Sunday, 29 June 2014

St Peter and St Paul: Patron Saints



Today we celebrate our Patron Saints, St Peter and St Paul. When this church was first built someone decided that it would be dedicated to these two great leaders from the Church’s history. Who made that choice and when it happened is lost in the mists of time. But the decision was made, and we were put under the protection of these two great figures. They are called Patron saints because we are under their patronage. In the thought of the time, this meant that in the courts of heaven we would have some very powerful advocates. They’d have a word with God on our behalf if we needed it, just you might ask an earthly courtier to speak to the king for you.  Patron saints were the mediators between humanity and God, friends in high places; and who better to have as Patrons than two of the most important leaders of the early church?

Patronage was a normal part of daily experience in the ancient world. Society wasn’t meritocratic or equal; it didn’t even pretend to be. Everyone had their place and they knew it. In the Roman social order if you wanted to make your way in the world you needed to find a patron to take you under their wing, and there were quite formal agreements made between patrons and their clients, spelling out the obligations on each side. The Patron saint was just a heavenly version of what people experienced on earth.

My guess is, though, that the practice of dedicating churches to particular saints has even deeper roots than this social arrangement. In pre-Christian times the people who lived here would have worshipped local gods and goddesses, the spirits of the place, who they believed inhabited sacred springs and trees and rocks. They just took it for granted that there was more to life than met the eye, that there were forces that dwelt beyond their sight in the landscapes where they lived. It mattered that those forces were on your side if you wanted things to go well for you. When Christianity arrived I suspect that many people just grafted the saints onto that existing spirituality, letting them take the place of the local spirits they had prayed to before. Many of the things churches have traditionally done on their Saints’ days – processions, well-dressing and so on were probably originally about honouring or placating those local gods. Seal’s local spirits obviously need strawberries, which we are happy to share with them…as long as we can eat them too…!

All of this carried on quite naturally right up until the Reformation, but at that point things changed dramatically. The Protestant reformers still recognised and revered Christians from the past, the heroes and heroines of faith, but they insisted that there was only one mediator between us and God, and that was Jesus Christ. God isn’t like an earthly king, they said. Heaven isn’t like an earthly court. We don’t need “friends in high places” because God himself is our friend and we have direct access to him through Jesus.
They were uneasy, too, at what they saw as superstitious practices – those rituals which they thought had more than a whiff of paganism about them. So statues were smashed and pictures destroyed in an attempt to purge the church of those old beliefs.

It was never going to work completely, though. Banning the celebration of people’s Patron saints was always going to be a step too far. Ordinary churchgoers would probably have thought it seemed dangerously disloyal to abandon their old allegiances; they were far too deeply woven into the popular consciousness.   Anyway, people don’t like it if you take away their parties. Everyone needs a knees-up now and then. Even the rhythms of commerce were tied up with Patronal festivals. They were often marked by charter fairs, as they were here at Seal. They were an important local source of revenue; do away with saints’ days and your business might suffer.

So the celebration of patron saints clung on in some form, perhaps less extravagant than before, and here we are today, on the feast day of Peter and Paul, celebrating not just any saints, but “our” saints. In doing so, we are celebrating the life of this church and this place as well.

It might seem, from that brief history, that those Reformers were just killjoys, but I think they did have a point in their wariness of all this business of saints. The idea of sainthood tends to bring with it such a lot of baggage - local gods, spirits of place, friends in high places - that it’s easy to forget that saints like Peter and Paul were real, flesh and blood people, ordinary people, people like us, people who might have lived next door, sat next to us on the bus, people who were originally far from the “heavenly courtiers” that later tradition made them. And when we forget that, oddly, their power to inspire and influence us is diminished. If they are superhuman, then there is no way we can be like them, and we are let off the hook of even trying. We feel we can delegate the work of holiness and mission to them – they’ll be better at it than we will.

In reality, though, Peter was just a fisherman, trying to make a living to support his family, hoping for no more than a good catch and fine weather until he met Jesus. Paul was just a Pharisee, a religious expert certainly, but one of many in his time, and, of course, one who was fanatically opposed to the way of Christ, convinced that his message was blasphemy and that God had proved that by allowing him to be crucified. This could surely never happen to God’s chosen Messiah, he thought.

