Sermon by Fr Andrew Starky 24 May 2015

Pentecost 2015 Acts 2: 1-21, Romans 8: 22-27, John 20: 19-23

A week or so ago members of the Parish Trust and the new Vestry met at the Community of the Sacred Name for a day of prayer and to begin to take stock of the situation that St Michael’s finds itself in with regard to the rapidly changing face of Christchurch. We realised that the central city developments, at least in the short to medium term, are going to surround St Michael’s quite closely. It’s as if the axis of the city which used to be Colombo St and centred at the Square will now shift more in our direction.

It is clear that we need to hear what the Spirit is saying to this church through these developments going on around us.

I am sure many people in our city could identify with the sentiments of the reading from Romans: groaning in labour pains, waiting, hoping, not seeing, more hoping, patience, weakness, not knowing how to pray, sighs too deep for words. These words capture the depth of struggle and spiritual longing that travels alongside the recovery of this city and its people from natural disaster. The memorial wall, which is to be built alongside the Avon River near us, is an attempt to create a spiritual space that will help people as they heal personally and as the city comes to rebirth.

The rebirth of the city is coming in a somewhat unpredictable way. Certainly there have been plans by CERA and the City Council. Central Government has taken the move to bring many of its operations, and particularly its workers, back into the centre which has given others the courage to invest in the new retail developments nearby. There is also the likelihood of much more inner-city housing development which will change the flavour as well. It is inevitable that the soul or the spirit of the city will be quite different in the future than the past. Because of our location amidst all of this, St Michael’s can contribute to the creation of community among the people who will be drawn to work, live and play in the central city. Part of that contribution could be that we develop a voice to speak on behalf of those with shattered lives who struggle with homelessness, addiction and violence and gravitate to the centre. Christchurch has had for a long time a reputation for being a compassionate city, possibly because of the large provision of Council Housing. That value needs supporting.

In Acts we hear how the disciples experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit at the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. They experienced sounds like wind and saw tongues as of fire appear among them. All of them were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other languages. There were many people there from all over the world who were amazed at this wondered what it meant when they could hear the disciples speak in their own native tongue.

We need the Spirit’s help now to develop new languages to speak of God and faith to the people who are coming to work and live around St Michael’s.

One gets the sense that the coming of the Spirit described in Acts was an international event of a very public nature and had great scope. It was the launching pad for the acts of the apostles as the church spread out with the good news of Christ crucified and risen from Jerusalem, to all Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth even Christchurch New Zealand.

The gospel reading provides a very different context for the coming of the Spirit upon the church. This is located, not 50 days after the resurrection but in the evening of that day and in a house where the doors were locked for fear of the Jews. The risen Jesus came into this place and with his message of peace and the disciples rejoiced. He said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathed the Holy Spirit on them and gave them the authority to forgive sins.

Last week at one of our Daily Masses a priest from Wellington was with us and he acts as an unofficial chaplain to members of parliament. He talked about how the organs of our legal system are clustered around the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals in Wellington. There is the Law Library, the Law Makers (Parliament) the Law courts, the law school, and he said the cathedrals there can be like an island of grace amongst all that law. It made me wonder what kind of island St Michael’s can be amongst the new central Christchurch. Perhaps St Michael’s can be an island of peace of shalom: A place where people can find quietness and stillness, a place where people know how to listen and speak in the many languages of faith, a place that cares for those in trouble.

For St Michael’s all this could a bit strange. Ever since we stopped being the Pro-Cathedral in 1881 we have been off to the edge of the centre, and possibly quite happily so as the Anglo-Catholic traditions developed. Yet I think that our Anglo-Catholic tradition lends itself beautifully to what is going to be asked of us. St Michael’s is a place where quietness and stillness can be found and the contemplative aspect of our spirituality needs to be nurtured so that a voice for compassion can be heard amongst the bustle of the new city developments. Anglo-Catholicism at its best has a spaciousness about it that allows the many languages of faith to be spoken and heard whilst being clear about the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which we express through the celebration of the sacraments. Anglo-Catholicism is incarnational which means that we make the mercy and forgiveness of God humanly present to people through our liturgies and our actions.

In a few moments we offer the anointing for ministry as we personally seek the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit as we take part in this mission.