Posted by ParishAdmin on May 31, 2012 under Sermons |
Just before I leave for my vacation, I think I can get away with admitting to something weird:
I like Prince Charles.
Yes, I like to the current heir to the Canadian throne.
Granted, a lot went wrong during the 1990s. And I do not want to justify the mistakes made. But Prince Charles publically engaged in a confession, and I, for one, have no idea what stupid things I would do if I had a camera shoved into my face 24/7. I make enough mistakes as it is…
So, no, I am not one to judge.
And I just wish people would stop judging Prince Charles for his romantic relationships or the size of his ears, but would engage him in his extensive charitable work and would embrace his compassion for the earth and for good environmental stewardship. And I wish people would listen, would really listen to what Prince Charles has to say.
This does not mean you have to agree with him all the time. Thank God, the times of absolute monarchy are long gone. But it also doesn’t mean you have to embrace monarchism in order to appreciate what Prince Charles has to offer. And thank God, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows for anybody to support either the current status quo or to advocate for a republican system of government.
But this sermon is not about the pros and cons of monarchy, even though I do support our current constitutional reality. I want to talk about Prince Charles. Or rather, I would like to start this sermon by talking about an article, Prince Charles wrote in the May 18th edition of The Globe and Mail.
What struck me about the article wasn’t really its content. Sure, His Royal Highness was writing about service and volunteerism, both important and vital to a functioning society.
But what I found remarkable was that Prince Charles assumed there was such a thing as “a society.” He took it for granted. He took for granted that society, or better: that community and communities are part of our human identity. And even more: To be part of society and to be part of community and communities is a good, a beneficial, and even an essential thing. As the Prince reminded us: “The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.”
In a way, this flies in the face not just of NeoCons like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who did not see any value in society. But it also flies in the face of extreme liberal individualism, which many celebrate particularly here in the Canadian Southwest. And furthermore this flies in the face of modern-day Evangelicals, who have capitulated to 19th century Liberalism. Yes, you heard right! I think Evangelicals are the ones, who jeopardise the tradition of Christianity, by remodelling our faith to fit their own modern worldview. How? By making the conversion of individuals not just a core doctrine of Christianity, but the only thing that matters.
This is a pretty harsh criticism, eh?
And why would I do this? Why attack fellow Christians at a time when the harvest is more than plentiful, but at a time also when the labourers are very few indeed? Why would I do this particularly on the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the gifting of the Holy Spirit, a gift that not only converted the Apostles, but a gift that still converts individuals every day? Why these harsh words?
First of all, let me emphatically state I do not buy into an exclusivist ecclesiology. Therefore, even though I have to at times endure fellow Christians, who want to kick me out of the church, I do not believe that Evangelicals are outside the church, or even outside the Anglican Church. Rather, I uphold Evangelicals as essential members. Evangelicals have a vital role to play as they remind the rest of us about the salvific and universal nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, there are problems within Evangelical theology, problems that even at times run counter to God’s self-revelation. And while we must listen to the prophetic insights of Evangelicals, I do believe we equally and firmly must stand up and say “Stop!” when pseudo-Christian theology misinterprets the message of the Gospel.
And one of these misinterpretations is the Evangelical focus on individual salvation to the exclusion of other, equally important aspects of the Gospel.
Yes, conversion of individuals is at the heart of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Absolutely! But it is only one core aspect. Christianity is not an individualistic religion. God calls us so that we might return this loving embrace not just by loving God back, but also by engaging in a communal exercise of loving our neighbours. Conversion is not just individualistic. But conversion is also communal and societal. In that sense, I do agree with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, when she said at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and I quote: “[The] individualist focus [of conversion] is a form of idolatry…”
Having said this, I do believe that Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has embraced the other theological extreme, which is exclusively about converting society to the detriment of participating in the Spirits’ work of converting individuals. This position is equally unbiblical, and equally does not fully embrace God’s love. In fact, this is a form of highly theologised individualism, which ignores the spiritual needs and concerns of our neighbours and thinks of spirituality as a private and personal matter.
The saintly Anglican priest John Dunne once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” This means we have responsibility for each other in all aspects of our lives, even the spiritual aspects. And it also means that we cannot work our salvation on our own. We need the community. We need a community like St. Paul’s, which is engaged in healing, worship, reflection, and hospitality in Christ’s name for all people. And we need to be connected to a community that focuses not just on itself, but that engages in the conversion of individuals and in the conversion of society, a community like this very parish, which will showcase its mission and ministry today after the 11am service.
I do believe that at the root of a lot what is wrong with the world and with the church lies an overemphasis of the individual to the detriment of community. Yet, the gospel opens our eyes not to our independence, but to our interdependence. And if we see those with whom we share this fragile planet earth as sisters and brothers, sisters and brothers for whom we have responsibility, we have made a first step in helping to reveal the reign of Christ. God in Jesus Christ was willing to be crucified and rise again for our salvation as individuals and for the salvation of this hurting, war-torn, unjust world. The light of the resurrection seeks to dispel both the darkness of our souls and the darkness of the world that seeks to swallow us whole.
But what on earth does this all have to do with Pentecost?
Well, Pentecost is the ultimate communal feast in the calendar of the church.
Let me explain.
There are two rather funny moments in this morning’s reading from Acts.
There is always a chuckle, well at least here at St. Paul’s, when Peter objects to the accusation of being drunk, by exclaiming “We are not drunk. It’s only 9am!” Yea, like that has ever stopped anybody! And maybe one Pentecost, I will be able to say something meaningful about these verses.
The other funny moment comes, however, when the reader gets to the odd list of peoples, of tribes and nations. There is always a smile when we get to verses 9-11. Mind you, you might think it’s funny. It ain’t so funny for the reader, who has to pronounce all those darn names!
The interesting bit, however, about this list is that it doesn’t make sense. When you comb through it geographically, it is an odd assortment of places that seem to be disconnected from each other. Furthermore, it is a list of peoples that do not connect in time. It’s an anachronistic list, which lists peoples existent in different periods of history, some long gone, long extinct by the time of the first Pentecost.
How is this possible?
It is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When the Spirit set the apostles ablaze with divine fire, it was not just a single gift at a certain time in a certain place. But the Spirit’s fire burns timelessly, throughout the ages, in places that we might never imagine, and in peoples that we might not recognise and of which we might not even have heard.
Today, at the 11am service we will baptise Léa. And baptism is an extension of what happened at Pentecost.
It is an extension of Pentecost, because in baptising we tell Léa and all the baptised: You are not alone. God is with you. God has chosen you. God has called you by name, even before you were born. You are not alone as you are baptised into the death of Christ and rise with him to new life. And you are not alone as the Holy Spirit takes habitation in you so that you will never be separated from God, in this life or the next.
You are furthermore not alone in another way. You are not alone as you are baptised into the community of God’s people, a community not only as diverse as the rainbow in our day and age and within our particular local faith community, but a community that through the gifting of the Holy Spirit also overcomes any boundary in time and space.
And finally, in baptism God also reveals to us that we are not alone on this planet earth. We are all interconnected, one to another, and we all have a responsibility for one another. At baptism we answer both the call to work out our own salvation as much as the call to participate in working out the salvation of our communities and of our society. The Spirit seeks for us to be discovered as we work for peace, for justice, and for the preservation of salvation.
Yes, we all “become disciples by ourselves,” as the 20th century prophet Dietrich Bonheoffer once said. But Bonhoeffer continues: “Yet, none of us remains alone.”