Combined Pentecost Service at the Anglican Church of St Paul, City Beach on Pentecost Sunday 2017
Two verses of scripture caused me some measure of sadness.
One is in John`s Prologue to his Gospel where it says, `He came to His own people but they didn`t want Him.`
The other verse is in Luke`s Gospel where Jesus is looking over Jerusalem for the last time and cries out, `Oh, Jerusalem! Jerusalem! killer of prophets; abusers of the messengers of God. How often I have longed to gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings, but you refused and turned away and now it`s too late!`
It is a bitter from-the-heart cry, a deep lament for those who had been chosen for a specific purpose and who had rejected this God-like Son and His Message and methods. For it is patently clear that he was on a mission to bring about a great and necessary change and show by example, power and authority the more excellent way. The way of love and inclusiveness to usher in God`s Shalom here on earth as in the prayer he taught us, `Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in the Heavens.`
In the first twelve chapters of John`s Gospel, John tells it as it needed to be told for the community of the faithful in Antioch for which John was writing and very much aware of their particular needs. The rest of his Gospel contains `The Farewell Discourses` which we might rightly call `The Long Goodbye` and in it we have our richest source about the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus after putting his succession plan into operation by choosing his disciples and schooling them in the words and the ways of the Kingdom of God, and with eyes wide open to the milieu in which he operated, knew that time was running out and that he was a `marked man`.
He knew that the forces at the top, i.e. those who misunderstood or distorted or rejected what he was on about - wanted him pinned to a cruel Roman cross and his body thrown onto the rubbish tip. When he announced to his disciples that he was returning to the Father in the heavenly realm it was in answer to three questions which they had asked of him.
- Where are you going? Short answer - to my Father and your Father.
- Can we come with you? Short answer - no, not yet.
- Who then is going to look after us? Answer - I will not leave you like orphans.
I am sure you will agree with me - a well-chosen metaphor - alone, fearful, lacking guidance and direction, vulnerable.
The end was imminent. Jerusalem contained death and suffering. Jesus` faith and trust were that the Father would vindicate him in the resurrection, his promise being that he would send another `comforter` as the King James Version puts it (which is in my take of things, not a very good translation.)
The eventual Pentecost infusion was also the fulfilment of the promise of Jesus to his disciples, `If I go away I will send another Comforter to you.` `Another Comforter` implies that he was one as well, but we need to understand what the word `Comforter` means. The problem we face is that the word `Comforter` has come down in its meaning. It has been weakened, cheapened and lost its power. For example, if we speak of our faith as a `comfort` only, the critics of our faith seize upon it and say it is a prop or a drug for the weak and dependent, and that notion must be banished for the lie that it is. For if it were true it turns our faith and belief system into a cushion against the hard facts of life. It employs the drug of fantasy. It hides the true meaning of the cross. It makes light of the tragic elements in life. It uses soft mushy talk to play havoc with troubled minds and the real and true comforts of belief and faith are treated as a kind of spiritual medicine and the `Peace of God` as the perfect tranquilliser.
But this understanding is a great and sad misunderstanding of what St. Paul means when he wrote about `The God of all Comfort who comforts us in all of life troubles`. His word is `alive` with meaning. He uses a Greek word `paraklesis,` meaning `one called into help.` It means the summoning of reinforcements coming into our aid. In Scripture, especially John`s Gospel, the Spirit is spoken of as `The Comforter`- in the Greek language (New Testament), Parakletos. It means reinforcements from the heavens summoned to your side.
The same word in Latin is `Advocatus.` Think of the court scene where the counsel for the defence, who on the day of trial, stands by your side as your representative, your champion. He`s there for you. And that`s the image that some translators have portrayed when they interpreted the word. We have an Advocate with the Father. We have someone who stands beside us. He`s on our side. We are not alone.`
Let`s be clear. Whenever scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete or the Comforter as it does in the old KJV, it in no way means Consoler.
