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

s032bg15   Pentecost  24/5/2015   St Mary’s Church Halswell

‘he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement’  John 16:8

For the ordinary person in the street, engaged in providing for him or herself and their dependents, trying to exist in society living ‘that others (are) not deprived of air, food, water, shelter, (dignity) or the chance to live.” as the lovely prayer has it (1) - these sort of people are by and large unconcerned with sin, righteousness or judgement.   It is those who attend church, synagogue, mosque or temple that are concerned with these things, the religious people who were so scandalised by what Jesus said and did, scandalised enough to have Jesus killed.

I recall those words of Jesus to Nicodemus: ‘Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.”   The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.   So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ (2)  But Nicodemus, like multitudes of religious teachers, ‘know’ where the Spirit moves.   It moves others to join our religion, our congregation, to speak our language.

It doesn’t matter if that sacred language be the undecipherable babbling of the priest reciting the Tridentine rite, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Book service, the King James Version of the Bible, the reformation language of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement and justification by faith alone, or speaking in tongues, others have to speak ‘our’ language.   But each and every one of these is a doomed exercise.   Each and every one of these ends up trying to compete for adherents, because each and every one of these implicitly excludes those who aren’t part of our community and fellowship, those who don’t speak ‘our’ language.

Recently I have been having conversations about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and just what happened.   And in one sense trying to ‘nut out’ what actually happened is to be seduced into arguing about the veracity of things past, as if this is going to bring life.   We include those who believe using our terminology and exclude those who don’t.   I am grateful for a conversation with Mary which pointed out to me that we speak of the resurrection as believing in a past event, when these only point to the reality of our own experiences of the divine.   The risen Jesus did not appear to the disciples / apostles in any more tangible way than he has to you and to me.

So let me be plain, I don’t know what happened at the resurrection, but I certainly know that the way of exclusion, of trying to get others to speak my language and live up to my expectations, is the way of death, both for the others that are excluded but also for me, because I will end up in a fool’s errand of trying to convert the rest of the world around to my way of thinking.

And again I do not know what precisely happened at Pentecost, the scientific explanation for the tongues of fire.   But I do assuredly know that creativity and life are found when I take the time to understand the language of others.   If this happens for me in my personal spiritual journey, then it is surely as true for the church, that life comes to the church when she stops endlessly regurgitating ancient verities and takes the time to try to understand the language of others, understand enough to engage in mutual conversation.   The only real way to learn another language is to be immersed in it.

The eternal message of Jesus is not that he was raised from the dead, but that creativity and life are found not in the community that excludes, marginalises and alienates others, but that creativity and life are found in the community which accepts and includes others.

For at Pentecost the hearers weren’t deluded; it was the speakers who were enable to speak all the different languages of the then known world, and as such is a paradigm and exemplar for the church.

I have often reflected with some fascination, that other than Peter and Paul, mostly the other disciples, come apostles, after this Pentecost event, were never heard of again.   They were scattered into complete obscurity, and I now reflect that it was precisely this obscurity that is the real mark of the church.   Blessed are the forgotten midwives!   The kingdom is not the church in all her glory, but the church as it seeks to understand the language of others, understand enough to hold an intelligent conversation in the languages of all in the known world.

So to return to my text: ’he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement’ - ‘the world’ which insists on others learning their language as a condition of forgiveness, a mark of righteousness and escape from eternal judgement - is utterly wrong.   The church which makes the effort to learn the languages of the world covers a multitude of sins (3) demonstrates true righteousness and because it judges no one, is not herself judged. (4)

When the church forgives others then she herself will be forgiven.  (5)  When the church does unto others as she would have done unto her.  (6)  When the church is merciful as our Father is merciful. (7)

Increasingly I have been drawn to those oft heard words of Jesus: ‘Do this to remember me’. (8)  I cannot believe that Jesus was concerned that he would be missed.   The institution of the Lord’s Supper was to re-member Jesus, by our inclusion of all.   In this sense Jesus is not present in the elements of the bread and the wine, but in the completeness of the fellowship.   Where anyone is excluded, the church does not exist.   Our Holy Communion doesn’t happen when it is chiefly defined by who can’t be a part of it.

So this Pentecost, the question is: What is your language? I have personal experience of parents and grandparents, entirely rational and intelligent adults suddenly speaking the language of babies - that they might know love and inclusion.   Do we do the same for teenagers? - that they might know that their voices have actually been heard.   Do we do the same for scientists? - that they might know that their perceptions are valued. Do we do the same for artists? - that they might realise we value their perceptions of reality.  Do we do the same for politicians? - that they might know that we actually do trust them.   Do we do the same for teachers?  - that they know that the upbringing that we have enjoyed is recognised.  Do we do the same for nurses? - that they know that we value the simple care they provide.  Do we do the same for administrators and managers? - that they might know how we value structured society.  Do we do the same for musicians? - a recognition that their art is the essence of the universe,  Do we do the same for Maori?  - that they might not feel second-class citizens.   Do we learn sign for the deaf? - that we are seen to make an effort when it is needed.  Do we learn the language of intimacy? - no reason is even necessary!   Really the list is endless.   When we acknowledge the divine in our being as we are, then we allow others to acknowledge the divine in theirs.

When we in the church concern ourselves with ‘sin and righteousness and judgement’ we are concerning ourselves with the wrong things.   We need to be concerning ourselves with love; how we can identify and empathise with, and so affirm and include, others.

1.  A New Zealand Prayer Book. p 163
2.  John 3:7-8
3.  1 Peter 4:8
4.  Luke 6:37
5.  Matthew 6:15
6.  Matthew 7:12
7.  Luke 6:36
8.  τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν  Luke 22:19
cf also 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ‘and to wait for his Son from heaven’   καὶ ἀναμένειν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν