It’s life Jim, but not as we know it
May I speak in the name of God the one holy and undivided Trinity.
Sadly that quote from Star Trek is just an urban myth. But it works quite well for a Pentecost ordination … it’s life – but not as we know it.
Imagine the disciples praying together in some holy upper room. Perhaps they are reading the Hebrew Scriptures, singing psalms, listening to a sermon – rather like Anglicans gathered together on a Sunday morning with the door closed to keep out the cold or the heat. And suddenly they are blown off their feet. Life would never be the same again – it’s life – yes – but not as they knew it.
Suddenly they are no longer inside their house church with their friends, suddenly they are out in the open with a crowd of foreigners. People who were very different: Klingons and Romulans, Andorians and Vulcans!
And here they are, acting so strangely that people think they must be drunk before breakfast. So what did the Parthians, Medes, Elamites and Cretans make of it all? These newly fired up disciples were alive, – but this was not life as they knew it.
Et les voilà, les apôtres semblent si étranges que la foule imagine qu’ils ont bu et qu’ils sont sâouls avant le petit déj. Alors que pensaient-ils, ces Parthes, ces Mèdes, ces Élamites, et ces Crétois? Ils voyaient et entendaient ces disciples en feu avec le Saint-Esprit : ils étaient vivants, mais ce n’était pas une vie qu’ils reconnaissaient.
This afternoon six people will be ordained by the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit and let me tell you six now – what lies ahead of you is life – but not as you know it. Or at least I hope that’s what lies ahead of you. I hope things are going to be different for you all from now on.
You may think that everything will go on the same as before once we have laid hands on you: that your call is to go back to your churches with your congregations and gather together in one place like you always have done – well I hope not. I hope you will be changed. I hope that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will now always feel uncomfortable deep inside you with what you knew before, always discontent with the status quo, always searching for life – but somehow not as we know it.
We talk a lot about service at ordinations, but I hope that your ordination to the diaconate last year was and that yours Stanley today, is an ordination not only to service, but is an ordination to preach the Gospel by word and by deed. A deacon – we are told – is sent out to serve the helpless, but she or he must also speak a new language, many new languages in fact, to people who don’t know how to speak Church-ese – and to people who probably don’t want to learn it either.
On entend beaucoup parler du verbe servir, du mot service pendant les ordinations, mais j’espère que votre ordination au diaconat l’année dernière et que le vôtre aujourd’hui Stanley, vous a ordonné non seulement pour servir, mais aussi pour prêcher l’Évangile tant par vos actes que par vos paroles.
Le diacre – on lit- est envoyé pour servir les personnes les plus nécessiteuses, mais le diacre doit aussi savoir parler une nouvelle langue – plusieurs nouvelles langues au fait, aux personnes qui ne savent parler le langage de l’Église, aux personnes qui ne veulent même pas l’apprendre.
A priest – we are told – is called to be pastor, priest and teacher: But as I get older I wonder if we have got that word ‘pastor’ very very wrong – I mean, which member of the clergy here would seriously try to treat the laity as if they are sheep – and then think they could get away with it ! ‘Pastor’ and ‘shepherd’ are strong words – good words – words which make me think of leader, or guide: the one who know when to stay and when to move, when to leave behind and when gather in, the one who spots new pastures of fresh green grass in other fields and leads us out there confidently, safely – and the one who occasionally brings us back to the old pastures where we used to graze but which we have forgotten: what the reading from the Acts of the Apostles calls : prophesying, having visions and dreaming dreams. And yet sometimes when we use the word ‘pastor’ it can sound more as if we are looking for a vetinary surgeon or stable-hand instead of a priest – someone to treat our wounds or clean out our muck.
You see, I think we’ve got to think again about whom exactly the deacon and priest is called to serve and what that service is in a world where other professionals do a far better job of counselling, caring, nursing, treating, than most clergy could or should ever do. You know the saying: if you need to see a psychiatrist – go see a psychiatrist !
So I think we have to expect something different of our deacons and of our priests – life – yes, but not as we know it. Somehow, I think, pastoring and serving has to be linked with living and preaching the new world of Jesus Christ – in season and out of season, whether people like it, or not. To share with all baptized people in the calling of making Christ known as Saviour and Lord, and to share in the renewing of his world.
Aussi je pense que nous devrions espérer quelque chose de différent pour nos diacres et nos prêtres: nous leur souhaitons la vie – bien sûr – mais pas la vie qu’ils connaissent déjà. Nous devrions voir plûtot leur vie de pasteur, leur vie de serviteur comme étroitement liée à leur ministère de toujours vivre et prêcher ce nouveau royaume de Jésus-Christ – à temps et à contretemps, que ça plaît aux gens ou que ça ne plaît pas. Ils doivent partager avec tous les baptisés la vocation de proclamer le Christ comme Sauveur et Seigneur et à participer avec lui au renouvellement du monde.
You see I fear that our churches are in the very grave and real danger of getting today’s wonderful gift of Pentecost completely the wrong way round – in fact we might already be a long way down that road. I fear that we run the risk of believing that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us not so that we can go out and proclaim Good News to different people in new and strange tongues – but so that we can all come together to one place, close the doors behind us and then all speak the same language. The very reverse of what happened on the day of Pentecost.
