Monday, 10 June 2019

Terrifying. Exciting. Bewildering: A Pentecost Sermon

Preached as a sermon at the Parish Eucharist for Pentecost, Sunday 9th June, 2019 at Croydon Minster. Saturday 15th June is the Minster's Vision Day

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of God’s love.


How terrifying. How exciting. How bewildering.

The first Day of Pentecost was all those things and more.

The disciples and crowds were terrified that day, they were excited and they were bewildered.

The rush of a violent wind; tongues of fire licking amongst them and resting on them: something remarkable and dramatic was going on here.

The tongues of fire gave way to the different tongues, tongues of speech, languages from near and far, incomprehensibly comprehensible, all speaking of ‘God’s deeds of power’ (Acts 2.11).

The response of the crowds, both the locals and devout pilgrims to Jerusalem, was one of amazement, perplexity and scepticism.

It fell to Peter, the rock on which Christ builds his church (Matthew 16.18), to interpret what is going on.

This isn’t the ecstatic outburst of a drunken rabble, he says, this is the Holy Spirit testifying to the majesty of God, to God’s mighty deeds and to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Peter’s interpretation roots what is happening in what has gone before, so he quotes the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Acts 2.17)

Peter looks back in order to look forward.

Dreams and visions of young and old. Sounds familiar? Yes, on Saturday we have the chance to share our dreams and vision for what we discern for this Church in the coming years, what its particular gifts have been, what they are today and what they might be in the future.

The ‘dreams and visions’ that Peter quotes in Acts are not utopian fantasies; they are rooted in the purposes of God.

Likewise the inspirational Jean Vanier who died recently spoke powerfully about vision and planning which could apply to us. He writes:

Too much detailed intellectual planning … can, in fact, stifle the Spirit, just as a desire to remain open to anything and  everything and a refusal to clarify goals, can also prevent growth… God gives us hearts so that we may be inspired by his Love and his Spirit, but he also gives us minds, so that we may understand, clarify, discern and read what he is saying and giving in and through life.[1]

On that Day of Pentecost the crowds asked ‘what does this mean?’ We ask: ‘what does this means for us today?’

The account of the Day of Pentecost remains at the same time terrifying, exciting and bewildering.

And in the terror, excitement and bewilderment of the Spirit is life: abundant life. As Jesus says in St John’s gospel, ‘It is the spirit that gives life…The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ (John 6.63).

At the speaking of God’s word the Holy Spirit moved over the waters at the beginning of creation bringing light and life; the Holy Spirit who was breathed into Adam’s nostrils brings life to humanity; the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary that she might become the Mother of the God incarnate, Jesus Christ, the New Adam.

It was the Holy Spirit who descended upon Jesus, not in violent winds or in fire, but in the gentle form of a dove when baptised by John in the River Jordan.

The Holy Spirit is poured out on you and me in our baptism and confirmation as Christians, birthing us to new life in Christ.

The Holy Spirit is called down upon bread and wine making Jesus Christ present in his life-giving Body and Blood.

It is the Holy Spirit who kindles in us the fire of God’s love in order that we may be a blessing to the world and recognise Christ in all people.

In the Spirit, we prepare for our church vision day this coming Saturday.

Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost sounds uncannily like Croydon town centre on a typical Saturday, crowds of people speaking a multiplicity or languages, some ready to hear, some ready to reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Spirit breathes into a world of anxiety, pain and death. As Peters in our own day our task is to interpret the signs of God to our generation and to declare that the doors of life are open to all who would walk into God’s kingdom.

What will that mean for this church?

In February Bishop Christopher shared his vision for us, speaking of the Minster as a holy place within the hustle and bustle of an ever-changing, swirling, colourful Croydon.

Three weeks ago Bishop Jonathan shared with us his vision of the Minster as a hub of mission and service to the wider community of Croydon.

Already people have shared with me some of their vision, hopes and aspirations for this place as we look to the future.

I have a deepening sense of the character of this church as being open to God and open to all people.

So we come together and, as the Prophet Joel said, ‘your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’.

As Peter reminded the crowds this is not fantasy land, but an earnest seeking after God’s ways and purposes for us, here, now, in our day.

It will then be my task, and the task of our Parochial Church Council, to discern and interpret what the Spirit is saying to this church (cf Revelation 2.7 passim) as we look towards ‘the future with hope’ (Jeremiah 29.11).

The life-giving Spirit of Pentecost blows and burns in the life of this church today. It may be terrifying, exciting and bewildering.

Terrifying: so that we dare to speak of the mighty acts of God ourselves and testify to his mercies.

Exciting: so that our horizons are expanded, our vision enlarged and expectations raised.

Bewildering: so that we come to understand that our plans are empty until fulfilled with the presence of the Holy One.

Today, and on Saturday pray that, equipped by the Spirit, we as a church young and old, women and men may embrace God’s future for us with hope, serve our parish and sing God’s praise now and to all eternity.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of God’s love.

[1] Jean Vanier, Community and Growth (2nd edition) DLT: 2007, p. 111

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