Neither Peter nor Paul were promising material for the job of leaders of the church. If you’d been selecting candidates for the job, they’d never have made the short list. It’s only with hindsight that we see how influential they were, shaping the Christian faith, spreading its message across the world, laying foundations which we still rest on.

My guess is that they would have been astonished if they’d known that one day there would be churches all over the world named after them, let alone people eating strawberry teas in their honour. It was the last thing they were expecting. It’s clear from the New Testament that they were as surprised as anyone else to find themselves playing such an important role. All they were doing was responding to the call that they’d had, dealing with what was in front of them, doing what they could with integrity and love to spread the message of Christ.

 “Come and follow me”, said Jesus to Peter, and he left his nets and followed, getting it wrong as often as he got it right, but learning what he needed to learn along the way, gradually being transformed from Simon the impulsive fisherman, into Peter, whose name meant the Rock. He was the one who had the courage to say to Jesus what everyone else is wondering about - “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” the one who later has the courage to stick to his message, even if it means he is thrown into prison, or worse, as we heard in our second reading.

Paul’s experience was different, but it was also a story about transformation. He never met Jesus in person, but when he heard his voice as he travelled to Damascus, hell-bent on destroying the fledgling Christian movement, he had the courage to change his mind, to learn to see anew, to realise that God’s love was bigger than he thought, wider than he thought and could embrace all.

The impact that Peter and Paul had came not through any superstar quality they possessed, but simply from their faithful willingness to hear and respond to God in the circumstances they found themselves, to do what they could with what they had. And that, to me, is why they still matter to us, and why, on this Patronal festival I hope we might be able to draw on their lives to enrich our own ministry and mission.

Peter and Paul discovered that they had work to do, that God had a purpose for them, despite the fact that they seemed the least likely people for it. Their lives remind us that however unlikely it feels to us, God has a purpose for us too, things to do that only we can do. Those things might seem small, but it is often the small things that make most difference in the long run. It’s great that here at Seal we have produced an ordinand in Nicky Harvey – it’s a big commitment - but I am equally delighted when someone says to me that they want to investigate helping out with the food-bank, or in the school, or that they want to learn more about their faith, or talk through some issue that’s been bothering them. In all these ways we show that we are letting our faith affect our lives, that we are growing in God, letting him change us, and when that happens those whose lives we touch are changed as well.

I think Peter and Paul would be astonished to find that all over the world there are Christian communities that bear their names and that are celebrating their lives today, but I think they’d be disappointed if that was as far as it went. As we honour them today, I wonder whether they in turn might want to ask us – “what about you?” If fishermen and Pharisees, flawed and fallible like us, can hear God’s call and answer it, can change their ways and turn their lives around and bring blessing to those around them, surely you can too? Our church is built on their foundations, and named for them, but the church of tomorrow needs us to build it.

Amen

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Trinity 1: Impossible odds?



In 1998 a young priest, who was just 33 years old at the time, had some devastating news. He’d been suffering from blurred vision and problems with balance, and tests revealed that he had multiple sclerosis. There’s no good time to get news like that, but this was a particularly bad moment. His second child had just been born, and he had just taken up a new job at Coventry Cathedral as director of the International Centre for Reconciliation which was based there, a job which took him to many of the world’s trouble-zones, often in the Middle East, to which he’d always felt a particular calling.

There were many who assumed that he’d need to give up work, or at least to wind down and look for something less stressful to do. One of the doctors treating him told him not to worry; there was a good hospice for those with MS locally. But he wasn’t ready to give up on life, and when his term of office at Coventry came to an end he chose what’s probably the most stressful and dangerous Anglican parish in the world to go to. His name’s Canon Andrew White and he’s the Vicar of St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. Over the years he’s been there St George’s has built up a sizeable congregation, but it also runs a free clinic and foodbank where anyone can receive help – most of those who come are Muslim. Underpinning all this is a commitment to the work of reconciliation. White brings leaders of different communities together to listen to one another and negotiates for the release of kidnap victims. It’s dangerous work – worshippers have to be searched on their way into church to guard against suicide bombers, and there are always security guards present. But as Andrew White says, they do this work because there’s no one else who can do it – outside relief agencies can’t work there at all. 

