Pentecost 27 May 2012 St Mary Magdalene. Parish Eucharist. 9.30 a.m.
John 15v 26-27, 16 v 4b-15
Acts 2 v1-21
May our words and deeds be acceptable to you Oh Lord
This week, more than sixteen thousand people caught the spirit of the Olympics at Cheltenham racecourse. They watched as Zara Phillips held the torch aloft on her horse , carrying it as part of its latest leg on the journey. All last week schools and workplaces, people of all ages, abandoned their schedules to catch the moment when the torchbearers carried a torch in or near their home town. And so it will continue over the next weeks.
Our readings today are all about the first torchbearers of the Christian faith.
In our Pentecost reading we have the disciples waiting in prayer, Jesus has ascended to the Father and they no longer have His visible support as they wait. They do not know what they are waiting for, but they wait, and pray.
Then we have descriptions that speak of wind, and flames the tongues of which separate and land on each of them. It sounds miraculous but is surely more momentous: the outpouring of spiritual energy on a group of faithful disciples….we read what it looked like, felt like, how it was heard.
What is this spiritual energy? In the Gospel we hear it spoken of as the Spirit of Truth: that it will not speak on his own but what he hears’ Jesus says ‘he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.’ This is fulfilled in a way that enables Jesus followers to communicate in ways probably as extraordinary to them as to their followers. The Holy Spirit takes over.
Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit gave disciples the courage and confidence to tell others, and if we read on we find that those that gathered, bewildered at these momentous events, also listened, believed, were baptised and joined this community of faith; some three thousand of them that day. We can well imagine how people of all ages abandoned their normal schedules to see this flame, to experience change.
And so it is that the Church was born and today we celebrate the Birthday of the Christian Church. Our Christian Pentecost enables the Church to live, as without the Holy Spirit it could not be a living faith. It is such an important feast day that in the Eastern orthodox tradition it is one of the great feasts with celebrations lasting several days.
One of my favourite prayers from Teresa of Avila says it all;
‘Christ has no body but yours…no hands, no feet on earth but yours…yours are the eyes through which Christ looks with compassion into the world’.
Yet the gift of the Holy Spirit on that first Christian Pentecost touched a praying, worshipping community as well as each person individually. This is the time of the Christian year when we particularly pray for the Church to be renewed. Renewed for what, and how?
Last week when I was returning to Richmond by train form a ‘catch up’ training session for Street Pastors I found myself literally surrounded by passionate people! You will have guessed I was on a rugby train, it was supposed to be a normal stopping service but was crammed full of men and women, and children, off to see two Irish teams at Twickenham. Excitement, energy, purpose, anticipation, noisily filled the air.
I think within our own church we best capture these emotions on the day of the May fair. On that early morning a couple of weeks ago, in the church and outside, was full of bustle, cheerful noise, purpose, focus, excitement of the day that lay ahead, our whole church community pulling together, selling, buying, raising money for good causes. With trips to the tower and music in the church, it reminded the community at large that this is a church that lives.
Our challenge is how can we take all of our enthusiasms displayed so well at our May fair and harness them to ‘do more of God’ both as a community and individually.
In the birth of the church we can see that there was a stirring in the land. This was despite the fact that their leader had been put to death by the authorities as a criminal, His followers lived in fear, and there was poverty, injustice, conflict and oppression all around. The enthusiasm for spreading the Gospel in such circumstances is extraordinary. What might have helped the disciples to see the significance of the event was the fact that it took place as part of the Hebrew feast of Pentecost, when Jews commemorated the Law being handed to them through Moses at Sinai; building on that faith tradition, a shared understanding of history and its significance.
Whether we like sport or not, whether we are Royalists or are quietly republican, there is no doubt that in the last week, there has been a stirring in the land. Despite economic gloom, conflict and injustice, the Olympic torch is a beacon of hope, and the Queens Jubilee recognition of life long service. Whilst momentous in their own right they also remind us of the importance of a history that is valued, shared and understood.
Here in Richmond as we ponder on the birthday of the Church we too are challenged to recognise those aspects of our shared life that represent tradition to be shared and understood and also to be built upon; in this church for example we currently stand poised to seriously consider how to make best use of the space in this Holy building, and its immediate location in the middle of the town.We also have the call to respond to Bishop Christopher’s mission of Faith, Hope and Love, as individuals , and we have our stewardship campaign.
How we respond to these can tell a sceptical world around us how this church lives.
One of the most spectacular aspects of the journey which the Olympic torch makes is that it is carried from one inspirational person to another .It is not just held by one person until it is extinguished or burns out.
The Light of new faith, the new Covenant, the new Promise from God did not die with Jesus on the cross. Through the Resurrection God reassures believers, through Ascension God promises a future, through Pentecost God shows us the way we can live our lives in ways that enable us to carry the torch of faith from one person to another.
Here today there are inspirational individuals amongst us; in their challenging family situations where we recognise sacrifice, service; in contributing to local community and even national community. Combined, the torchbearers of God in Richmond are a powerful group especially when we work together for a common cause. It is a community, into which Emma and Alexander will shortly be making their first communion.
Saint Augustine, in the early centuries of our faith in his own Pentecost homily said;
‘You are the mystery that is placed
Upon the Lords table
You receive the mystery that is yourself.
To that which you are
You will respond ‘Amen’
And so we pray, Amen.