Pentecost: Beyond the ‘Language Game.

Posted: May 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost B, 2018
Acts 2:1-4

Pentecost: Beyond the ‘Language Game…

Picture two scenes of beginning.

Scene one: In the beginning was the word and the word was ‘How r ya’. That’s how the New Testament book we traditionally call John might have begun if Jesus had been born a Kiwi. To some, Kiwi English is a lazy drawl of distorted vowels and suppressed consonants. But to most of us Kiwi’s it is a rich vein of regional idioms and unique slang expressions. “We don’t talk like anyone else on Earth,” some have said of Australians and we too might claim that also, even if in some cases the English put us two together in confusion.

Scene two: In the beginning was serendipitous creativity and serendipitous creativity was with God, and serendipitous creativity was God. All things came into being through Serendipitous Creativity and without it not one thing came into being. What has come into being in serendipitous creativity was life,* and the life was the light of all people.

These two stories give us the context for Pentecost and I suggests a Pentecost beyond language.

Rex Hunt suggests that like a movie director, Luke, the one we traditionally claim as the author of Acts, creates a scene with wind and fire. This is flamboyant speech. It is great drama. A Pentecost script full of symbolism which cannot be taken literally, whatever historical event does or does not lay behind this story. But is Pentecost just about a ‘language’ game as charismatics might argue?

Rex suggests a couple of interesting articles which took the Pentecost story beyond this, into some social issues.

One article claims that the ecological crisis is a ‘spirit’-ual problem. The other is about the power and dignity in other words, the ‘spirit’ – of a city. In our case the City of Auckland. Two rather unlikely subjects to be associated with Pentecost, according to Rex and he offered some random thoughts from each of those articles that might apply to us.

Lynn White, in one article suggests that Christianity’s attack on so-called pagan religion effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning. When paganism was banished what happened was that it replaced the belief that the sacred is in rivers and trees, with the doctrine that God is a disembodied spirit whose true residence is in heaven, not on earth. God is up there out there unconnected and untouchable.

He wrote: “By destroying pagan (religions), Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.” (White 1967) This suggests that the impact of Christianity’s teachings has tended to empty the biosphere of any sense of God’s presence in natural things. And what was created in terms of traditional theism, is that God is pictured as a sky-God.

And in turn, human beings, as bearers of God’s image, are regarded essentially as ‘souls’ taking up temporary residence in their earthly bodies. Or to put it in the common idiom: God is against nature. God is super – natural, disconnected from nature, superior to nature. ‘Dominion over’ becomes a top down idiom.

White claims, in this sense the ecological crisis – global warming, irreversible ozone depletion, massive deforestation – is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. Because… certain Christian teachings have blunted our ability to experience co-belonging with other life forms. How do you feel when we say those words in our community prayer “Forgive us when we trespass against others, human and other than human”? Do you get a sense of the challenge to review your relationship with the non- human life on this planet” What does it mean to trespass against other than human”?

The next question is “has this dominant view of nature rendered us unwilling to alter our self- destructive course and plot a new path toward sustainable living. If one holds to a doctrine of Trinity then it’s possible that the three in one relationship is distorted at best, and maybe there is a battle between pantheism and panentheism. God is Nature verses God is in Nature becomes the mechanism of avoiding the hard question.

The second article is a about St John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the 4th and early 5th centuries, who described the Festival of Pentecost as the ‘capital city of holy days’ and ‘the metropolis of the Christian year.’ While other cities may be larger, or more populated, or more fun… warmer even, Chrysostom argued they do not have the power or might or dignity of the capital city.

Living as we do in the City of Auckland, one of the most multicultural cities in the world where a myriad of languages is spoken this Chrysostom reference could be applied. The festival of Pentecost is the Auckland City of holy days, the metropolis of the Christian year. A significant image in this city of Auckland is the streets upon streets of different cultures and languages. In many of its buildings from houses to business all the peoples of the inhabited world are represented. In this city there are many people of different ethnicity’s and tongues, many cultures celebrated, much art and music and food and clothing to please the tastes of all the families of the planet.

Returning to Chrysostom’s image, in the city of Pentecost, no house or building is under siege, none has been shuttered or its families sent away by a secret order from the government, no front door has been vandalized or spray painted with insults or taunts, no refugee person has been declared persona non grata. Of course, that last claim might be challenged in our city. The issue is that the city of Pentecost is the safe place where all the cultures and languages are meant to be and the idyllic nature of this claim also reminds us that the city of Pentecost is not yet fully come.

The question we face is ‘how is ‘pentecost’ moved beyond the ‘language’ game?’ What is Pentecost as living with the planet rather than against nature? Pentecost as living in all the dignity and diversity of Auckland city. One might also say that this is the task that faces St David’s today. What is Pentecost as St David’s living in and with Uptown Auckland and of course within the greater city of Auckland.

Luke as storyteller, suggests something here. He suggests that the spirit (Sophia) is the source of unity amid diversity. (Why else the United Nations list of participants?) She does not eliminate diversity, but she makes it possible to rejoice in it instead of fighting over it. Neither Greek nor Roman, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female… Neither Irish, Indonesian nor Chinese, neither Pakeha or Maori, neither straight nor gay…

Pentecost is not yet come. It is a promise, a vision not yet achieved in practice.  Rather, it is a goal towards which we strive with greater or lesser success and indeed with greater or lesser effort. Theism or Serendipitous Creativity, Pentecost might be understood as the nudging of God in our lives which can bring about an expanding experience of what life is really designed to be about.” (Goff.P&F Web site 2003)

In this we can relate to as ‘just a bit of ‘Pentecost’ each day’. This initiates a process of empowerment found in the dynamic of relationship across complexity, which can bring satisfaction to God in creation, I might say the satisfaction is found in the healthy relationship with and understanding of Serendipitous Creativity. Found in the relationship between God and the city, and between us all.

This has got to be worth reflecting upon and celebrating, As Rex adds; especially on a day when we see ‘red’!

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