We probably tend to think of Iraq as a Muslim country, but in fact there have been Christian communities there since the earliest days of the church, long before Christian faith reached Western Europe, and there were even older Jewish communities there. Iraq occupies much of the ancient territories of Assyria and Babylon, the lands where the Old Testament locates the Garden of Eden, where Abraham came from, and where the people of Jerusalem were taken into exile, and where many remained.

The largest and oldest Christian communities in Iraq were in in the city of Niniveh, founded, it is said, by St Thomas on his way to India. Ancient Nineveh eventually became the modern city of Mosul, a familiar name from this week’s news – it’s one of those cities which has been taken over by ISIS.   Many of the Christians there have fled, of course, and no one knows what will happen next.

Andrew White has said that this is the worst crisis the country has faced since the 2003 war. He was in the UK with his family when ISIS began their advance and he isn’t able to go back to Iraq at the moment - it is just too dangerous. But he is working here to raise funds to enable the work of St George’s to continue, and he’s asking for our prayers for all the people of Iraq and for St George’s at this time. I have put a link on the pew leaflet to his website (http://frrme.org/) , where you can donate  or find out more. If you don’t do the internet, I can pass on donations if you want to contribute.

Work like this, in such a wounded society can be heart-breaking. Canon White has seen many of those he has worked with and cared for killed or kidnapped over the years, and progress is often achingly slow, when it happens at all. The situation is always precarious. And to add to the external threats, he still has MS to contend with, of course, which frequently leaves him exhausted and unwell. Even before this latest crisis he said, “There are times when I wish I had a different calling.” I bet he does!

The first reading we heard today could have been written for him or the many other people who work for peace and justice around the world today, slogging away against what look like impossible odds.
It comes from the time leading up to the exile in Babylon, and in it the prophet Jeremiah speaks to God with searing honesty. God’s given him a message to deliver to the people of Jerusalem, warning them of the hardship to come, trying to prepare them for this time of exile. But they don’t want to hear it. They’d rather just go on as they are, sleepwalking into disaster. They try to shut Jeremiah up. They even throw him into a muddy cistern at one stage.

No wonder he sounds bitter. He began this mission because God called him to it, but now it feels like it was all a cruel trap. “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed”. Some translations even say, “Lord you have seduced me”. God’s pulled a fast one on him – look at what his faithfulness has got him into!
 But he can’t give up. “If I say ‘I will not mention God, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones…”

Most of us aren’t called to prophesy to people going into exile, or to lead churches in war-zones. But we can all find ourselves in over our heads in situations that turned out to be far more complicated than we expected, bearing burdens that were not of our making. Perhaps we’ve tried to build bridges between squabbling family members only to find them turning on us. Perhaps we’ve blown the whistle on some wrong-doing at work, and been ostracised for it. Perhaps we’ve offered to help someone in a moment of crisis, and now find we are exhausted – their needs were far greater than we realised.

Sometimes, of course, it really was none of our business – we just needed to be needed. It’s important to be aware of our motives when we help others. But if we take the Christian message seriously we can’t just pass by on the other side when we see a problem.  The reality is that loving others is often far messier and more draining than we bargain for, even with the right motivation and skills. If it was easy, the world wouldn’t be in the state it is. Living responsibly, living with love and care is inevitably sometimes going to mean challenge  and difficulty.

In our Gospel reading Jesus says , “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” . That doesn’t mean he wants his followers to take a path of violence. It simply reflects the reality that the early Christians had to live with. Jesus taught a message of love and justice, of radical equality in the sight of God and that was never going to go down well with those in power. They’d clawed out positions of privilege and they feared that if they lost them, they would have lost everything that made life worth living.  It takes great courage to let go of power, courage that is rooted in the realisation that we are already of infinite worth to God, whether others see it or not. Do not be afraid, says Jesus. God sees the sparrow that falls. He’s counted the hairs on your head. He hasn’t forgotten you, even if the rest of the world thinks you’re beneath its notice. When we know that, we have all the security we need.

Christianity in the UK has traditionally been privileged, and there’s a real tendency among some Christians to fret when some of those privileges seem to be ebbing away, to cry “persecution” because someone isn’t allowed to wear a cross with their uniform, to complain that Christians are being elbowed out of the public square. But if we truly believe in God, then why should we need to cling to those privileges? His love for us and his power to work through us don’t depend on us occupying some special position. Demanding a right to be heard seems to me to be a sign that something has gone wrong with our faith.

