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

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Sermon at Parish Mass Pentecost 2017

By bobosh_t ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Acts 2:1-21
1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13
John 20:19-23

Once again we are in shock at events in our own city, at people whose hatred leads them to murder complete strangers. Our prayers this morning are with the victims and their families, with others throughout the world who suffer similar things, and with the police and those who try to keep our city safe. And, as taught by Jesus, our prayers must also be for our enemies and those who wish us harm, that they may repent and come to a true understanding of the God who loves the world he has created.
This attack, in election week, strikes at the heart of our society. The different political parties have alternative visions of the future and different ideas they want to implement, but all of the mainstream ones at least are motivated by a commitment to work together in a democratic society for the common good. If we don’t agree with them, we don’t need to demonise them, but simply to vote for someone else.
As Christians, whatever may take place in the world, we can still be confident in the vision of the future that opens up today, the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit of God is sent with transforming power upon a little group of disciples, sending them out to change the world. Pentecost gives a new possibility for humanity in which all the ancient divisions of race and culture are overcome, and all peoples can be gathered in unity, understanding the mighty deeds of God each in their own language.
Saint Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians this morning tells us about the new future for humanity that the Holy Spirit makes possible. This is more than just a tick list of spiritual gifts.
We might miss that because for some reason the Lectionary begins today’s extract part way through Paul’s argument. There’s a bit missing from the beginning, in which Paul says, “I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
St Paul is contrasting two different cultures, contrasting world views, one of which is characterised by cursing – even to the extent of saying that ‘Jesus is cursed’. That is, it is the culture that assumes that people who end up on crosses are cursed. It is a culture of violence defined by the victims it casts out. It is driven by accusation, blame and fear. At its heart is a false conception of God as the one who curses. At its most extreme, it leads to the murder of innocent people enjoying a night out. But any culture that treats other people with contempt, as being of lesser value than ourselves, is slipping dangerously into that world view.
The crucified Messiah, the outcast God, is incomprehensible to a culture that needs to make victims. But the Holy Spirit enables us to see through that to the truth that Jesus really is Lord, to see that God in Christ takes the place of the victim. Jesus shows us what God is really like. In the man hanging on the cross he takes on himself all the cursing of which the world is capable, and in his resurrection gratuitously gives back to us, not a curse, but the blessing of forgiveness and new life in the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel reading from John is set on the evening of Easter day, the day of the resurrection. The disciples have locked themselves away out of fear. The last time they had seen Jesus had been Good Friday, when most of them had deserted him and run away. The authorities surely would not stop with killing Jesus, but would want to eliminate all traces of the movement he had started. No wonder they locked the doors.
Then that morning had come the bewildering news that the tomb had been found empty, and Mary Magdalene even claimed to have seen Jesus and talked to him. To the disciples this must have seemed like a ghost story, with the scary dimension that the ghost now apparently roaming abroad was that of a man whom they had abandoned to his death.
Fear and blame, the spectre of a curse, haunt this scene. But when Jesus comes into the closed place of their fear, he doesn’t say to them, “I’ve got you now!”, or “how could you have let me down so badly?”. No. He says, “peace be with you”. And they rejoice. The risen Jesus inhabits a world in which there is no fear, no blame, no curse. In coming to the disciples he draws them into that world, and frees them from their fear.
And he sends them to draw others into that world too. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit, and sends them, as he was sent, on the Father’s mission of forgiveness and reconciliation. The Holy Spirit is given to the Church, as St Peter says in his speech today, so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”.
This is the alternative world, the different story of being human, into which we have been drawn by God’s Holy Spirit, and into which we are called to draw others, too. Love, in place of fear. Forgiveness, instead of blame. Blessing, not curse. The gathering of all people into God’s Kingdom, in place of a culture of violence defined by the victims it casts out.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”, says Jesus. As the people of God we are sent by God’s Spirit, bearing God’s Spirit, to bring reconciliation and peace, to enlarge the reign of God’s love in the world. This is the alternative world we seek to inhabit, the different way of being human we seek to live, every day, in every situation. We are the Pentecost people of God and we are here to change the world.
This week we have a particular way to do that as we consider how to vote in Thursday’s election. St Paul sees authority in human societies as reflecting the authority of God, to be exercised for the common good, and it’s a huge privilege, something unknown in the New Testament, that ordinary citizens have a part in how society is ordered and governed.
Now of course it is not the business of a preacher to tell you which party to vote for. Christians can and do support all of the mainstream parties. But it is my business, I hope, to encourage you to take your responsibility seriously and reflect on how best to use your vote for the common good, to build a society that is a blessing, not a curse, a society that seeks peace and reconciliation, that draws in the marginalised rather than casting out more victims.
And when it’s not election day, we still need to live in the alternative world of the Holy Spirit, in all of our daily lives and encounters, especially when fear stalks our streets. In ways that may be great or small, seen or unseen, we are called to be those who enlarge the reign of God’s love and make known the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord.
So let us pray and commit this week to the Lord.

Risen Lord Jesus, come in to all the closed places of our fear. Breath on us your peace. Renew in us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Send us in peace, send us in forgiveness, to enlarge the reign of your love in the world. For you have conquered death and hell, and are alive and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

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