An Open Table where Love knows no borders

Holy Spirit Reflections

A Pentecost sermon by the Revd Dr Amelia Koh-Butler
Minister of the Eastwood Uniting Church in Sydney

A recording of the whole liturgy including this sermon is available here.

Sermon Notes

People have different ways of talking about spiritual things. The Spirit is at work among people of different backgrounds, cultures, languages and even different religious traditions.

Last year, I went from being a multifaith university chaplain to be the Team Leader at a mixed language congregation at Eastwood Uniting Church in sydney. I asked some of the key leaders – if you want to talk with people in the wider community about faith and you want to give them part of the scriptures to read, where do you start?

Generally, there are patterns to how we do evangelism: many protestants start by inviting you to read a Synoptic Gospel; many Pacific islanders start with the Gospel of John; many evangelicals start with Paul; many indigenous communities start with Genesis… my Chinese leaders said they would start with the Wisdom Literature – Proverbs and Psalms and the great Wisdom Parable of Job.

In different cultures, we have different worldviews and different parts of the Scripture make more sense to us than others.

I feel very privileged to visit with you this evening because I see Ecumenical Dialogue and co-operation as an expression of the Holy Spirit’s work.

The ecumene or oecumene is an ancient Greek term for the known, the inhabited, or the habitable world. When the word was first used, it did not include Australia or the Pacific – we were unknown.

And to some degree – the wisdom and God’s revelation in our ancient land remains unknown. More about that later…

The OIKOUMENE symbol is for the World Council of Chuches, which will hold its 11th Assembly meeting in Karlsruhe in August-September this year. The Assembly normally meets every 8 years and is the most diverse Christian gathering of its size in the world.  It is a fellowship of 352 churches from more than 120 countries, representing over 580 million Christians worldwide.

A Human-centric “world view” leads some people deHumanize other people with a different world-view… it has something to do with individualism and self-referencing. It is an arrogance broken only when our world-view is challenged by stepping out of it and learning to appreciate something else. God’s world-view has more to do with viewing all of God’s good creation, including God’s creatures. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31a)

Intercultural, ecumenical and interfaith relations arise from the message of the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9). God commanded that we “go and generate (be creative) all over the earth”. That was not about simply populating… (simplistic definition!), it was about developing cultures and poetry and thinking and different ways of loving and appreciating.

Pentecost (after much prayer) was the sign that God never intended people to think one way or the other (or use only one dominant language), but people were able to understand “each in their own language” in a radically diverse community. This, for me, represents a much clearer vision of Heaven. (See Acts 2).

The Latin word sacramentum means “a sign of the sacred.” The seven sacraments are ceremonies that point to what is sacred, significant and important for Christians. They are special occasions for experiencing God’s saving presence.

For Roman Catholics, there are 3 sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, 2 sacraments of Healing – Penance and Anointing of the Sick, and 2 Sacraments of Communion – Marriage and Holy Orders.

In your tradition and in my tradition, we treat these a little differently, but our differences don’t need to be obstacles… we could treat our different experiences as being opportunities for blessing one another with ideas that expand our horizons.

Karkainen – Pentecostal theologian puts it this way:

How has the Spirit revealed herself across the world church?

One of the most exciting features of pneumatology is the variety of ways Christian churches and theologians have approached the Spirit’s ministry. Even though there is only one Spirit of God, differing emphases and needs of particular churches and traditions have created a rich treasure of spiritual experiences. Naturally, the mystical tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, for instance, sees the ministry of the Spirit differently from the Lutheran Church. And it is to be expected that the new, enthusiastic Pentecostal experience contrasts with the ancient tradition of Roman Catholic piety.

What do we recognize as sacred? 

Is it the family gathering?

Particular places?

Rites and rituals?

Something that holds particular meaning, like a wedding ring?

THEOSIS = Deification or DIVINIZATION

The Eastern Church teaches that what is common to the Father and the Son is the divinity that the Holy Spirit communicates to humans within the church, in making them partakers of the divine nature. 

In this sense, as St. Seraphim of Sarov said, 

the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.

As a result, the work of salvation (theosis) is not only christologically but also pneumatologically founded. 

The role of the Holy Spirit in Eastern soteriology (Salvation) is highlighted by the ultimate goal of salvation. 

The immediate aim of redemption is salvation from sin,  but salvation will have its ultimate realization  in the age to come in our union with God,  the deification of the created beings whom Christ ransomed.  But this final realization involves the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. 

the Spirit cannot be ‘controlled’ – it blows where it will

  • is relational, revealing through interactions
  • is creative and gives life 
  • inspires prophetic fruit – Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” 
  • is revealed in the life/work of Jesus AND the Body of Christ
  • is the agent of revelation and conversion
  • guides mission
  • Is often counter-cultural

The fruits of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…

And one of the surprising ways I see this happening is in Interfaith dialogue…

Let me use a local example from where I am situated…

The Sydney Statement was a Western Sydney Uni and Multifaith Collaborative research project, with NSW Govt Funding. It involved workshopping with a couple of thousand Sydney-siders under 25 about what they hoped for. 

We will be passionately religious and compassionately interreligious.

We will treat others as we want to be treated.

We will show love, care and respect for others in our daily lives.

We will promote mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between believers.

We will acknowledge both our commonalities and our differences.

We will support recognition of society’s religious diversity.

We will work together for social cohesion.

We will work together on common social issues.

We will work together to promote peace.

We will work together on environmental issues.

We will act in solidarity with victims of religious discrimination.

We will learn about the teachings, practices and customs of other religions.

We will encourage education about different religions.