Andrew White was asked in an interview whether Christians in Iraq were targeted for persecution. “Yes, of course they are,” he answered. “Everybody in Iraq is targeted – it doesn’t matter whether you are Sunni, Shia, Mandean, Yazidi or Christian – they are all targeted because they are different from those who target them.” That’s why the work St George’s does towards reconciliation isn’t about fighting for the rights of persecuted Christians; it’s about working towards a society in which no one is persecuted, or feels the need to persecute others. That can only happen when we learn that God is bigger than our human ideas of him, and has a way of showing up in people and places we never expected him to, because he regards them with the same infinite love as he does us. That’s what enables us to listen to and love our enemies as well as our friends, and when we do that, we learn to forgive, which is the only thing, Andrew White says, “that can prevent the pain of the past from dictating the future.”

I’d like to finish with a story he tells of a conference that was part of an earlier peace-making initiative. It brought together Israeli and Palestinian religious leaders.
“A Jewish businessman hosted a lunch in London for Rabbi Melchior, Sheikh Talal and me. There were many journalists present, and one of them, an Arab, shouted at the sheikh: ‘How can you sit with this evil Zionist?’ The sheikh paused and then, taking the rabbi’s hand, he declared: ‘This man is my brother and we will walk this long and difficult road of reconciliation together until we find peace.’ ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ someone called out. Sheikh Talal replied: ‘I am pulling up thorns and planting flowers.’ Suddenly, I realized that this was indeed the work God had called us to. A former advocate of violence was doing what the Prince of Peace calls us all to do. Whenever I am losing hope – which is often – it is this exchange I think of, and it enables me to keep going for another day.”


Today we pray for the people of Iraq, and for the work of St George’s Baghdad, and we pray for ourselves too, for the love and energy we need to “pull up thorns and plant flowers” in the places we are called to. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Trinity Sunday Breathing Space : Into the mystery


This morning in our All Age Worship we talked about the things we didn’t know, the mysteries that bothered us. I asked people to write down a question that they would like to ask God if they could, and we stuck them on the question marks you see hanging from the chandelier.

It didn’t surprise me to find that the questions were very varied, and some of them quite poignant. There were some questions of course that were about purely theological or scientific things – what is infinity? what is it like in heaven? But there were a lot of questions that were clearly rooted in people’s personal lives - why can’t I get a job that pays enough to live on? why do so many in my family suffer? Some of the questions might have answers, even if we don’t happen to know them, but others are the kind of things that will always be mysteries. We can never know, for example, what it is like to be someone else, and we never will do.

Most people like a mystery, but only as long as the mystery is eventually solved. That’s what detective stories play into. We know that at the end we’ll find out whodunit, and that the clues will have been there if we had eyes to see them. Real life isn’t like that though, and that can make us feel profoundly disturbed. We like to feel we have life under control.

I was once asked by a woman I knew to talk to her daughter, who was about 6. There had been a complicated bereavement in the family, and the child seemed to be really struggling with it. As this child told me about it she told me about the moment when she’d watched her mum answer the phone and receive the news of the death. “What happened then?” I asked. Mum had started to cry, she said, so she had fetched her a glass of water. “That was kind – why did you do that?” “Because I thought it would make Mummy better”. “And did it?” I asked. “No” she said, sadly.
And that was what was troubling her. She had wanted to make it better, and she couldn’t.
I took her small hands and laid them on top of mine. “Whose hands are bigger?”, I asked. “Yours are”. “Why’s that?” “Because you are a grown up.” I explained that some things were too big for little hands to hold, and sometime it needed a grown up to sort things out.  It was a difficult thing to make her mummy feel better, and it wasn’t surprising that she couldn’t do it. But what about the things, I wondered which even grown ups couldn’t sort out. I asked how big God’s hands might be. She spread out her arms as wide as she could – “As big as this!” she said. So maybe, we decided there were things we would just have to put into God’s hands to sort out, the hands of the one who has “measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and marked off the heavens with a span.”

That conversation seemed to do the trick. It helped her to come to terms with the fact not only that she couldn’t sort out the woes of the world, but that she didn’t have to, and I’ve never forgotten it, because I know I need to remember that myself from time to time.

