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Waiting for the Spirit
Revd Sue Lucas, Sunday, June 1st, 2014

What do you get if you put three Anglicans together?  Ten different opinions!  It’s a familiar joke – but it has a grain of truth in it; for we are a broad church, a place where difference has been tolerated, even rejoiced in; and it is in our DNA from the beginning – Richard Hooker, seeking to steer a difficult middle way in the bitter and sometimes life-threatening struggles of the 16th century drew on the Thomist notion of adiaphora – things inessential – but things inessential are not things unimportant, necessarily – amongst the things Hooker identified as inessential – at least to salvation – was the view we take about what happens at the Eucharist – and the way in which the scriptures hold truth for us – far from being unimportant, they were the very things the Roman Catholics on the one hand and the Reformed Protestant Puritans on the other battled over – sometimes literally to death.  But Hooker’s point is a subtle one – none of us has the whole truth, and we cannot limit God’s saving work in Jesus to those who happen to agree with us.

We’ve heard the story of Jesus’ Ascension three times in the last few days – on Thursday, in both the Luke and Acts versions – and they are rather different from one another; and today, we hear the Acts version again, perhaps hearing something new and different in it each time; and, in today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ prayer for his disciples – not before the Ascension, but before the Crucifixion; though we perhaps hear in it a sense of the not-yet church, the church to be;

And all this is very appropriate; for the Church, the witnessing Church – always has different versions of itself; the Church even now, after two millennia, is the community that both is and is not yet, that is itself the sign of the kingdom to come, yet is – well, in the words of the Reformers – semper reformata, always being changed, transformed, remade;

Which can feel a little unsettling – because most of us hate change, and cling on to how things are, or were – as our security blanket; yet, the Holy Spirit flings us into change and new life – which can sometimes feel unsettling, even brutal – yet, as Newman realised, to be holy is to be converted many times – to come closer and closer to being the people and the community God made us to be.

Unsettling, yes – but our Epistle is very clear about how we wait for the coming, converting Spirit; through discipline, discernment and repetition; discipline – in doing what we do – saying our prayers, feeding on Christ in the Sacrament and learning what it means to treat one another as the body of Christ; discernment – in listening; hence, we are told to ‘humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God’ – this is not some Uriah Heepish false humility, but about being down to earth, and above all willing to wait, to listen to hear the still small voice; in discernment; in being willing to sift what is true and good and lovely in ourselves from what is damaging, destructive and deathly – and to see that distinction as being as much inside us as around us; and in repetition – in being willing to keep on keeping on with our prayers and sacraments and small and simple acts of devotion.

Then, in both our Epistle and Gospel – we are promised Christ’s glory; but perhaps we need to reflect a bit more on what that means – it is not cheap grace, or easy glory; nor is it spectacle or splendour – it is, perhaps, claiming our fullness of life and of humanity – of being the best human beings we can be – for the glory of God, as Irenaeus tells us, is the human being fully alive, and to be alive is to be in the presence of God.

That is what we are being transformed into by the searching Spirit. That is the life that our Saviour came to share; and that, through discipline, discernment and repetition, is what we are gradually being formed into; and indeed, it is being changed from glory to glory – to discover the God who is transcendent is nearer to us than our own breath – and shows his glory in the world in very ordinary human beings – in you and me.  Amen.

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