Monday, January 18, 2010

"The Gift of Spiritual Speech"

A Sermon preached at St. Mark's Protestant Chapel, CFB Greenwood, 17 January, 2010

Epiphany 2C, RCL readings Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11,John 2:1-11

Last Sunday, Padre Gordon said something that has stuck with me all week. He said of the 23rd Psalm that “The Lord can’t be your shepherd unless the shepherd is your Lord”. What Gordon was saying, as I understood it, is that the word shepherd is an easy word to relate to. Shepherd implies love and care and protection, and who wouldn’t want those things? Lord, however, is a harder word to relate to. To say that someone is our Lord means that we have given some degree of control over our life and our freedom to that person, and that can be a hard thing to say. So when we say “The Lord’s my shepherd”, if we want to sincerely say and pray it, we need to accept Jesus’ lordship as well as his protection. In short, we need to be able to say “Jesus is Lord.” As I was thinking along those lines, this line from the designated readings for this Sunday sprang out at me:

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 12)

Before we start thinking about this text, let me ask you this question. What do you think spiritual speech would sound like? Would it be a couple of theologians or biblical scholars arguing over fine points of Greek and Hebrew grammar? Would it be someone at a revival speaking in tongues? Would it be some otherwise ordinary and even earthy people trying to watch their language, as was the case last month when I was on a SAR flight and the AC said over the intercom “Better watch your language, folks, the padre’s on board”? Yeah, like I haven’t heard that joke before.

Most people, I suspect, would say that spiritual speech would be something different from ordinary day to day language. To such a view, spiritual speech would be something akin to the language of the Kings James bible, something formal with lots of “thees” and “thous” and “shalts”. I beg to differ. It seems to me that since I live in the ordinary, day to day world, I want spiritual speech to be relevant and understandable. I remember a story told by Fr. John Spencer, a Newfoundlander, about a parish priest who’d greet people before the service with “How’s she going there”, speaking like everyone else in the outport. However, when the service started, he reverted to what Fr. John called a “stained glass” voice, saying plumily, “Beloved brethern, let us pray”. His point, as I understood it, was that when spiritual speech is inauthentic, when it doesn’t speak to people where they live, it has no power or life in it. It is not spiritual speech.

Spiritual speech is one of St. Paul’s greatest themes. In 1 Corinthians 13, as you often hear at weddings, Paul writes that no matter how learned or how wise our talk is, unless we speak with the love and presence of God, then it is just talk, just wind on the air. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1). For St. Paul, spiritual speech is exactly that, it is “speaking by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 12:3). Just as the air from our lungs has to pass over our vocal chords for us to produce speech, so for Paul the pneuma or wind of the Holy Spirit has to pass through our lips for us to speak spiritually.

It’s important for us to understand that spiritual speech is a gift from God. Our text for today comes at the beginning of a well-known passage (1 Cor 12:1-12) on spiritual gifts, but for Paul the greatest gift of all is our ability to speak of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ. When we say Jesus is Lord, says Paul, that speech is a gift of the Spirit. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit’. Likewise, the words that we say as part of the Anglican eucharist, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” would, according to St. Paul, be a spiritual gift. The gift of spiritual speech is what the church calls confession. Confession is our ability to say who our Lord is and why we believe in him. The importance of confession is stated elsewhere in the New Testament, in 1 1 Peter, which exhorts Christians to be ready to make their confession: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). What is our hope? Our hope is found in verses like John 3:16, in our creeds, and in our belief that Christ will come again to in glory to judge and to redeem. Where did this hope come from? It come from God and from the messengers of God.

You weren’t born with that hope in you. Someone brought you to faith. Perhaps for you it was a parent or a Sunday school teacher. Maybe it was as a minister or a priest. Perhaps it was a powerful and prestigious preacher or perhaps it someone who in their sincerity and humility showed us something of the goodness and love and service of God? You may have heard that the word angel comes from the word angelos or messenger, and the word gospel comes from the word evangel or good news. Just as in the Nativity story hope came to the shepherds from the angels in the Nativity story, hope came to you thanks to some person or persons played the role of God’s messenger. Through that person something of the reality of God was revealed to you. In that moment of revelation, you received the gift of confession, the ability to say Jesus is Lord. In time you came to be aware of other gifts – gifts of ministry or music or service – but that first spiritual gift of confession was and is the most important.

I realize that some of us here today may not feel that they have received the gift of confession yet. You may not feel that you have reached a point where you can say Jesus is Lord, or you may wish that you could say it with more conviction. If you are in those categories, I would say that you are very close to the kingdom of God, and myself or any of the other padres would be delighted to speak with you and pray with you about receiving that gift.

Wanting to say that Jesus is Lord is very different from saying, as Paul notes, “Let Jesus be cursed!”. When Paul wrote this line, he may have been thinking of a time in his previous life, when he was known as Saul, when he persecuted the followers of Jesus. Saul felt that Jesus was a curse that misled faithful Jews away from their faith, and he wanted to destroy the cult of Jesus, but as you remember from the book of Acts, Paul was changed on the road to Damascus. This story is a reminder of God’s power to reach us and change us, and we should never doubt the potential of this power. It’s tempting to doubt this power when we experience misfortune or sickness in his lives. I’ve met several people lately who are experiencing multiple sorrows and tragedies at once, and it’s heartrending. Whenever we feel like saying that we are in place where God can’t help us, or where we feel that God has given up on us, then we are not speaking with the spirit of God. At such times we would do well to pray the prayer of the father in Mark 9, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

The gift of spriitual speech allows us, at our most trying moments, to say "Jesus is Lord" and thus invoke a power greater than any on earth. The words "Jesus is Lord" have the power of creation from the void, of resurrection from death, of light over dark. When faced with personal sorrows and tragedies, we say "Jesus is Lord". When faced with natural disasters such as the one unfolding in Haiti, we say "Jesus is Lord". To our society's love of violence, shallow appearances and empty sexuality, we say "Jesus is Lord". To poverty that appears to be utterly entrenched and insoluble, we say "Jesus is Lord". To those who would persecute and even kill us, we say "Jesus is Lord". At the time of our death, we say "Jesus is Lord".

In some of the Christian churches, this time of the year is called Epiphany. An epiphany is a word that means a eureka moment, a flash of inspiration. In church terms, Epiphany means God’s revealing his glory and his love for us in the form of his Son, Jesus Christ. In our first reading we heard a prophesy of that revelation when Isaish says that God will come to save his people and will rejoice over them like a bridegroom rejoices to see his bride (Isa 62:1-5). The idea of Christ as the bridegroom of the church (as seen in the hymn The Church’s One Foundation) comes from this and other passages of scripture. In John’s Gospel today we heard the story of the wedding in Cana, where Jesus “first revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). It would be nice for the winelovers among us if this miracle were repeated frequently, but I think St. Paul would say that it’s not necessary. For Paul, our gift of being able to see God in his Son, and to say that his Son Jesus is Lord, is in itself a miracle, a gift of the Spirit which is freely given to us – to all of us. It is the gift which unites all Christians, regardless of our denominational differences, for the common gift which allows us to say “Jesus is Lord” is our greatest shared gift.

Michael Peterson+

No comments:

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


Blog Archive