Today is Trinity Sunday, a day for contemplating mysteries too big to get our heads around. Theologians have tried to explain how God could be three and one at the same time, but to be frank their explanations have never and will never really get it sorted out satisfactorily. That’s because in a way we start from the wrong end with this conundrum. We start with the doctrine and then try to explain it. The early Christians though, started with experience. They had always believed in a Creator God – a loving parent. Then they met Jesus, and in him they felt they were meeting God himself. Then, when Jesus was no longer with them, they encountered this mysterious experience called the Holy Spirit, which made them feel as if Jesus himself, God himself, were close to them “Lo, I am with you to the end of the age,” said Jesus, and that’s how it felt. These experiences were different, and yet the same. But there was only one God – that was fundamental to their understanding – so how could this be? What had happened to God when Jesus lay dead in the tomb? Was God dead too? Was a third of him dead? Press any human explanation too far and it breaks down. Our experiences are true and real, but try to put them into words and we come unstuck.

The Christian belief in the Trinity then, whatever else it is, is a reminder that God is bigger than we are. It gives us permission to be baffled, to accept that we always will be. It gives us permission not to feel we have to solve all the problems of the world, but to leave them in the only hands that are big enough to hold them.


Amen 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Pentecost: The God who speaks our language



Whoever gets to read our first reading today always draws the short straw. It is notorious for being one of  the trickiest readings in the year, with all those strange names to deal with; Parthians, Medes and Elamates, the residents of Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia, Pamphylia and all the rest. There’s a reward in heaven for the person who has to tackle them all. The author of the Acts of the Apostles wasn’t being sadistic by putting them in though. As you can see from the map I’ve given you, this was a way of saying that people from from every point of the compass were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.  In particular these were places where there were significant ex-pat Jewish communities. Some of these communities had formed along trade routes, others had started when Jewish people had been taken into exile or forced to seek refuge abroad at times of trouble. Many of those who were part of them had essentially now become now become  Roman or Libyan or Parthian, speaking the local language, wearing local clothes, sharing in the culture of that place. The only thing that singled them out was their faith; they still followed the teachings of Judaism, and read the Jewish Scriptures, even if their understanding was coloured more than they realised by the beliefs of those around them.

But the old country has a way of drawing migrants home from time to time, and in this case it wasn’t just about nostalgia. Jewish law required people to make sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem at special times of the year. That wasn’t very practical if you lived in Rome or Parthia, but if you could, you’d try to make the odd trip now and them.  As well as those who’d been born Jewish this passage tells us that there were proselytes, converts, from those nations too, perhaps still exploring, perhaps quite committed, but coming at this faith from the outside. The Old Testament prophet Micah had spoken of a time when all nations would come streaming to Jerusalem to worship on the holy mountain. “Many nations shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…that he may teach us his ways” (Micah 4.1), and this seemed to be what was happening.

But what did these visitors find when they arrived in Jerusalem? Even if they’d grown up as devout Jews, or studied hard to learn the customs, it was all a bit alien. They couldn’t understand the language. The food, clothes and customs were different. It should have felt like home, but it didn’t. These visitors might think they shared a faith with the Jews of Jerusalem and meant the same things by the words they used, but they’d inevitably be bringing assumptions and ideas with them from the places they’d grown up in, and the differences would probably be far more obvious than the similarities. The children and grandchildren of migrants to this country from other parts of the world often experience the same sort of cultural dissonance when they go back to where their parents call “home”. It’s not home, not really, not to them, and they can end up feeling that they don’t properly belong anywhere.

That sense of dislocation can arise for other reasons too. We don’t necessarily have to migrate geographically to feel it. People can find they’ve left behind the world of their parents because they’ve had a better education or earn much more than they did. We can simply discover we are different in some way from those we grew up among.  However it happens, it is quite common for people to feel like they have become fish out of water because their lives have changed.

That’s the experience of these visitors to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.   Here they are, gathered in Jerusalem, the mother city of their faith, and yet they know they are outsiders, and the locals know it too, and maybe remind them of it, looking at them strangely. What right have they to be there? They’re not proper Jews, not like them. Even the name of the feast, as it is reported in the book of Acts, emphasizes the differences they might feel. It’s called the Day of Pentecost, but that’s the Greek name for this holy day, the name these visitors would have used. Its Hebrew name is Shavuot.  Pentecost means fiftieth, Shavuot means “weeks”. In a way both say the same thing – this is a feast that takes place some time after Passover, but which name you call it marks you out as an insider or an outsider to the homeland of the faith. 

