Sermons

Pentecost 2021

 

Without the Holy Spirit,” wrote John Stott, “Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible. There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christ-likeness of character apart from His fruit, and no effective witness without His power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the Church without the Spirit is dead.”

I began today by thinking “Why are we so afraid of the Holy Spirit?” And it seemed to me that two reasons are, probably, first that, from afar anyway, the antics of the more demonstrative kinds of ‘charismatic’ churches is off-putting to those of a more ‘reserved’ nature. A bit like the title of that play, “No sex please, we’re English” - though everyone knows we do it too! It is like an aversion some have to exchanging a sign of peace. I went up to couple once and said “the peace of the Lord be always with you”, and they said “No thank you, we don’t have that”!

Secondly, and paradoxically, I recall a gas advert with a man with a flame on his thumb, and the caption: “Don’t you like to be in control.” And I think this is often a reason why people evade the Holy Spirit, or even talk of the Holy Spirit just in case we lose control; just in case the Holy Spirit draws us out to where we would not, dare not, go, and from whence we can never return.

Many people, I suspect, want a one-way covenant with God and with their religion, which places demands on Him (and it) without it - and especially Him - having any demands at all. This plainly won’t do, and it won’t do for two obvious reasons. First, because in this covenant relationship between God and His people, it is God who is the “party of the first part”. He is the initiator, the mover, the bringer, the inspirer. Could we but see plainly, we would know that it is He that has called us and chosen us to be His people. We need to see that being here is already to have responded to His call.

What we often find is that people neither know the Word of God nor the Promise of God, and so they don’t experience power of God and so arrive in the fullness of the Spirit. We continually overlook, ignore, flee from the Word of God in scripture, and so we don’t receive His promises. And even if we do hear Him say, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God,” we conclude He must be meaning someone else, or some other time. It is not shall, friends it is will. It is His sovereign will to do this.

Jesus talks often of ‘yeast’, leaven. Consider, instead, a virus; (we all understand viruses, don’t we?) it grows unseen within you, and unknown until the symptoms appear. Just so; the Spirit of God works unseen in your lives drawing you on. People may wish to hide or suppress the symptoms - to quench the Spirit, but it’s a bit like a bush fire, you may dampen the flames in some places, or at some times, but they always seem ready to burst out, when least expected.

Secondly: this God who seeks us out, though we play hide-and-seek with Him, do you think He wants to make a fool of you? Surely, we are practised enough at that ourselves. Or do you worry that others will think you fools? The scoffers are always there, they were there on the Day of Pentecost – “these fellows are drunk,” they said. They were not drunk, nor did they seem so to most of the crowd apparently - for, we are told, 3,000 souls were harvested that day. The day of Pentecost in the Jewish tradition, 50 days after Passover, was also called “the Feast of Harvest”. This pouring out of the Spirit to revive God’s chosen people can be seen as the blessing of harvest. For a long time now the seeds of the harvest have been growing secretly in you and me.

God wills us to be filled with His Holy Spirit, not so that we look like silly asses, and bray, but that we might experience the fruits of that fullness. He wants us to have the good things of life - indeed to have life. And Jesus says: “I have come that you may have life in all its fullness.

St Paul tells us that the Spirit that has been given to us is a spirit of ‘self-control’. Christ-likeness - do we want to be like Him? And yet He entered His ministry ‘full of the Holy Spirit’. Do we “follow his saints”, do we celebrate them? Here they are, at Pentecost and across the ages “filled with the Holy Spirit”.

There really is no need to fear.


 

Fr. Brian




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