No way! That is altogether too soft a meaning. Rather it is `The Reinforcer`, `The Strengthener`, `The Giver of power and might and victory.` Before our English word `comfort` was brought down in meaning, it meant the same. It comes from the Latin word, `con-fortis, ` which means `with strength`.
This then is the distinguishing thing about Christian comfort. It`s a bracing, rallying, invigorating quality. That feeling of being upheld, of being carried along in tough and dark times.
That feeling of being upheld, of being carried along in tough and dark times.
The feeling of being held up by the Everlasting Arms. Embraced and sustained by invisible forces. That feeling of the total personality being supernaturally reinforced. It is something that is actively virile and indomitable (not easily overcome). The function of the Spirit of God is to arm us with the whole panoply of the whole armour of God. The function of Spirit is not to equip you with blinkers against new insights and truths or disquieting facts - we must always remain open. The Spirit replenishes spent resources, brings about spirited energy, floods your being with radiance and resilience - the ability to bounce back after life`s circumstances knock you down.
This strengthening Spirit is full of the music of victory and strong with the power of God.
It is the experience of many a Christian who has taken the time and effort and discipline to search for light at a deeper level.
John Wesley knew his heart had been strangely warmed because of the way he treated his dog. An infusion of the Spirit changes everything we do. Don`t dismiss it as something just for your favoured few.
`Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. `
It is not something that keeps us on a constant high where we become too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use, but it is there available - yours for the asking and seeking when you want to be devoted to living for Christ and making His way known.
Back in the sixties, theologian/philosopher Paul Tillich spoke and wrote eloquently of the Holy Spirit. He highlights what I would call `The Gentle Work of the Spirit.`
It is too insightful and much needed to be locked away within a book - it must be shared. We need to be reminded that the Spirit is not all about mighty rushing winds and tongues of fire, of loosing tongues but also loosing minds and hearts that have been restricted, bounded and dwarfed
The Spirit is strong and gentle at the same time. God`s 3 R`s are Relationships, Relationships and Relationships.
The Spirit can work in you with a soft but insistent voice. Telling you that your life is empty and meaningless but that there are chances of a new life waiting before the door of your inner self. To fill its emptiness and to conquer its dullness.
The Spirit can work in you awakening desire to strive towards what is the best against the emptiness of the average day, the mundane.
The Spirit can give you `the courage` that says `yes` to life in spite of everything that wants you to say `No`.
The Spirit can reveal to you that you have hurt someone deeply but he can also give you the right words to say that reunites him or her with you.
The Spirit can help you love with a God-like love someone you profoundly dislike or in whom you have no interest.
The Spirit can conquer your laziness towards what you know to be the best and he can transform your anger and aggression and depression into stability and serenity.
The Spirit can liberate you from hidden enmity against those whom you love from open vengefulness against those by whom you felt violated.
The Spirit can give you strength to throw off false anxieties or worries and to be able to take life as it comes.
The Spirit can awaken you to sudden insights into the way you must look at the world. and he can open your eyes to a view of it that makes everyone new.
The Spirit can create warmth in the coldness you feel within and around you and he can give you wisdom and strength where human love towards a loved one has failed.
The Spirit can also throw you into a `hell of despair about yourself` and then give you the certainty that you are accepted. Accepted when you felt totally rejected and when you rejected yourself totally.
All this is wonderfully true and I know it to be true from my own journey. It is all part of God`s concern for our own welfare and well-being. It is all part of His plan and provision to save us from futility and emptiness and that we might flourish and mature.
Let me in closing use the words of Fenelan when he said. `The wind of God is always blowing but you must hoist your sail. `
Blown by God toward newness
The news is that God`s wind is blowing.
It may be a breeze that cools and comforts.
It may be a gust that summons you to notice.
It may be a storm that blows you where you have never been before.
Whatever the wind is in your life, pay attention to it . . .
and the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Spirit will abide with you always.