Sermon on Sunday of Pentecost 2010 in Liverpool
Ecumenism as Pentecost Renewed
Dear brothers and sisters in our common Lord Jesus Christ!
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!” With these words of greetings of S. Paul I greet you all: Christians of different churches, Anglicans, Protestants and Catholics. It is like on the first Pentecost, where – as the Acts of the Apostles tell us – all were on one place together. And together we are walking on the road of hope.
Yes, Pentecost is the feast of hope. On Pentecost the Spirit came down to the apostles with storm an tongues as of fire. This was the powerful starting point of the one Church of many nations. The Spirit enabled the anxious disciples to go out of the closed doors of Upper room of the cenacle, where they were hidden, and to preach publicly and courageously to the crowd the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. In the beginning there was a rather small community, but with Pentecost and with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit this tiny first community really exploded – three thousand were baptized only in one day. Then in only one generation by the power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Church spread over the whole then known world from Jerusalem till Rome, and from Rome Roman soldiers brought Christian faith probably already very soon to Anglia, what today is England. By the power and the guidance of the Spirit though all internal weaknesses we humbly have to confess and though all harsh external oppressions, calumniations and persecutions the Church of Christ lives till today and will be till the end of the times.
Further we read in the Acts of the Apostles: “Everybody heart them, i.e. the apostles in their own language!”. That’s hope again, hope for ecumenism. For ecumenism means in Greek language the oikoumene, that is the whole inhabited world. Indeed, there were gathered in Jerusalem people of the whole then known world: Parthians, Medes and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, and many others, even travelers from Rome. They were gathered for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. But when the Holy Spirit came down they all listened to the same message of Jesus Christ and all understood it in their own language. All were amazed, because suddenly the Babylonian confusion and the reciprocal non-understanding among peoples was overcome, all were again united listening to the same message. But this new unity und new universality was not at all an uniformity, it meant unity within diversity and a diversity within unity. And what else is tzhe goal of ecumenism today, what else than this kind of unity within diversity of all believers in Jesus Christ.
But now, when we look to pour present situation and realize our present reality, when we look seriously and honestly to the concrete reality of Christendom in today’s world we must be ashamed. Isn’t there a lack of hope and courage and cant we see everything else but unity within diversity? Yes, unfortunately Christians are divided, divided since 1000 years between East and West, between oriental and Western Christianity, and divided since 500 years between Catholics and Protestants, and those who are called Protestants are divided among themselves in hundreds of confessions, in established and free churches, congregations and communities. And the Catholic Church, yes, thanks to God there are no formal breaks of communion, but as we all know there does not exist only unity and love.
This is hardly a Pentecostal reality, this reality – we must say it without hesitation – is against Christ’s will, is against the testament he left us the eve before his death, when he prayed that all be one, it is a reality which contradicts the Pentecostal gift of the one Spirit who wants to unify all the oikoumene, all mankind in the belief in the one God, the one Savior Jesus Christ, the one baptism, the one Spirit and the one hope. This reality of a divided Christendom is sin and is a scandal. It damages the holy thing what is the mission given by the Spirit to spread of the Gospel all over the world in order to reconcile peoples and to bring them together.
This year we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the famous missionary conference in Edinburgh. Missionaries from all over the world were gathered and asked themselves: Why we are that unable to bring about a renewed Pentecost? Which are the main obstacles for spreading out the Good News of the Gospel? Their answer was unanimous: The main obstacle has to be seen in the division of the Christians. This insight was then the starting point of the ecumenical movement of the 20th century, which the Second Vatican Council called an impulse not of the spirit of liberalism but an impulse of the of the Holy Spirit. So ecumenism is not an end in itself; mission and ecumenism are twins. We cannot preach reconciliation and peace and at the same time be divided and not reconciled among ourselves.
This was true not only hundred years ago in the beginning of the 20th century, is even more urgent and true today in the beginning of the 21th century with all the dangerous social, cultural, political, military and racial tensions and conflicts in our world. In this situation we as Christians are called to bring anew Pentecostal fire to the world to speak with tongues of fire on unity in the one God of Jesus Christ and on the renewal of our world in the new life of the risen Lord and so to be examples and instruments of reconciliation and peace!
So we should ask the same question the crowd asked Peter on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem: What we can, what we should do?
Before answering to this question let me say this: There was done a lot in the last hundred years. We can be grateful to the Spirit who guided us, who inspired and who impelled us. We can be grateful for the work of the Ecumenical Council of the Churches, we can be grateful for the Second Vatican Council and all the work which was done since. On this hundred year with the help of God’s Spirit we were able to achieve much more then in many hundred years before. There is no reason for delusion. Today Christians are closer together than ever before. The Spirit helped us to rediscover each other not as enemies, not as strangers or competitors but as Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Today we pray together, we work together, we share daily life and we share it often in mixed confessional families, on our working places, in leisure time events and in many other occasions.