We will be critical consumers of media.

We will speak out against all forms of religious prejudice.

We will give a positive and accurate account of all religions.

We will reject violence and extremism.

We will share the spirituality of our religions.

We will respect each other’s places of worship.

We will promote interfaith dialogue within our own faith communities.

We will make 19 March “Bridge Day” for building bridges between believers.

I want to suggest here that the work of the spirit is not just breathing life into the People of God to form them into church – although she certainly does that…

I think the Holy Spirit is also breathing sacred life into all creation and continually working for the making sacred of all creation.

The work of God is always bigger and deeper and more wonderful than we can imagine – and it is a privilege for us to be called to participate in it.

Amen.

4 Comments

  1. What a wonderful pentecost service Nathan – certainly inspired by the Spirit and fired-up with your creativity, imagination and a great time commitment. Thank you.

    Amilia, your homily was indeed inspired and for me gave a new insight and perspective to my understanding of Babel and Pentecost. Thank you for intoducing me to the “Sydney Statement”. I am encourgaed to see that the under 25’s have hope and determination for a better “now” and a better “future” in and through Christ and their own commitment to undertake the works of the Spirit.

    Thank your for your ministry to us.

  2. Vincent Michael Hodge

    Thanks to Dr Amelia for a community enhancing sermon. I loved her point that The Eastern Church teaches that what is common to the Father and the Son is the divinity that the Holy Spirit communicates to humans within the church, in making them partakers of the divine nature. In this sense, as St. Seraphim of Sarov said: …..the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. I would love to have heard more from her on this topic since I am sure she could contribute to educating my confusion caused by the biblical history behind the development of the understanding of “Holy Spirit”. For me it appears to be a threefold stage – as between the monotheism of Old Testament where the Spirit was that of the One God, the scriptural record of the early christian texts of Jesus and the Spirit in His life; and the eventual formal definition of The Trinitarian God at the Council of Nicaea in early 4th century AD. When we engage with the Baptism texts of Jesus and the Post resurrection texts of John’s gospel I invariably hear in my own head the living organism that Nicaea alludes to whereas the authors of those texts would not have necessarily had that same type of encounter. Anyway something for another day but I reiterate Amelia’s fruitful sermon as it is.
    Amelia made great reference to “The ecumene or oecumene” ; which she sedcribe as ” .. an ancient Greek term for the known, the inhabited, or the habitable world. When the word was first used, it did not include Australia or the Pacific – we were unknown….”. She commented that ..”…And to some degree – the wisdom and God’s revelation in our ancient land remains unknown. More about that later..The OIKOUMENE symbol is for the World Council of Churches……”. She obviously referenced the term in its contemporary meaning as being in some sense directed at unity, universal cooperation, inclusion etc etc. In its initial dictionary meaning it seems to have been much more limited in its scope and involved a greater sense of exclusion, limits, boundaries, distinctions and opposities. The Greek word is, i think, an amalgamation of two greek words – “oikos” = a house, dwelling place; and “menein” which is a great and recurring motif of John’s Gospel and refers to the verb of “remaining, dwelling, accompanying etc etc. “. So the dictionaries tell us that the word (oikoumene) was initially used by the Greeks to define their own cultural enclosure as opposed to the so called ‘barbarians” who were foreign to them ie ones who did not house themselves as the Greeks lived, an opposing culture in our terms today. So its root meaning is not about “universality and inclusion” but about ‘sameness, a shared perspective, likeness” that stands “over against” another thing/group. So in that sense it is still about insiders/outsiders. I have heard of a scholarly term recently – “receptive ecumenism” – which is trying to capture the concept of wisdom being a possession accessible to all and therefore the extinguishment of boundaries by its replacement = “dialogue and learning’ rather than merely “toleration of differences”. Receptive ecumenism recognises the need for a search to find a legitimate basis for a truly universal, limitless, unbounded “oikoumene’.; a basis that accepts wisdom is not possessed by any one group; that difference may be legitimate in some sense. Like the word “trinity”, the concept of “oikoumene” is packed with history that needs to be digested and acted upon.
    Much akin with what Amelia stated in a third marvellous point contained in her sermon where she said that “…..A Human-centric “world view” leads some people to deHumanize other people with a different world-view… it has something to do with individualism and self-referencing. It is an arrogance broken only when our world-view is challenged by stepping out of it and learning to appreciate something else. God’s world-view has more to do with viewing all of God’s good creation, including God’s creatures. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31a)….”. This I think she captured specifically in her comment about Australia and Indigenous domains being separate dwellings places that have yet to establish an unbounded cohesion : …….”….Much like and to some degree – wisdom and God’s revelation in our ancient land remain unknown..…”.

  3. Thanks Amelia for sharing Pentecost with us on Sunday, and your reflections on diversity and unity. I particularly remember your observation that different cultural groups often draw on different parts of the bible as their starting place, and your comment about how surveyed Australians all identified land connection as a core spiritual practice, which surprised and encouraged me! Thanks also for all the colour and the addition of Darug to our languages for Pentecost – love it!

  4. Thank you Amelia – I found it interesting also that different ethnic groups related to different parts of Scripture – it makes sense but how one eyed we are not to have realised this. A missionary told me about when they are translating Scriptures for people in Iceland or in a similar sort of landscape – they translated “Behold the Lamb of God” as “Behold the Seal of God” as they did not know what a lamb was.
    Also I was amazed that a 100% of Australians surveyed -cited connection to land as a core spiritual practise – perhaps we have learnt more than we know from our Indigenous sisters and brothers – lets hope so.

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