A SERMON FOR PENTECOST
Acts 2:4 “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”
Unless you have just arrived from another galaxy,
you will probably have heard mention by now
that we now have a new coalition government.
Amazing to see our leaders,
till now apparently hard wired
to rubbish everything the other party says or does,
trying to work together.
I’ve been thinking about ways in which
we are called as Christians to form coalitions.
It was at a meeting in Lund in 1952
that the World Council of Churches passed a resolution
which has become known as the Lund Principle.
The Lund Principle simply states that as Churches
we should do apart only those things
which we cannot in conscience do together.
And you could say that the ecumenical movement
is our effort at ecclesiastical coalition making.
And I might be tempted to hope that our politicians
make a better fist of genuine co-operation
and setting aside traditional vested interests and positions
than have the Churches in the last 50 years.
We shall see.
Meanwhile on Pentecost Sunday we give thanks
for the power of God’s Spirit blowing through every corner of the Church,
and ask how the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit”
might translate into real ecumenical coalition.
As we know from recent political
coalitions are tricky things.
You have to answer a serious of fundamental questions:
· Which of my policy manifesto objectives are sacrosanct, non-negotiable?
· In which policy areas am I willing
to be pragmatic and negotiate
so as to achieve part of what I want rather than risk achieving nothing?
objectives are “desirable but not necessary” -
things that would be a bonus,
but which I might need to lose altogether in the negotiation?
We have seen the political parties playing this game -
and as Churches we need to do the same.
The image of Pentecost is of many different people
speaking different tongues yet understanding each other -
unity in diversity.
So what about the Church?
What is our manifesto?
What do we promise people?
What are our bottom lines??
And how can we work alongside other Churches
in a successful and meaningful coalition?
It seems to me there is a lot of good news here -
the really important bits of our Manifesto,
the things we most of all need to deliver on, are not (to be honest)
by and large about episcopacy, ordination or liturgy or whatever -
the things the ecumenical conversations get stuck on-
the guy in the pub or at the bus stop
is unlikely to know or care about that stuff -
what he or she is likely to care about
(and what we should and can be working together on),
are the basic Kingdom values
of love and forgiveness, truth and meaning, justice and peace,
So basically, let’s leave a few theologians somewhere
to get on with the ecclesiastical stuff, and the rest of us, lets say
“What Kingdom of God Manifesto pledges
can we get on with together now
in a local & practical way?”
But I want to push the idea of spiritual coalitions a bit further.
Acts 2 talks about the Spirit at work in the Church.
But Genesis 1 talks about the Spirit
at work in the whole of creation -
how the Spirit of God hovered
over the primeval chaos and brought order.
In other words, we should expect the Spirit of God to be at work
not only in other Churches
but in every place and every situation.
Michael Taylor addressed the Methodist Conference a few years ago
and invited the Church to commit to a new Lund Principle -
one in which those of us in the Churches committed ourselves
to work with and alongside not merely other Christians,
but also those of other faiths and none
for the common good of all humanity
Doing this may not always be any easier
than setting up political coalitions.
We must never sell out our distinctive faith in Christ,
not our commitment to Kingdom values -
but how much might we achieve
if we were really willing to seek coalition with others in our society -
not asking people in the first instance to sit down and discuss theology,
but asking them to join us in creating a better world?
There is not time to explore this in detail here,
so let me offer you some very very brief case studies
from here in Exeter under the heading
“Can we as Christians make common cause
with groups in the wider society?”
1. A positive example. Each year the Peace Movement
use our car park for their plant sale.
Traditionally it’s the week after our plant sale,
and we pass on any plants we have left for them to sell.
And we build up a friendly rapport as we help each other.
Now - Is everyone at the Mint in favour of unilateral disarmament
and pulling the troops out of Afghanistan?
Many of us - but by no means all.
So there would be some areas of debate for some people.
But we seek the Kingdom of Peace and Justice,
and as such should seek to work with and alongside
those who have similar ideals.
2. A less
happy example. I had a phone call a few
from the pressure group in Alphington set up
to oppose a Travellers’ Site in the neighbourhood.
Would I attend the public meeting
and lend my support to the campaign?
I said no -
I couldn’t support a cause which seemed to me
to be almost directly in contradiction of our Lord’s commands
to care especially for the poor
and the weak and the marginalised.
3. Then a more
ambiguous issue -
you’ll remember how the night club two doors up
sought a licence for lap dancing.
We were asked to support opposition to the licence
which (albeit unsuccessfully) we did.
