Sermons from St
Fr John Reed, Pentecost Sunday, 20th
I spent a few days on a reading week near Whitehaven. It is a beautiful part of the country, with places to walk as you reflect on the words of wisdom you have pored over. It is called the green coast; wherever you look it doesn’t take long to see a windmill or even a wind farm - Those amazing white aeroplane propellers that are now providing a significant part of our nations energy. And the great thing is there is plenty of wind, so the turbines keep turning and the energy keeps flowing.
Down the road is Sellafield another source of energy, relying on nuclear power. The museum at Sellafield is free very informative and well worth a visit, from it you will learn that nuclear reactors are a long term source of energy, having a life of at least 25 years. But then you have to get rid of radioactive waste, radioactive buildings and radio active machinery, and start again. Every time you split the atom energy is produced. The wind turbines will keep turning till the machinery needs replacing. But the wind will never stop blowing.
On the day of Pentecost the disciples experienced the Spirit. Jesus speaking in his last teaching before his trial and crucifixion in Johns Gospel predicted it would come to them. To a small group of anxious men hiding in fear of their lives The Spirit came as wind and tongues of fire. The same wind or breath of God that inspired the Prophets in the Old Testament, the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, the same Spirit he proclaimed in the synagogue as the being upon him, giving sight to the blind, making the lame walk and bringing good news to the poor.
There is a story in Genesis where the people of Babel’s arrogance and pride made them want to build a tower that would reach up to the very heavens so they could be like God. Gods answer to their folly was to sow confusion in their language so they could not communicate with each other and the tower was not finished. On the day of Pentecost this disorder was reversed the Gospel was understood by many from many different races and countries, and people of many races and countries understood each other.
That is the good news of Pentecost, a rapidly growing Church, and people empowered to do things they never thought was possible. Perhaps we ought to sing happy birthday to the church today. There is a lot to celebrate. But the comparison between the new fledgling church with lots of keen people who literally gave up everything to join a movement, with an old institution with lots of history and a big superstructure to maintain, is a like comparing wind turbines with old nuclear reactors.
The Spirit is often depicted as a dove, I noticed yesterday in the recital we have two very owl like floral displays either side of the Sanctuary, in nice hot colours.
Canon Trevor Dennis writes theological stories; when he describes the Holy Spirit, the same one who hovered over the waters of chaos before the world was created in Genesis. He talks of a multi-coloured rainbow bird, that keeps changing colour as it gracefully flies above the water, dipping up and down with the skill of a swallow.
This graceful bird was captured by a hunter and presented to a church which put it in a cage and hung it high in the sanctuary. Week by week its colour faded and became a dull brown. Every year the church had a big celebration and paraded the bird through the streets and celebrated it with special hymns.
A child saw the plight of the bird hung up high like a trophy, celebrated annually with great pomp and ceremony and sadly ignored for the rest of the year. And so……… the child sneaked into the church when no one was there, climbed along the chain holding the cage, reached out and opened the cage door. The bird flew for the first time in many years and as it flew across the surface of the earth the colours returned in their full glory.
The Spirit of God in its true form is free. We claim its authority in synods, committees and numerous services. But do we listen to what it really has to say in this day and age. As Archbishop William Temple said; When we pray “Come Holy Ghost our hearts inspire” we had better know what we are about. He will not carry us to easy triumphs and gratifying successes.
Some years ago I was on course at Whalley Abbey, the retreat house is what is left of a big Medieval monastery. The reforms of Henry the VIII put paid to the magnificent cathedral-sized church, it is now a ruin. As I wandered around looking at the history, I couldn’t help but think; this as a building is gone, but we are still here. The church has seen change again and again but the Spirit of God still inspires people today across the world to meet together to worship, to give money and time for Gods work, to pray, to do acts of service - all in the name of Jesus Christ.
And when the excitement of the day of Pentecost does not seem to be part of your day to day reality of being a Christian. Remember Pauls words to that tiny Church in Rome that was an underground organisation not large enough to be important. Persecuted by those in authority, fearing it to be undermining the very values of Roman society. The church in Rome felt weak and ineffective to change Roman Society. Paul likens the experience to Child birth reminding them that in their very weakness, God's Spirit is at work. Taking their groans and utterances and praying for them. After the labour comes the joy of a child and when the Spirit works within us who knows.
Our first holiday to Rome involved a tour of one of the catacombs. An elderly Catholic Priest took us around, English was not his first language so the commentary at times was a bit limited. But he kept repeating words I have not forgotten. A revolution from under the ground, a revolution of love: a revolution from under the ground, a revolution of love. And we all know, what was a persecuted minority in Rome, that continued to love and to pray and follow Jesus could not be contained by the might of an empire.