Pentecost 2016 Acts 2: 1-21, Romans 8: 14-17, John 14: 8-17
One of the highlights of the General Synod was the contribution of tikanga Pacifica where they explained to us the effects of storms and climate change on their island homes. They gave us the gift of a slightly expanded Easter acclamation which is particularly appropriate for Pentecost. It goes like this: Christ is risen Alleluia! He is risen indeed Alleluia! We have work to do!
Pentecost is the moment when the disciples became the church and began to get on with the work of the risen Lord. They became bold proclaimers of the resurrection. The fire of the Spirit in their very being gave them courage and gifts beyond imagining.
Today’s epistle underlines the new identity that all who are led by the Spirit of God possess as children of God. This identity, this confidence, is based on a relationship with God the Father through the Son. The Church is ever tempted to fall back into fear. Trouble looms whenever the Church becomes either rule bound or united around a cause, however noble such rules or causes may be. This is because when the church does this it submits to something less than God. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit, indeed the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive which inspires and challenges the church to settle for nothing less than the love with which Jesus has loved us. He said, “This is my Commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is the work we have to do.
That was the work the General Synod had to do. This kind of work is never easy. We need the help of the Holy Spirit most of all in the most painful and difficult moments. This was most deeply felt on the evening of the first day. All the delegates from Tikanga Maori assembled at the front and Tikanga Pasifika delegates sat on the floor near them. Archbishop Brown Turei delivered a heartfelt apology on behalf of Tikanga Maori for two motions at the previous General Synod which had been proposed and then withdrawn that had caused offence to Tikanga Pasifika. If you know any of the tortured history between Maori and Pasifika in our church this was a remarkable and defining moment. Tikanga Pakeha delegates watched on amazed as our partners, in the power of the Spirit, taught us a lesson about the work we have to do.
For much of the next three days the synod grappled with the A Way Forward Report. At first Tikanga Maori and Pasifika found they could accept the report, but Tikanga Pakeha was deeply divided. As it all went on Maori and Pasifika acknowledged that they also had a number of voices on this, yet they offered Tikanga Pakeha manaakitanga: hospitality, kindness, generosity, support. Their act of generosity and kindness was borne out of a desire not to leave anybody behind. There were actually no winners in this. In the end we all felt like losers standing at a distance from the cross and from each other… watching. We realised there is so much more work to do.
In the synod there was a huge desire to remain together from all sides, yet a growing realisation that some greater degree of separation may be necessary so that these two very strongly held theological convictions can somehow be held in one church. This hasn’t been achieved anywhere else in the communion, but this church is not going to rest until we find a way. In the meantime the provisions for recognising same gender civil unions and marriages under Motion 30 passed in 2014 remain. As does the apology offered in that motion for the church’s failure both to speak out against hatred and violence against those with same gender attraction. Our determination is to accord them full dignity as children of God. We have work to do!
The Holy Spirit helps us in the life of the Church so as to open the doors that we might bear witness to the risen Lord. Our work, as Pope Francis has said recently, is to liberate people from feeling like an orphan. Many people these days feel left behind, unloved and valued only for what they can do and what they can buy. We have work to do!
When people come for baptism they receive adoption as a child of God, and a special gift of the Holy Spirit to equip them for their ministry as part of the mission of the Church. On this Feast of Pentecost those of us who are baptised might reflect on how we are using that gift. Are we keeping the Spirit locked up in our hearts? As we come forward for the anointing of our hands will we open the doors of our hearts? Anglicans are generally good at using our hands for the practical help of others and that is great: May the Holy Spirit give us also the words of grace to speak about Jesus and discernment so we know when to use them. We have work to do!
Christ is risen Alleluia! He is risen indeed Alleluia! We have work to do!