The nature of the feast might have hammered that in too. Shavuot was a feast that celebrated the first fruits of the harvest. On this day you brought to the Temple an offering of the seven sorts of produce which ripened around this time in the land of Israel; wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deut. 8:8) . So it was all about your ties to the land, this land, where these things grew. Did they grow in the mountains of Cappadocia or the burning deserts of Arabia? Probably not.

Luke’s story is a story about foreignness, strangeness, being an outsider, or viewing someone else as one.

That is why what happens next in the story is so significant. The apostles – those first followers of Jesus – were Israeli Jews, born in these Jewish heartlands, just as Jesus had been. They spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, as their ancestors had done. They were right at home here, in this Promised Land, where their people had lived for millennia.
Jesus had preached a message that God’s love was for all, but it was only now, after his Ascension, that his followers were starting to realise what that might mean for them. He’d left them with the task of going out into the world, the whole world, and spreading that message. But the whole world was a big place, and the people in it were a mighty strange lot. Even the ex-pat Jews who they saw around them on the streets of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost were pretty odd, never mind the rest. To fulfil this task they would have to go way beyond their comfort zones. They’d not only have to cope with difference, they’d have to welcome it.

How were they going to find the courage to do that? Not from their own strength, plainly. As they sat in that room in Jerusalem they knew it was too much for them, just as it would be for any of us. But the good news of this story is that when God calls us, he doesn’t expect us to face the challenges of that call on our own.

These frightened followers in Jerusalem could never really describe exactly what happened next. It felt like a rushing wind, it felt like flames of fire, even though there was no wind or fire, but the long and short of it was that suddenly they knew that God, the God of heaven, the God of might and majesty and power, the God of creation, the God who had raised Christ from the dead, had swept into their lives and made his home in them. In truth he had always been with them, but this was the moment when they realised it. God was at home in them, dwelling in them.  He wasn’t stuck in the Temple, or sitting on a cloud in the distant sky. He was where they were, in that ordinary room in Jerusalem, in the ordinary lives of ordinary men and women, fishermen and tax-collectors, mothers and widows, people who’d met Jesus by chance or design and whose lives had been changed by the experience.

God was at home - in them. And if God could be at home in them, he could be at home in anyone. That was the message they proclaimed as they ran out of the room to the crowd in the streets. They didn’t think that message up for themselves. They didn’t even realise they were proclaiming it. But the words came out of their mouths, we are told, in Cappadocian and Libyan, and Parthian, and those who heard them, from Cappadocia and Libya and Parthia heard the voices not of Israeli Jews, but of people they could have met in their own homes and village squares.

For all its mystery, what happened at Pentecost conveyed a simple message to those who were there. Whoever you were and wherever you came from, your home was God’s home, your life was a place that God cared about as if it was the centre of his universe. There were no foreigners, no strangers to him. Hearing about God’s love in your own native tongue told you that he knew and loved that little bend in the river you thought was just yours, that corner of your garden where the evening sun shone through the trees. He knew and cared about that secret corner of your heart too, that memory you thought was your own private torment, those feelings that you were never going to be able to put into words. It’s not even just that he understands our national or tribal differences. Each of us has a unique personal language too, that sense of ourselves that even our nearest and dearest can often get no more than a glimpse of – but God understands it and speaks it as well as we do.

Grasping that truth can change not only our view of God and of ourselves, but our view of others as well, because once we’ve truly come to believe that God knows and loves us as we are, from the inside out, in all our uniqueness, it has to follow that he knows and loves everyone else like that too. The New Testament puts huge emphasis on breaking down the barriers that divide us, on accepting and welcoming one another as we are. That’s because those who wrote it had come to realise that if God lived in them, he lived in everyone, and could be discovered anew in everyone they met as they went out into those distant, alien lands and preached the Gospel.

But it all starts, as it did on the Day of Pentecost, with us. “Come down, O love divine/ seek thou THIS soul of MINE” we sing. Our Pentecost prayer is that we would discover the Spirit of God at home in us, in all the corners of our life, so that we can go on to discover that the whole world, and everyone in it, is his home as well.

Amen