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

s032cg13   Pentecost  19/5/2013

'If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.'   John 14.14

The name 'Jesus' is not a religious version of 'Abracadabra' or 'Simon says'.   Good Christians, no more and no less than other people, suffer from poverty, illness and death, no matter how, and how much, they pray.   The suggestion that there is a special way of praying that ensures the particular outcome the person praying desires, is sorcery and idolatry.   On this feast of Pentecost, it is appropriate to mention the gift of speaking in tongues.   If it is suggested that this ensures a more certain outcome for prayer, then this is delusional.

The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples that they could speak the languages of the hearers, not on the hearers that they might understand the language of the church.   So the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to enable the church to be fully incarnated into society, that there be communication with others, all others.   The gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out on the church that the church is fully enculturated into society.

So one of the reasonable outcomes of the outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit may well be that we in the church understand the language of science and discoveries that show us how the world has evolved over millennia.   Another reasonable outcome might be that we in the church understand the language of medicine and the value of vaccinations, antibiotics, and anaesthetics.   Another reasonable outcome might be that we in the church recognise that peace might come affirming the human rights of all people regardless of gender, affluence, race, faith, and choice of intimate partner.   And not only that we understand these languages, but that we respond appropriately.

Rather than watch much television, I listen to the radio, and I have been intrigued by the differences in the political processes between New Zealand and Australia, particularly as NZ debates having a Bill of Rights.  (1)   I reflect how much better the relationship of the Māori and the Pākehā is in NZ in comparison to the Indigenous and the European people in Australia.   Australia has a written constitution but no treaty whereas NZ has no written constitution but does have a treaty.   NZ has a unicameral government which can essentially make laws and if they get it wrong, they can easily revise it or get punished in the ballot box.   This seems to me to give NZ an ability to be free and experimental, whereas in Australia politicians seem so often to be working against the system - constitutional niceties and upper houses - which had their origins in vested interests.

For me this freedom resonates with the freedom that Jesus invites us in our prayers.   We need not be constrained by old verities - like children are to be seen and not heard - that a woman is to give more to a relationship than a man - that christians are saved and others are damned.

One of the direct consequences of the church being fully enculturated into society is that this invitation is as true now as it was in the time of Jesus.   So Jesus had to live within the orthodox norms of his day - like the subordination of women - but he did what he could to subvert that orthodoxy.   The fact that Jesus came at a particular time and into a particular orthodoxy hardly means that that time and orthodoxy is thereby sanctified and unchangeable.   I suggest that were we to ask Jesus to return to the orthodoxy as it was during Jesus' earthly ministry, Jesus' reaction would be one of incredulity!   I mean, it was the orthodox and devout who had Jesus killed!

So rather than christianity being characterised by working against the system, ever checking that what we do is verifiable against the words of scripture and orthodoxy, we are given a brain to think what might make society a more equitable place, modes of communication that we can talk about this with others and permission to try it out.   The recent decision for marriage equality in NZ of course springs to mind :-)  

I am reminded of those words of the risen Christ to the disciples: 'If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven' (2) and wonder if these really extend to us forgiving others for not believing in God in precisely our terms, forgiving others for calling God by a different name, forgiving others who worship the divine in a different culture, forgiving others when they don't believe in God because they have found the church prescriptive rather than loving, forgiving others who don't come to church because when they did they were expected to be seen and not heard?   Surely we are bidden to forgive - but we are given the choice!   And these words move me to ask: how can we as a church be enculturated into society when we don't listen even to those who venture into the building?

Jesus invites us as the church into the freedom of intimacy with others, more importantly corporately rather than as individuals, unconstrained by rules and regulations about the divine, particularly 'divinely-ordained' divisions between people.

So I think that today's gospel invites us to stop praying and start thinking about how our church might listen to ourselves without being constrained by orthodoxy, and how we might listen to others without being constrained by orthodoxy.  

For if the peace that Jesus leaves us is a peace that perpetuates divisions in society around his name, well frankly this 'Jesus' is delusional too.

Jesus says: 'Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid' - afraid for ourselves and our eternal salvation, nor afraid for others and their eternal salvation.   Jesus says to Philip: 'Have I been with you all this time .. and you still do not know me?'   The disciples were in no easier place than we are.   It seems that they could get it wrong even having Jesus physically present.   We too should be very wary of making definitive statements about who Jesus is, particularly when they concern just who is, and who is not, acceptable to the divine.

We are called to be enculturated into society, that the members of the congregation might fully take their place in the processes of fairness, justice and equity for all.   This cannot be done as the church is ever concerned to show the world their distinctive superiority over others; as the church is more concerned to get more adherents to their particular version of orthodoxy - exacerbating the divisions in society - rather than working for a more inclusive and accepting society - beginning with herself.   And we as the church cannot be enculturated into society when society is challenged and critiqued rather than affirmed and included.   After all society mostly does a better job of affirmation and inclusion than the worshipping community which is inherently divisive.

So Jesus' insistence on oneness with the Father is all about reinforcing that this incarnation, this enculturing is the will of God and not some fandangled new idea.   The importance of belief is that it is belief in incarnation and enculturing rather than superiority and separateness.

And as I got my Macintosh to read back what I had written what I thought was one final time, I suddenly had another thought.   At the first Pentecost the apostles were each speaking different languages, 'as the Spirit gave them ability'.   The efforts to make everyone in the church speak the same language which others have to believe, accept and parrot to others, is the complete antithesis of this.   We are meant to be fully enculturated in all sorts of different expressions of society - not get everyone to join ours.   Every different culture has something to contribute to the richness of the kingdom of God.   We are called to be enculturated into societies, so that the church becomes a place where each and every person, in all our diversity, might fully take their place in the worship of God.   The church most fully reflects the kingdom when each member speaks a different language, expressing the truth in a different way, and embraces this.

But this is ever in the spirit of permission to be free, not that this is another job to do or else we will be miserable sinners and failures.   Like Jesus, we cannot change the church and society into being more affirming and inclusive overnight.   But it seems a fun thing for which to work :-)

(2) John 20.23