Friday, May 20, 2016

Communicating in community

Genesis 11.1-9
Acts 2.1-8 and 13-21
Antes de que todo comenzara ❘ ya existía ❘ aquel que es la Palabra (Spanish)
In principio erat Verbum (Latin)
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (NT Greek)
Au commencement était la Parole (French)
Da time everyting had start, had one Guy. “Godʼs Talk,” dass who him (Pidgin)
Na początku było Słowo (Polish)
I te timatanga ❘ te Kupu (Maori)
Im Anfang war das Wort (German)
All of these phrases, whether taken from the original Greek written by St John, or from translations of his words, are about communication. First, they’re about communicating the message to one another in the different languages spoken all around the world, but then second - because they are all versions of John’s Gospel chapter 1, verse 1, they’re about communication with God through Jesus, his living Word.
It’s particularly poignant for me at the moment because my own father is in Pinderfields Hospital following a stroke which has progressively robbed him of the power of communication. At first he could say the odd word, yes and no, or perhaps a short phrase - such as when he said he wanted a miracle to happen. Then he could only communicate by making affirming or confuting noises, and now he can only communicate with the merest glimmer of a look to say ‘hello’. His is a living reminder of the importance to human beings of being in community and in communication with one another. We are social animals and if we can socialise or communicate we are denied much of what gives meaning to our lives.
The people who wrote the Old Testament were fairly keen on the idea of the nation state. Most of what they wrote is about the story of God’s relationship with just one nation - the Jewish people. So by and large they didn't share the ideals of the people who came up with the European Union. They believed that the different nations and languages into which the human race is divided were no accident of history but something God actually wanted to happen to prevent human beings from getting too big for their boots.
Of course, in many ways it's a positive thing for human beings to want to work together. But it does depend on what we’re coming together to do. If we just want to exploit the world around us and the people of neighbouring countries, or build a fence and shut them out, joining together simply allows us to make an even more spectacular mess of things than if we were all working separately.
Even when human beings work together for good, to make the world a better place, there’s still the danger that we’ll try to be too clever and overreach ourselves. So, on balance, the people who wrote the Old Testament weren’t in favour of nations working together. They saw the mosaic of different nations, languages and customs as part of the way things are meant to be.
But the Tower of Babel isn’t just a fairy story. It was a real place - the City of Babylon, with its hanging gardens growing on a tower hundreds of feet high, was one of the seven wonders of the world. The peoples there didn't speak one language, but their masters were forging a common identity and a shared culture in a mighty new Empire which spanned the whole of the Middle-East. Yet by the time that this Bible story reached its final form, the Babylonian Empire had come crashing down. Was this God's judgement on the Babylonians' pride?
Our story from the New Testament understands God's will quite differently. The first Christians believed that God was calling all human beings to become part of one family, with Jesus as their leader and God as their father. They had no problem with everyone speaking the same language - in their case a simplified version of ancient Greek - and they were willing to adopt many other aspects of the shared culture in which Christianity began. It's against this background that Peter describes the Holy Spirit reversing the chaos of Babel and bringing people together, giving them a new shared understanding and a common allegiance to Jesus.
The Holy Spirit reunites the different nations of the Earth and also overcomes the biggest and oldest divide of all - the one between men and women. According to Peter and Paul, men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. Instead we’re all one in Jesus. Peter reminds the astonished crowd that being filled with God's Spirit isn’t just a male thing. Even the Old Testament prophets had said, 'Your sons and daughters shall prophesy’!
Other divisions are overcome in the Spirit, too - the inter-generational divide and the class divide. 'Young men shall see visions', and 'old men shall dream dreams', and God's Spirit will be poured out on handmaids and male servants, as well as on their masters and mistresses. It's all very inclusive and democratic. True harmony is being restored not by some global conspiracy against God but by his own Spirit.
The Spirit’s mission is about enabling the new unity of purpose which God wants all human beings to share. Do we feel that we’re all one big happy family? Do we share that vision of what God wants us to be? Do we celebrate the fact that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, no matter how they might differ from us in other ways, or are we still broken and divided?
Christians believe that the unity which the Spirit makes possible reflects God's own nature, for God is Himself in community. The New testament says that Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Him, and the Spirit of truth is their joint gift to the universe and to the human race.
Trinity Sunday’s Gospel reading, which is a very short one from John’s Gospel, chapter 16 and verse 12, attributes these words to Jesus:12“I still have many things to say to you… [and] 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
What John is telling us here is that Jesus wants us all to find togetherness in the Spirit both with him and with God, and togetherness with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with all of the people in God’s family, joined together across the world and across time and history.

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