What does this mean”- words from this morning reading from Acts. May I speak in the name of God- father son and holy spirit. Amen
If Pentecost Sunday had never happened- then somehow it would have had to happen in this way. Because it’s about learning to hear and understand other voices, other languages. And this is the culmination of the whole Christian story.
That story is rooted in our humanity- what it really means to be human. If you think of a tiny baby- one of the first things they learn is that they are not the centre of their own universe- they start to look outwards-they instinctively look for the other – who in their earliest moments becomes the centre of their world- be that their mother or father or primary care giver. Without words, without language- they instinctively know they need the other. And there is something about all of us- about being human that we look beyond ourselves- we struggle to place ourselves, to find some purpose and meaning. As Christians we believe that longing, that purpose is found in God.
And then when you think about Christ’s place in that story- his incarnation and coming among us as a human being means that human beings are important to God- that we find God in our relationships with each other. At the heart of this encounter with Christ- our meeting place is in sharing a meal- the Eucharist.
And then it is inevitable that somehow we have to learn to communicate with each other- that means being able to articulate, to talk and to share a language. We have to learn to speak and to listen.
At Pentecost, we hear how suddenly the disciples are gathered together- praying- and dramatically they are given the gift of speaking the language of all the devout Jews from different countries gathered. Language that separated suddenly united all the people gathered there.
When the disciples spoke in other languages, it was more than just an amazing linguistic feat. It was something about love- about God’s longing to communicate with us. When you love and care about someone- then you try to speak their language-literally and metaphorically. You try to reach out to understand them- you try to enter their world so that you are free of self-absorption.
There is a story that the Dominican priest Timothy Ratcliffe tells the founder of his order. About 800 hundred years ago, St Dominic was travelling one of his colleagues to Paris. They came across a group of German pilgrims. Dominic was frustrated that he was unable to preach to them because he did not speak German. And so he said to Bertrand, his brother, “let us pray that we may understand them so that we may share the good news with them”. Dominic does not pray that the Germans may understand him, but that he may understand them.
One of the very sad things about the whole Brexit debate is the loss of mutuality- that it seems to be a closing down of how we communicate with our neighbours. It feels a selfish process. We spend an age working out what is good for us in the future- and we forget what we are given by our neighbours in the EU. It feels like a process that is narrow, tight and diminishing our communities. Hearing the various languages of a multicultural community is symbolic of acceptance and welcome. Speaking and listening are crucial to being human.
In Jesus, the Word of God took the risk of entering our world. He became a first century Palestinian Jew. Of course, he was misunderstood- seen as a glutton and drunkard, a sinner, a law breaker of the law, impure, a revolutionary, a zealot, lax, ignorant. He was accused of everything except what he was- pure love.
And so they killed him. But in the Resurrection, all that hatred and prejudice and division was defeated. A small fragile group of disciples that was scared and lost after the death of Christ is empowered to start a new community based on love, mutuality and hope. The spirit was poured on them and on us so that we can take the risk of talking with strangers and learning their language.
When I was young. I went to Coventry Cathedral and remember seeing the amazing tapestry by Graham Sutherland “Christ in Glory. Beyond the new structure of the cathedral lie the ruins of the old- a sort of reminder of the cruelty and desolation of humanity. And Rowan Williams- preaching about this place says that Christ on the tapestry sees the world not as a lost and hopeless place but a place that is transfigured by God’s mercy. At the foot of the tapestry sits a tiny human being held between Christ’s feet- that human being represents us- held by Christ- able to see the darkness of the world- and yet still trust and hope in God’s goodness.
Pentecost is the culmination of a journey of lostness and despair. It tells us that there is hope, that we can learn each other’s language, that we are not alone- that we can be empowered to take risks and open doors. It promises the transformation of all of life- even its most broken and lost places. God’s Spirit touches our world so that we can continue God’s work of re-making the world, bringing justice, reconciliation and hope to all humanity.
This isn’t just a nice abstract idea. At the end of Christian Aid week, one of the phrases that has been resonating within me all week is the prayer that has been used by Christian Aid.
“Loving God, in your Kingdom the strong need the weak, the rich are transformed by the poor, the fortunate are welcomed by the homeless. And your Kingdom is built by those who expect their God to come.”
It’s the phrase- your kingdom is built by those who expect their God to come. Somehow at Pentecost, God’s spirit is given to us so we can hope and trust in his love and mercy- despite all the evidence to the contrary.
I’ll finish with a poem by Malcolm Guite telling us how we find our voices to trust in the God of love
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.