St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Sunday Sermons

Sunday 4th June 2017 - Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-21

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

Big idea: The Spirit constitutes community, the Church.

Complement: The Spirit is the Spirit of Truth

Pulpit prayer: Come Holy Spirit; inspire our thoughts, touch our lives and ignite our passions for your purposes in our world.

“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

(1 Corinthians 12:3b)

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.

The Oxford Dictionary word of the year last year was “Post-Truth”, defined as “denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In the political sphere it is about exercising power and control and manipulating public opinion. The post-truth politician does not care what is or is not truth. In post-truth politics, people pick and choose between “alternative facts”, to coin a phrase from one of President Trump’s aides. In our socio- political context truth no longer carries a transcendent quality as it does in the religious world.

The Holy Spirit will lead us into all Truth.

The risen Christ breathes his life giving Spirit on the disciples, making them the risen People of God, in whose community the Spirit is alive and active. In this way Jesus promises to make himself present at any time or place. The gift of the Spirit, as described in John’s gospel, emphasises the presence of God indwelling both the community and individuals.

The Holy Spirit was unleashed in power at Pentecost.  Pentecost is a major Jewish festival. Jews travelled from far afield to Jerusalem to mark this festival of thanksgiving for the harvested crops. However, this particular Pentecost yielded in a different sort of harvest – a harvest of new believers from all the corners of the world. This event has transformed the meaning of Pentecost for Christians. Pentecost has come to be identified with the birth of the Christian church. Today it is also called Whit Sunday or Whitsun for short. Whitsun comes from the Old English for “White Sunday”. In the liturgical calendar, it falls forty nine days, that is, seven weeks after Easter Sunday.

Jesus had directed the disciples to go to Jerusalem, following his ascension. There they had to wait for the Holy Spirit. They didn’t really know what to expect. When or how it would happen but they were left in no doubt when it did. In the past God’s spirit had anointed individuals, chosen kings and prophets, but now as the prophet Joel foretold, God’s spirit was being poured out on all people. And it was some spectacle: wind, fire and speaking in other languages, so much so that the critics accused the believers of being drunk! Prior to Pentecost the disciples were full of fear and anxiety. The Holy Spirit wrought a radical transformation in them and empowered them to spread the good news. Their fears evaporated. There is no way they could have preached the gospel with such boldness without the infilling of the Spirit.

The unity and mission of the church is grounded in the Spirit. According to the theologian Zizioulas, Christ institutes and the Spirit constitutes the church. One of the main functions of the Spirit is to create community. Tom Smail writes the Spirit “is the personal bond of unity of the Church who integrates people into the one life of Christ and so into one life with one another.” This is described in Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth. He employs that now familiar metaphor of the church as a body with many members, all with a different function to play.

In this passage some of the different gifts of the Spirit are listed: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. All gifts come from the same source and are to be used as a fount of unity rather than discord. However, it seems that a competitive edge had crept into the Corinthian church and Paul wished to set the record straight. Different gifts are given to different members to be used for the building up of the whole community. As Colin Gunton affirms the Spirit “makes possible individuality without individualism and community without authoritarianism.”

Furthermore, the church is the one organisation which exists for the benefit of its non-members: the church “exists in and for the rest of society as a model and creator of community”. That is a high ideal for us to live up to but the message of Pentecost is that God equips us, as transformed people, to play our part in his mission. Like the early apostles, we are called to speak out. At Pentecost, the Spirit provoked the disciples to go out and testify on the streets of Jerusalem. Many joined their number as a result. As followers of Christ, we are called to witness to God’s love and justice. This entails not only sharing the gospel in appropriate ways but also having the courage to speak out for the poor, the marginalised, and ever more pressingly, for the planet.

We are called to work together to serve God’s people and fulfil God’s purpose. We have different gifts and resources for the common good. We all have different roles to play, but for a single cause: transformation; transformation of our own community, our society, our world, for the greater glory of God. We cannot do this in our own strength but in the power of God’s Spirit. Through God’s gift of the Spirit we have God’s presence with us, in us and working through us. All Christians have the Spirit but it is possible to have more or less of God’s Spirit depending upon our desire. We may feel inclined to resist the work of the Spirit, perhaps through fear of where she may lead us. The Spirit longs to be active in each of us bringing comfort, inspiration and change. I challenge us today to allow the Spirit of Truth to lead us into all truth.

I’ll conclude now with a moment of silence, for us to become open to the Spirit into our midst, then, I’ll say the Thy Kingdom Come Prayer....

Almighty God,
your ascended Son has sent us into the world
to preach the good news of your kingdom:
inspire us with your Spirit
and fill our hearts with the fire of your love,
that all who hear your Word
may be drawn to you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Rev Lisa Cornwell