Something I really dislike is people who talk from a script. It happens mostly on the phone, customer service people, also in fast food places, but I’ve been in somewhat fancy restaurants and, when you ask what an item on the menu is, they describe the food with words that just have to be written by someone else from somewhere else, they also do it with wine and coffee, and I’ve been to a rather nice chocolate store on the Paris end of Collins Street where, when I asked about one kind on chocolate, they gave me a description that was so precise, even pretentious, and I almost turned against chocolate, though on consideration that seemed too drastic.
This week I read a David Lodge novel from the 1980s, where a man starts playing with a computer program named Eliza. This program is designed to ask the right questions, to lead you on to reflect and refine whatever you’re concerned with. It is a kind of computerised therapist, and the character in the book likes it, keeps coming back to use Eliza to work though the problems and concerns that are bothering him. And the computer responds to certain of his words or phrases with open ended questions:
Hello Rob, how are you?
Well, I am tired lately.
Yes, I’ve been worried about my work.
Why are you worried about your work, Rob?
She seems nice, but it’s just a program, a script, not unlike those telemarketers who call at dinnertime, not unlike a lot of us I guess. Several years ago when I was Senior Chaplain at RMIT University I was working with a student who was dealing with depression. He was talking about what was wrong in his life and I was letting him feel their feelings, listening for key words, asking him to clarify thoughts that seemed unclear, helping him have room to see what options might be on their plate, while watching the clock and wondering about lunch; and then I remembered Eliza. I was getting pretty close to her!
So scripts aren’t always bad. A little later we’ll move through words that have guided people through what just may be the greatest meal on earth, but there’s a difference. This script, this gathering, this shared meal comes to make us more ourselves as well as more connected with one another and with God. And the words we use here link us up with the deepest law and life and love in the universe, line us up too with a community of caring over time and space; the confession and absolution, praise and prayers, creed and canon, moving over the world every Sunday, every day, every moment, like a ronde that rounds us up together in praise to our God, to the great creativity, the deep redemptive action, the intimate breath of inspiring spirit that animates and orders and makes our lives sing. And that’s good!
But there are other sounds out there, and we can get caught in other people’s scripts; trying to sound like what’s popular or what sells or what is on television that week. I worry about kids nowadays because the world is so noisy with other people’s scripts. I remember another student at RMIT, also dealing with depression and desperation, telling me, “I don’t see anything at the Mall or the Web that looks like me, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me” That’s getting caught, that’s suffocating, on the wrong script
And I think about that woman with a gift of divination, the fortune teller in the Acts of the Apostles; I am not sure what the spirit was, but I think her gift of falsehood, of telling them what they want to hear, was not too far away from Eliza and the telemarketers: you say what sells, for you or the people who own you. But that woman happens on an inconvenient truth: she sees the brand new, moving into a neighbourhood near you, very early church, the people of the way of Jesus come her way, and her selling and her servitude suddenly has to break through to witness a deeper wisdom, a more holy community. And she speaks out: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” You don’t see that on web or the mall, at least not in the flesh, and she keeps saying this.
This annoys Good Saint Paul, which is not a difficult thing to do, and he pulls the spirit of soothsaying, the spirit of saying less than the truth out of her, and her world will be different from now on. If the worse thing that happens to her is that she loses her job, she’ll be lucky: it could be a lot tougher for her than that. But it could be a lot better too.
Jesus asks the Father that we all may be one. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me...that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
If you see a message like that going by it gives you pause, makes you wonder about what’s been going out of your mouth, how you connect with your family, friend, neighbour you love, the neighbour you might love less, because if we are one, if God calls us to be one, if God calls us to be words of God’s creative neighbourly love, then maybe we need to give up the smooth words, the smooth tongue, the easy sell, and start looking at what a word of God, a word of God’s desire for connection and compassion in the middle of the world looks like; because if we are called to be one with God, it might look just like us. Or it might look a lot like them.
We’re here to get the words right, as well as to get food for the journey, to keep ourselves in shape for the long haul, to take the chance that God is calling us and the whole neighbourhood together to make something new out of the old place. Simply put, in making the world one God is ready to make love in places where there was only propaganda and salesmanship so far, God is asking us to to come along, be agents of change, take the chance that new words for hope, and wholeness, compassion and connection, might come to pass. That we might be those words as we move to that one love.
That’s why we’re here today, because we’re on the other side of the resurrection and moving to Pentecost as soon as possible; because God wants the world to come together in Love, and we are just the people to do it. To consent as best we can to be in the place where the spirit can come, to be willing to speak words of truth and love and justice, to begin acts of power and compassion, as best we can; to become a place where the spirit of God will rest and - quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins here - “brood new beginnings.”
And we need to start small. Just the prayers and the peace, just the bread and wine, just the journey shared, just the neighbour met, the stranger encountered, the faint and timid encouraged; just meeting the world we live in with forgiveness and patience and “a shy hope of the heart” that God will continue our small beginnings with that deeper love, that greater peace, that call to home, that hope of glory, that we will know that deepest truth, that in fact, by love, we are one.
That’s our script, we revise and move it around to fit our face and place and the people that we meet in the street and all that, but that’s our script as friends, as the beloved, of the Most High God, and that, on the week before the Feast of Pentecost, is where we start.
And now we continue, in the name of Christ. Amen