Some years – and a number of parishes - ago, Alison and I set up a youth club for a bunch of kids in their first year of high school. They didn’t want to call it a youth club, of course - that would be a bit naff - we had a long conversation about it and decided we would call ourselves ‘Ab Fab’.
I remember, particularly vividly, one of our less successful group activities. We were having an ‘in’ night - that means we were at the church hall rather than going out somewhere - and we set up a number of games and challenges. One bright spark suggested we do a human pyramid. This was going to be the biggest, highest, most astounding pyramid ever. Well, everyone knew how to do a human pyramid - everyone had either done it before, or seen it done, or had a friend who’d done it, or … So we had 18 experts.
The first level - no problem - I thought, ‘so far, so good’. Then people started climbing on top, and it did cross my mind that there were some things we hadn’t thought through. Luckily, I knew how to do a human pyramid properly, so I gave some sensible advice - unfortunately, nobody was really listening, because they were all giving advice too. We got up to four levels before things started to give way, and we ended up in a tangled heap. Nobody suggested we try again.
Have you worked out I’m telling this story because it’s a metaphor for real life? We get competitiveness and hostility between ethnic and religious groups, between workers and employers, between city folk and country folk – and two things happen as a result – the first thing is that chaos rules, we end up in a tangled heap – the second thing which is maybe more serious, is that some people and some groups get overlooked – some people’s gifts never get noticed – some people’s needs never get met - because the way to get what you need is to have the loudest voice or the deepest pockets. So structures of inequality get started.
This very same process is also described in one of the legends of the beginnings of human culture in the book of Genesis - the story of the
It’s a good metaphor, I think, for any of the long-running tragedies of human civilisation, certainly for the two centuries of distrust between Aboriginal Australians and the rest of us who arrived as migrants or whose ancestors came to
This morning we have read Luke’s version of the story of the arrival of the Holy Spirit at the feast of Pentecost. There is of course another version of the story at the end of the gospel of John – scholars tell us that Luke’s more colourful version is based on older Jewish stories about the gift of the law on Mt Sinai. So Acts tells us that the Spirit comes down on the community with the sound of a "rushing wind" and with "tongues of fire" – symbols that are always associated with the presence of God. Then the followers of Jesus, now "filled with the Holy Spirit," begin to speak in other languages. Notice that this isn’t the ‘speaking in tongues’ that Paul tells us about – praise and prayer that nobody but God can understand - in Luke’s Pentecost story, the effect is quite the opposite - people from all over the world find they can understand what the followers of Jesus are saying. Rather than being miraculously unintelligible speech, it is miraculously intelligible.
And here’s where the two stories come together. Because what Luke’s story is suggesting, is that the coming of the Spirit is the opposite of the story of the
However, as with all of God’s gifts, it is up to us to receive it. It’s also, I think, not a ‘once and for all’ thing that sets everything to rights just like that – I think the gift of the Holy Spirit is a bit more organic, sometimes moving quickly, sometimes a barely perceptible growth towards trust and wholeness.
Which, in the land that the earliest European explorers named the
What the Pentecost story tells us, more than anything, is that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of recognising that we belong together, that the kaleidoscope of differing cultures and perspectives that make up God’s world are all part of the one pattern, which is the story of God’s love for creation. We encounter the Holy Spirit when we are prepared to reflect on the value and the beauty of diversity, when we are prepared to see the world through one another’s eyes.
But there’s another side to the story, because the gift of the Spirit is also about repentance and mutual forgiveness – about acknowledging past injustices, about allowing the Holy Spirit to blow through us and clear out the cobwebs of our prejudices and lack of generosity. The tragedy of
Let us pray that as God’s people in the