We argued that it was demeaning
to the dancers and their clients.
But interestingly I received emails of support
from various well meaning but hard line
fundamentalist Christian and other groups
thanking me for our stand,
and inviting me to sign all sorts of other petitions and campaigns
against gay rights and abortion and stem cell research -
none of which personally I felt I could sign.
And I realized how coalition making
can sometimes leave you vulnerable to misrepresentation
or ending up where you do not wish to be.
request from the Refugee Support group across the road
to use our premises for occasional meetings
for refugee mums and toddlers meeting to chat.
We happily agreed -
not least because we have been involved for many years
in supporting individual asylum seekers.
Indeed we’ve arranged for the support group
to send a representative to talk at an evening service.
I said it would be OK if that person
was Christian or Islamic or neither -
we wanted to talk to them about the issues of asylum and sanctuary
which crossed faith boundaries.
lastly at the University
we have set up a Multi-faith Chaplaincy team -
we all work on campus and meet with students and staff
and often enter into spiritual and theological conversations.
But we do so in the first instance
as representatives of a team jointly committed
to helping anyone explore a spiritual dimension of life -
referring them to specific faith traditions
only as and when appropriate.
Just a few examples - there are many we could talk about -
You might like to think of your own week ahead -
in how many times and places do you as an individual
enter coalitions for the common good?
But time flies - let me quote some words
from Michael Taylor’s speech which I mentioned earlier….
Its vital, he says, that when we make common cause
with groups outside the Church,
we do it not for the aggrandisement of the Church,
but for the good of all.
“We go in the first instance to
the real life issues of the day that concern us all.
There is no shortage of them,
and no shortage of women and men who want to talk about them,
and no shortage of people, who, if they felt they could,
would want to do something about them.
“When the Churches comment sadly
that they find it difficult
to make contact with “those outside” (as they call them),
they have the wrong agenda.
They want to talk about the Church and religious faith
when they should be talking about life.
It is the easily recognizable struggle for life…
for the welfare of the city, local and global -
for its health and education, its good governance,
its hospitality to strangers, its forgiveness of sinners,
its support for the most vulnerable,
its fostering of family and community -
“It’s the struggle
for the common good
that is the setting for talking about our faith
and the faith of others we begin to work with …
But faith is not the first or primary topic of conversation.
We don’t need Councils of Faiths
so much as Alliances and Partnerships for the Common Good.”
Meanwhile, our modern world is still frighteningly akin
to the waters of primeval chaos
at the beginning of Genesis.
But now - as then -
the Spirit of God remains at work in the midst of it all.
We thank God for the Spirit’s work in the Church
But maybe we also need to look for the Spirit at work
in other sometimes unlikely places.
And yes those to and through whom the Spirit speaks
may come from Cappadocia or Pontus, from Phrygia or Pamphilia,
from Pinhoe or Exwick,
from left or right,
from Mecca or Jerusalem.
But if our ears are attuned,
maybe can all hear and understand
in each distinctive voice,
some aspects of the Gospel call for love and peace and justice
with which we can make common cause.
Holy Spirit - come fill our lives, fill our world,
that in your power and through your people,
God’s will may be done
Order of Service
Welcome and Notices
Introit “Listen Sweet Dove”
Opening Responses (See screen. Please stand)
Hymn “Prayer for the Holy Spirit” (See Screen. Tune HAP 635 )
Readings: Genesis 11:1-9 (p.12) and Acts 2:1-13 (p.1093)
Hymn “Spirit of God” (See Screen Tune HAP 176)
Sermon “Filled with the Spirit”
Hymn 412 “We turn to you O God of every nation”
Leader: ….Upon every community
People: Blow Spirit Blow
The Lord’s Prayer
Peace: Leader: The Peace
of the Lord be with you
People: And also with you.
(Members of the congregation
greet each other with the words of the peace)
(Young People and Korean congregation enter)
Hymn 281 “Come Down O Love
(during this hymn the collection will be taken and brought forward)
Communion Prayer of Thanksgiving (See Screen - Please remain standing)
“Spirit of the Living God” (See Screen - please sit to sing)
bread and wine are distributed. All who
wish are invited to receive.
Please come forward when the steward beckons your row.)
Post Communion Prayer:
All: God of power, may the boldness of your Spirit transform us,
may the gentleness of your Spirit lead us,
and may the gifts of your Spirit equip us
to serve and worship you, now and always. Amen
Hymn 616 “Lord enthroned”