Sunday, 12 June 2011

Fragments of a translated Pentecost sermon and the mother tongue of resurrection values

This morning in Ferney three young people finished their catechism, two asked for confirmation, one has decided to wait for a while before asking for baptism in a few years time. Each of them chose Bible passages and confessed their faith. It was a good service and the sun shone for drinks in the garden afterwards. Over 14 years ago I baptised the two young women who confirmed, both come from mixed confessional and national backgrounds. Together with Bernard Millet the pastor, we led the service and presided at communion. I preached, as this is probably my last year helping with KT. The sermon was in French of course, what follows is a rather imperfect version in English. Dr B's comment was - you have become very French using your hands alot! He was also gracious enough to say that he thought it was a good sermon. Perhaps I was using my hands more because today I preached from notes rather than from a text, so I was rather freer. Strange, although I've advised at least two people to do this themselves in recent months, I don't always feel at home with it myself - but perhaps I feel more at home with it in French than in English.

Joel2:28-29 (interestingly this is chapter 3 in the French Bibles!)
Then afterwards
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Galations 5:22-26
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Today its my feast day - and I know you all thought it was your party - Pentecost after all is the feast of translators and interpreters! Or perhaps it's actually the day the Holy Spirit makes all of us translators unemployed, after all that first Pentecost sermon was heard by everyone in their own language without any need for booths and headphones. So perhaps I should preach this morning en anglais, oder auf deutsch or maybe in a language like Arabic or Spanish that I don't speak at all and trust that everyone including me would be able to understand.
But I suspect we'd all be saying, along with our opening reading "what is the meaning of all this?"

Hmm what is the meaning of all this? What is Pentecost? It's a moving and turbulent story of hearts being touched with energy and understanding in the same way that those present were also touched by flames of fire. Pentecost is the grand finale of Easter and marks the end of the 50 days of Easter, the Spirit comes to breathe and embed the values of the resurrection into the lives of the first disciples, to breathe renewal and warmth and also to comfort and remind them of the true values of the resurrection.

One way of putting it is that the Spirit teaches them - and us - the mother tongue of gospel resurrection values. We read about those values in Paul's letter to the Galations : the gifts of the Spirit are love, peace, faithfulness, goodness, self control ...
When Christ rises from the dead he brings those values of the resurrection back with him from the grave - he doesn't come back saying to those who have tortured and crucified him "I'm going to get you". He doesn't seek to find those who did him such evil and nail them to a cross, nor does he ask his friends to do that for him. He comes across locked doors and says"peace be with you" he also says "receive the Holy Spirit".
These are the resurrection values the Spirit breathes into our lives, hoping that they will take root in us and guide our witness to the Risen One.
Two weeks ago I had just come back from Jamaica, despite rumours to the contrary I wasn't there on holiday, my employer the World Council of Churches organised an international meeting about peace, there were over a 1000 people from more than 100 countries for the meeting which had teh rather long name of International Ecumenical Peace Convocation - and you can imagine we certainly needed the interpretation booths there! People came together to discuss "just peace" - that might seem a strange sort of idea but even this week I've heard the idea of "just violence" being used by Hilary Clinton, saying violence against a "guilty" member of Al Quaida was justified. So much in our world justifies violence, makes it acceptable to us, yet Jesus' resurrection values are different - peace be with you he says.

If there was just one story to bring back from the Peace convocation it would be the story of the ordinary women in Liberia which we learned about through a film. These women helped through their concerted and long term prayer and action for peace to completely transform their country in Africa which had been suffering from a desperate and totally devastating civil war and dictatorship - men and boys caught up in war, forced to fight, women and children brutalised and raped. Their song was "We want peace now. Liberia is our home", their only arms white tshirts, creativity and tenacity. Praying across the Christian confessions, taking the prayer for peace to the Mosques and out onto the streets. Demonstrating next to the road where they knew the dictator would pass by, and not giving up.
The resurrection values of peace are not gained quickly or easily, but in place of a culture of totally acceptable violence these women, sang out and prayed out and went onto the streets for different values. We want peace now. Things are far from perfect in Liberia today, it remains a desperately poor country, but the absence of war has completely transformed the lives of all and left space for democracy and a different future. The women in Liberia dreamt and they acted upon their dream, the values of peace can become our mother tongue even in a war torn country.

The prophet Joel promises that young and old together will have dreams and visions, the servants and not just the ruling class. The Spirit is promised and shared out upon all. The resurrection values of peace, joy, faithfulness and love are not just for one generation but to be shared down the ages and across the ages. The Spirit of Pentecost pours into our hearts the mother tongue of understanding those values of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It tries to put those other words on our lips, encourage our hands to other actions.
After Pentecost the church year moves into what it calls "ordinary" time - the Sundays often just have the word Pentecost and then a number after them. Today we can celebrate with the three of you who end your catechism this year, who confess your faith and ask for confirmation. You too will move into "ordinary" time - even though we will not see you at KT any longer we certainly hope to go on seeing you at church.
Somehow although it's not always easy to get out of bed on a Saturday morning we have managed to learn from one another and transmit some of these values of the resurrection to one another. It's not always easy across the generations to feel we speak the same language yet somehow across time Jesus' Holy Spirit has been whispering resurrection values in our hearts, teaching us to speak the language of peace and faithfulness, of joy and self control, of compassion and generosity.
On this last day of Easter let us celebrate our commitment to being transformed by the Spirit-given mother tongue of the values of the resurrection, and let's do that by saying together Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! but in another language, in Greek - as this is a tradtion which has come to us ecumenically from the Orthodox churches:
Christos Anesti
Alithos Anesti
Christos Anesti
Alithos Anesti
Christos Anesti
Alithos Anesti
May we all learn to speak the Gospel mother tongue of resurrection values - peace joy faithfulness compassion self control


Deirdre said...

Wonderful sermon Jane and thanks for translating. It's just about the first Pentecost sermon I've read/heard that takes seriously our multiplicity and varied languages as gifts of the Sprit in a post-resurrection non-retaliatory setting. And modeling active working for peace is an important exhortation!

Jane said...

Deirdre - thanks so much for your feedback - really appreciate it. The French version was admit a bit more lively but I enjoyed preaching a sermon I beleived in.