Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost 2020
31st May 2020
Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2.4.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit marks the Church’s real birthday, though the Church was really begun as the disciples were called at Galilee. Even so, our dramatic first reading from The Acts of the Apostles describes a signal moment among those who had followed Christ. For the moment of Pentecost was devastating. The Holy Spirit had come with power and it had rested upon them. It was the power which declared God to be real in the lives of men and women everywhere. It brought with the outpouring and establishment of gifts. which, channelled through God’s Holy Spirit, lay at the heart of all that might be purposed and fulfilled in His Name. Ella Fitzgerald : The gift of her voice came from ‘nowhere’ and she used her concerts to make the quiet claim for the coming together of racial and other opposites in the one harmonious music…
This Pentecost moment had emerged out of their long Eastertide. It had been an Eastertide of waiting and of wondering and of bewilderment. They were like us under a kind of lockdown. They knew Christ Jesus but they were remained bewildered and unsure. Something might emerge out of all this apparent mess, but what? What is most certain about the loose band of followers was this: Their friendship with Christ and the experience of his death and resurrection had been somehow life changing. But what to do with it? More than ‘what to do with it’ lay the invitation to open the self to become a spiritual channel through which the Holy Spirit might be received… For this Holy Spirit was the original spirit of God, which had brooded over the face of the waters before the Creation which had now be given to the faithful.
It is most important to the writer of the Acts of the Apostles that this is a Holy Spirit which is not wil o’ the wisp and elusive. While many people would attest to appreciating the ‘spiritual’ and describe themselves as such, It is The Holy Spirit (Capital H, Capital S) which takes basic form in the life of the emerging Christian community as a gift from God in Jesus Christ. It is particular and it which has three qualities. But the foundational insight is the one in which the Holy Spirit is a gift of God in the first place and not to be possessed by anyone as though it were a power object.
Firstly the Holy Spirit brings unity. It calls us to think differently about the human family in the breakdown of tribal, national and language barriers. The idea of the proliferation of languages with the one singular understanding burns in our minds as the possibilities that lie in the acknowledgement of different worlds of understanding and differing modes of expression. We are continually called to take on new realities and embrace and allow them to transform us, for it is when we meet and greet and accept the new and the hitherto unlearned parts of our experience that we truly grow. This is going to be important as we emerge out of coronavirus lock down. The ‘easing’ spoken of will not be easy or without its difficulties and stresses. My own sister Caroline has gone back to work as a nurse on a busy ward and the environment has entirely changed and the stresses and strains of the so called ‘new normal’ are all too evident. The days and months to come will have both consoling and disconsoling elements in equal measure and we will continue to be challenged.
Secondly, The Holy Spirit is the one which calls the Christian Church to look beyond itself. It searches us inwardly and calls us outwardly. It calls us to see God in the eyes of the stranger, the visitor, the refugee, the homeless one, the marginalized, the gay person, the drunk, the depressed and the fatalistic and even the personal enemy. God is often called ‘The Holy Other’. In this there may come new life, in and out of the ordinary, for the Spirit renews us as it draws out our real, deeper selves, and into the place of illumination and of hope which is God’s desire for us all.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit lives among us in the life of God’s Church, which is the power of God and the influence of God. This can only be so where its people are a people at prayer. “God is Spirit, and those who worship God worship in spirit and in truth” John 4.24 The relationship with God in the life of the Spirit lies for the release of the whole person into a new freedom. In the small act of returning to our church building this morning, we are preparing for the greater opening to come. Along the way we are discovering, by this new way of meeting a more intimate and touching evocation of own basic humanity. We pray that our online services may contribute to a lasting spiritual legacy. The thrilling summons of God’s Holy Spirit lies ever before us in this poem from William Blake:
Unless the eye catch fire
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire
The God will not be known.
From 'Pentecost' by William Blake.
God is first of all things, and the Church is that place where God is known to dwell but only where that Church’s witness is God seeking, and God infused. The message of Pentecost is that the Spirit of God may enter places where doors had formerly been shut and minds closed, and where the windows of our seeing and knowing have grown opaque. In the breaking down of barriers, in the love of the stranger and in the spiritual and healing power and influence of God, The Holy Spirit is forever the living flame of God’s love for us. It has come to bring all things together in the One Love; the one thing needful, the living fire burning away the dross in the One Living God.
A Poem for Pentecost
Gracious Spirit enter your home
anoint our senses one by one;
restore our sight when inly blind
we tread dark corridors of the mind,
restore our taste for things divine
most surely found in bread and wine,
restore our sharing in these things
of holiness, may angel wings
hover above, around us still
defeating every thought of ill.
May the scent of beauty’s flowers
bring joy into the passing hours;
we look ahead to love’s embrace
to greet each other, face to face
and hear the voices that we love
no longer heard at once remove.
Comfort we pray those in pain
of mourning and bring them hope again.
In all these things be our sure guide,
your healing presence at our side.