Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Day of Pentecost (20 May 2018) by the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor
On the feast of Pentecost, Canon Michael reflects on the divine inspiration which is made manifest through the power of the Holy Spirit, received throughout the world at Pentecost.
The removal of the body on Ascension Day clears the stage for the arrival of the Holy Spirit of God into our lives, on this Day of Pentecost, to be another Comforter, the spirit of truth, for ever. It allows the believer to search for Christ in everything. It makes history timeless. It softens the edges of our certainty and sets the imagination free.
However, imagination, it seems to me, is at a premium right now and those who make policy and form opinion in public life – the ‘rulers of this world’ – seem to lack imagination and fail to see that imagination is the key to finding long term solutions to long term problems.
As a result, the future wellbeing of common humanity is being compromised by the disintegration of the various collectives which were intended to make the world more cooperative and more collaborative after two world wars so that people might live in a safer and fairer world: think of the United Nations, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the G8, and so on.
A new political theory suggests that there is no longer strength in numbers but that a return to tribalism will make people richer and happier. The irony – which no one seems to have noticed – is that this political theory is promulgated via the global phenomenon of social media and that the people who agree with it nevertheless continue to purchase all things necessary for salvation on the internet marketplace, Amazon.
And most of this political activity can be summed up in the phrase which sounds from the vox pop platforms with remarkable frequency – ‘We want our country back.’
One assumes that we’ve been saying this in this country for quite a long time: when the Romans invaded in the first century for example; or again when the Germans did so in the fifth century; then the Scandinavians in the eighth century; then the French in the eleventh century.
The shoe was on the other foot of course when we colonised nearly sixty countries in the days of the British Empire. And most non-European migration to this country since the 1950s has been the direct consequence of Britain’s own imperial aspirations. On a European note, however, I find it fascinating that the name ‘Farage’ is of French Huguenot origin and has a direct Asian equivalent. But that, as they say, is by the by. Or perhaps I should say, ‘Plus ça change.’
What we had learned, as a result of this activity over the last two thousand years, until – that is – the vote to leave the European Union, was that the peaceful movement of people across the world’s geopolitical frontiers was how one prevented invasion and all of its bloody and destructive consequences.
The story of the Tower of Babel is the extraordinary story about a supposedly jealous God who separates people up and disguises their tongues into different languages so that they can’t understand each other and thus foil their plan to grow more powerful than God and perhaps even prevent a second Flood. The Tower of Babel could, I suppose, be pointer to there being a divine purpose behind tribalism. What a god-send – literally – for our new political theorists. I’m amazed it hasn’t been cited by our retrenching politicians.
But then Pentecost happened and the world was turned upside down.
God became manifest in a way which was no longer about one place or one person but about a new kind of flood – a flooding of divine inspiration across the world which took no account of origin or background or previous experience. A Spirit which was not so much about that much-misused word ‘power’ but about potential or possibility: about what might be if only people were allowed to develop ‘in the power of the Spirit’, about imagination, about ‘seeing visions and dreaming dreams’.
Of course it’s not so easy to see the Spirit or prove its existence. We need to see through a different kind of eye – not the one that discerns skin colour or gender – but one that uses the mind to see the heart. It’s called the inner eye of the imagination. Shakespeare got it right when he talked about imagination bodying forth the form of things unknown and giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians are the local habitation for this thing whose name is Holy Spirit because the kingdom of God is within us and we pray daily – several times a day and in a multiplicity of languages – that God’s kingdom may come ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Which means building not a Tower of Babel, but a kingdom – God’s kingdom, with the building blocks of imagination and potential.
The inspiration of Pentecost effectively blows tribalism apart because God is no longer contained in a set of laws in a box or even in a single human being but is a world-wide phenomenon: divine globalisation indeed!
I don’t want my country back. I’m not even sure where it is: at the last count, I had Scottish, German, Spanish and Manx blood in me – not a drop of English alas, but I do like living here. Instead, I want politicians to get their imagination back and to use the inner eye of the imagination to look beyond the here and now and to believe that imagination is a richer budget even than billions of pounds.
So, please, when you next go into a polling station, think less about strength and stability and more about the power of the imagination and all the godly and spirit-filled potential that goes with it.