Sunday, May 23, 2010

What I said this morning....Pentecost sermon

What does Pentecost mean for you?

Would you prefer Whitsun?

Did you know that today is one of the Big Three celebrations of the Christian year?

I guess it might seem rather a Cinderella festival, lacking the obviousl appeal of Christmas (you can't go wrong with baby, star and angels) or even Easter (which at least balances tricky theology with the delights of chocolate over-kill)

But PENTECOST...the celebration of the Spirit...the launching of the church as a missionary body...

what does that mean for us?

If we're honest, we might admit that it's not always easy to claim this feast's potential for ourselves.

After all, we're Anglicans....not generally noted for exuberant outpourings of any kind....We tend to prefer our spirits watered down, or at least tempered by a goodly measure of decency and order!

So there's something about the events we remember today that may almost frighten us. After all, nobody hearing the account from Acts can imagine that decency and order were much to the fore.God's Spirit loose in the world...a prospect almost as alarming as it is joyful.

But what does it mean to us?

What gift would you ask from the Holy Spirit today?

You don't have to be the Archbishop of Canterbury to discern that the church in the west is, overall, in a pretty poor state.
Too often it seems that we lack confidence, that our preferred vision is to be found only in the rear-view mirror as we fix our gaze on rose tinted images of "how things used to be'.

We need some radical transformation if we're to live out our calling to be signposts to, & agents of the kingdom.

We've lost heart...we are both fearful & nostalgic.

We need help.

Much like the disciples, in fact...A group huddled together, waiting without knowing why...A group bereft, unhappy in the present, uncertain of the future.

It was to this frightened gathering that the Spirit came, and in her coming brought fresh hope, fresh vision, and gifts beyond anyone's imaginings.

That sounds like a welcome solution for a fearful church, - and yet......

can we, dare we, really embrace change?

Yesterday I was with a group of Christians from across Gloucestershire and beyond, exploring ways in which we might connect with that majority of our friends and neighbours who will never cross the thresholds of our churches.

At the beginning of the day we heard the story of Pentecost from Acts....and I noticed again how that huge crowd from all round the Mediterranean heard the good news of Jesus In their own languages.....

I remembered that God will go to any and every length to communicate with us....and reflected on the different languages He has used to communicate with me....the language of music, of poetry, of friendship, of childbirth...

I wonder how he first spoke to you.

I guarantee that it will have been in a way that you could understand, even if you didn't instantly recognise its significance.

Perhaps, like me, once God had awoken you to his presence in your life, you found the church a natural and comfortable place to continue the conversation.

Your language and that of the church had just enough over-lap to enable on-going connection.

But look around you today and you'll realise this isn't so for the majority.

Many of you have shared with me your disappointment that your families have apparently turned away from the faith that you taught them in childhood.

Again and again, as I take funerals or talk to couples who are planning their wedding, I hear the same story. These are people who are interested in God, wanting to take their spiritual journey seriously, but finding the customs and structures of the traditional church completely unhelpful, - so remote from their worlds that we might as well be speaking a foreign tongue. There is no official language for God, for God the Word comes down and speaks ours, whatever it may be. Learning another’s language is a real challenge, but the church includes liberals and evangelicals, thinkers and feelers, those passionate about justice, and those passionate about conversion, - and we need to communicate, hear and be heard even within our immediate church family. We’re not called to create a monochrome church, full of people like us but to be as creative in translating our faith as God is in calling us to relationship with him. Beyond the church, there are countless souls who aren't yet aware that the conversation could include them, that God has good news which concerns them too.

So it is that Christians are walking out through the doors of their churches to form new communities, the fresh expressions of church that connect with different aspects of our culture in many and various ways. Be it Messy Church, Cafe church, Surfers church, the Holy Spirit is still impelling Christians to set out from their safe spaces, the rooms where they were huddled comfortably together with those of like mind, and gifting them to engage with those who need to get the message in ways that they can understand.

Of course, such mission is not without cost. Change never is.Those who set out in the power of the Spirit will leave gaps behind them in their home communities and may find themselves in thoroughly unexpected situations, in places where they are out of their comfort zone AND out of their depths.

The American priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor speculates

“"If I had been in that room on the first Pentecost day, would I have prayed, 'Oh God, if you are about to pour out your Spirit and this is what it looks like, would you please skip me?' and I think that many of us, reflecting in the pre Pentecost world, would have shared her anxiety.

But that's the point.

When we look at the Christian task, our calling, from the outside, it all looks much too scary.

When we realise that with the help of the Spirit, we'll find ourselves engaging in ways that we'd never have imagined, we may wish we could run and hide

But when we remember that it is this same Spirit who will not only lead us into all truth, but gift us to communicate the truth of God's love wherever we may find ourselves, we can perhaps begin to relax, to open clenched fists, to allow the words to come from our startled mouths.

So let's spend a few moments in prayer, reflecting on the reality of the church we're part of, thanking God for the ways we have met him in this place and these people.


When this service began we took time to pray “Send us the Spirit”

Soon, as we do every week, we will approach the altar and receive God's self in the precious gifts of bread and wine.
Before we leave here we will see the candles we bear lit from the great Easter fire – a reminder that WE are now apostles, WE are now sent in the power of the Spirit to bear good news to the world.

May it be so



Anonymous said...

This is a breathtaking challenge you lay down before us.

Thank you.

I think!

Tonight I shall pray for the Spirit with a little more clarity about what I am asking for than before.

Song in my Heart said...

I was very well-behaved and didn't refer to it as "Arson Day" once despite all the references to setting the church on fire.

The thing that got through to me was lovingkindness... I've written about that before:

"This is the stuff that changes lives: a kind word here, a bit of quiet understanding there, the hands that caught me as I stumbled, kept me from hitting the ground and helped me keep my balance until I found my feet again. I have encountered people who somehow bring light, and I have wondered what makes them shine so brightly."

Jan said...

I wish I'd heard this today at church, so I appreciate it now. We had a substitute priest, who was rather mundane but had a nice smile.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I once had a long discussion with a bishop, when I was unlucky enough (!) to be serving on a PCC, about why our pub theology evenings and similar programmes were, in fact, expressions of church and evangelism. Apparently they weren't formal enough to be real evangelism. Evangelism, apparently, needs to involve tracts and altar calls and Bible bashing of one's fellow bus passengers. Let's just say I disagreed.

I think the Spirit is doing amazing things for and with people on the fringes and edges of the Church. If the rest of us can't bring ourselves to follow Her into those fringes, we'll be left behind. I want to be there, personally!