St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Filled with the Holy Spirit

Filled with the Holy Spir­it

Ser­mon preached at Enmore, Pente­cost Sunday, 4th June 2017

Read­ings: Acts 2.1–11; 1 Cor­inthi­ans 12.3–13; John 20:19–23

In June 1910, twelve hun­dred rep­res­ent­at­ives of one hun­dred and sixty mis­sion­ary soci­et­ies met togeth­er in Edin­burgh, Scot­land. The World Mis­sion­ary Con­fer­ence as it came to be called, was argu­ably the high point of European Chris­tian­ity. The Gos­pel had spread through­out the world and many of the del­eg­ates, who were pre­dom­in­antly white males, had a vis­ion for a new era of world­wide Chris­ti­an unity. The Edin­burgh con­fer­ence also marked the begin­ning of the ecu­men­ic­al move­ment. Sadly, just four years later, that glimpse of unity was shattered by the First World War.

One hun­dred and sev­en years later the Church in the west has little of the con­fid­ence it enjoyed in 1910. There is a lack of enthu­si­asm for what used to be called ‘for­eign mis­sions’ and there is often uncer­tainty about the Gos­pel we pro­claim. We are com­fort­able build­ing schools and hos­pit­als but hes­it­ant to ask people to believe in the name of Jesus. To our sur­prise we now find that the coun­tries where we once sent mis­sion­ar­ies are send­ing mis­sion­ar­ies to us and they are not hes­it­ant or uncer­tain. So on this Pente­cost Sunday it is instruct­ive to pause and look back to the infant church that came to life on that first Pente­cost and to under­stand what Pente­cost means for us today.

For a first-cen­tury Jew­ish believ­er, Pente­cost was the fiftieth day after Pas­sov­er. It was an agri­cul­tur­al fest­iv­al; the day when farm­ers brought the first sheaf of wheat from their crop and offered it to God in thanks­giv­ing for anoth­er har­vest. But neither Pas­sov­er nor Pente­cost were just agri­cul­tur­al fest­ivals. These fest­ivals reminded the people of their Exodus from Egypt when God led them out of bond­age to a new life in the Prom­ised land. The first Pas­sov­er was cel­eb­rated on the very night that they escaped from Egypt and fifty days later they arrived at Mount Sinai where Moses was giv­en the law. So Pente­cost on the fiftieth day wasn’t just about the first fruits it was also about God giv­ing his people the Ten Com­mand­ments which had shaped their way of life and made them dif­fer­ent from all oth­er nations around them. We can hear echoes of this ancient story as Luke describes the amaz­ing events on the first day of Pente­cost. Just as Moses ascen­ded the moun­tain and returned some days later bring­ing the law with him so Jesus ascen­ded into heav­en and then returned, not with a writ­ten law carved in stone, but with the life chan­ging Spir­it who would breathe new life and energy into his dis­ciples.

We note that the wind came from heav­en. Christ’s ascen­sion and the com­ing of the Spir­it are linked. In John’s Gos­pel Jesus told his dis­ciples that “If I do not go away the Advoc­ate (the Holy Spir­it) will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you.” The ascen­sion brought the earthly and the heav­enly togeth­er in a new way. The pour­ing out of the Spir­it on earth meant that God’s pres­ence would now be exper­i­enced more vividly. One writer puts it like this: “the spir­it on earth is the pres­ence in our sphere, of the sheer energy of heav­en itself.” (Tom Wright: Acts for Every­one). The signs that accom­pan­ied the arrival of the Spir­it were evid­ence of this; wind, fire, and the abil­ity to speak in oth­er lan­guages.

When we speak of the com­ing of the Spir­it it is import­ant to remem­ber that the Holy Spir­it was not a New Test­a­ment dis­cov­ery. Although the term ‘Holy Spir­it’ is found infre­quently in the Old Test­a­ment there are many ref­er­ences to the Spir­it of God or Spir­it. The word, ‘Spir­it’ is a meta­phor just as the words, ‘Fath­er’ and ‘Son’ are meta­phors. The Hebrew, ruach, the Greek pneuma and the Lat­in spir­it­us all mean wind or breath. This wind or Spir­it was present at cre­ation and the Psalm­ist declares: “You send forth your Spir­it, they are cre­ated; and you renew the face of the earth.” Job reflects that: “the Spir­it of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty is giv­ing me life.”  But apart from cre­ation, in the Hebrew Scrip­tures, the Spir­it makes only occa­sion­al appear­ances. The spir­it is poured out on par­tic­u­lar indi­vidu­als like Saul and Dav­id to empower them for spe­cial min­is­tries. What is spe­cial about Pente­cost is that the Spir­it is poured out on all the believ­ers not just on a chosen few.

