The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s032cg07 Pentecost 27/5/07
'the one who believes in me .. will do greater works than these .. I will do whatever you ask in my name' John 14.12,13
I have often thought that had one of the disciples blessed the loaves and the fish or the 180 gallons of wine, rather than Jesus, the miracles would still have happened; for this is what this promise of Jesus surely suggests. And surely Jesus means us to do greater works than his, or else he wouldn't have ever suggested the possibility.
Over the centuries the church has consistently been seen as conservative, particularly when it comes to a scientific view of the world when this seems to be at odds with the traditional reading of scripture. The 'spin-off' from this has been a suspicion of all things technological. And we can see this in the Bible itself, where God helps the technologically inept Israelite tribes travelling on foot under the direction of Moses, against the more technologically advanced Egyptians whose chariot wheels got stuck in the mud of what was left of the Red Sea.
Again, the Church is often been seen as conservative morally when forgiveness and acceptance are much closer to the message of Jesus.
Now we might think that Jesus wants us to do things like feeding others acts of charity towards others or healing others - invoking otherworldly powers. But I am not sure that either of these are the core reasons for Jesus coming. We are told that we will always have the poor with us. And Jesus went to other towns rather than heal everyone in the first. At its simplest it is generally agreed that Jesus came with the message to love.
This is something we have to do. There is little point in Jesus being resurrected from the dead, if we do not love others. No amount of miracles that Jesus or God do will make the slightest difference to the course of this world like our decision and determination to love others might make. Otherwise the resurrection and the miracles were and are a waste of time. When we want to evangelise other people yet are busy denigrating other people most often other Christians of a different complexion to ourselves - people see through this. No matter what miracles we might achieve, people will remain unconvinced.
The world in the time of Jesus extended from Rome in Italy 2300kms (1426m) away from Jerusalem, Cairo in Egypt 425kms (264m) away to Bagdad in Iraq 874kms (543m) away. So the radius of their world was perhaps 1150 kms (715m). The circumference of the earth is 40,000kms or 35 times the size of 'their' world. So our world is vastly bigger, and encompassing that increase are lots of other people. We no longer live our lives within 10 kms of the town where we were born. The world is our oyster. And we do not have to even get into a plane. The internet means that knowledge and ideas are instantly available across the globe. My elder son in Timbuktu (literally in Mali, West Africa) will be able to access the words I type the instant I upload them to my page later this evening.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples that we read about each and every Pentecost Sunday tells us that the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in the languages of their hearers. The Holy Spirit was not poured out on the assembled multitude to enable them to understand Yiddish, Aramaic, Greek, or whatever language the disciples were speaking. No, the disciples were enabled to speak in the language of others.
So as the world has expanded from 1150 kms wide to 40,000 kms wide, so the Church, graced with the Holy Spirit, is enabled to speak the languages of all on the face of this earth.
Now this might seem a trivial point, but to really speak another language properly, one really needs to live in that country for a time. I have high school French, but if I really wanted to speak French properly, I would have to live in France for at least a year or two before I could converse adequately. For those couple of years I would probably hate the French language, but when I became proficient, I would begin to love the French language and appreciate its subtleties and beauty.
So too the Holy Spirit enables the Church to speak the language of scientists. The Church has no reason to be phased by theories of evolution (for instance), for this is only another way of trying to see how we came to be. The words of scripture have a rather different purpose. Again we might find the language of scientists initially foreign, but with perseverance we will begin to appreciate its subtleties and beauty.
The Holy Spirit enables the Church to speak the language of that supposedly silent 50% of humanity women. Speaking as a male person, I might find the female language foreign, but again with perseverance one begins to appreciate its subtleties and beauty. I am sure that the Holy Spirit will equally enable those of the female gender to understand those of us who are males :-)!
The Holy Spirit enables us to relate to all other people, whatever their culture, expression of faith, or with whom they relate intimately. It might be foreign to start off with, but soon enough we will begin to appreciate the effort we put in as we see that others are not aliens, but simply people like us, with the same need to be listened to and their beauty appreciated.
We are the Church, we are the people who claim to be graced with the Holy Spirit; it is we who Jesus promises will do greater things. We will not do greater things with closed minds. We will not do greater things if we stick to trying to get everyone else to speak our sacred language as if they were saved by this knowledge and fluency.
I have grown through the controversies of the ordination of women in the Anglican Church, first as deacons, then as priests and now as Bishops. For me the issue is settled by considering the requests one party makes to another. The anti-ordination of women person will say that they respect the ministry of women, but if they truly feel called to the ordained ministry they will need to change their gender a big ask if ever there was one. Those who promote the ordination of women ask only of others that they change their minds certainly a lesser ask though perhaps no less likely :-)!
Jesus prayed that those who believe in him will do greater works than him and that he would do whatever we ask in his name. Do we make good use of this promise and trade with it, or do we wrap this promise up in a handkerchief to keep it from others as that man in the parable did who came, saying, 'Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man'? Luke 19.20, 21
We can praise and fear Jesus all we like, but if we don't use his promises to try to understand others and speak their language we are wasting our breath and our fear is misplaced. For the Holy Spirit is given not to enable us to praise or fear God but to relate to those around us.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"