Listful parading – a sermon for Pentecost

Love the Olympic cauldron. Well done Danny Boyle, well done London. What an opening ceremony.
In our worship we are joined by Christians from around the globe: Nigerian, French, Swedish, Canadians, Chinese. Our Diocese has links with the Melanesian Church and the Congolese Church. Your parish may have other links with churches as well. Some of you may have personal links. The Anglican cycle of Prayer invites us to join other Anglicans around the world in praying for the Dioceses of North Dakota and South Dakota, and their Bishops Michael Smith and John Tarrant.

In worship of our God we are as one. We are brothers and sisters, children of our heavenly father. Thanks be to God, through his work as father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That is the thrust of our reading from Acts as its author Luke recalls the power of God poured out by Jesus from the right hand of God as Holy Spirit on that Harvest festival in Jerusalem.

It was a power so powerful that about 3000 people were added to the other 120 disciples.

It was a power so transformative that “all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions they gave to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all people.” (Acts 2)

The prophet Joel looked forward to the day when God would pour out his Spirit on all people, young and old, men and women. He knew then that the young would see visions and the old would dream dreams.

I wonder whether the disciples’ commune was one of those dreams, one of those visions.

I wonder if the spirit of Luke’s writing is not wanting us to read this passage as a one-off day in history – for us many centuries ago, but as “today, of all days”, and “today and everyday”.

God showers (that’s the meaning of the Greek word behind out word “baptism”) people with his love, today of all days, and today and everyday.

And then he wants to help us to dream dreams about what is possible, to envision the world in which God’s kingdom comes, on earth, as in heaven. It’s about the future, not the past.

Our news headlines are grim aren’t they? Particularly for the poor.

This week’s news featured a grandmother who committed suicide because of the new bedroom tax, and welfare workers have been trained to recognize suicide risk.

The plight of vulnerable children was highlighted by the Oxfordshire rape case. There was a body discovered buried in a garden in Ellesmere Port. Violence in Iraq has escalated with days of bombings between Sunni and Shia.

Luke’s world was no less divisive. We know there were divisions between oppressed and free, colonized and colonizer, rich and poor, Jew and Greek, men and women.

Luke parades the differences before our very eyes.

In the gospel, he parades the poor, the blind, the prisoners, the lame and the oppressed.

Here, in this reading from Acts, he parades the nations represented at the Pentecost festival.

I’ve heard readers get to that list of nationalities that Luke has measured out for us. Instead of reading the list, they said “Parthians, Medes and Elamites etc etc” which totally misses Luke’s point.

We enjoyed the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony of the Olympics – we discovered countries we never knew existed, like Micronesia. What would it have been like if we were just shown the first three – Team GB, USA and China – with the rest reduced to a blur, as etcetera, while we fast forwarded to something more interesting, like the Queen sky-diving?

No, the list of nations is meant to be long. That is the point. All those people gathered on one place, and in spite of their differences, and their border conflicts, they all heard in their own language what the disciples were saying as they spoke in tongues.

And 3000 of them came together, sold everything, shared everything, met everyday, and enjoyed the favour of all people.

Is it a tall story, a vision or a dream?
Heatherwick's Petals
You saw the Parade of Athletes at the Olympics last year. For a moment I want you to use your imagination. I want you to parade Luke’s people before your eyes, to see their flags, and to also notice the petal each group is carrying.

Here come the (fanfare, dancing, drums, cheering and applause)

Parthians

The Medes

The Elamites

The residents of Mesopotamia

The Judeans

The Cappadocians

People from Pontus,

Phrygia

Pamphilia

Egyptians (why do they walk like that?)

Libyans from the region of Cyrene

Romans

Cretans

Arabs

They parade around, stake their flag in front of our eyes and place their petal in a stand.

Then come seven young boys and girls. They represent the promise of the future. They go to the petals, and they breathe fire on to them. One by one the petals catch a light until they are all ablaze. The flames come together as one cauldron.

Wasn’t it an amazing sight that Danny Boyle offered us? Isn’t it an amazing sight that Luke shows us.

In spite of our differences, all of us understood in our own heart of hearts the Olympic dream.

For the Dean of Durham we saw what we can be.

He wrote: “We saw some important things that spoke about Britishness in the 21st century … like care and compassion, inclusivity and diversity, flair and creativity, modesty and understatement, the confidence to be at ease with ourselves, our ability to question ourselves, our enjoyment of life.”

Likewise, Luke’s parade needs no interpretation and no explanation. Each of them knew the meaning of what was being said in tongues from within the tongues of flame.

We hear of people speaking in tongues and wonder what all that’s about.

But the message of these 120 men and women speaking in tongues was immediately understandable.

Nothing was lost in translation, because although they were speaking in tongues, they were speaking the Mother Tongue, the tongue of the Holy Spirit.

The Mother Tongue is not a difficult language. In the Mother Tongue there is only one word, which was in the very beginning and which will be spoken for ever.

Some chose to think that the disciples were drunk.

But others, 3000 of them, chose to see the power that is God’s, that overcomes difference, that reconciles enemies, that made one community of many interests.

We call that community “the church”.

This is the community that believes in the power of God to turn the world upside down.

This is the community in which members see a chaotic world before their eyes, but they realise their own responsibility to revert to the Mother Tongue in all their interactions.

This is the community which prays for the ending of division and the repair of broken relationships, which prays for Sunni and Shia in Baghdad, slaves, the poor, the abused and their abusers because we know what is possible, today and all days.

This is the community of men and women who dare to dream dreams and who see visions of kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is the community that is being constantly licked into shape by the Mother Tongue. Today of all days, and today and every day.

This sermon was preached at Christ Church, Higher Bebington on May 19th 2013.

The photo of the Olympic Cauldreon is by Paul Watson. The Cauldron was designed by Heatherwick.

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