Sermon for Sunday 5 June 2022
Pentecost Sunday & Platinum Jubilee Sunday
John 14.12. Jesus says: “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do…”
Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit. 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, and become as compassionate as God is compassionate. Everyone can understand God’s love, God’s compassion 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 tend to get stuck with a part time God. 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. Breathe on us, breath of God. 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 like to control the Holy Spirit, 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.
How do we go out into our world with that apostolic fervour of Pentecost, described in Acts? At the Offertory we shall sing Jerusalem. Jerusalem is more than a last night at the Proms patriotic anthem, belted out on sofas across the land. It was, and is, a radical, even a seditious call by William Blake, to speak out against the dominant culture, originally those dark satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution, but in any age, including ours, a call to wake from slumber, to realise that if we love Queen and Country, then the dominant culture of negativity, historical vandalism, revenge on the past, and national shame must be challenged. Jerusalem encourages us to step beyond our privatised and often selfish lives, to be faithful to a vision that a free and Holy City can be built in our green and pleasant land, a vision not of a narrow political triumph, but a vision apparent to us from a higher point of perception, that of the Holy Spirit and the glories of the Western tradition; it doesn’t matter where you are now on the spectrum of religious belief, here is our bow of burning gold, pride in who we are and pride in what we do. As Bishop Rowan Williams said from this pulpit in Holy Week, God does not change the world from the outside, but from the inside. How we think, the “mental fight”, how we love, how we believe, how we see our country, how we hope, does matter. For our Queen, this vision took the form of a promise made, a promise kept. She said in her first televised Christmas message in 1957: I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.
At the Coronation, at the moment of the Anointing, the archbishop intoned VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS, Come Creator Spirit. The Anointing concludes, “Be thy Head anointed with holy Oil:
as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed:
And as Solomon was anointed king
by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet,
so be thou anointed, blessed, and consecrated Queen
over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God
hath given thee to rule and govern”
Our Jubilee celebrations are a national hymn of gratitude for the work of the Holy Spirit in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
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 sleep, settling down to a quiet life. It is the peace of God’s constant presence, the discovery of a divine love which will not let us down. The peace Jesus gives us is an energy; it’s the energy of his own harmony, harmony within himself, with the Father, and with all Creation. That is the harmony, the energy, the peace, which is the constant background to the 70 years of the Queen’s reign.
The fire of the Holy Spirit will light our way, as it has that of Her Majesty, but it also burns because the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth, the truth of real life. The truth is that sometimes God doesn’t come and help us out; things go wrong, tragedy strikes, a challenge is too much for us, darkness settles, 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 that love which he has put into our hearts. We can cultivate that godly quietness. We keep a flame alive, the flame that comes upon us today and rests with us. And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills?This is a Christian country, where we make plain God’s love for all, and for all that is, and that is always a matter of joyful remembrance and gratitude. That is what this Communion service, the Mass is about – remembrance of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives today and in our national life, made real for us through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Fr. Julian Browning