Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:26-36; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-27

23 May 2010 Day of Pentecost Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Pentecost 23 May 2010 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Canterbury Cathedral has an architectural feature called a Holy Ghost Hole, and there are many of them in many cathedrals - Holy Ghost Holes. Next time you go to one of those great cathedrals, ask if you can see it. The Holy Ghost Hole is a hole that is left in the ceiling of the cathedral so that the Holy Spirit can come in, and on the Feast of Pentecost in some of those cathedrals, they’ve had a tradition of during the reading we heard this morning about Pentecost from Acts, someone would be up on the roof with a dove and would poke it through the Holy Ghost Hole. It does serve to illustrate an understanding of Pentecost – just imagine the design work that went into that, the logistics of the liturgy that followed it, to illustrate, (or what they was illustrating) a Biblical truth.

If you read though that reading – it’s such a critical, crucial reading. Pentecost is such an important feast that much has been pulled out of that reading. Many evangelicals actually drool over the last line. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ They trot around High Streets around the world, ‘so just accept the name Jesus and you’ll be saved’. If it was that simple we would have done it. And yet there’s a truth there, for if we do utter the Divine word, if our utterance is of Christ, then maybe we bring about salvation, whatever that is.

What we find with religious movements, of which we are but one, is that quite often they get lost in the particular. There was a truth that was grasped, and in the readings today the grasping of the truth is there to be had. It was so big, so wonderful that a shrine was then built to the Word, to the truth. And the shrines illustrated the truth. They put up huge windows with pictures that showed the stories; they created Holy Ghost Holes so that people could be aware of what the truth was; but the truth of the tradition is often birthed in a worldview that is so, so ancient it is redundant. What the Holy Ghost Hole points out is that the truth of Pentecost for those at that time was dependent on a worldview whereby Heaven was up there, just above the clouds; in fact at night time way above the clouds, because there was a dome over the earth that held the Heavens above. The dome had a few holes in it - that’s where the stars shone through; that was the light from heaven shining through the holes in the dome. WE laugh, but it’s true: that’s how they saw the world, an up-turned pudding basin; heaven was on the outside of the pudding basin and we’re on the flat bit the earth. And underneath – you only had to dig a hole and you’d realise it - underneath was the darkness and the fires of Hell. Those fires that are stoked each time Gabby goes to Scotland and sets off another volcano. That was the worldview. Now the thing is if you held that worldview, and it was true: many, many eminent scientists had proof of it, and we can still prove it today. I saw Bob Matthews trying to prove it the other day; he had a spirit level out, and yes, he said, that’s level flat. It’s not; it’s round.
Once we let go of that worldview and I think some here have, some here is this community no longer believe that heaven is on the outside of the pudding basin and Hell is under floor boards; some have moved somewhere else. Ditch the theology with the movement: you can’t say, ‘out of this worldview this is the belief I have, and ditch the worldview and then bring the belief with you’. It makes no sense. It makes no sense to think the Holy Spirit is going to pop out of the heavens and whoosh over everybody. There’s no one up there, no one. We can let go if we can actually see what gave us the belief to start with – an old ancient view of the world. We then pieced together the stories from the sacred text to fit that belief. The purpose of the book is to look at life reflected in it, and see where that might lead. We had a Pentecost moment yesterday, we have a Pentecost moment today, we’ll have a Pentecost moment tomorrow. We just need to be able to read them and see them.

Those who were here yesterday, it was a wonderful service was it not? I wonder where you first cried in it; I wonder where the tears first started. I couldn’t sing the first song, except in my heart. ‘My countries skies are bluer than the oceans and sunlight beams on eucalypt and pine, but other lands have sunlight too and beaches’. At that moment I was ‘standing together in one place’ just as we read in the narrative – the skies of Nepal were as close as the skies of Beaconsfield; the skies of my childhood home in England were as close as the skies above. All were together in one place - there was Pentecost.

