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Sun, May 20, 2018

Pentecost Today

What do tongues of fire look like today? The third Bible reading today was St John 16: 4b-15
Series:April-June 2018
Duration:14 mins 28 secs
Sermon  Pentecost 2018
  
Lessons    Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14                       Acts 2: 1 – 13                St John 16: 4b - 15     
  
Prayer of Illumination
 
Let us pray.
 
In the footsteps of every follower since those very first days, may we be receptive to the Spirit’s presence, to tones of mystical intuition, that tongues as of fire may rest once more on us.   Bless our meditations.   Amen.
  
Surrounded by death, in a valley full of bones dry and brittle, the prophet Ezekiel spoke and the Spirit of God brought new life.   God, breathing upon the slain, bones rattled and before the eyes of the prophet a vast multitude appeared.   Graves were opened and God said, ‘I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.’   In the Gospel of St Matthew, immediately after Jesus breathed his last, we are told that the earth shook, rocks were split, tombs were opened and the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.   These stories are the rich, imaginative sacred poetry of mythology:  they tell us that God can bring life, new life, even from the darkest and most despairing moments of human experience.   ‘I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.’   We are to feel these words for ourselves, in the soul.   We are to stand in the valley of dry bones and at the foot of the Cross and let the breath of God breathe in us.   Scripture is a doorway into the Divine if we let the stories blossom within us.
 
From heaven, like the rush of a violent wind and tongues, divided as of fire, rested on those gathered together in Jerusalem.   Jews from every nation under heaven were there, and all were filled with the Holy Spirit.   In the Book of Genesis (chapter 2), in the second creation narrative, we read, ‘The Eternal God formed the human of the dust of the earth, and blew in its nostrils breath of life….’   In this story of creation, human beings are made from the matter of the earth, which science now confirms.   ‘Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, oxygen and phosphorous make up 90% of our bodies.   Every element found in the Earth’s crust is found in us.   In Genesis, the human being is a creature formed from two ingredients:  [earth and the breath of God].’[1]   From the very beginning, from the origin of humanity, the breath of God, the ruach, the Spirit of God, has been associated with birthing new life.  
 
Today is Pentecost; a day on which we may reasonably reflect on the work of the Spirit in our time, looking to discern God’s presence among us and catch glimpses of the Divine in the changing patterns of life.   Across Europe, attendances at public worship have been in decline since the 1950s.   The average age of worshippers in churches is steadily rising.   In England, the trend of decline is tempered only by its cathedrals, which show gradual growth in attendance year by year.   Besides cathedrals, are there signs of the Spirit breathing new life? 
 
Central to the changing pattern of spirituality is the practice of pilgrimage.   Each year over 330 million people around the world walk their faith:  some, full of faith, make their way to ancient and historic holy sites, while others step out in search of they know not what; a spiritual itch that needs scratched.   Millions of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Daoists and Buddhists journey in search of the Sacred; they embody their spirituality.   In Europe, the lowest church attendance recorded is in Scandinavia but even here there is a booming interest in pilgrimage with the development of a specialist ministry of pilgrim pastors.   The more secular our society becomes the more Christians become what theologian Stanley Hauerwas calls ‘resident aliens’.   The question for us is, ‘How do we nourish our faith in a foreign land?’  
 
In 1935, the German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that ‘the restoration of the church will surely come from a new type of monasticism.   He said, ‘I think it is time to gather people together to do this’.   The Scottish philosopher Alistair MacIntyre says that it was the resilience of monasteries which kept alive the intellectual and spiritual life of the church during the dark ages.   Avoiding the pitfalls of the past, for some monasteries have sinister stories to tell, what might the new monastic movement look like?   How do we nourish our faith in a foreign land?
 
At the centre of monastic life lies the rhythm of daily prayer, both private and public.   In part, some of the success of the English cathedrals is their daily provision of short services of worship.   The regular reading of Psalms is also being recovered and, in our troubled times, the Psalms of Lament have much to offer.   Pleas of help and protection and experience of an absent God are there in the sacred hymnody.   Monastic life, not least Celtic monastic life, brought daily prayer, manual labour and intellectual study together in a trinitarian discipline.   Celtic daily prayer focused on the ordinariness of the every day, on the performing of mundane tasks, of family and work relationships and, alongside that, the Church offered a ministry of benediction, of blessing, of speaking well of people, of the world: consciously cultivating a culture of following in the footsteps of the saints.   As the machinery of the institutional churches becomes irreparable, we are being forced to stand on our own feet.   Like the brittle, dry bones, we hear the words of the Eternal, ‘I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.’  
 
In our denomination, as in others, there is an increased use of managerial jargon by the Councils and committees of the Church but managerial jargon will not save or stir lost faith.   The Church’s central task is to facilitate encounter with the Sacred and to do so as a community of pilgrims, not with any narrow motive of mission.   The days of mission have passed, surely; we are to witness to the One we follow.   On Sunday last, as people of faith in this city, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Hindus, Buddhists and followers of the Bahai’i tradition walked together.   There was no desire to convert, simply to witness; to honour the Sacred, the Holy, in life.  
 
Alongside daily prayer, study, a ministry of benediction and witnessing to our faith, to the Spirit that warms our hearts, where we can we are to offer a pastoral presence, as the monasteries have done for almost two millennia.   In 2017, in the aftermath of the fire which devastated Grenfell Tower, the local parish church, St Clement’s, which is situated 200 yards from the Tower, opened its doors to the sulphurous night air at 3.00am while the fire still burned.   Around 200 people went in:  traumatised survivors and others.   As the night went on, more and more churches opened their doors offering places of safety, refuge, prayer and counselling as well as basics such as food, water, clothing and nappies.   The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, said of the churches, ‘our most important contribution was just being there.   We were present when people were going through the most horrendous time.’   In the United States, in contrast to the rhetoric against immigrants, we see the development of sanctuary churches which specifically welcome immigrants.  
 
Doctrines which defined our past, battles lost and won, belong to another time, another place.   Today, Pentecost now, is about nurturing personal spirituality, witnessing shoulder to shoulder with people of other world faiths, offering a pastoral presence where we can, and living and walking our faith.   The French writer Chateaubriand said, ‘there was he never a pilgrim that did not come back to his own village with one less prejudice and one more idea.’   And, of pilgrimage, the Welsh poet R S Thomas wrote:
 
                                    The point of travelling is not
                                    To arrive but to return home
                                    Laden with pollen you shall work up
                                    Into honey the mind feeds on.
 
‘I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.’   Tongues, divided as of fire, rested on those gathered together.   It’s still happening.
 
Amen.
 
 
 


[1]Rabbi Timoner
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MYSTICISM & THE ABRAHAMIC FAITHS - LECTURE

Mayfield Salisbury Church Memorials 1914-1918

  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.
    Origen

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.
    Wittgenstein

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.
    Plotinus

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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