Archive for June, 2011
PENTECOST AT WELLING
A few years ago, just before a preachers first lecture at a RC Seminary, one of the students stood up and said, “Before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal.” The room grew silent. The Preacher looked around for the Dean of the seminary! He was no where to be found.
The student continued with his quiz right in front of everybody. The Preacher was taken aback, and so he said, “Do you mean do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?” He said, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” He said, “Are you asking me if I am charismatic?” the student said, “I am asking you if you are Pentecostal.” He then said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” He said, “I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” The Preacher said, “I don’t know what your question is.” The student said, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal.” He left.
Is the church supposed to use the word Pentecost only as a noun or can it be used as an adjective? And so I ask you: Are you Pentecostal?
In spite of the fact that the church doesn’t know what the adjective means, the church insists that the word remain in our vocabulary as an adjective. The church is unwilling for the word simply to be a noun, to represent a date, a place, an event in the history of the church, refuses for it to be simply a memory, an item, something back there somewhere. The church insists that the word is an adjective; it describes the church. The word, then, is “Pentecostal.”
If the church is alive in the world it is Pentecostal. And you thought you were Anglicans!
You Are in the Spirit
The spirit is all around and has been since creation.
It’s like the story of the shark and the whale. Both were swimming in the sea when the shark swam up to the whale to engage in conversation. As they swam along, the shark said to the whale, “You are so much older than I, and wiser too. Could you tell me where the ocean is?” The whale responded, “The ocean is what you are in now.” The shark would not believe it. “Come on, tell me where the ocean is so I may find it!” The whale repeated, “The ocean is here, now; you are in it.” Unbelieving, the shark swam away searching for the ocean.
The moral of the story, I believe, is this: don’t spend too much time looking for God because the Spirit of God is here in the now of your life, dwelling within you, within me, within this community. And that is a truth which is so important for the world in which we live which is so often devoid of God but where people are hungry none the less for something beyond.
Now for me this is all about relationship, which is my main theme this evening. the Bible is relationship, pentecost is relationship. We rare constantly reminded in Holy Scripture that our lives are not simply handed to us in isolation but in relation to others. Scripture speaks of Love, it speaks of Peace, it speaks of reconciliation, of wholeness and healing, it speaks of family life and community. It speaks of how we should relate to others in every conceivable way, the ten commandments, the new commandment, the great commission, the importance of our families, our friends, how to cope with our enemies. But above all else, scripture teaches us how God wants us to relate to him too. God the father, Son and Holy Spirit is about relationship. The triune nature of God is an illustration as to how God wishes us to live our lives. Those early followers of Christ came together on the day of that first Pentecost experience. They weren’t a bunch of individuals but groups of people, all looking for that experience in their lives that took them beyond, an experience of God.
I’ve no idea whether you give much thought to the purpose of your life, I find myself doing this quite regularly see days with all that I experience in my life and I continually come back to the basic notion that our lives is about relationship. Borne out by scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It is all about relationship, our relationship with God and relationship with one another. Infact, our relationship with one another is often all about our relationship with God.
God wants us all to be in relationship with others. Our scripture stories tonight are all about people living, working and surviving together in relationship with one another. It enables us to live, especially when it can be difficult. Let’s look at the gospel.
After the death of Jesus, his followers were afraid. They were afraid for their own safety, weary I guess. Their leader had been executed – what if the Romans decided to come after them too? The fear was probably not logical. The authorities had got rid of the ringleader and quelled a potential rebellion at the sensitive time of the Passover. There was no need for them to bother themselves about a handful of deluded Galileans. But fear is not logical, and the horror of Jesus’ execution lingered in the minds of those who had witnessed it.
Perhaps they were fearful too about the future. They had left homes, trades and families. It was by no means certain they could go back. Would they become homeless beggars? Even when there were rumours about Jesus being alive again, even when some of them had seen him for themselves, they were still afraid. This was uncharted territory. Was the adventure over or not? If it was to continue, would they have to take responsibility for it without Jesus? How could they speak like he did, heal, teach and inspire? There was no going back, and, it seemed, no going forward. Best to huddle behind locked doors and indulge their fear. Best to make fear of the authorities their reason for inaction.
