Pentecost ~ Speaking the Language of the People

 June 5 2017
: Acts 2:1-21 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 ~ John 7:37-39

The 1950s were rich with fantasy novels like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Tapping into the imaginations of children and adults alike, Lewis invites readers to join four children on their adventures in Narnia.  Together with Aslan, the lion who is God, and various talking animals, the children battle the white witch who holds Narnia in a state of forever winter and never spring.

Written in that same time period, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings became a cultural phenomenon in the 1960s. In it, Frodo Baggins, the unlikely hobbit hero and his friend Samwise Gamgee, are joined by Gandalf the magician, Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf, on a quest to save middle earth by disposing of a powerful ring before it falls into the hands of the Dark Lord Sauron.

My son was raised on the Narnia tales, the Lord of Rings and his comic book Bible.   So it came as a bit of surprise when, in 1997, J. K. Rowling introduced us to Harry Potter and parts of the Christian church responded with incredible hostility, suggesting it promoted things like witchcraft and sorcery.

Harry Potter is an orphan boy who discovers that he is a wizard in his 11th birthday.  That’s when he heads off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That’s also when he discovers he is the anointed one; his scar the result of the evil Voldemort trying to kill him as an infant.  Harry was protected by the love of his parents who were murdered by Voldemort. Harry and his friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, lead the fight against the resurgence of the evil Voldemort and his wicked followers.

One of things all these books have in common is an invitation into the perennial battle of good against evil, of helping push back the darkness to let in the light of love and new life. And in each one of these epic adventures, we witness the inner struggle of the characters and promote a value system of integrity and compassion.  C.S. Lewis wrote the Narnia Tales for his goddaughter.  It’s not hard to see that it’s a retelling of Scripture in the language of fantasy.

In spite of the negative comments, not until she had finished the series, did Rawlings reveal that she is an Anglican and that Christianity influenced her writing.  She waited because she felt everyone would have known the ending, which includes the death of Harry and a resurrection stone that restores life and takes away the sting of death.

If you look at Harry Potter through that lens, it’s easy to see that the language of fantasy can be used to engage readers in the gospel story. That’s what we learned at last year’s clergy conference.

Spells can be understood as prayers, the terrifying dementors as the frightening things we face in life. But my favourite is the Petronus charm that invokes the memory of love to help repel dementors and push back darkness and despair. Every time we gather around the Lord’s table, we invoke the memory of how the love of God in Jesus over came the old order of sin and death; pushed back the darkness and opened the way to the dawn of new life.

On that first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in a powerful new way enabling them to boldly speak in foreign languages and listeners to hear the good news in their own native tongue. It was a miracle in communication.

One of the challenges of the church in the 21st century is to find a language or languages that resonate with the people who don’t speak the language of the church. Some of you have been saying this for a while but it was driven home to me this week during a conversation with some of the folks involved in planning the upcoming All My Relations Service [June 25 at 9:45 a.m.], when we will be worshipping with some of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

After years of expecting people to learn and speak the language of church and Christianity, we are now having to learn the languages of the world around us, be that the language of fantasy novels and movies or of our indigenous brothers and sisters. Unlike the Quebec Liberal MP Marc Miller who delivered a statement in Mohawk in the House of Commons this week, I don’t have a gift for languages. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

All of us need to learn or find new ways to communicate without always expecting others to be inspired by or conform to our traditional way. If we want to successfully continue our work of proclaiming the gospel, we need to find a language that invites people into the story and helps them find their place in the- lifegiving love of the resurrection gospel.

Together we need to learn to speak a language that affirms God’s goodness at the heart of humanity, planted more deeply than all that is wrong. The Center for Creative Living is already at work doing this. So does Vacation Bible School.

Today we ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to help people connect to God, to tell the story of Jesus and transmit the values of the kingdom, to give us the gift of speaking the languages of our culture – language that resonates with people today.

The goal is for rivers of living water to flow out of the heart of this parish so that anyone who is thirsty can come and drink.

Pat Martin +