Sermon for Evensong & Benediction Pentecost Sunday 9 June 2019
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
2 Corinthians 3:6 The Spirit gives life.
This morning I baptised a little baby girl at All Saints, Notting Hill, in their dramatic font of flowing water. Baptism is many things, but it is a welcome into the world of the Holy Spirit, world where the Spirit breathes the life of God on all of us, so that we can live with divine life, God’s life.
At Pentecost we discover who God is. And what we can do. The apostles unbolt the doors of the room where they are hiding – they burst out of that confined space – they leave behind that fearful restricted view of a God who has abandoned them – and they go out into the world ablaze with a new fire and with courage.
That’s when their mature discipleship begins. This is where our mature discipleship begins. No more narrowness and fear; we stop bolting doors, stop discriminating, and become as compassionate as God is compassionate. Everyone can understand that compassion, the mighty works of God; everyone hears it in his or her own language.
So who is God then? It’s as if it took fifty days to get over the trauma of the crucifixion, and to realise that the story they’d lived through – the story we’ve been through – Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension – is the story of God with us, the story of God always with us.
We get stuck with a part time God, a Him and us God, a God who has no time for us. That changes today. The part time God retires. Our full time God takes over, and moves in with us. God’s love has flooded our hearts through the Holy Spirit he has given us. [Romans 5.1-5]. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit always appears in ordinary human life. It’s not some otherworldly energy up in heaven. The Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit is the divine initiative, God making things happen, the divine life touching the deepest common ground of human beings. The Holy Spirit is God’s imagination. God’s imagination, given to us, asking what if, and why not?
Given to us, but not possessed by us. Breathed upon us. Breath and air. We breathe in air, but we do not possess the air. So with the Spirit of God. It is given to all, but possessed by none. We never control the Spirit. It blows where it wills. Many organisations today claim the Holy Spirit supports their cause alone, so if you are opposing me or think differently to me, you are opposing the Holy Spirit. That’s not Pentecost. That’s spiritual abuse.
The Holy Spirit is the spirit of peace. In St John’s account, Jesus says, peace be with you, and he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. It’s the peace which follows a victory, the peace that comes from knowing God has found me, and loves me, and will love me whatever happens. That’s not the peace of slumber, settling down to a quiet life. It is the peace of God’s constant presence.
The Holy Spirit is the divine agent within every person, uniting body, mind and spirit. This is about unity within – the undivided heart. In the Bible it is the undivided heart which finds God. We know that’s true. When we are double-minded, to use the word from James’s epistle, God’s nowhere. When we glorify God with an undivided heart, we no longer see divine life from the outside – wondering whether it’s true, whether we believe all of it – we’re in it, we are participating in the divine life, not standing back from it.
That’s what happened at Pentecost. The entire house is filled with the Holy Spirit, there’s a recklessness and lack of fear, which is interpreted as intoxication. The apostles were joyfully alive. We are joyfully alive, when we know truth, integrity and wholeness. Ancient writers called this oneness. This marks the end of self-centred projects. The Holy Spirit is the source of our actions at every level.
The fire of the Holy Spirit will light your way, but it also burns because the Holy Spirit is also the spirit of truth, the truth of real life. The truth is that sometimes God doesn’t come and help us; things go wrong, tragedy strikes, a challenge is too much for us, darkness settles and we ask God for help, and not a lot happens. What then? If God isn’t helping us, or is hidden from us, then we must help God. Jesus has given us His spirit. We can go quietly into the presence of the love which he has put into our hearts. There we can cultivate that presence. It’s like keeping a flame alive, the flame that comes upon us today and remains with us.