Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Sermon at Parish Mass, Pentecost 2010 – “The Spirit Who Gives Us Gifts”

Acts 2:1-11
Romans 8:8-17
John 14:15-16,23-26

Where do you live? On the face of it, if you’re fortunate enough to have a home, that’s easy to answer. You can say, for example, that you live at 13 Acacia Avenue.

And that’s fine if you’re trying to find your way from A to B, or in this case Acacia Avenue. The answer is correct, but superficial. It doesn’t give away anything of ourselves. Although the question is, “where do you live”, it doesn’t really say anything about what it means to live.

Let’s try rephrasing the question. Not, “Where do you live”, but, “Where is your life?” Where does your heart abide? Where are you truly alive? What makes you shout for joy? What makes you angry?

That’s much more challenging. It’s asking about the depths, about the real secret “me” deep inside. I can’t answer that question without giving something of myself. It’s a risky, costly question to answer.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel, when Jesus calls his first disciples, they ask him this question, “where are you staying”, “where do you live?”. And Jesus says, “come and see”. Now the disciples do see, on the superficial level, the address where Jesus happens to be staying, but they see far more than that.

The rest of John’s Gospel is the real answer. It tells us where Jesus truly abides, where his life is. For Jesus dwells with the Father. He is one with God from all eternity. In his teaching and in his presence with them Jesus gives to the disciples the secret of his life, that he and the Father are one.

That in itself is more wonderful than we can ever comprehend. God, who created us out of nothing, has come so close to us, to reveal to us the secret of his life in Jesus. But he is not content with simply showing us his life. God does not want to be worshipped from a distance. He wants to catch us and the whole of creation in his loving embrace.

So in today’s Gospel reading Jesus goes further. If you keep my word, he says, I will send you the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. And the Father and I will love you and come and make our home with you. What a gift! What a promise! I love you, says God, I will make my home with you. Your life will be my life. Where we live will be in God.

But how can we love God in return for the love he has given us? Sinners that we are, finite creatures. Specks of dust that float in the rays of God’s light. How can we ever reciprocate such love? I will send you the Holy Spirit, says Jesus. The Holy Spirit who is the love of God himself. God has given us his own love to dwell in our hearts. We love God with the same love with which he loves us.

And this is the gift which is poured out on the disciples today, the feast of Pentecost, in that upper room in Jerusalem.

Has it ever occurred to you to wonder where the walls went on the day of Pentecost? The disciples were in the same upper room in which Jesus had celebrated the last supper just before his death. That was a private, secluded room where the Master and his disciples could gather undisturbed by the police who were hunting for him. The same room where the disciples had met after the death of Jesus with the doors locked because they were afraid.

Today the Holy Spirit blasts into that room in wind and fire. The disciples begin to praise God in every language under heaven. And the crowds come running to see what is going on. Thousands see and hear and believe. Suddenly everything is public and out in the open. The little secret church in that closed room has been launched into the world and it’s as though the walls have disappeared.

The Orthodox icon for the feast of Pentecost tries to convey something of that. It’s a marvel of inverted perspective. The upper room has become an infinite space with no walls or horizon, it just goes on without limit into golden light. The disciples and Mary are sitting in arc which is part of an expanding circle like ripples on a pond. Down below, in a small cramped dark space, is a little figure representing the world, with its power structures and self-obsessed ways of thinking. The world is robed like a king, but he looks on without comprehension. He doesn’t see the glorious new universe, the Kingdom of God in the Holy Spirit, which is unfolding in front of him.

The Holy Spirit is given to us today so that we might love God with the same love with which he loves us. But we are also sent out into the world. The Church is not to remain in a little safe upper room. God sends us, who have been caught by his love, to widen the circle of that love, to embrace the whole world.

And the Holy Spirit gives us gifts, of ministry and discipleship, to enable us to do that. Wonderful gifts, of wisdom, understanding, patience, love. The Spirit gives to some the gifts to be pastors, evangelists or teachers. To others gifts of prayer, counselling, nurture, leadership. Some gifts are more obvious, some are quieter and more hidden. But every one of us has different gifts and we all need each other. The gifts the Holy Spirit distributes are to work together to build up the Church and to extend God’s Kingdom.

So let us today give thanks for the gifts God has given us, and pray that we may use those gifts, together, to build up one another and to carry on the mission that God has given to us.

The whole world is invited to enter the new universe that began in the upper room, the universe filled with light and love, the Kingdom of God in the Holy Spirit. And God has given us the Spirit of his love that we may bring others into that love too.

Today our heavenly Father speaks to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. “I love you. I will make my home with you. Go, and bring home all my other children, too.”

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