God, who as at this time
taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgement in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
(Collect for Whitsunday)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (16: 13)
Our collect and readings morning are all about knowledge:
Let us investigate what is this knowledge – first, the Spirit of Truth, what is this Holy Spirit?
We hear that it comes as wind and fire
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
The Wind – the breath – the spirit of the Lord – is the spirit of creation
Remember Genesis Chapter 1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
In Greek it is pneuma – a violent force like a pneumatic drill
In Latin it is spiritus – the whisper which is the breath of life – respiration and the last breath when we die we expire
But in Hebrew it is ruach – a word which encapsulates all the wonder of the creator of this vast and remarkable universe – ‘ruach’
So if the wind is the creative power of God what of the fire?
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
The fire is the fire of the burning bush of Moses direct, personal encounter with God – face to face
‘Divided tongues’ because it is a personal experience
In Greek it is diamerizomenai – the holy spirit is shared out – apportioned – there is something for everyone – personal to them
and unlike Moses this fire rests on them – there is personal contact
So the writer of acts makes it clear that this is the power of God – a direct and personal encounter with God
And what did Jesus say about the holy spirit?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus promises that he will send you the paraclete – variously translated as the comforter – the advocate
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (Jn 14:16)
Something which will support them in the way that Jesus has supported them when he was alive
And then when it does come it comes as the breath of Christ himself
Jn 20:21. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
and what happens to the disciples?
They suddenly start speaking other languages
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
The spirit has moved from fire to breath in language
Each in his or her own language
They had discovered how to tell the story of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ
They now had the wit to do this – that is why this Sunday is called Whitsunday – not because of white but because of the spirit of truth that imparts knowledge – ‘wit’
What might that mean for us?
I believe that the message of Pentecost is that each of us can know God directly and personally through the breath of Christ, through his message – his word – through his spirit.
That God speaks to us each in our own language
Especially when we gather together as the body of Christ as the apostles did on that feast of Pentecost – the Jewish festival of the first fruits
Not only that but also we can speak about God directly and personally and validly based on our own personal experience.
That we should speak to people in their own language of God
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify
You also are to testify!
Those of us who heard the Most Reverend Michael B Curry at Harry and Megan’s wedding yesterday will know what it means to testify in your own way, using your own divided tongue of fire. He spoke in his own way for a total of 13 minutes and 43 seconds
But what he said could be said much more succinctly
God is love
God is the transforming power of love
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them ((1 John 4:16)
Pentecost was the Festival of the First fruits
Remember, Bishop Jo told us that we would bear fruit if we were attached to the vine – Jesus said
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is the first fruit of that love – the birth of the church
Our diocese is calling in us to Transform – to bear fruit
Ourselves – our churches: ‘Transforming Church, Transforming lives.’
The only way we will do that is by abiding in God’s love
By living lives dedicated to the transforming power of love
So let us receive the Holy Spirit anew this Pentecost
That we so know God’s love that we are transformed by it
That we have the Courage to speak our faith, in our language – what it means to us to know God – to be loved by God to love other people: That would be fruit indeed!
Philip Larkin wrote a poem based on the weddings that traditionally happen on this ‘Whitsunday’, the Whitsun Weddings. The poem tells how a railway carriage on its way to London fills up at each stop with newly married couples on their way to their honeymoons, as it nears its destination he says
What it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power that being changed can give. (Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin)
So let ourselves be changed – transformed that we too may have ‘all the power that being changed can give’
Shaken, stirred, roused, enthused, inspired – full of wit – like those first apostles – who went from being frightened, confused, ignorant, leaderless and directionless to found the church whose birth we celebrate today.
But above all else – as we meet with God in the sharing out of bread and wine – we pray for a deeper encounter and a better knowledge of the God of love through Jesus Christ who is the spirit of all truth.
That he abide in us and we abide in him
Sermon delivered by Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, on the Feast of Whitsun, 20th May, 2018
Sermon delivered by Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s He