Curate's Final Sermon - Pentecost

May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu. Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you….

As my legacy to this parish, and in particular to the 1030 congregation here at Barnard Castle will apparently be the sung sermon, some of you who maybe recognised these words may be rather surprised that I didn’t actually burst into song to present them to you. Well I did consider it, and I even considered starting this sermon today by running down the central aisle with my arms outstretched before spinning around to exclaim that “the hills are alive with the sound of music”.

So why didn’t I, especially as it is my final sermon in this place - so what did I have to lose? Well things that were too great for me to risk. My dignity – what little I may have left of it; the final crumbs of respect that my eldest daughter may have for me; but finally and most importantly the actual point of why I am saying these words to you in the first place, which is this – there are many ways to say goodbye.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu as we heard thanks to the Von Trapp family singers are some. But also arrivederci, farvel, adjo, daag, Tschuss, adios, sayonara, pa, au revoir, laters, ciao, ha det bra, vi snuck-us, hasta la vista baby to name but a few – we and the whole world have many words and phrases to say when it comes to parting company with one another.

Like many other things in our world there is a biblical explanation about why there are so many languages that we speak here on Earth. In the book of Genesis the story of the Tower of Babel begins by explaining that there was one language and the same words for the whole earth. But given that this saw the people getting so organised that they decided to build a tower right up to heaven to make a name for themselves, God stepped in and confused their plans – babel or babble means confused - and He did this by giving them the numerous different languages and forms of communication that we experience across our world today.

But even in a single language there can be confusion, there can be babel moments. Jesus Himself, for example, is somebody who said goodbye in ways that were heard and received differently and misunderstood by His hearers. His numerous warnings to the disciples that He would die on the cross brought befuddlement, were not accepted by them and they responded to this parting with despair and sadness.

But His later departure, His ascension that we remembered a week or so ago, was one that was received perhaps with a little initial confusion by the open mouthed disciples starring up and into space, but ultimately was a goodbye that led to joy and happiness – joy and happiness because it was a farewell that spoke directly of the events that we remember here today at Pentecost; events that connect directly to this talk of language and the Tower of Babel.

Because whilst at Babel one united language led to the wrong message, it led to many individuals trying to climb up to be at the top, here at Pentecost we see God stepping in to reverse the events that that story from the early part of the Old, or perhaps more correctly first testament describe. As here at Pentecost we hear of God presenting the disciples with the means to spread a single unifying message in words that everyone can understand.

In our passage today Parthians, Medes, Elamites, the residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, Rome, Crete and Arabs all hear the disciples in their own language. They hear most significantly, as we ourselves would have if the passage from Acts had continued, the good news of Jesus from the lips of Peter in words that they can understand.

What language was it that Peter was speaking when he delivered this sermon we don’t know, but that the crowd all heard about Jesus of Nazareth, His deeds and the signs that God did through Him in a way that they could understand is clear. And this for me is the gift that the Holy Spirit brings most clearly.

Because what Pentecost describes for me is the disciples being able to speak the knowledge that they have in their hearts so that others can hear and see what this otherwise hidden knowledge and feeling means. That they spill out on to the street is significant too, it symbolises that the Spirit has taken the lid off the bottle that is the disciples, disciples who are so full of Jesus and what He has done for them, that this love and wonder bursts out in all directions. 

But still there may be confusion. To some as our passage describes, the outbursts of the disciples seem like the babbling of those who have had too much wine.

However despite this for the disciples this isn’t a reason to keep quiet, such misunderstanding, such questioning of the morals, perhaps even the sanity of these followers of Jesus isn’t a reason to say less, to shut up and hide. No, if anything this is a call for them to say more, to use more words to say the one message that they have been given to pass on to the world until the world does indeed fully understand.

As Christians the events of Pentecost tells us this then: that the Spirit hands us the power to speak the single message that God wants the whole world to hear, the unifying message of the life and death of His Son who brought and brings all of the world together. And this is a message that must be heard, a message that we should speak in the language of those around us, as we spill out on to our streets wherever they may be. For most of you those streets will remain the ones to be found here in Barnard Castle. For me and my family those streets are instead to be the ones of Burnopfield, Dipton, Tanfield and Lanchester.

But even then, even after I have said so long and farewell to you and this place – at Pentecost the message is that we and all followers of Jesus are always united. United by that message that the world must hear, and united by the Spirit whose arrival we recall today. Amen.