Monday 24 May 2021

'Come, Holy Spirit' A Homily for Pentecost

 Preached at Croydon Minster on the Day of Pentecost, 23rd May 2021

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people;

and kindle in us the fire of your love.




I have been watching the wind blowing, these last few days.


We’ve seen the trees swaying, litter blown along pavements, rain coming down at unfeasible angles.


This is nothing compared to hurricane or cyclone zones; yet we’ve seen the power of the wind to knock things over, send things up in the air, leave things looking dishevelled.


Of course, I haven’t actually seen the wind gust, but I have seen its effects. The wind is a mystery, an unseen yet tangible force. And Jesus says of the Holy Spirit:


‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ (John 3.8)


Today, on the Day of Pentecost, we reflect on the pouring out of the Spirit on the Church and ponder what it means to be ‘born of the Spirit’.


On that first Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is sounding like ‘the rush of a violent wind’ (Acts 2.2).


The Spirit sweeps in to that upper room: present and empowering; equipping and kindling a flame of God’s presence over each one of the disciples. Unlike the wind we have experienced these last few days the Spirit does not scatter but draws together.


It’s worth spending a minute here pondering this. The Spirit draws together; the Spirit is the healing, anointing presence of God.


But we often see people and situations torn apart. That is where the breath of Holy Spirit is shut out and not allowed to blow.


In Biblical terms there is a name for the one who does not draw together, in Greek ‘the diabolos’ in other words diabolical, the devil. That name comes from the word meaning ‘to scatter and to throw apart.’


An ill wind destroys people and communities, exploits differences, drives apart people of different languages, tribes and nations.


That’s utterly contrary to the vision of the Church described in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 7.9) where people of all tribes and languages and nations gather around the altar of the Lamb of God, those ‘born of the Spirit’ through baptism.


The Spirit binds and weaves together diverse and disparate people - men, women and children - to form the Church as one, as holy, as catholic, as apostolic. The Spirit, which brought Creation to birth, began weaving us together on the Day of Pentecost and continues today. Here. Now.


In that room Christ had broken bread, declaring, ‘This is my Body’ (Mark 14.15, 22-25; Luke 22.12,14-20). In that room the same Crucified and Risen Lord had breathed on them his gift of peace; his shalom (John 20.19-23, 26).


And the Spirit blew them out of that room, as the Spirit blows us out, in the sense of sent not extinguished.


At the words, ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ we go onto the streets to live this out and honour the Father and the Son, together, in all we think and speak and do.


The uniting power of the Spirit is shown in the way that when the apostles speak they are understood by everyone who hears. The differences and distinctions between peoples, represented in the languages of the earth, melt away, or rather, are formed into a new identity and language in Christ.


We will hear that in action later in this Eucharist, as our prayers are led by members of this congregation speaking in their mother tongue. That will express our diversity in human terms and unity in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as we come together in ‘the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, [in] the breaking of bread and in the prayers’ (Acts 2.42).


Here I must share a typo I made when writing this homily. I wrote ‘the Spirit unties’ – right letters wrong order: the Spirit unites.


The Holy Spirit of God draws together and unites and invites us to be agents of reconciliation. The same Spirit sends us out as witnesses to the holiness, unity and presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the world.



Monday 10 May 2021

Joy and Commandments: Chalk and Cheese?

 Preached at Croydon Minster on the Sixth Sunday of Eastertide: Gospel reading John 15.9-17

‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…I have said these things to you this so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.’ (John 11.10a,11)




There are some things that go really well together. For example, ‘Love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage’, as the old song puts it.


And some things just don’t: chalk and cheese, being an obvious one.


There are two words in today’s gospel reading that seem to be more in the ‘chalk and cheese’ category and they are ‘joy’ and ‘commandment’:


I have said these things to you this so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. (John 11.11)




If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. (John 15.10a)


Joy. That little word sounds so spontaneous, free, uncomplicated, fun.


Commandment. That longer word sounds stifling, dutiful, heavy, dull.


Joy and commandment sound at odds, yet Jesus weaves them together and brings them into close proximity.


They are not poles apart, but are twin poles that, held together, enable us to share in the life of the Father and to bear fruit.


This is recognised and articulated in one of the Eucharistic Prayers of the Church which says,


It is indeed right,

it is our duty and our joy,

at all times and in all places

to give you thanks and praise,

holy Father, heavenly King,

almighty and eternal God,

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.


Sometimes people think the Old Testament is all about commandments and the New Testament all about joy.


There certainly are plenty of commandments in the Old Testament, but there are commandments in the New Testament too: ‘I give you a New Commandment’ says Jesus, ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15.12) and ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22.19; 1 Corinthians 11.24, 25): that’s a command!


And the Old Testament ‘does’ joy too. In the psalms for example ‘You show me the path of life. In your presence is the fullness of joy: in your right hand are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16.11) and in the prophet Isaiah, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation’ (Isaiah 12.3). Psalm 98 sung today is a psalm infused with joy, people breaking into music making and singing, and the whole creation sounding out with joy filled praise.


