Event Name Sermon given at Evensong of the Day of Pentecost 2017
Start Date 4th Jun 2017 3:00pm

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence
If you delve into the Old Testament, you will discover that Pentecost was originally one of the great Jewish feast days. It was called the feast of first-fruits, and its mentioned in five places in the first five books of the Bible: Exodus 23 & 24, Leviticus 16, Numbers 28, and Deuteronomy 16. It was the celebration of the beginning of the early weeks of harvest.

Then in the New Testament we heard from St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles that, on this feast of first-fruits, the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus comes in great power upon the apostles. We also learn that the symbols of the Spirit are a whirlwind and tongues of flame, which dance on the heads of the apostles.

What’s given here is the gift of communication, of language. So, inspired by the Holy Spirit the apostles begin to speak to a multitude of races gathered in Jerusalem. Luke is mindful of the story of the tower of Babel whereby human beings sought to climb to heaven, and supplant God.

In that Genesis story the consequence of false ambition and pride was the confusion of language. Communion was broken in a babble, a Babel of tongues. At Pentecost the tongues of fire that make up the purifying boundary wall of heaven, bring new language, new inspiration and new life to gather those who hear, into the communion of the new creation.

Those who hear and respond are the first-fruits, for they embody our celebration of this feast: the birthday of the Church.

The Holy Spirit, the dynamic energy of God, the breath of the divine life, is often associated with random inspiration, with inspired prophets and enthusiasts who do their own thing.

But in the Bible the Spirit is also the one who orders. The mighty wind that swept over the waters of chaos in the very opening verses of Scripture brings order and pattern and shaping life.

Energy and order are not opposed in the order of the new creation of God’s life-giving Spirit any more than they are in the patterns of energy that make up the order of the universe.

And so we come to see that the church is to be (and to live) the order of the new creation. This Spirit is the Spirit of transforming holiness, shaping men and women in the pattern of the divine love in whose image they are made.

Such discipleship directly challenges all that is not of God, especially things that scar and maime God’s creation, not least the evil acts of terrorism that took place in this city last night. Marked by intentionally, indiscriminate violence and fuelled by hatred and fear. Such terrorism is spiritually blind to the virtues of the Holy Spirit.

For just as goodness, gentleness, kindness and love engender self-sacrifice and acts of heroism, distorted bitter hearts only breed further bitterness and hatred.

Yesterday evening a group of very misguided young men, with a perverted view of God and a babble of accompanying language, were tragically transformed into callous murderers.

But in stark contrast today, on this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate how the Holy Spirit transformed a small group of poorly educated, yet heroic and prayerful people, into a great force for good.

We recall how the disciples left the security of the upper room, to go into the streets of Jerusalem and there in many languages to call people to faith and baptism in Jesus Christ.  

Here the Church was born. This is the origin of the Church (marked by both cross and resurrection) that we know to be the Body of Christ. This is the Church that accompanies us on our spiritual journey through this world and the next, feeding and nourishing us as we journey towards heaven.  

Its here that we encounter Christ in the sacraments, in the scriptures, in the life of prayer and in each other. This Holy Spirit that stays forever within our souls, as a 'spirit of truth,' and as a divine counsellor, is the inner voice that we all rely upon for guidance and resilience in prayer.

It's also the energy that mobilizes us to work together to reveal God to our people and to challenge evil. This feast of Pentecost serves as an annual reminder that our creator still works miracles, granting his Holy Spirit to all of us called to be the first fruits of his spiritual harvest, empowering us to carry out his work in this world.      

In a few moments time you will witness a great procession around this Church. Such ritual processions give expression to our faith, symbolically representing the Church on the move, acting as a single unit, acclaiming Christ with shouts of joy in the Holy Spirit.

In song we shall invoke the Holy Spirit to be amongst us, to orderly guide us, as comforter, light and guide. Such processions symbolise the Church at prayer, for they’re all about movement, journeying from one place to another.

Rather like the procession of light at the Easter Vigil, with people being led to the great Easter Proclamation and to the unfolding story of the Scriptures, the physical moment of the procession reflects the movement of the liturgy itself as we all journey with Christ.

The combination of movement, ritual action, music and song, allows the procession to become for us an expression of the Church as people on pilgrimage towards God’s kingdom.

Indeed once this service has concluded, you will all informally process through this ancient church, out through the great West doors, as pilgrim people going out into the world to serve as followers of Christ, to reap the divine harvest, to serve as ‘first-fruits’ of the new creation.

© 2018 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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