Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sermon for Pentecost and Pride

Pentecost and Pride – Coventry Cathedral 2019
Acts 2, John 14
When the day of Pentecost had come the people of Coventry Cathedral were all gathered together in one place and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire space where they were gathered and……
How did you feel as you heard those words?
What would that sort of dramatic outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit actually mean for us here?
Do you honestly believe it could happen?
Every year as we approach Pentecost, I’m conscious that I’m being pulled in two directions.
On the one hand, I feel safe within the familiarity of  Anglican liturgy. I come expecting to find God (in this community) amid the blend of Word and Sacrament, of beautiful music and well chosen words and I am seldom disappointed. I’m Anglican by choice as well as by chance, and I do value worship which is conducted “decently and in order”, no matter what those of you who’ve seen my last-minute dash in to Morning Prayer might assume…so imagining the sort of radical transformation that the Holy Spirit might bring to us is, on one level, more than a little alarming.
But on the other, I have experienced the joy of worship transformed and lives brimming over with radical love – the gift that I find in charismatic worship, particularl in the community that gathers each year for the On Fire conference. I know for myself how it can be when you are so filled with the Spirit that you know for a fact that there’s nothing in creation that can’t be changed by God’s power.
And surely, looking at the diverse challenges that face both church and society today not one Christian believer could fail to pray for the transforming power that enabled a group of fearful uneducated men to take on the world for Christ?
So, while I value what we have I know that we so often settle for less than our primary calling – to BE the church – a sign of God's kingdom, a powerful agent of transformation in a broken world...And I know that we will continue to fail, without a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit – in our lives, in our city, at this time.
So, I want radical change – but I’d like to keep some things the same. You see my dilemma – and I suspect that this is simply par for the course. We all know that encounters with God wont leave us untouched – and sometimes the changes and challenges ahead seem too huge to contemplate.
The good news is - I rather suspect the disciples felt the same. When the Acts reading begins, they are gathered together, waiting. Though Luke doesn’t say so, it’s quite possible that they are actually gathered together in the upper room, their unofficial Jerusalem HQ. This is holy ground for them, the place where they’d celebrated the Passover with Jesus, and hidden when the Lord was arrested and crucified. It was the place they had huddled in the fear and grief of Holy Saturday and the place where they heard the first rumours of resurrection. There they had encountered the risen one who came among them despite barred doors, there they had regrouped when he went from them, there they had watched and prayed for his promise to be fulfilled.  Holy ground indeed,the place where they felt themselves to be a community, still united despite the departure of their Lord.
Yes, they were a community in waiting, uncertain about their next step, but a community gathered in faith and hope nonetheless.
Does that sound like is? I really hope it does!
Of course, they were also a community under threat.
Outside the house, the streets were thronged with people once again – just as they had been at Passover…some sort of festival going on...different voices, strange sounds, hints of unfamiliar ways of living right there on their doorstep. Perhaps the disciples defined themselves as if set against the crowd outside. They were the ones with the special knowledge and experience of God, though the crowds were the ones with the courage and freedom to move about the city.
We don't really know, but we DO know that with the coming of the Spirit, everything changed.
Hiding no longer, they went gladly out from their place of safety, out to speak to the crowds, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for a message that just had to be delivered. They were caught up in the excited turmoil, which was so pervasive that it seemed to onlookers that this was a scene of drunken revelry.
Rather alarming, I think?
But alarming or not, it worked. This wasn’t simply a particularly raucous worship service from which everyone went home scratching their heads, thankful to get back to normal.
Lives were changed.
People heard the Gospel and responded to it. They recognised the authentic presence of God in those men and were stopped in their tracks.
For the disciples, the coming of the Spirit meant that they had to let go of the securities of their holy place and go out into the streets, among the crowds
The Spirit made that venture possible…and in doing so, opened up Salvation to the whole world.
Wonderful, inspirational....but perhaps a bit too far away from our expectations here this morning.
But, you know, Pentecost was not a once only event...The Spirit has been active throughout history, moving over the face of the waters at creation, transforming Ezekiel's dry bones, descending like a dove upon Jesus at his baptism.
And the Holy Spirit has not vanished from the world, not even from the Church!
At that first Pentecost, God reached out to communicate directly with everyone.
And God still does, though not always, of course, in the mighty rushing wind, the multilingual gifts and high excitement of the day of Pentecost.

We have to do the same.
Filled with God's life-breath, Inspired as God's church, this is our calling.
Knowing that God so loved not church alone but the whole world, we are to reach out to her in all her pain and brokenness and speak God's words of healing and forgiveness.
Knowing that our language may not be adequate, we are to listen to God and allow the Holy Spirit to translate so that we may more fully communicate God's love.
We speak so many different languages – of mind and heart and spirit – culture and community – yet all must hear the Gospel.
There is no official language for God rather God comes down and speaks our language, whatever it may be.
And God’s language is always, incontravertably, the language of love.
Sometimes the Church fails to make that as clear as she should. Sometimes all that outsiders can hear is our in-fighting...or self-protection...or judgementalism. Please hear me when I say that I do not believe that THIS is the message God has left us to share with the world.
We are treading on dangerous ground if what we do is at odds with what we aspire to preach.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments…the commandment to love God with our whole being – and the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Love, love, LOVE
Love unconditionally, love without judging, love without fear...What have you got to lose?
Love so that God's one supreme message of love is translated for everyone you meet to understand.
Today, the Church's birthday, we should not celebrate a monochrome church, full of people just like us. God’s love is broader, wider, deeper than we can ever imagine so  let us rejoice in the diversity of God’s people,  within and beyond our doors, and  reach out to share good news with them. Here at Coventry Cathedral this is easy for us – as our values include “Hospitality of people and ideas” and our CCN priorities, “learning to live with difference to celebrate diversity” - but that mission is not limited to us alone. It’s the calling of the whole Church – to make God’s love in Christ known to everyone we meet.
Our good news is rooted and grounded, wholly and eternally, in the love of God, from which nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us. So, let us make that love our language today, tomorrow and always
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created,   And You shall renew the face of the earth.

1 comment:

UKViewer said...

Thank you. I love the imagery of your words, that can inspire hope in the coldest, empty heart.

I preached at Pentecost at our parish church and couldn't cover the ground that you have here, but I might have just about echoed the message of your final lines.