Sermon at Evensong on the Day of Pentecost 2018
"Together we form the temple of the Holy Spirit."
The Reverend David Stanton Canon in Residence
Sunday, 20th May 2018 at 3.00 PM
Today, fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and we rejoice in God’s great gift of the Holy Spirit. We recall how God gives us his Holy Spirit (and divine peace) to carry out his work in a broken world. These gifts of peace and the Holy Spirit are always with us to comfort us, to give us the truth, and to give us courage to live our lives in the love of God.
In the earliest days of Christianity the effect of the Holy Spirit was immediate and profound: the Holy Spirit was both a great energiser and a great equaliser in the Christian community. In the weeks and months following Pentecost, the Christian community was characterised by generosity and sharing. Those who were richer sold some of their property, and the proceeds of these sales were distributed among the poor. No one was in need. Distinctions in wealth were reduced, as people graciously and willingly responded to the apostles’ teachings, inspired by the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts we’re told that the Holy Spirit brought equality between young and old, between men and women, between rich and poor, and between Jews and Gentiles. The Holy Spirit continues to be, the great equaliser in the Church.
This is demonstrated by the fact that the dignity of the human person lies at the heart of Christian teaching. The Church’s vision is firmly rooted in the example of Christ, who turned no-one away, but made himself available to all,
and this Holy Spirit works and lives within us, guiding, directing, creating and transforming us. But God works in different ways with different people.
On occasions such as this, its good to be reminded that the Church is never just a collection of individuals, but together we form the temple of the Holy Spirit, where all are equal and no one is useless.
When we look back into the scriptures we see how Jesus challenged the religious establishment of his time and there’s no reason to think that he would be any less critical today. Human nature, over the centuries, hasn’t really changed and there are always those who gravitate towards positions of power and influence, whether in the political, social or religious spheres for their own advantage and the satisfaction of their egos.
But true Christian discipleship means we’re all fellow pilgrims, supporting one another along the way, acutely conscious of our individual need for grace and mercy.
And yet equality isn’t just saying that we’re all the same, in terms of intelligence, or beauty, or temperament, or whatever. Its basis lies in the fact that we are all human beings. Equality goes hand in hand with individual being. This uniqueness contains a degree of originality which is not found in any other species. Moreover, our originality is increased still further by the web of inter-personal relationships which form the complexity of our lives. Theologically, you and I can say that we each reflect God in a way that no other human person ever has or ever will. Each of us can say I am absolutely unique. Theologically, you and I can say that we each reflect God in a way that no other human person ever has or ever will. Each of us can say I am absolutely unique.
Our task, as members of the Church, is to translate Christ’s message of inclusion into practical action, so that our individual contributions are respected and nurtured.
This is our shared mission. For just as we each receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, so we grow as a Church through the gifts that we bring to the body of Christ.
As St Luke revealed to us in the Act of the Apostles, the first Pentecost isn’t just limited to that first revelation, but is an event that is renewed and renews itself again and again. Christ, glorified at the right hand of the Father, continues to reveal his promise, sending the Holy Spirit to enliven the Church who teaches us, grounds us, and makes us speak. Its as if the Holy Spirit is our internal teacher, guiding us along the right path, through all the phases of life. In the early days of the Church, Christianity was called ‘the way’, and Jesus himself is the way. The Holy Spirit teaches us to follow him, to walk in his footsteps.
In a few moments time there will be a great procession around this church, in honour of the Holy Spirit. Such processions give expression to our faith. They symbolise the Church as prayerful, faithful, and equal, moving as a single unit, acclaiming Christ with joy.
Indeed the physical movement of the procession reflects the movement of the very liturgy itself. This combination of movement, ritual and music, also powerfully shows us, the Church, to be a people on pilgrimage moving to reveal God’s kingdom.
As St Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, ‘Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere…’
Through incense, we literally take the sweet smelling fragrance with us! This isn’t just pageantry for the sake of pageantry.
Its triumphal celebration, in honour of the Holy Spirit, in honour of the birthday of the church, in honour that Christ is here amongst us. On this Pentecost Sunday, God invites us and challenges us to turn back to him in heart and mind, to allow ourselves to be freshly reconciled and to be agents of his Holy Spirit.