The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow (Picture: Keith Blundy)

 Bishop of Jarrow

The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow
The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow used his Pentecost Sermon to question the use of language that divides us rather than builds up. In his Pentecost sermon at Durham Cathedral on Sunday 19th May, Bishop Mark talked about the extraordinary power of language, both to demolish and to comfort and encourage and inspire saying: “There does seem to be a growing tendency in our society for people, not least our leaders, to use language which seems to set one community or one group of people against another. Our leaders must of course, at all times, have the right to challenge one another and to challenge us. “It is entirely right that those who spend money in national and local government should be challenged for the way they spend it but we may perhaps ask whether quips about “Geordie Armani” is a use of language which divides us rather than builds us up.” He went on to say: “In a world of ever more speedy communication, where the press of the send button can have extraordinary effects for good or for ill, we need the Holy Spirit to help us to be more on our guard than ever to ensure that what we write and what we send does indeed build a people up rather than destroy them. “That is where some of us at least need to ask the Holy Spirit to come in – for us and for all those who speak and communicate in other ways – so that in all our communication the human community may be built up and brought together for the Glory of God.” The transcript of the sermon follows: [expand-contract expand-title=”Read-More” swaptitle=”Finished-Reading” trigclass=”expand-highlight” trigpos=”below” tag=”readon”] Some of you may know that I recently came back from a couple of weeks in Japan. Before we went we booked some accommodation in Kyoto for a couple for nights. We arrived in Kyoto on our first day without a Japanese speaker with us and decided that we would check out where it was we were staying. We located the road without any difficulty and wandered along it looking for where we were staying. Nowhere was the place we were staying to be found. After walking up and down the street a number of times we started to become a bit anxious. We began to feel slightly anxious wondering whether indeed after all if we were in the right place and if indeed we would ever find this place into which we had booked. Eventually we found somebody with whom we could communicate just about enough for him to be able to point out where we were staying. The problem was simply that, quite understandably, the hotel proclaimed its name only in Japanese script with no evidence of the name that we had discovered on the internet. When people do not speak and understand your language and you do not speak nor understand theirs there is an element of tension and, for a while at least, a strong sense of exclusion. The story of Pentecost seems to put everything to rights. Everybody hears and understands what is being said in their own language. All of the chaos and all of the argument which began with the story of the Tower of Babel is suddenly put to rights. Language, rather than setting people against each other, now brings people together into a joyful community. St Luke seems to be telling us that the world is getting back to the way it was at the very beginning when the Book of Genesis tells us “the whole earth had one language and the same words”. Now at last the Parthians, the Medes, the Elamites and the residents of Mesopotamia all hear together in a single language. Where there was chaos and dissension, harmony has been restored. Language now builds people up and builds them into community. All this is a reminder of the extraordinary power of language, both to demolish and to comfort and encourage and inspire. Is it just me or is our world in desperate need of a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which creates a language that builds community rather than divides it. I love those from the writer in the Book of Proverbs “by the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down”. There does seem to be a growing tendency in our society for people, not least our leaders, to use language which seems to set one community or one group of people against another. Our leaders must of course, at all times, have the right to challenge one another and to challenge us. It is entirely right that those who spend money in national and local government should be challenged for the way they spend it but we may perhaps ask whether quips about “Geordie Armani” are really a use of language which builds us up or rather divides us. Now of course if we are to ask those in public office to look carefully at their use of language we have first of all to look at how we use language within our own Christian community. Again the issue is not that there should not be challenge and indeed disagreement, I am quite sure that the Medes and the Parthians and the dwellers in Mesopotamia and the people from Cappadcoia had many differences of opinion but it is about the use of language. It is again about the use of language that builds people up and respects them as children of God rather than denigrating them or devaluing them. (And just in case anybody is trying to read anything into that, I can only say that as Bishop in this diocese, I have received significant courtesy and kindness from those with whom I disagree over some quite fundamental issues). And of course – perhaps you can see where this is going – it comes down to us as individual Christians to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit for ourselves to enable us to build up, by word and deed, the whole human community. And again, –  this I’m sure is obvious – in a world of ever more speedy communication, where the press of the send button can have extraordinary effects for good or for ill, we need the Holy Spirit to help us to be more on our guard than ever to ensure that what we write and what we send does indeed build a people up rather than destroy them. The danger of this sort of sermon is that it can sound like the parent telling the children to “play nicely” which is precisely the very opposite of what the Holy Sprit is all about. The point of the Holy Spirit is that it is God’s gift to us to enable us to be more Christlike One of the Whitsun hymns from my childhood had that wonderful verse

  • And every virtue we possess,
  • And every conquest won,
  • And every thought of holiness,
  • Are His alone.

The task of the Holy Spirit is to transform us and to make us more like Christ and so Charles Wesley prays in his great Holy Spirit hymn “Jesus confirm my heart’s desire, to work and speak and think for thee” – to work and speak and think that the human community may be built up rather than fragmented.  It’s the speaking and the tweeting and the emailing and the phone calls that matter. That is where some of us at least need to ask the Holy Spirit to come in – for us and for all those who speak and communicate in other ways – so that in all our communication the human community may be built up and brought together for the Glory of God. [/expand-contract]

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