Thursday, 24 May 2018

You’re not listening to me! Pentecost and the healing of broken relationships

A Sermon for Pentecost 2018

Acts 2.1-13

We often think of Pentecost as a miracle of speaking,
             with everyone suddenly talking in different human languages;
but actually I have always thought that it’s more a miracle of understanding,
            with people suddenly discovering, through the activity of the Holy Spirit,
            an ability to hear one another across barriers that would otherwise divide them,
            including, of course, the language barrier.

The so-called ‘language barrier’ is never just about language, of course.
            I mean, I can speak a bit of French,
                        and with practice I could get much better at it,
            but that wouldn’t make me French, because I haven’t grown up there,
                        and I don’t know all the other nonverbal cultural cues
                        that make up French ethnic and cultural identity.

There seems to be something deep within humans
            where we are always seeking ways to divide ourselves up, one from another.
Did you see the research published recently,
            which showed that infants as young as 6-9 months
            can be demonstrated to show bias towards people of their own ethnicity?[1]

We learn at a very early age to prefer those who are ‘like us’,
            and to be distrustful of those who are not quite like us.

And of course at one level this makes perfect sense;
            you want a baby to seek solace from its parents, or from members of its wider family,
            so it is good for a child to naturally find people who look like it more comforting
                        than people who look different.

But when this positive trait of familial belonging
            gets carried over into other areas of our lives,
we find ourselves with divisions that are far less healthy.

So the childish preference we have for parents and family members who look like us,
            can become racism, and intolerance of ethnic diversity,
            if it is not integrated into a wider understanding
                        of who we are as human beings together.

Similarly, the other ‘-isms’ which divide us
            can also be seen to be the result of dis-integrated personalities.

From national-ism, to sex-ism,
            to class-ism, to cisgender-ism,
                        to able-ism, to heterosex-ism,
                                    to antisemiti-ism, to colonial-ism,
                                                to ethnocentr-ism, to religious imperial-ism,
            I could go on and on…

There is seemingly no end to the ways in which we stake out our territory
            based on normalising our own identity
            and rejecting those who are not quite like us.

This can happen with both dominant and minority groups in society,
            but it becomes oppressive when it is exhibited by the majority against the minority.

We’ve just come to the end of a preaching series on the first letter of John,
            during which we have heard, again and again,
            that the call is for Christians to model something different,
to become communities of love,
            where the love that Jesus has for us is lived out
            in the love we demonstrate to one another.

And this loving community of Christ is created by the Spirit at work in us,
            enabling us to bridge the divides that would otherwise keep us from one another.

So, what does a Pentecostal, Spirit-inspired, loving Christian community look like?
            Does it look like Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church?

It can be hard sometimes, can’t it, to love one another?
            It can be hard to live together with the differences that we have.

Differences of theology, belief, style, or preference.
            Some of us like noise in worship, some of us like silence.
            Some of us like the organ, some of us would prefer drums.
            Some of us like intellectual sermons, some of us struggle with them.
                        And I could go on, and on…

And of course, it can be difficult when we don’t get what we want from our church,
            or if it feels like things we have put our heart and soul into
                        are being trampled or disparaged by others.

Somehow, it can all seem more real in church life,
            because it is here with our siblings in Christ
            that we lay our emotions before one another and before God,
                        and ask to be loved for who we are and what we bring.

And when we aren’t, or feel that we aren’t,
            the divisions can so easily creep in,
            and we step away from our commitment to love.

So what is it that will hold us together?
Well, firstly, it is our shared conviction that God loves us,
            and that God listens to us.
Whatever it is that we want to say, God listens.

Whether we are angry, or hurt,
            or joyful, or exultant, God listens.

Sometimes, when it feels like no-one else is listening,
            to know that God is hearing us can be a profound insight.
But that is only the start,
            because the fact that God hears us
            must form the basis for us hearing each other.

When we all come together, we gather speaking a range of different ‘languages’,
            and you know that I’m not just talking here about French or English or whatever.
We gather with such differences
            of style and opinion and insight and preference,
                        that even if we are all speaking English,
                        we can so easily be speaking across each other.

Just think about the staged argument Luke and I had earlier
            about what I’m saying by the choice of clothing I wear.

And we so need to hear each other.
We need the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost
            to work in our midst a miracle of hearing,
            to break down the barriers that divide us.

Today is an all-age service,
            where we work out our commitment to including people in worship,
where we live out our desire to worship together across the barriers that divide,
and in one small way, this is an example of what I’m talking about.

We need to learn to bear with one another in love,
            to listen to one another across our divides,
            and to discover in our time and our place
the Pentecostal Spirit-inspired, loving Christian community
            that came into being with those first disciples at Pentecost.

And if people end up saying of us,
‘do you know, they’re so happy it sounds like they’ve had too much new wine?’

I’m fine with that too.


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