Blue mountains Franciscan Church
Homily given by Br Luke efo on 15 May 2016 at Springwood
Today is the birthday of the church. Why do we call this the birthday of the church? Because it’s the arrival of the Holy Spirit – Pentecost. Pentecost is actually a Jewish festival, not just a Christian one. As we have often done in the past, we have taken somebody else’s festival and made it our own. At Pentecost the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem and that is when the promised comforter that Jesus spoke about arrived. We heard in the gospel of John “He will send the advocate, also called the comforter to nurture you and support you and keep you going in the days ahead.” Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit. And so, the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, signified by the tongues or flames of fire on peoples’ heads is the birth of the church. It is from this point forward that the Spirit is guiding the church – is guiding Christians rather than having the physical presence of Jesus there with them.
And it is not just the Roman church or the Anglican church or the orthodox church, it’s THE Christian church in its entirety. Because remember in the very early days there is no such thing as orthodox, protestant, catholic,anglican so on and so forth. It was just “the Way”. We weren’t called Christians, we were called “Followers of the Way”. The way being the way of Jesus, the way of the Gospel. We were first called Christians in Antioch, after Christ and that is obviously where the name came from Christ. But today is the birth of the church.
Well you wonder why we have red vestments and altar linen, well it’s the liturgical colour of the Holy Spirit – why – flames. It’s also the colour for Passion Sunday, and Good Friday – why – blood. It’s also the colour for martyrs – why – blood and death.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, was as we read this passage, probably the third time that the Holy Spirit has descended upon them. Jesus had breathed on them at least twice and has told them to receive the Holy Spirit. Now some people might say did they lose it after the first time? No, it’s because the writers are writing theology, not history. If you start thinking only about when things happened, then you’ve missed the point. They are explaining the faith and why they believed Jesus was the Messiah – was God. Which is why Paul’s letters are all about ‘you must do this, and this, and not this’. Because Paul is guiding them and he is teaching them. We say Paul’s letters are divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, so it is God saying to us ‘this way, not that way’.
Of course, poor old Paul; was been taken woefully out of context through the years past, and I think he is still being taken out of context. People called Paul a misogynist and in some ways when you read him it can be seen this way, but remember he was living in the first century and Roman law was everywhere. Under Roman law, as I’ve said before, a woman regardless of her age, under the law requires a male guardian, her husband, father or another male. So, when Paul, a Roman citizen, says something misogynistic – place it into the context of first century Roman law.
Back to the birth of the church. Speaking in tongues also comes from this event at Pentecost. The interesting thing about this passage in Acts is that the disciples were speaking in languages they may not know, but were easily recognised as languages by others in the room. The Medes, the Persians, the Cretans (from Crete). They all heard the gospel in their own language. And therefore, they said these people are drunk; it was their way of trying to explain why they hear the words in their own language. But it doesn’t explain why they heard the words of their own language spoken by people who were not scholars. Peter was a fisherman. He probably spoke Greek, Latin and Aramaic and perhaps a splattering of Hebrew, but that was because to sell his fish to a Roman he had to speak Latin. To sell it to the baker down the road, maybe Greek or Aramaic, depending on where he was or were the baker came from. In other words, he had to be able to converse with people. So yes, they were multi lingual people, but Peter probably would not have known Persian. Remember also the passage says the disciples are speaking with a Galilean accent.
Pentecostals today call themselves Pentecostals. Why, because they are going back to the speaking in tongues. They are going to the arrival of the Holy Spirit. That’s where their theology starts from. One of the complaints one hears about Pentecostals is that their speaking in tongues is unintelligible., no one understands it. People do not know what language it is that they are speaking, so others says, ah it’s not true. But remember the people that were gathered on that first day of Pentecost, heard their own language. Who is to say that the language being spoken is not real language simply because there is no one in the room who recognises it? So, we can’t be judgemental, on hung up on this, just because we don’t understand what they are saying. The theology is around the arrival of the Holy Spirit and we can’t dispute that. The book of Acts says the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost and if we believe the gospels and the teaching ever since, the Holy Spirit is still with us.
Some people describe the Holy Spirit as female and will refer to the Holy Spirit as ‘she’. The reason for this is that in the scriptures, wisdom is generally described as a woman. So, if Wisdom is a woman, and Holy Spirit is wisdom, therefore the Spirit is she. It’s a long bow, but that is where it is coming from. The concept of God having a gender can also be derived from Christ. Jesus was a man, he is one of the Trinity and referred to God as ‘my Father’, therefore the Godhead must be male. But Jesus said on several occasions that God is spirit, so I believe that the Godhead does not have a gender. Why do we insist God does? Because that is the tradition we come from. It was a patriarchal society that the Jews had and the pattern of society since. God is King, all kings are male, therefore God is male. Queen Elizabeth I said at her famous speech at Tilbury “I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a King of England.” I point you back to Genesis. “Let’s create them in our image – both male and female alike, he created them.’ But let’s leave this here.
The Holy Spirit has arrived and is still with us. Sometime we try to strangle, silence or ignore the Spirit. But the Spirit is still moving in the church. I remember Br Michael once told me that “when the scriptures disturb us, then the Holy Spirit is at work”. So I said so what you mean is that we are letting the Spirit do its work. And he looked at me and gave me a smile that said you “smart ass little friar”.
So, happy birthday to the church. You know maybe we should have had a cake. But then again I don’t think we’d get 2016 candles on the cake and we’d probably have the fire fighters down here in a blink if we did somehow manage to get them all aflame.