Short sermon from a pewsheet reflection I wrote a few years ago Rev Robyn’s Reflection:
Pentecost Are you very much aware of God’s Spirit – the holy Spirit – in your life? Do you have a grasp on the Spirit as being one of the Persons of the triune God, the holy Trinity of Father , Son and Holy Spirit? And as being part of your life? Christian doctrine –from the Scriptures - tells us that the Spirit is not an impersonal energy or force, but Godself, and that we receive the Spirit at our baptisms. It’s true, too, that the Spirit is active even before this, drawing us (or our parents!) towards a time of baptism. And it’s sadly true, too, that we can so bury the Spirit in our lives under accumulated garbage of distractions, hurt, unforgiveness, abuse, unhelpful distortions of God, that we become deaf and blind to the Spirit’s voice and movements to set us free.
The Spirit abides in us personally and amongst us as the Church; and it is the Spirit who opens our eyes and understanding so that we begin to really know God in Christ. The Spirit may bless us with particular spiritual gifts, and is given to us so that we may bear fruit.
The same Spirit of God that inspired the tongues of those gathered in Jerusalem is looking to inspire a rebirth within us: and not necessarily with a mighty rush. The Spirit is ever present, constantly at work, moving to shape us in God’s image and to work Christ’s ways of love and grace in the world; not giving up even when we dam the flow, deny the gifts and damage the Spirit’s fruit with life’s distractions and sin.
Twelfth century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, described the Holy Spirit as 'the Greening Power of God': as plants are greened by water, sunlight, and soil, the human soul is 'greened' by the Holy Spirit's presence in one's life. Because of the Holy Spirit the human soul can 'flower and bear good fruit.' New Testament Theologian, Bishop Tom Wright: "Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet." This week, be alert to where and how the Spirit is active in your life and the life of the church or others around you. If all this sounds like a foreign language, ask God to help you understand.
Pentecost Sunday, 2020, Sermon
Many years ago, as a newly believing Christian, in my mid twenties, I used to love going to large Pentecostal services. There would be a definite buzz of expectation and excitement –people genuinely excited to be Christians. They knew what God had done and was doing in their lives; they knew the power of being liberated to know God, to be in relationship with him; they knew the deep joy that bubbled up and flowed over, not just in worship gatherings, but in their everyday lives.
The music would start up – guitars, drums, keyboards, wind instruments, and the place would erupt in fast and loud songs of praise, accompanied by waves of arms and moving to the beat. Then the mood would change, and people would be gathered up into songs of worship –softer, with a clear sense of longing and adoration. Invariably, someone would start singing in the Spirit –in the language of heavenly tongues, as we hear St Paul describe this. And in keeping with the good order that, again, St Paul admonishes, the spirit-song would be followed by melodic words of grace – the interpretation of the message that had just been sung in tongues. Sometimes people would gently fold up, falling down as the power of the Spirit took them- slain in the Spirit. And that was just the start of the service.
For such crowds of people, the events that Luke recorded (Act 2:1-21) as taking place on that first Pentecost would have been easily believable. Of course that’s what happens with the power of the Holy Spirit, they’d say. That’s what being filled with the Spirit is about, they’d say.
Since then, I’ve dug further into the Scriptures, and life has shown me that there’s far more about the Spirit than extraordinary, personal, supernatural experiences. Exciting it may well be to get the buzz and fuzz of a Spirit-led mighty wind and flame; but to believe that’s the be-all and end-all of Christian life is short changing God’s Spirit, and is underestimating what the transformation is, that the Spirit can bring into our lives.
There’s one main thing I want you to grasp today: God’s Spirit is alive, real and as much at work in you and the church and the world as he/she was back then at Pentecost –but don’t go thinking it’s got to be all whiz-bang.