It is as if we are trying to reverse the story of the Tower of Babel, and instead of recognising that God has intentionally sent us out to speak many languages and to be extravagantly diverse, – remember there are 17 different races and peoples in those two verses from Acts – and instead of being dispersed joyfully to preach the Good News of Jesus in mind-blowing diversity, we have, I fear, come to believe that God wants us all to gather in one place and worse still that God wants us all to worship God in the same way – which more often than not means of course – that God likes it the way I like it.
C’est comme si nous essayons de lire l’histoire de la Tour de Babel à l’inverse. Dieu finit l’histoire avec l’intention exprès de nous renvoyer au quatre coins du monde en parlant plusieurs langues et avec une diversité extragante. Rappelez-vous bien que dans seulement deux versets de la lecture des Actes des Apôtres nous lisons les noms de 17 races et peuples différents.
Mais nous – à la place de nous disperser joyeusement afin de prêcher la Bonne Nouvelle de Jésus en tout lieu et en toute manière, nous imaginons, j’ai bien peur, que Dieu veut nous voir tous réunis en un seul endroit, et même pire, que Dieu veut que nous le louions tous de la même manière, avec les même mots – et nous imaginons souvent, pour ne pas dire toujours, que ce qui plaît à Dieu ressemble parfaitement à nos propres préférences.
We run the risk of building for ourselves new towers on a Sunday morning for a heaven which we have invented – which is all about loving our friends, being a tight-knit warm and supporting community, instead of training us up – and that’s training all of us up, laity every bit as much as clergy, as a community for sacrificial discipleship, dying to ourselves so that others may live, and about loving our enemies – even Klingons, Romulans – and all those people who are not like us and whom we do not like. About a community where it hurts a little to be a disciple of Jesus, where we are all a bit uncomfortable, looking for life, but not as we know it.
The great Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s, William Temple, famously said “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members” –– that is of course why we keep our coats on in church – so that we’re always ready to go out again.
It has been said many times before about many things, but we need a new Copernican revolution. None of us believe that the Sun goes round the earth any more, or that our solar system is central to our galaxy or that our galaxy is central to the universe – and yet … it is so easy to imagine that God circles around the Church.
It is so easy, especially in our egocentric age of advertising targetting the individual to imagine that our Spiritual life is also all about us – about my faith, my spirituality, my well-being, or my own personal fulfilment. Whereas for the disciple of Jesus – the one who died on the cross so that others may live – life is about God’s faith, God’s spirituality, God’s being and God’s personality. It’s life Jim, but not as we know it. – not as the world knows it or can understand it.
So how then can we transform ourselves – our own lives as faithful followers and disciples of Jesus, and the lives of our church communities so that we turn in an orbit around the will of God, rather than praying that God will eventually revolve around our wills and that God will serve us and our needs?
How can we – the baptised people of God, laity, deacons, priests and bishops, find and share this new life where God – not our church, not our friends, not even our families, nor our own life – is at the very centre of everything we do and everything we are? So that we can say with St Paul : We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Et nous, le peuple des baptisés, les personnes laicques, les diacres, les prêtres, les évêques, tous ensemble, comment trouver pour nous-mêmes et comment partager avec les autres cette nouvelle vie où c’est Dieu seul que nous servons, Dieu seul qui se trouve au centre de nos vies, tous ce que nous faisons, de tout ce que nous soyons. Comment vivre cette vie où même nos églises, même nos amis, et même nos familles, nos enfants, nos parents, et même notre propre vie ne peut remplacer Dieu qui est au centre de tout?
Comment pouvoir dire avec S. Paul : En effet, aucun d’entre nous ne vit pour soi-même, et aucun ne meurt pour soi-même : si nous vivons, nous vivons pour le Seigneur ; si nous mourons, nous mourons pour le Seigneur.
Well, my friends, it is a tall order, even St Paul knew that he was not yet perfect and that he had not yet attained the prize, but still he pressed onwards, for this is life – but not as we know it.
The closing verses of chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles gives us some clues about how those early Spirit-filled Pentecost disciples aim for their new life. Allow me to read it to you:
Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
There are five major elements : They were baptised and they broke bread. They devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching. They met together in fellowship. They prayed. They shared whatever they had.
Ils se sont baptisés, ils rompaient le pain, ils étaient assidus à l’enseignement des Apôtres. Ils se réunissaient dans une communion fraternelle. Ils priaient. Ils partageaient tous leur biens.
There is nothing new in these five elements: Faithful reception of the sacraments: Devoted study of Scripture, regular meeting with other Christians. Prayer. Sacrificial offering of time, money and talents. Sacraments: Scripture: Community, Prayer, Sacrifice. It’s all been said before – we just have to do it.
And so, empowered, emboldened, and enabled by God the Holy Spirit, Amy, Jean-Jacques, Josée, James, Denis and Stanley :
· Endeavour to minister the word of God and the sacraments of the new covenant,
· Be diligent in the reading and study of the holy scriptures,
· Be a faithful pastor and build up the family of God
· persevere in prayer,
· and pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ,
And never let go of any one of these things for together they will keep you safe and sane, and God willing you will find life : but not as we know it.