Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Power of Place

Pentecost Sunday

Readings: Acts 2: 1-11; Psalm 103 (104): 1, 24, 29-31, 34; Galatians 5: 16-25; John 15: 26-27, 16:12-15

Picture: By Becca Ayalah on Unsplash

I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.

I'd like to hold it in my arms, and keep it company…

My dear friends, I wonder if any of us still remembers these words, taken from a song released way back in 1971. The song began as a jingle, advertising a famous soft drink. But it became so popular, its writers added more words to it, removed the references to the soft drink, and transformed it into a chart-topping pop song. How did this happen? How did the focus shift from marketing yet another commercial product to sharing an inspiring message of unity and peace? I don’t know. But I hope it’s not too naive to think that perhaps it had something to do with the power of place. That instead of a world where everyone drinks the same sweet fizzy beverage, we realised we much prefer one where we can all live together in harmony. A place of caring and communion, rather than endless consumption and cut-throat competition.

The attractive power of place. We find something similar in our scriptures today. It’s not exactly clear what is happening in the first reading. The Spirit brings about something mysterious. Somehow, simultaneously, the marvels of God are proclaimed in many different languages. On the one hand, the reading tells us that this is the result of the power of speech. The disciples received a gift, allowing them to preach in foreign languages. But it’s also possible that their listeners were given the power of hearing. Allowing them to understand the gospel in their respective native tongues.

And more than just speech or hearing, there's also the power of place. The reading tells us that the disciples had all met in one room. In another translation (RSV), they were all together in one place. What is this place? At one level, the answer seems obvious. They were likely gathered in the upper room, where the Last Supper had been eaten. But could it be that more than just their physical location, the reading is pointing us to a spiritual place. The same place to which their listeners – devout Jews from every nation under heaven – were all drawn to assemble. The same place that Jesus had talked about at the Last Supper, when he told his friends to remain in him, as branches in the vine. For as long as they remain in this place, the Spirit of truth will lead them to the complete truth. Reminding them of everything the Lord had taught them. Deepening, not just their understanding of his teaching, but their relationship with and in him. (The Spirit) will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine…

More than just a miraculous gift of speech or hearing, what we see at Pentecost is the power of place. Not just any place, but that special spiritual location that we have devoted all of the forty days of Lent and the fifty days of Easter to finding and occupying. Why else have we spent all this time devoutly focusing our hearts and minds and bodies on the great Mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection? Why, if not to help one another find and remain in the Lord? Trusting in his promise that, if only we keep doing this, we too will experience anew what the early Church received: the awesome power of the Spirit, moving in this place.

Giving us courage to keep doing what the second reading tells us we need to do. To reject self-indulgence, and to choose instead to be led by the Spirit. So that we might belong to Christ Jesus, and inherit the kingdom of God. To keep choosing to work for a world where the wholesome fruit of the Spirit flourishes, instead of one marked only by the deadly obvious results of self-indulgence. A world that’s truly safe for everyone. Which may sound too much for us to do. Busy and distracted enough as we are. And perhaps it is. But hasn’t our observance of Lent taught us to focus less on what we have to give up, and more on what the Lord is offering us? The promise of unending love and unity and peace, found in Christ, found in God’s kingdom. The attractive power of place.

I’d like to teach the world to sing… These words are actually from the song’s second verse. In the first and third verses, we find clearer references to placeI’d like to build the world a home, and furnish it with love. Grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow-white turtle doves…. I’d like to see the world for once, all standing hand-in-hand; and hear them echo through the hills, for peace throughout the land… Could it be that, just as it was more than fifty years ago, a song like this still has the power to attract and inspire us? Not just to work to build such a glorious place – wherever we may find ourselves – but also to keep singing about it, in the power of the Spirit, so that others too may join our joyful endeavour?

Sisters and brothers, as the beautiful season of Easter draws to a close, how is the Spirit renewing in us the precious experience of the power of place today? 

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