I am just back from our clergy conference, in which we were spiritually refreshed by the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Emma Ineson of Trinity, Bristol, and the teaching of Dr. Joe Mangina of Wycliffe College, Toronto. The former brings a background in the study of linguistics to her study, and the latter developed the idea of “performance” to his reading of the Gospel of John. What does such a term say to us?
The main idea comes from the word of the philosophy of language, and in particular a scholar named Austin, who spoke of performative speech acts. By this he meant speech that changes something in the world. The vicar says “I now pronounce…,” and the couple are married. The umpire says “strike three,” and the batter returns sullen to the dugout.
Mangina’s reflections offered answers to the question: what does the very act of reading do, not only in how we think, but in who we are? He suggested that the theme of sacrifice, of the Lamb of God and the Son opening a way to the Father, runs throughout John. As we hear of Him as sacrifice, we are made into his Temple. Likewise, he spoke of the theme of the Word throughout the book from the very first verse. The words of Jesus are themselves Word, Scripture, his utterance itself calling his friend Lazarus from the grave. As we hear of Him as word, we become the hearer he made his creature to be in the beginning.
Something similar happens when we truly hear preaching: we become the place where the Spirit does the same work described in the Gospel story. So Ineson spoke of John’s address to his flock, living as they were between love and truth, trying to see themselves as called to hospitality and sometimes capable of its opposite. And in hearing her sermon we realize ourselves to be in the very same space as that described by John himself. We are grateful for both, who opened our eyes to the divinely performative reality found in every election and every sermon in your own parish Sunday by Sunday.