of the Spirit putting challenges for others to attain, enabling people to speak in an angelic, biblical or theological language; the Holy Spirit enables us - the Church - to speak the language others use.

So "spiritual" people are not those who effectively, or ineffectively put challenges in front of others, or speak in spiritual, biblical or theological terms - but those who speak the language of the people - those "outside". And to speak the language that another uses, the first and prime requirement is for us - the Church - to listen.

I was interested to read a recent report that only one English Bishop surveyed was able to name all of the "Spice Girls" - those who managed to get Prince Charles to blush recently. It would seem to me of more importance to be able to name the "Spice Girls" than be able to recite the 10 commandments, especially in the eyes of the young people in our midst. (No, I cannot name the "Spice Girls" actually, I am being given lessons in classical music by our boys!)

The Holy Spirit is poured out that we might listen to our siblings and talk their language, to hear the cries for simple justice from the oppressed, the jobless, those who express intimacy with the wrong people or the wrong sorts of people.

Music is of course one of the universal languages, though it still takes listening and practice to play. A week or two ago, one of our elderly congregation at the "Village" asked me to get a copy of the music to "Happy Birthday" - I kid you not. After so many years of playing it without a note in front of her; arthritis and I suppose a touch of forgetfulness have set in, but she is still asked to play it. Could I get her, even just the melody line? Not a problem I thought - we have manuscripts of music coming out our ears at home - we found it eventually last Sunday night. But in the looking I did find something else, and I though how wonderfully appropriate this would be to finish my sermon for today.

Of all places, this came from the A.B.C. Community Music Book No. 5 p 22 # 187 (Lamb) 1'6d 1931. It is entitled "The Volunteer Organist" - I've never heard it before - I wonder if anyone else has?

 

The preacher in the village church one Sunday morning said:

"Our organist is ill today, will someone play instead?"

An anxious look crept o'er the face of ev'ry person there

As eagerly they watched to see who'd fill the vacant chair.

 

A man then staggered down the aisle, whose clothes were old and torn

How strange a drunkard seem'd to me in church on Sunday morn,

But as he touched the organ keys, without a single word

The melody that followed was the sweetest ever heard.

 

The scene was one I'll ne'er forget as long as I live,

And just to see it o'er again all earthly wealth I'd give.

The congregation all amazed, the preacher old and grey,

The organ and the organist who volunteered to play.

 

Each eye shed tears within that church, the strongest men grew pale,

The organist in melody had told his own life's tale,

The sermon of the preacher was no lesson to compare

With that of life's example, who sat in the organ chair.

 

And when the service ended, not a soul had left a seat,

except the poor old organist who started toward the street

Along the aisle and out the door he slowly walked away,

The preacher rose and softly said: "Good brethren, let us pray,"

 

The scene was one I'll ne'er forget as long as I live,

And just to see it o'er again all earthly wealth I'd give.

The congregation all amazed, the preacher old and grey,

The organ and the organist who volunteered to play.

 

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