Let’s look at today’s Scriptures, to get an angle on this.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians proclaims the everywhere-ness of spiritual gifts. All are gifted for the common good. No one need think small or see their lives as God-forsaken. God is here in the humblest as well as the greatest, giving gifts and graces for the well-being of the community and the world. The church is challenged to be “a laboratory of spiritual formation and vocation finding.” In discovering our gifts and passions, and working so that the gifts function like a well-tuned body, we can respond to the needs around us.
The Psalmist recognises that it is God’s breath that creates and sustains all creation and that the only appropriate response is to offer his life in praise of God.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathes on his first followers and they receive the Holy Spirit, as simple as that. Personal, intimate, no frills. What’s more, the disciples have been huddling in fear and confusion after Jesus’ death, without expectation of this transforming breath of God. And with that, Jesus commissions his disciples to work for forgiveness and reconciliation.
The Acts reading is truly whiz-bang – an unmistakable demonstration of how powerful God’s Spirit can be. It’s the other end of the spectrum from John’s portrayal of Jesus breathing the Spirit on his disciples. The semblance of wind and fire come out of nowhere, and enliven everyone whom they touch. But, this need not exclude our quiet selves or seemingly restrained, “low temperature” congregations, or lead us to see the Spirit as always having to manifest in ways that defy rationality or the laws of nature. Remember, the Spirit is known by her fruits and the primary fruits are love – sacrificial love at that - joy, reconciliation, new life, the pursuit of justice and peace, generosity, gentleness, self control. Remember too, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”
When God’s Spirit fills us we find ourselves being “sent” to serve others. Remember Jesus’ words – several times- in John’s Gospel – just as the Father sent me, so I send you. You will do the works that I do, even more. And Matthew records Jesus’ last words – his great commission as “GO – and make disciples of all nations”. We find ourselves reaching out in compassion and service to those who are in need -marginalised, excluded, isolated. Just as the disciples came out into the streets from their upper room, we reach out beyond the walls of our church buildings to proclaim and live the message of God’s reign, as Christ did. That’s the Spirit’s work in us.
Think about ourselves for a moment: How do we experience the Spirit personally, and as a church? By the Spirit’s fruit, yes. But also in our everyday lives. The promptings, the awareness of God, the longing to be closer to God. Life choices that honour God. Healing of body, mind and spirit. The ways in which people express their love of God – care for each other, the care taken of this place; the prayer offered in and for this place. All this is Pentecost. All this is gift and fruit and blessing to be nurtured, developed and shared.
I sometimes feel quite dis-spirited. We – the committed; including your priests past and present – try different things to draw people back to church; back to Christianity; to find ways of moving people with no idea of Christianity towards faith in Christ. And we try to kindle, even ignite, often dampened sparks of the Spirit’s flame in the lives of those who do faithfully come to church, yet don’t seem to be excited by what God has given them. And it can be quite stressful as we try to balance, or integrate, both reaching out in service and prophetic witness, and nurturing within the congregation a vibrant spiritual life. Some of what we try might work for a while.
And there are times when, rather than seeing the ways the Spirit is at work, I’ll see low numbers, failing initiatives, people not seeming to want to attend to their spiritual growth. And more often than I want to admit, in my own life, the very busy-ness of Doing Things –necessary church things – takes precedence over being in God’s presence. I forget, or overlook, the fact that the Spirit is at work, and that I need to tune my heart and eyes in different ways to see. I imagine that you, too, have periods of time like that.
I said earlier that I wanted you to grasp one main message: God’s Spirit is alive, real and as much at work in you and the world as he/she was back then at Pentecost –but isn’t necessarily accompanied by great pizzazz.
Where and how do you sense the Spirit at work in our congregation, or in your own life? In what ways are you being equipped and called by the Spirit to serve church, community, world?
Breathe the Spirit in, let the Spirit fill the church: quietly or with shouts of praise, and move you to know God’s presence with you, to see God at work in and around you, to use what you have and who you are to build Christ’s church and draw others into a new and transformed life.
God’s Spirit is here. The possibilities are limitless.