John 20.19-23, 1 Corinthians 12.3-13 & Acts 2.1-21
When horrendous acts are perpetrated such as those last night in London Bridge and Borough not everyone is in the mood to hear of the Holy Spirit or anything much to be honest. We are saddened, sickened, angry, even the morning sunshine doesn’t lift the feeling that a dark cloud hangs over us.
Deep down as mature Christians we know that nothing has changed in our relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet we feel for all affected, particularly those who have lost people they love, for them everything has changed and life can never be as good again.
I’m sure many of us haven’t slept much, praying through the night for all who would oppose this evil, from the police who had to make the decision to kill the attackers, medics trying to save lives and many brave and kind people who did all they could to help.
If your thoughts drift away to the victims in the next few minutes I understand and I’m sure God willingly receives them.
We heard in our Acts reading how the Holy Spirit came as wind and fire to the disciples also bringing new powers of speech but there isn’t much time to dwell upon this as the main focus moves quickly to the work they are to do and suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a busy crowd hearing of their amazement at the clarity with which they could hear God’s message.
Perhaps that’s a helpful starting point as we consider the facets of the Holy Spirit, one element is its ability to cut through confusion, pomposity and religious complexity.
Peter is able to do this as he takes the words of the prophet Joel but instead of interpreting them as horrendous condemnation he is there for the people to show that God is offering salvation and hope for the future.
If we are open to allowing the Spirit to come alongside us the result is that we will become more alive, more aware of what we can do to play our part in God’s kingdom. Just as the Spirit shows all who would have Jesus crucified as a sinner that we are the sinners we start to see and understand things anew.
As we do God’s work and run into barriers and challenges then we will be pleased to have a comforter in the way that a reliable friend or loved one can support us through difficult times and an advocate in the way of someone seeking the best outcome for us.
Perhaps the spirit weaves her way through our lives in more ways than we care to think, perhaps it’s not all such a remote concept when our minds are open.
But what about all those languages? Those much cleverer than me know that the peoples referred to starting with the Parthians to the east in Iran, Pontus to the north in Turkey, Cyrene to the west in Libya and the Egyptians and Arabs to the south either side of the Red Sea together with all the other references radiate out in all directions from Jerusalem.
We hear that the God of Pentecost can be understood by people in their own language, he is multilingual to the point that there is no one he struggles to communicate with, a reminder to us that he loves his entire creation and is not constrained by our man made borders. This is a really challenging thought when we consider how much difference those borders make to people’s life chances. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained by race, borders, sects or religions she is everywhere.
One aspect of the Spirit I read described her as ‘the windswept protest of a borderless God, standing against humanity’s misguided preference for the empty language of the powerful.’ This is as true today as it was when it was applied to those who wanted to confine God within the walls of their temples, coming alongside the powerful and apparently respectable.
As you are probably aware, many here at Seal have taken part in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s prayer initiative ‘Thy Kingdom come’. If you look on the dedicated website you can see parts of the globe lit up in locations where people have taken the time to pledge their prayer. The names of places on the map have changed a bit since the day of Pentecost but many lights still shine brightly across the Middle East from those taking part, even if the number of pledges is greater across Britain, Europe and North America.
It’s a beautiful thought that so many have been united through prayer , in so many languages, each seeking a perfect translation of God’s message through the Spirit. We pray that we and all humanity might know the love of Jesus and that we may understand that the way we live our lives themselves are prayer.
In church many have written prayers and created focal points for prayer and I’m certain that God can even decipher the thoughts behind the writing which is incomprehensible to the human eye! Even more he discerns our deepest thoughts and emotions this morning.
In our prayers we are helped by the spirit, we often pray in the power of the spirit and in union with Christ. We may find Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans helpful this morning as we struggle to articulate our feelings, he wrote ‘we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.’ In plain English the Spirit helps us to pray when words simply are not enough, going far deeper, opening us up to God.
Certain disciplines and exercises may help our daily prayer, many find God in nature, in stillness, meditation, study and imagination. Involuntary prayer occurs when we receive news be it good or bad.
If we’re honest we sometimes find prayer hard and may often only think of it in formal terms but being open to the Spirit is prayer in itself. Devoting work and the proceeds of all types work to God are prayer. Stepping outside our comfort zone to do stuff that pleases God is prayer.
Using words can often feel difficult, clumsy, inadequate, ask anyone who ever leads prayers publicly, doing so can make the person feel exposed, what if people think my prayers are stupid, offensive, too short, too long, I hope no one imagines that just because I’m prepared to have a go that I think I’m Holy or devout or more able to pray than they are. This can only ever be one small part of each person’s prayer life and it would be a mistake to think ‘that’s me done for another week’.
Then we have to try and avoid the selfish prayers, I remember the story of a man returning home to his village after a day at work and he sees smoke billowing over the hill, ‘O Lord please don’t let it be my house that is on fire’ he instinctively prays.
Sometimes when different generations use evolving language it can be difficult to keep up, how many of us would have thought that if something is ‘absolutely sick’ that the person means ‘it’s great.’ Hey God the trees look absolutely sick at the moment, we don’t need to worry whether they look fantastic or are diseased, God will know what we mean.
We sometimes hear a techy person using terms we can’t relate to, we wonder are they speaking English and it’s clear that even in our common language there’s plenty of problems understanding each other.
It can be the same when some people hear about generosity, trust, compassion, sacrifice and God’s unconditional love. It’s no good them being told about or reading of this if they never experience it. The experience is the point of crystal clear translation, which is where we come in, where we can make the Holy Spirit a reality for others. What a great revelation it must be to those who come to know what these things really mean for the first time, finally someone is speaking their language.
In considering our written prayers over the last few days amongst many others they seek compassion for the bereaved, life with God for the dead, mending of broken relationships, peace, healing and support for physical and mental health challenges, continued joy from the support of community, family and friends. To prayers for those suffering from the Manchester attacks we add all affected in London last night.
As we look around our congregation and beyond to the wider community it is evident that the Spirit is alive in the varied gifts we have among us and the way that people employ them. We collectively possess Spiritual Gifts that can work towards a great deal of what people have prayed for, our prayers can be answered at least in part by the way we serve each other and we may discover that much of what we pray for can be found very close to home.
May our response to evil be inspiration to live lives that make God’s love a reality.
4th June 2017