The liturgy was very good, and I think we should write to Peter and say ‘I think that was very, very good’. There is a story of Pentecost lying behind the liturgy. We’d invited the Archbishop to consecrate our chapel. One would think one would have written to say, ‘how would you like to do it?’ Not so. Someone thinks too highly of themself: I’ll write it; I’ll tell you what you’ll do; I’ll show you what liturgy really is. So I went down my path with my language in my words. And invited Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and Sikhs and said ‘Come on in, say your prayers’. I designed the whole liturgy, picked some readings - great readings from the book of Exodus that talked about the building of the temple in Jerusalem. We will revisit them one day. Sent the whole lot off to the Archbishop and invited his comments. There’s just enough confidence in me to anticipate a letter back saying, ‘Stunning! Look forward to being there.’ But what I got back was another language altogether, which I could hardly hear. Some ecclesiastical priest telling me what to do: ‘No, we can’t do that, can’t have that. I’m all for this, but have you thought about…..” He suggested many changes, one of which was if we’re doing a consecration we’ve got to have a reading from the gospel. Those traditionalists get on your nerves – stuck in the past he is!

So I thought about it and thought, well we have invited him; he actually will be the priest of the day. There must be integrity for him, because otherwise it doesn’t work, you can see right through it. We all know churches where you can see right through the liturgy, don’t we. So there had to be integrity. When I listened to his voice, when I could understand his voice, the whole lot had to be written again, because it could no longer be my language, it had to take into account another voice.

We’re running rapidly out of time; we’re now… Wednesday night. We have to get it bedded down, he has to see the redraft, then it has to be printed, photocopied, folded, whatever. What gospel will I use – gosh there are so many, four of them for a start! Take the easy way out and pick the Gospel of the day. That’s another voice – no longer is it his voice or my voice, we’ve now got those miniature gnomes in Switzerland that write the lectionary every year. What came together was amazingly beautiful; it held every voice, with an amazing integrity to it, so much so that the Archbishop said afterwards that gospel was amazingly picked. I said ‘It actually is the gospel of the day’. He was absolutely amazed. He said, ‘I thought you had spent a long time reading and researching and thinking about what Gospel reading will we have.’ And I thought there is no way you have picked anything better. And I said, ‘Well, we don’t have to do all that reading and research, just listen’. Listen to the other voices – and that’s what Pentecost is about.

Read it again. Different languages were being spoken and yet everyone heard – that’s what will bring us together in one place. What keeps us from not being together in one place, generally speaking, is our voice. Thinking that my voice can be louder than the voice of the gospel, that somehow my voice is the Divine word, rather than allowing my voice to be shaped by the Divine word. Pentecost is a wonderful, wonderful process. Some use the Feast of Pentecost to speak of the birth of the church and it is, for it is when the church, the Body of Christ, those who believed, it is when they took hold of the power that had been given. Pentecost is also Easter, moving unfolding into reality - the dying of the ascension, the loss of the presence of the Son of God in the midst of humanity, is replaced with the resurrection of the same in us. Pentecost is also Christmas: it is the birth of a new creation. Pentecost is also consecration; it is reflected in our consecration of the chapel, just as it can be and will be reflected in our consecration of ourselves and each other.

The words that were shared yesterday, again all embodied in the narrative, they’re all there. ‘Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’ When Christabel spoke of the realization that is manifested here, she joined the dots of an unfolding vision. You could take any one of those dots and say it was a moment in history, or when you start to see them, you realise there are no moments in history. There is an unfolding of, a bringing to life of, a creation and recreation of, all the time.

Graham spoke about the statement we have made as a community. Reflect back to what the community that built Canterbury Cathedral would have said on the same day: ‘We’ll put a Holy Ghost Hole there, so the Holy Spirit can come in. ‘What the message that Graham reads into the building that is here, it is built on the tradition of, and it goes beyond that; it seeks to extend beyond. And rather than the four walls of the church pointing towards the heavens, we’ve taken those walls, opened them out and if you follow them you see that they reach into the earth. They ground the very Divine that the ancient world used to look for in the sky. It’s been brought down to the place where we walk – that’s what Pentecost is all about.

Follow the other readings because they have something to say about each and every one of you, you’re all mentioned. You’ll find your names writ large – ‘All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’. You’re there in the reading - children of God. If you’re not sure what that’s about, go on to the next reading, for there it tells us what it means to be children of God. ‘Very truly, I tell you,’ – this is Christ, the word made flesh – ‘the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.’ Do not look back to what Christ did: rather look forward to doing even greater works than those.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris