Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost 2012 at both churches

Some years ago, a book was published entitled “Living the Trinity”
Its basic premise was that, though a healthy church should reflect the life of each person of the Trinity, a number of churches tended to emphasise one or another at the expense of the third...

Think about it, for a moment.

There are churches whose main emphasis is on the holiness of God.
They may well be churches where traditional worship is very important, where awe and wonder are central to the experience of encountering God, where decency, order and history are much valued.
Perhaps they are laying their main stress on God the Father – the creator robed in majesty.

Others may seem to reflect more the servant ministry of Christ. They have a focus on the world outside the church doors, and may be active in community work while striving to welcome all comers to worship and to change them from church-goers into disciples, people learning what it means to live like Jesus today.

Then there are those churches whose main emphasis is the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.
They may sit light to tradition, being ready to adapt and change in response to the Spirit's leading...
They may not use standard liturgies at all – and they may be very comfortable with the charismatic gifts that the disciples first received on the day of Pentecost, but which are still available to work transformation on the church today.

Of course these sketches are generalisations – never the whole story...and remember, a healthy church needs to reflect the fullness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – though I'm not sure we always manage this.

I can't help but wonder how well balanced we are at St M's/All Saints.
I wonder, particularly on this feast of the Holy Spirit, how easy we find it to leave room for the Spirit's work...for we are, on the whole, quite comfortable with the way things are...and the Holy Spirit is so often the spirit of challenge and change.

Of course, the feast of Pentecost is very much about communication.
The Spirit descends on the disciples, transforming them in an instant from terrified fugitives huddled together for mutual support, to apostles ready to take on the world for the sake of the Kingdom. And as the Spirit descends, that uneducated riff raff from Galilee is suddenly a college of eloquent, compelling preachers....MULTI LINGUAL preachers at that.
So the Spirit does not just challenge – but empowers and equips as well.
Suddenly the apostles find themselves inspired AND enabled to share good news they had hardly dared to believe for themselves.
They are given the gifts they need in order to share with people quite unlike themselves, people they would not normally understand, or be understood by...and brimming over with the joy of their encounter with God at work, they set out to do just that.

God the Holy Spirit will do anything to get the message across, speak any language...of head, heart or mind, in order to reach us.

It's true enough here in this benefice.
Think of All Saints....the building
People are drawn here from across the world by its reputation for beauty and craftmanship.
It exists to speak of a beauty beyond the skill of the greatest artist, a beauty beyond our most eloquent words.
And for 150 years as God's people have gathered within the walls, they have encountered their Father...and, we pray, gone away changed by that encounter, to serve Him in the world.

It's what the Church is about.

Encounter, transformation and loving service.

The language of our building speaks loud and clear to many...
Perhaps it was the way in which the Holy Spirit first spoke to you....
Or perhaps the Spirit spoke through music, or family, friendship, or the glories of larksong on the Common on a May morning.
Remember, the great Communicator will stop at nothing to get the message of Love across – for this is the most important message than anyone will ever hear...the message that changes lives forever.

However the Spirit spoke, whether you know it or not, you are here because you heard and responded.
Responded – yes, once, when the Spirit first spoke to you...but listen... she is still speaking today.

Her words may not always be welcome for this is the Spirit of challenge and change...
The living Spirit of God, that is as real and present in the world today as ever she was at Pentecost.

I wonder what language she is using to reach you now, and how you might best open yourself to hear.
I suspect that often we forget to factor God's Spirit into our equations, our life plans, our tidy little solutions to the problem of being human.
We say, week on week, that “we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life” but behave as if that Spirit has been absent or silent since the first Pentecost...

Or we pay lip service to the Spirit's presence, but continue to arrange our lives in such a way that there is no flexibility, no room to respond to that message of life-giving transformation that once gripped the disciples in the Upper Room. We come to church, sing the hymns and say our prayers, but expect almost nothing – but this is the Spirit of the LIVING GOD, who is always a God of surprises.

Let me tell you a story – a personal one, from only a few weeks ago, though its roots lie way back in my teens.
Back in those days I was, it seemed, the one member of the school's CU who did NOT receive any perceptible gifts of the Spirit at a period when to speak in tongues seemed to be the only acceptable criterion by which faith was judged.
At the time, after a long and anxious conversation with God on the bus home from school I accepted that for me "Blessed are those who have not seen but yet believe" was to be the motto and continued on my journey of faith with only a faint twinge of envy.
It meant that through the next 3 decades I tended to avoid churches where “that sort of thing went on”, because, quite honestly, it would have hurt too much if nothing noticeable had happened to me
That, of course, didn't mean that I didn't have some very powerful experiences of God's presence at various points along the way....but I used different language to describe them. I tended to talk more of my relationship with God, and less about the work of the Holy Spirit - though every year at Pentecost I would find myself praying with all that was in me for something amazing to happen, NOW, this INSTANT, to transform me and my churches.
It didn't seem as if anything much changed - but I've been praying for long enough on so many different topics that I've gradually accepted that prayer really isn't a slot machine.
Nonetheless, it did hurt a bit.
Maybe God didn't love me QUITE as much as he loved some of those others?
In my heart of hearts I knew that was nonsense, but nonetheless....
So I plugged on, working as hard as I possibly could to be a good priest, loving my people and praying for them as best I could, but recognising that there wasn't going to be a miraculous turn-around in the life of my parishes if it depended on me.
Then, as part of my professional development programme, I found myself at a conference for charismatic catholic Anglicans.
Not somewhere I would ever have expected to be..but still and all, I was there, and the talk was all of the work of the Holy Spirit – with was plenty of evidence to suggest that this was more than just talk.
So, almost despite myself, I took a deep breath and decided to
run the risk that once again I might not be "chosen" to be blessed?
And very gently, God acted.
I, the non charismatic, who had been too fearful to lose myself in God, found myself experiencing not the gift of tongues but, still more startling, the amazing reality of trusting God completely, of letting go of everything – and finding myself literally bowled over...and awash with wonder, love and praise.

So listen, PLEASE listen...for the Spirit is still the churches and to you.

Listen, and remember, this IS the Spirit who gives life, the Spirit who is the agent of God's transformation, the Spirit who can help us to negotiate change and to grow in ways that we would never have imagined.
All we have to do is to open ourselves to Her let go of our fears and our prejudices and join in the creative loving dance of the Trinity, a dance that will continue til everything that has breath is drawn in to share that Love in which we live and move and have our being.

1 comment:

Chris said...

How wonderful, K - thank you for sharing this. And thank you, too for the reminder that

"God the Holy Spirit will do anything to get the message across, speak any language...of head, heart or mind, in order to reach us."

Come, Holy Spirit!