Sermon for Affirmation Scotland – 23 May 2010

This is what I had to say in Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon at the Affirmation Scotland service:

Thank you for inviting me here. It is wonderful to discover that God seems to be raising up people in denomination after denomination the world over to proclaim that the time has come to proclaim publicly and proudly that God’s promises are for everyone, and specifically at this time to say clearly and confidently that God’s promises are for gay and straight people alike.

As an Episcopalian, I’m delighted to be here with a mostly Presbyterian crowd singing God’s praises on this special day. Today is special because it is Pentecost. And its special because it is General Assembly Week. A good day to gather to pray and to praise together.

Pentecost is a day about coming together and hearing the good news as one people, and discovering as we hear that news, that we can each hear it in unity and express it in our diversity. The same good news gives us confidence to proclaim it in diverse ways, with diverse stories and amongst diverse peoples. Pentecost is the great Feast of Creativity in Diversity and that is something to celebrate in itself.

On the front of the service sheet, there are a few verses of the Pentecost story. Just a few verses about the coming of the Spirit.

But they don’t include the best bit of the story. We’ve missed out the great tongue twister.

Now, I am an Episcopalian and for reasons that I’ve  never been able to work out, we like worshipping God very early in the morning and we often begin Sunday with a service at 8 am or 8.30 am. It is a time when I am never sure that I am entirely awake. Indeed, I sometimes find myself doing it and wondering whether God is awake.

Every year at Pentecost, you get the list of places that people had come from to get to the feast.

It is a list that can tangle the tongue at any time of day, especially if you find yourself standing in church at the 8 o’clock.

So, in Jerusalem there were, [very fast!] Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judean and Cappadocians, folk from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, from Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.

When the Acts of the Apostles was written – how exciting it must have been for those to whom it was copied. It is sometimes said that people who are famous never read Biographies about people they know – they just look in the index for mentions of themselves.

In the Acts of the Apostles, those reading it would scan down the first lines of the scrolls looking for recognition. And they would have found it. This is the story of the first days, no, the first minutes of the church. And we find an inclusive text, desperate to tell us who was there. The emphasis seems to be that everyone but everyone was there. And everyone understood in their own tongue that the word on the streets was true. That he whom they had loved and lost was indeed with them now for ever and ever.

And they were set on fire.

And we understand in our day that the same word is still out there on the street – that everyone is included in God’s love, with no exceptions.

And in our own times, we are learning to search the scrolls and scan through the bible for stories in which we find God’s diversity reflected too. David and Jonathan, Naomi and Ruth, the Centurion and his young man, Jeremiah and Baruch, beautiful young Stephen and his gang of deacons who just wanted to be included in the loving works of God but who was taken instead and beaten and killed.

These stories are our stories, this bible is our book. And when we read it we are set ablaze along with everyone who has ever found themselves reflected in the book of Life.

Now, let us just listen to that tongue twister once again for our own times.

Who was it who was touched by the Spirit at Pentecost?

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Presbyterians, Judeans and Cappadocians, Catholics and folk from Pontus and Asia, inclusive Baptists and people from Phrygia and Pamphylia, gay men, Egyptians, and folk from parts of Libya & Cyrene, lesbians and visitors from Rome, trans people, gay wee frees (and wee free gays), Jews and proselytes, straight allies and Cretans and Arabs and everyone but everyone that God ever made.

And God won’t stop with that list either. There is never an end to the inclusive acts of God. That’s the point of Pentecost.

God loves those who find themselves at the heart of the church. God loves those who find themselves on the edge of the church. And God loves atheists most of all.

I don’t know how you see heaven. The one we see today is not of a heaven far off – there are no clouds or angels or heavenly mansions.

It is a realised heaven that I believe in at Pentecost. A heaven where everyone is included in.

For Jerusalem is buzzing with the news that heaven is here – on the streets. And the news is shocking. God walked in our world. God will fulfil our wildest dreams of putting things right. God will set free those who are bound. And it is God in us who prompts us to build the inclusive church that we long for. What news! What chatter! What noise on the streets of Jerusalem. Everyone hears the deeds of God in their own way.

