Saturday, 14 May 2016

Come Holy Spirit

Wide expanse of sea, Pembrokeshire coast.

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

There have been many attempts to describe the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, and all are pretty much doomed to failure.
The Holy Spirit…
The power of God?
The presence of God?
The dove hovering over the waters of creation and settling on Jesus after his baptism?
How would you describe the Holy Spirit?

All attempts at describing the Holy Spirit are inadequate, because how on earth do you describe God?
But of course, it’s Pentecost Sunday, so that’s what we’re going to try and do.
So with the caveat that trying to describe the Holy Spirit is like a fish being asked to describe the sea it swims in, here are two insights that might help.

We’ll consider Being and Being Sent.

   1. Being
Describing the Holy Spirit is a bit like asking a fish to describe the sea it swims in.
Everything that makes that fish a fish is due to the sea.
The fish could not be a fish without the sea.
The sea surrounds, supports, feeds and carries the fish from life’s first gill movement, to the end.
The idea that God is all encompassing/all around us was something that even pre-dated Christ.
Ironically, it was one of the Greek poets, writing 100s of years before Christ, who wrote about God ‘in you we live and move and have our being’, a quotation which St Paul alluded to in his invitation to the Athenians to come and know the living God personally (Acts 17:28).

In God, we live, move and exist.
Three Greek words that imply different states of life, that is, everything that makes us human.
In God, we have our physical being, we have our emotional being (our passions and drivers) and we have our essential being.
We live, move and are, in God.
You could argue that when people find it hard to imagine God, or feel his presence, or even believe in his existence, it’s not because he’s too far away, but because he is too close, that we cannot focus properly.
Apparently cats cannot focus on things less than 25cm away from their faces, which could explain why my cat looks at me with slight incomprehension every time she comes up close for a cuddle.
She knows there’s something good there, but I’m so near, she can’t see me.

All week we’ve been focusing on the Lord’s Prayer in our daily prayer times in St Mary’s.
There’s a phrase in the Lord’s Prayer that takes on a different meaning if we think about the concept of God’s nearness.
Consider the phrase ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’
‘…who art in heaven’
Where do you think God is?
If we take the Lord’s Prayer at face value, God is in heaven.
‘Our Father, who art in heaven’.
But what does this suggest?
That can suggest that God is up there and we are down here, and that there’s a great divide in between.
A divide that’s both physical and spiritual.
He’s up there, we’re down here and ne’er the twain shall meet.
But there’s a helpful insight, which I recall was quite revolutionary for me (and I still remember where I was when I was pondering this after reading a book about the Lord’s Prayer, and suddenly felt my mind shifting gear on this).
‘Heaven’ and ‘sky’ are basically the same word in Greek.
The sky isn’t ‘up there’; it’s as much all around, because it’s the air that I breathe.
Because sky and atmosphere are the same word too.
Our Father in the atmosphere…
It doesn’t sound as poetic but it contains a mind-boggling thought – God is so near, he’s in the air I breathe…
‘In him we live, and move and have our being’.
We have to be careful not to reduce God to the sky, of course; that would be pantheism; but if we take the immediacy of God seriously, it might help us to imagine that we are living and moving and breathing in God.

2. Being Sent.
Our Father in the atmosphere...
Even though we might really like the idea that in God we live and move and have our being, Pentecost tells us that’s not enough.
I say this because although it’s a great spiritual insight, it doesn’t necessarily mark out Christianity as distinctive.
The Greek poets knew God was all around.
‘In God we live and move and have our being’ is a good starting point, but what comes next?
Christianity is not a ‘sit around and feel good’ religion.
It’s a sending out movement.
Pentecost is our template for Christianity today.
The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father.
Really and truly, the disciples had no idea what they were asking for when Philip said ‘Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied’.
You can never be satisfied with God.
You can be fed, and feel satisfied for a while, but being fed will make you more hungry.
The more you feed on God, the hungrier you get.
And the ones God uses are the hungry ones.
The ones who are not hungering for more, are static.
Christianity is distinctive because it is not a static religion.
Because the Trinity is dynamic.
Philip could have no idea that the Holy Spirit was coming, except that Jesus does try to tell them:
‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate’.

Now I’m trespassing on next week’s theme (Trinity Sunday) but it’s difficult not to, because our God is a dynamic God.
God is not a static being who sits in the sky and directs the church from miles away, like a celestial traffic warden.
He’s active in the world, and he’s stirring us up by his Spirit.
And he sends us out like the disciples were sent.
That’s why Jesus said that his followers would do even greater things than he did, because the scope of the Spirit is universal - to work through every believer, so if you like, every Christian is a sign of Christ, going around in their daily lives pointing people to God.
With the Spirit within us, we can accomplish more than even Jesus was able to, when there was just him.

When the Spirit fell at Pentecost, the first thing that happened was proclamation – Peter and the others had tongues of fire on their heads and tongues of fire in their mouths.
Because how else can others be saved, if they don’t hear the message in their own language?
Christianity is a particular religion with a universal scope.
So our final thought is about sending.
We have our being in God, yes: but we are sent.

Being sent will mean everything.
Being sent will take all your energies, all your focus, all your imagination.

Being sent will lead to the opening up of musty and un-renovated rooms in the house that is your life, that you might prefer to keep firmly shut.

Being sent will mean letting your own positions be challenged by some very unlikely ‘others’ who are coming into the kingdom without any of the finesse that us Anglicans like to see in church on Sundays.

Being sent might mean taking on a public role, where your faith will no longer be just local, but be scrutinised more thoroughly than feels comfortable.

Rapeseed, Berkshire downs, from the train.
Being sent will probably, for most of us, not mean going very far – certainly not to the ends of the earth - perhaps to the person next door, or the person on the bus, or the person you work with, or the person whom you know so well, you’ve forgotten they don’t yet know the way of salvation.

Being sent might mean facing up to something difficult you don’t want to face, or enduring long past the strength you think you have to endure.

Whatever being sent means for you, all you need to do today, on Pentecost Sunday, is to say yes.


Come, Holy Spirit.