Pentecost B, 2003
PENTECOST: FOUR ASSORTED SNAPSHOTS BEYOND THE ‘LANGUAGE’ GAME
In the beginning was the word and the word was 'G'day'.
That's how the New Testament book we traditionally call John
might have begun if Jesus had been born Australian,
according to author and radio broadcaster, Kel Richards.
He has just completed a collection of favourite Bible stories
retold in Australian English.
To some, Australian English is a screech of tortured vowels
and suppressed consonants.
But to Richards, author of The Aussie Bible. Well, bits of it anyway,
it is a rich vein of regional idioms and unique slang expressions.
"We don't talk like anyone else on Earth," Richards said.
Like a movie director, Luke,
the one we traditionally claim as the author of Acts,
creates a scene with wind and fire.
A pentecost script full of symbolism which can not be taken literally,
whatever historical event does or does not lay behind this story.
But is Pentecost just about a ‘language’ game as charismatics argue?
Well, this week I read a couple of interesting articles which took
the Pentecost story beyond this, into some social issues.
One article was on the ecological crisis as a ‘spirit’-ual problem.
The other was on the power and dignity - the ‘spirit’ - of a capital city.
Two rather unlikely subjects to be associated with Pentecost, I thought.
So let me offer some random thoughts from each of those articles...
1. Lynn White, in what is now a famous article so I am told,
suggests that Christianity's attack on so-called pagan religion
effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning.
Indeed, 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.
"By destroying pagan (religions), Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects” (White 1967).
I reckon White’s comments are quite suggestive.
The impact of Christianity's teachings has tended to empty the biosphere
of any sense of God's presence in natural things.
God, in terms of traditional theism, 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.
So, White says, 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.
And this has rendered us unwilling to alter our self-destructive course
and plot a new path toward sustainable living.
2. St John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the 4th and early 5th centuries,
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 in this capital city as all of us here do,
I thought I too would play with the suggestion
offered in this Chrysostom reference
and highlighted by priest and author, Grant Gallup.
A significant image in this capital city of Canberra
is the streets upon streets of foreign embassies.
Where in many houses and mansions and offices
all the peoples of the inhabited world are represented.
Where at each a different flag is unfurled
and a different language spoken.
In this capital 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 embassy is under siege,
none has been shuttered
or its families sent away by a secret order from ASIO,
no front door has been vandalised
or spray painted with insults or taunts,
no refugee or boat person has been declared persona non grata.
It is the place all places are meant to be.
But we also know that city of Pentecost is not yet fully come.
So, how is Pentecost moved beyond the ‘language’ game?
Pentecost as living with, rather than against, nature.
Pentecost as living in all the dignity and diversity of a capital city.
Luke as storyteller, suggests something similar.
The spirit 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 nor Mediterranean,
neither Anglo nor Aboriginal,
neither straight nor gay...
This too is 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.
Then, towards the end of the week,
when I was trying to put all of this together,
I came across this additional comment:
“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).
Mmm. I think I can relate to that as well!
So, just a bit of ‘pentecost’ each day, initiates a process of empowerment
which can bring satisfaction to God in creation
and the city,
and between us all.
That’s worth celebrating, I reckon.
Especially on a day when we see ‘red’!