And amidst the hubbub, Peter raises his voice and preaches the first sermon, the proto-sermon if you like, of the new church community. And his sermon is really no different to the proclamation that the church has preached ever since.

It is the inclusive, encircling faith that we proclaim in the pulpits of diverse tabernacles up and down this nation.

  • We preach of a God who can be known.
  • We preach of a God who dreams dreams with us. For God is a dreamer and that God’s will for us is entirely that which is good. A dreaming God.
  • We preach of a God who will join us in liberating those who are imprisoned by conformity or prejudice or narrowness of vision.

This is the God who was proclaimed on the streets of Jerusalem. This is the God whom I proclaim to you today.

At Pentecost, we hear of a God whose arms are open wide and who draws all people within the circle of love. Young men who are visionaries. Young women who prophesy. Old men who dream dreams. Women and men of faith in every time and generation are part of this.

Young gay men who are visionaries and see a better world.

Young lesbians who prophecy of a world where all are treated equally.

And older allies too. Gay elders who have fought the fight in past generations, often in secret and often with courage. Amazed at what we can say in public on this Pentecost day in 2010. And those men and women, straight allies who have heard this same call and know the same God and are part of this same journey into freedom.

And we are drawn closer to one another and closer to the God who makes us, when we proclaim

to the world,

the flesh,

the devil

and even the teetering structures

of church privilege and power

that our inclusive freedom message will be neither stopped nor stifled.

You can declare as many moratoria as you like, there is no moratoria in the kingdom of God against proclaiming the freedom and love that our inclusive God demands we sing and shout and pray about. It is the business of heaven and the hope that compels us.

This is the vision that we have had. This is the truth that we proclaim – that everyone is included in the love of God.

Together here today, here in this place, we proclaim the inclusive love of God that is coming to society, that is coming to the church, that is coming to all of us whether we are ready for it or whether we are not.

I do not know how long the struggle will last to build the kind of church that we long for. But I do know that the day must come when we Christians become more famous for proclaiming inclusive love than for the prejudices of those with the narrowest vision.

And I know that the sparks of that struggle were not kindled here this afternoon. For though the flame may burn in us, the fire was kindled by the Spirit, who came at Pentecost and still blesses us today.

In the name of God, creator, redeemer and holy flame of love. Amen.


  1. Amen indeed.

  2. Thank you for this and sorry I couldn’t be there to hear it. But I shall never listen to that list again without thinking of your words.

  3. Elizaeth says

    This is wonderful. I wish I could have been there, but am so pleased we have the means to share your words in different media. Hurrah for digital languages.

  4. Blair says

    It was even better when heard in person on Sunday afternoon. Thanks Kelvin for gracing us with presence and preaching.

  5. Dave Gilmour says

    Kelvin Thanks so much for this – what a deep spiritual experience to be at this service and a foundation for an inclusive church

  6. Well said, Kelvin. Now for Trinity Sunday – three Persons so much in love we call them One!

  7. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    Read you sermon – wonderful – great passion – it quite moved me – and it made me think. Didn’t agree with your negative comments re the moratorium- of course – I don’t think it was an altogether bad idea.

  8. Thanks for the comments.

    Ross – are you aware that the moratorium that most of the original listeners to that sermon would have been thinking about is a “moratorium” (or ban) on C of S folk speaking or publishing any opinions about sexuality issues? It was put in place a year ago and has met criticism from people with a variety of views, for trying to stifle necessary debate.

  9. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    Oops – pardon my ignorance! No – I didn’t know that – or anything about ‘Affirmation Scotland’. I suppose I was thinking about the ‘gracious restraint’ pleaded by Rowan Williams which some have referred to as a moratorium.


  1. says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kelvin Holdsworth, Simon Barrow. Simon Barrow said: Via @thurible Sermon for Affirmation Scotland – Pentecost 2010 #pisky >> Go, Kelvin! […]

  2. […] old, nor the twisted biblical perversions of scripture often used to back these views up, check out Kelvin’s  recent sermon on Pentecost and inclusivity… Anglican bishops of Nigeria and Uganda…you should […]

Speak Your Mind