Luke’s account of the first Day of Pente­cost tells us nearly all we need to know about the Holy Spir­it. First of all he wants us to know that the com­ing of the Spir­it was in ful­fil­ment of God’s prom­ise. In Acts 1 Jesus told his dis­ciples not to leave Jer­u­s­alem but to wait for the prom­ise of the Fath­er. What was this prom­ise? “You will be bap­tised with the Holy Spir­it not many days from now.” Jesus also assured them that after the Spir­it had come upon them they would be his wit­nesses in Jer­u­s­alem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The theme of ful­fil­ment is also prom­in­ent in John’s Gos­pel. Sev­er­al times Jesus encour­aged his anxious dis­ciples that he would not leave them com­fort­less but would send the Advoc­ate, the Com­fort­er to be with them. In today’s Gos­pel from John 20, one of the first things the resur­rec­ted Jesus does for his dis­ciples is to breathe the Holy Spir­it into them. The Holy Spir­it was God’s gift to the Church, to all the believ­ers. Without the Holy Spir­it there would be no Church. Fur­ther­more we should notice in the Acts of the Apostles the Spirit’s com­ing is fre­quently referred to as full­ness. On the Day of Pente­cost, “they were all filled with the Holy Spir­it”. Later on in Acts 4, the whole com­pany of believ­ers “are filled with the Holy Spir­it and spoke the Word of God with bold­ness.” When Steph­en is being stoned to death we are told that “full of the Holy Spir­it, he gazed into heav­en and saw the glory of God.” God’s desire is that we should be filled with his Spir­it not just have the occa­sion­al sip. The great evan­gel­ist D.L. Moody was once asked by a very pious lady if he had been filled with the Holy Spir­it, to which he replied: “Yes, Madam but I leak.” Like Moody we need to be refilled, refreshed fre­quently for the pres­sures of life make us spir­itu­ally thirsty. God’s Spir­it is poured out on all who are thirsty and ask to be filled.

But what effect did this filling of the Spir­it have on the believ­ers? They saw the world with new eyes. In the resur­rec­tion appear­ances we have in the Gos­pels one of the things we notice fre­quently is that the dis­ciples had trouble recog­nising Jesus. Mary thought he was the garden­er, the dis­ciples walk­ing to Emmaus spent a few hours with Jesus in con­ver­sa­tion but their eyes were blinded to his iden­tity. Only at the end of the day with the break­ing of the bread were their eyes opened. With the com­ing of the Holy Spir­it they sud­denly saw clearly. Saul of Tarsus blinded on the road to Dam­as­cus becomes an apostle when Anani­as comes to him and says: “The Lord Jesus has sent me to you that you may recov­er your sight and be filled with the Holy Spir­it.” (Acts9.17) The Holy Spir­it opens our eyes to the real­ity of Christ but he also opens our eyes towards oth­er people. Some 40 years ago, Bish­op John Taylor wrote a book called ‘The Go- Between God’ in which he sug­ges­ted that the Holy Spir­it is the invis­ible third party who stands between me and the ‘oth­er’ mak­ing us mutu­ally aware. In his words, “Supremely and primar­ily the Holy Spir­it opens my eyes to Christ. But she also opens my eyes to the broth­er or sis­ter in Christ or my neigh­bour, or the heart break­ing bru­tal­ity or the equally heart­break­ing beauty of the world.”

The oth­er thing we notice in Luke’s account of Pente­cost is that the dis­ciples were sent out. The com­ing of the Spir­it opened their eyes but also opened their mouths. The theo­lo­gian Emil Brun­ner said that ‘the Church exists by mis­sion as fire exists by burn­ing.’ Anoth­er way of put­ting it is to think of the church as like the fuel used by the Holy Spir­it for her mis­sion in the world. John Taylor argues that while it is true that the Holy Spir­it is God’s gift to the church it is also true that the Church is God’s gift to the Holy Spir­it. We too eas­ily think of the Spir­it as some kind of magic power equip­ping us for our mis­sion where­as we are asked to be part­ners with the Holy Spir­it in her mis­sion. With the Holy Spir­it dwell­ing in us we are enabled to embody Jesus Christ in the world. Much of what we do will be the same as every­one else is doing, earn­ing a liv­ing, bring­ing up a fam­ily, mak­ing friends, cel­eb­rat­ing occa­sions, help­ing our neigh­bour, com­fort­ing the sick, study­ing, read­ing and so on. But as Chris­ti­ans we do all of these things to the glory of God, mean­ing that we try to under­stand what God is up to in each of these activ­it­ies and we will con­tinu­ally seek his help and guid­ance. So on this Pente­cost Sunday let us pray that both by our words and our man­ner of life we will hon­our Christ and that the Holy Spir­it will be able to work through us to show oth­ers the love of God. Amen.

Philip Brad­ford