Today at Pentecost we say grace that the one Spirit was bestowed to us, to Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants and that we all are baptized in the one Spirit but it should be also today a Spirit of tongues of fire, a Spirit which gives us burning hearts for unity.
Thanks be to God and his mighty Spirit we don’t have raison to be deluded or to talk on a ecumenical winter. In our office in the last two years we produced a booklet where we collected and analyzed all the dialogues with the main churches of the Reformation. We gave to it the title “Harvesting the fruits”, and it was a riche harvest, much more riche we thought before.
But nevertheless, we have to confess and to lament, that there is not a full communion among us. We are not yet together and not yet united on the one table of the Lord; we cannot yet share the same Eucharistic bread, we cannot yet drink from the one chalice. There are still differences and divisions, divisions which are caused by misunderstandings and unfortunately often by old prejudices or bad memories of the past. But there also – we cannot deny it – differences of faith, which are rooted in profound convictions of our hearts. We cannot jump over such convictions, we cannot mineralize, belittle and water them down. The unity we are seeking for is an unity in truth and in love. So we cannot make a potpourri and a mixed salad out of the different churches. We have to recognize and to love each other in our otherness and in our diversity.
Therefore we cannot stop with what we achieved up to now. Ecumenism is a way, is a pilgrimage to walk on. Up to now we did not yet reach the very goal. We are still on the way. So again the question: What we can, what we should do? Which can be the next steps? I like to answer in four points, four points which are interlinked among themselves.
1. The unity of the Church is not our own work; the unity of the Church ultimately is a gift of the Spirit. We cannot “make”, we cannot organize, we cannot manipulate or enforce it. But we can and we should pray for it. Also Jesus on the eve of his death did not give us a commandment to unite, no, he prayed to his Father that all may be one. Ecumenism means to join Jesus’ prayer, means to pray with him and in him. This was the way the conference of Edinburgh became possible. There were already prayer-groups before everywhere and in all continents, and there were payer-groups during that conference, so that the moderator told afterwards: The main thing did not happen in the conference hall but outside the hall, where people were gathered for praying. Here we have to start again and send a firestorm of prayers to heaven: “Come, Holy Spirit, come!”
2. We are right when we say that the walls of division do not reach till heaven; there is more what unites us than what divides us. We have the same Bible as the Word of God and the guide for our life, we are baptized in the one Triune God and bestowed with the same Spirit, we share the same hope in eternal life, we confess the same Apostolic Creed and we celebrate the same feasts as today the feast of Pentecost. But we have to be honest. This common heritage is today fading and shaking among many Christians. But unity cannot be built up on semi faith or semi unbelief. Unity must be built up on a solid fundament which withstands the storm of liberalization and secularization and the spreading bushfire of indifferentism and new atheism. So we have to consolidate what we have in common. Why not reestablish Bible-groups and Bible-sharing, why not groups of faith formation and faith information for adults and of ecumenical formation and information in order to overcome wrong information, old prejudices and religious illiteracy. In such groups we can learn from each other and to enrich ourselves. For ecumenical dialogue is not abandoning our own heritage but enriching it by a exchange of gifts, as the late Pope the venerable John Paul II taught us.
3. There is no ecumenism and there cannot be any ecumenism without readiness to metanoia, i.e. changing our mind and ever more our hearts, there cannot be any ecumenism without profound conversion – conversion not to understand primarily as conversion to a different church belonging but conversion understood in a much more fundamental and original sense as conversion to Jesus Christ, because He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the very goal of ecumenism. Only be being united more with Christ we will be united also among ourselves, and to the degree we are united with Christ and live in Christ we will be united also among ourselves. There is no cheep ecumenism; also ecumenism has its price and claims for courageous risks. The ecumenical pilgrimage is a pilgrimage in growing in holiness and sanctification. Spiritual ecumenism is the very heart of the ecumenical movement.
4. Ecumenism is a process of growing together. Every gardener knows that plants do not grow faster when we draw the leaves. Growth needs patience. But we grow together also be working together, and there are many fields we can cooperate already today, much more we think and much more we realize already today. Our world needs the cooperation of all good Christians; it needs that we speak with one voice about human and Christian values, especially on family values which are so much jeopardized today, our world needs our cooperation in the field of culture, peace, social justice and preservation of the creation. Our time needs particularly courage and hope, it must see that not only bad things happen but also good things are possible. So we should give the witness that even after a sometimes bad history between the churches reconciliation, cooperation and friendship are possible.
Dear brothers and sisters, Pentecost was the beginning of such a vedry ecumenical movement. What we need today is a renewed Pentecost; what we need is the fire an storm of the Holy Spirit in our hearts so that we can be patient and impatient at the same time. We need men and women, young people and elderly people with burning hearts to go out and transform the world. The Holy Spirit who was the power of the beginning is promised to us and he is at work also today. There is no reason for despair and delusion. There is every reason for courage to walk on the road of hope as we do today and as we should do every day. I wish you from all my heart this fire and storm of the Spirit. Let’s therefore pray: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” Amen.