One of the blessings in my life are my beautiful children. Three boys…all so very different from each other. Unique individuals that inspire, motivate and encourage me in many ways.
In the same way that they are all so very different- their births were also so very different. Many of you here this morning will have given birth or perhaps been with your partner when they have given birth ...and my goodness what an experience that is?!
It’s something that changes you forever….not just the birth of course but the actual experience of being there when a new life is brought into the world.
I heard a joke whilst preparing for this sermon and I thought I’d share it with you (you are required to laugh).
Four men are in the hospital waiting room because their wives are having babies. A nurse goes up to the first man and says, “Congratulations! You’re the father of twins.
“That’s odd,” answers the man. “I work for the Newhaven Twins brewery!”
A nurse says to the second guy, “Congratulations! You’re the father of triplets!”
“That’s weird,” answers the second man. “I work for the Three the mobile phone company!”
A nurse tells the third man, “Congratulations! You’re the father of quadruplets!”
“That’s strange,” he answers. “I work for the Four Seasons hotel!”
The remaining father swoons and faints…..he wakes up and starts groaning and banging his head against the wall. “What’s wrong?” the others ask.
“I work for 7 Up!”
So we find ourselves at the Feast of Pentecost. An amazing and wonderful feast that is the birth of the church - and like all births it is wonderful and life changing.
Let’s have a quick recap on the journey leading up to this point.
At Easter Jesus had been arrested and murdered on the cross…but he had risen again -overcoming evil, death and taking away our sins. He then spent 40 days with His disciples and then was finally taken up to heaven - the Ascension.
If you remember Jesus told His disciples not to be afraid, that He would be leaving them but they would not be left alone - the Holy Spirit, ‘the helper’, ‘the comforter’ would be sent.
The Holy Spirit came 10 days after Jesus ascended into heaven. In Christ’s ascension the Holy Spirit was sent and became fully present in the world in a new and fuller way.
Last week I spent some time explaining the transcendental nature of God…how God is immutable….perfect….unchanging….outside of Time and space…..that is a core teaching in scripture and by the church.
Let’s be clear though our ability to fully know and understand God is limited.
Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand him exhaustively. The Bible is also clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend his whole being.
In Roman’s for example St Paul writes ‘Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!’?
From what we can glimpse from scripture and our own experience is that God is paradox….for example
He the creator of all time and space and we are called to be in awe and to worship the divine…...but God is also our friend, close, intimate, loving, caring and nurturing. We are invited to call him daddy (Abba) and friend.
In the same way, God is transcendent - out of time and space…..God is also with us…. He also chooses to be intimately intertwined, fully present and sustaining all creation. It’s another paradox. In theological terms God is transcendent and immanent - God is beyond us and simultaneously intimately within and part of us.
As Christians we are asked to hold and manage this complexity… these paradoxes …..whilst complex……I think are great news and we get a greater glimpse of the mighty wonder of God.
So it’s the birthday of the Church….the disciples have been frozen in fear and hiding away…..but with the coming of the Holy Spirit everything changes. They are transformed …able to speak and preach with confidence….speaking in different tongues or languages……bringing 3000 people in one day to the church.
Just wow. This is Pentecost….it’s that ancient and important feast of the first fruits of the harvest……now why has the Holy Spirit been sent? To gather in the harvest of course.
We have been given the Holy Spirit to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, to set the captives free, heal those who are suffering and to help the poor. That’s why the Spirit is with us to bring about the Kingdom of God. A kingdom of justice and healing and wholeness.
This understanding forms the foundation of the commitments made by Queen Elizabeth 70 years ago. The Queen vowed and has led a life of faith and service - inspired and supported by the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know about you but I really feel we don’t think about the Holy Spirit enough…which is curious because the Spirit is this precious gift for us….and yet all too often feels like a footnote to our worship and prayer lives.
Francis Chan, the evangelical preacher wrote a million selling book entitled Forgotten God - reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit.
What a title….how true.
The Eastern and Pentecostal churches have been critical of the western church about this for some time and I think they are right.
The Spirit is in many ways the most available of the Trinity …we are directly in contact with the Spirit…...we have been given this amazing gift and we have failed to unwrap it.
Francis Chan talks about being a young child and thinking how amazing it would be to get a letter from God guiding and helping him in every aspect of his life….but as he grew this all changed and he wanted less and less he to hear from God in this detailed way…. he rather liked his life and suspected this letter would be asking, in some detail, for change.
He’s says it’s a bit like this conversation he had with a friend of his about his favourite food - sausages. He loves them…..every sort…..His friend after hearing this said he would never ever eat sausages as he used to work in a slaughterhouse….and he used to bring in a wheelbarrow full of…........and suddenly Francis said NO MORE!!!!….Put his hands over his ears and said LALALA very loudly. You see he didn’t want the truth to get in the way of enjoying himself.
I wonder how his might be true for me, for you…for the church….are we failing to listen to the Holy Spirit, to unwrap the gifts available to us - to share the good news and help gather the harvest - because the Truth shared with us by the Spirit will probably require change….there will be challenges ….the letting go of things we currently hold dear?
Unlike everyone else in the bible and the history of the church we can all to often believe we have been called to a comfortable life….that this will be followed by an even more comfortable life in heaven…......and I’m just going to keep on believing that sausages have nothing to do with the odds and ends in a wheelbarrow at the slaughterhouse.
Every year it can get more difficult to surrender to the Holy Spirit as every year the stakes get higher. But God has called us to so much more.
And where is that call? Well the bible…Francis Chang, Pope Francis and one of my all time heroes Rev Cecil Williams and American Methodist minister - all say the call is yes to share the Good News AND as part of this it’s also a call to help those in need.
The Spirit remember is love and so the love of God is always with those in need.
Cecil says God is always found at the edge with those who are lost and those who are suffering most. True love and true church therefore stays on the edge of life, where the real moans and groans are.
He believes recovery and the journey of faith starts not with life but with death and suffering and it starts in this way because the Spirit is with those who most suffer. God starts where we do.
So I’ll leave with a set of questions….
Are we listening to the Holy Spirit?
Do we really want to hear what the Spirit has to say?
To change, to let go, to become and to sacrifice?
How are we being called to bring in the harvest, to share the Good News, to help the poor and heal those who suffer?
I’ll end with a quote from Francis Chan. He says ‘I want to live so that I am truly submitted to the Spirit's leading on a daily basis. Christ said its better for us that the Spirit came and I want to live like that is true. I don't want to keep crawling when I have the ability to fly.”