It takes a miracle to jolt them out of their fear and get them on their feet and into the world again. It takes a fresh breeze straight from the mouth of God. It takes bright flames, burning with God’s glory and holiness. The book of Acts tells how the Spirit has them rushing out into the street, to defy ridicule and to preach the Good News of Jesus. They have new powers of communication. They lay claim to the ancient prophecies. They are fearless.
John’s Gospel tells it slightly differently. Here it is the risen Jesus who comes, his breath that energises, a breath from beyond the grave. Jesus talks of peace, and where there is peace there can be no fear. With his breath he gives them peace. But this is not a peace that encourages quiet inaction. Jesus’ breath also gives them power – power to forgive, or not to forgive. It is an awesome responsibility, offering God’s forgiveness and grace to others, but it is one Jesus’ disciples are now equipped for. They no longer have only their own feeble, fearful selves to draw on. They have in them a breath of life that has proved stronger than death. Full of energy, at peace with themselves and one another, unafraid, they are ready to be sent out. The Church has begun its mission. It has been formed. They are all in relationship with one another and if you want to read what happened next then please do read on in the book of Acts. It is all about relationship with one another. How to live in community, how to live alongside one another. From feeling insecure they now felt confidence.
I personally believe that that confidence is gained through relationship, our relationship with God and the Holy Spirit, and our relationship with one another.
I wish to offer you two illustrations they are both rather strange stories in order to illustrate what I mean but let me explain:
Michael Morpurgo is a particularly brilliant children’s author. He is a fascinating man who is passionate about the well-being of children. He, wi his wife also run a farm which allows city children to come and stay, a kind of holiday giving them insight in to rural life.
One day a new coach party of children arrived. The teacher, when the children were getting off the coach, pointed out one young lad and said to Michael Morpurgo, “Don’t pick on that boy there, he doesn’t speak and hasn’t done for years. You’ll embarrass him”. Michael understood and left him alone. That night, after Michael had offered the children one of his brilliant bedtime stories, Michael went to the stables to lock up but he noticed thtat the was a light left on and so he went in to discover why. As he walked in he found the speechless boy talking to a horse. He was talking freely and the horse was clearly acknowledging what was being said. There was a relationship between the boy and the horse, the boy trusted the horse, he felt secure and felt able to express himself. It is a beautiful story which inspired Michael Morpurgo to write “War Horse”. But it is clearly a story about relationship. A relationship which enabled and empowered.
Clearly this was a relationship with a horse, but the point I seek to make is that the boy found a security which sadly he could find no where else in his life. He could speak to the horse because he trusted it, he felt confident, safe and secure. A real relationship. Our relationships should include that same sense of security and even love for one another particularly as we share in our relationship with God.
Let’s go back to our scripture and recall the life of Christ. How it was bound up in relationships right to the very end when he was thought to be a dangerous person to relate to. And Remember that even Christ did not die on his own at an altar between two candles, he died on a cross between two thieves.
The world can seem a fearful place. It is easy to let ourselves give in to fear. We might be afraid of illness or accident, of terrorist attack or floods. Some of us are more prone than others to think that disaster lies ahead. It is easy too for churches to be fearful – fearful of change, of division, of falling attendances, too few clergy and decaying buildings. The bible ia the answer to our fears. Pentecost is the answer to our fears. On the day of your celebrations, your Anniversary, Pentecost reminds us of the birth of the church, a day of forming relationships which today we call the church. Today Jesus breathes peace and power on his followers. Today the wind and the fire settle on us. Today, together, we cannot be afraid. And if just a little of the Pentecost breeze stays with us, we can fulfil our task – to offer forgiveness, to tell the Good News, to see our visions and dream our dreams, to be God’s people in God’s world. And to be in relationship with him.