So how do joy and commandment sit together, given that both belong to the Christian life?


First, let’s acknowledge that ‘joy’ can be problematic for some: it can sound vacuous and vapid or bland and naïve, glossing over pain. Christian tradition and experience show, in a deep and sustained way, that joy can bubble up even in some of the darkest times. Joy is profoundly life-giving, directing our sight towards hope and trust in God to navigate through pain.


There is a proper ordering of joy and commandment, and that is through love: ‘I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another’ (John 15.17).


Love it is that frames joy and commandment and holds them together.


Joy-without-love is self-satisfaction, self-amusement, self-gratification; joy-with-love is generous, infectious and life-giving to self and others.


Commandment-without-love is harsh and unbending; commandment-with-love gives shape, purpose and endurance to bring abundance of life.


Love without joy will run out of steam; love without commandment will collapse.


So then, may we be people of joy, shaped by life-giving commandments and journey deeper into the love that brings us together with Christ in the communion of Our Father and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.

Sunday 2 May 2021

Pruning, grafting, growing, fruiting: Christ the True Vine

Preached as a homily at Croydon Minster on the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Readings: Acts 8.26-end; John 15.1-8

I am the True Vine, says the Lord.




When I was chaplain at the University of Surrey my Roman Catholic colleague would take students preparing for Confirmation to Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking. It was a nice day out, they had something to eat, and drink, and they walked through the vineyard and learnt how the vines were tended and made connections with today’s gospel and what flows from it.


Viticulture, the tending of vines, is what the vine grower does, and it is the image Jesus draws on. He speaks of pruning and grafting and growing and fruitfulness.


Vines grow and are fruitful through pruning. Pruning - chopping off excess growth - focuses fruitful growth.


Then there’s grafting, when almost miraculously the branch taken from one plant grafted into another grows well. The host vine has to be cut into to receive the graft, and, once it does, the host vine gives life to the branch.


So where could we take this image?


The pruning of the vine of my soul is about cutting out the excesses of my ego to allow Christ to be fruitful in me; it’s about pruning the parts of my life that have become lifeless and dry to generate abundant life in me; it’s about pruning out my vices so that my virtues grow and bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22,23).


The grafting of the vine speaks of the wounds of Christ which his body bears into which we, with our pains and sorrows, are grafted. The prayer Anima Christi speaks of this. In the words of St John Henry Newman’s translation:


Passion of Christ, my comfort be;

O good Jesus, listen to me;

In Thy wounds I fain would hide;

Ne'er to be parted from Thy side;


Or from the hymn, ‘Soul of my Saviour’


Strength and protection may thy passion be,

O blessèd Jesus, hear and answer me;

deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me,

so shall I never, never part from thee.


That is grafting, never being parted from the life-giver.


That is why Jesus can describe himself as the True Vine. And that vine pours out his life for us. The wine of the Eucharist is that sacramental sign of his lifeblood.


The grapes are harvested and then crushed. Crushed to release the juice that becomes the wine. Jesus is crushed on the cross, blood flows from his side, with water: both speak of water and wine; Baptism and Eucharist.


It calls to mind too the miracle at Cana, the first of Jesus’ signs: the transformation of water into wine.


And wine is of course integral to the Eucharist. The norm is that we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. What a deprivation it is not to receive the chalice at the moment.


In the chalice we receive the lifeblood of Christ, poured out for us and for our salvation. The prayer of the preparation of the chalice says:


Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation,

through your goodness we have this wine to offer,

fruit of the vine and work of human hands.

It will become for us the cup of salvation.


The Book of Common Prayer has a prayer known as the Prayer of Humble Access. It prepares us to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. It ends by asking that ‘we may evermore dwell in Christ, and he in us’. That is about being grafted into Christ, the True Vine.


Jesus says, ‘I am the true vine’. When grafted in the branch receives life from the host, the true vine. Once grafted in the branch can be said to ‘abide’ in the vine.


We may not use the word much now, except when we sing ‘Abide with me’: to abide is to live somewhere; even more than that, it is to dwell, to rest, to find a home.


We are invited to find a home, a resting place, a dwelling, an abode in Jesus Christ. Abiding with Christ is to be at home with him, receiving his life and giving our lives.


Remember Christ has made his home with us - ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1 14) – and, at the end of our life on earth, he promises that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places, places to rest, to find our truest home (John 14.2).


And all this abiding is for the point of growing into the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4.13), bearing fruit. The passage concludes, ‘My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’ (John 15.8).


As disciples we are being grafted into Christ. The sacraments are the grafting points into his Body for his disciples: water and blood; baptism and Eucharist.


As disciples we learn and grow, we turn away from what is dead and dry, so that we may glorify God in our lives. This is not a competition, not to be measured against anyone else, but a patient, growing, fruitful grafting into Christ, for this is the only goal of the Christian life.


‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love’ (John 15.9)