1 June 2014
Sunday after Ascension Day
Readings: Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11
Heavenly Father, as we bring ourselves before your Word this morning still us, quieten our minds and our hearts and help us to listen to the still small voice of your Holy Spirit and to hear the Word that you have for each of us today. Amen.
The Holy Trinity were planning a holiday. The Spirit, manifesting the creative part of the divine nature, was coming up with the ideas. “Let’s go to New York,” he suggested.
“No, no, no,” said the Father, “They’re all so liberated, they’ll spend the whole time calling me ‘Mother’ and it will just do my head in.”
So the Spirit sat back and thought. “I know, what about Jerusalem?” he said. “It’s beautiful and then there’s the history and everything.”
“No way!” the Son declared. “After what happened the last time, I’m never going there again!”
At this point, the Spirit got annoyed and went off in a huff. Sometime later he returned and found that the Father and Son had had a idea they both thought was excellent:
“Why don’t we go to Canterbury?” said the Son.
“Perfect!” cried the Holy Spirit. “I’ve never been there before!”
There is a bit of a cliché in church circles that Anglicans are good at relating to God the Father, Evangelicals to Jesus and Pentecostals to the Holy Spirit. Like all clichés it doesn’t tell the whole story but, nevertheless, there is an element of truth hiding in there somewhere and I am certainly aware of many Anglicans who find everything to do with the Holy Spirit just a little bit too weird to be comfortable – perhaps they just don’t think that it is very English or very polite, I don’t know. Believing in God the Father and following the example of Jesus may be one thing but the Holy Spirit stuff is only for those who are really keen.
But the fact is that we are now rapidly approaching that time in the church year when we are forced to broaden our thinking a little about the nature of God. On Thursday we celebrated Ascension Day when the Jesus who had been resurrected at Easter was taken up into heaven to sit at God the Father’s right hand. In today’s reading from Acts we are reminded both of the Ascension and the promise that Jesus would return:
“When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
So the person of Jesus who we believe was the enfleshment or the incarnation of God on earth returned to the Father at the end of his earthly ministry and will return again in bodily form only at the end of the present age. From the time of the Ascension until Christ returns again we believe that the church acts as the body of Christ on earth and that we literally re-member the body of Christ through Holy Communion but that Jesus himself dwells in union with the Father. This close connection between Jesus and God the Father is made explicit in todays reading from the Gospel of John:
“So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed…And now I am no longer in the world but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
This reminds us not only that God the Father and Jesus are inextricably linked in their Godness but also that Jesus did not simply come into being when he was born at the nativity – remember how John’s gospel starts:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
God the Son, who became the person Jesus at the first Christmas, had existed with God the Father since the beginning and continues to exist with him in the person of the risen Jesus.
But we also know that before Jesus ascended to return to the Father that he promised that the church would not be left alone – he promised to send a guide, a counsellor, a comforter – and that promise was kept and fulfilled at Pentecost, which we celebrate next week, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and created the early church and it is the Holy Spirit which continues to descend on and create the church every moment of every day. But the Holy Spirit is not just some divine can of Red Bull intended as a “pick you up” for the first disciples or for us – we believe that the Holy Spirit shares the same Godly essence as God the Father and God the Son and is equally God with them. This means that the same God who created the universe is the same God who walked amongst us as one of us who is the same God who dwells within us now – one God in three persons.
As followers of Christ it is of course right and proper that we should spend the majority of our time seeking to remember and follow Jesus. I believe that was the purpose of God the Father in sending Jesus to us and I believe that whenever we look at the work of the Holy Spirit that we are always pointed back towards Jesus. Nevertheless as followers of Christ we are also seeking to be followers of God it doesn’t hurt to be reminded something more of the nature of the God whom we follow. We celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost next Sunday and the Sunday after that is Trinity Sunday when we think about the unity and the diversity of God.
How does any of this help in our daily walk as disciples?
In my view to hold a fully balanced Trinitarian view of the nature of God is of immense and immeasurable value.
When the world says to you that, if God exists, then He seems to stand far off from his creation then you can say “No, God was born into creation as Jesus and God now inhabits creation as the Holy Spirit” God does not stand far off but is a loving Father.
When the world says to you that if Jesus existed then he was no more than a prophet then you can say that Jesus never claimed he was a prophet – he said he was God’s Son and that if we believe Jesus lied about his Sonship then why should we believe he is a prophet. Jesus is not God’s prophet – Jesus is God the Son.
When the world says that there is no difference between the Christian view of God and, say, the Islamic view of God and therefore, what is the point of having different faiths, you can say that the God whom I worship is not only “out there” but is also “in here” and that makes all the difference. And, of course, the God in here is God the Holy Spirit.
Finally when the world asks you if you believe in God you can ask – quite legitimately – what do you mean when you say God? Do you mean a divine clock maker who set the universe in motion and has now disappeared from sight? No, I don’t believe in that kind of God. Do you mean God who created life, who came into his creation in order to reunite that life with himself and who continues to play an active part in creation, yes that is the God I believe in – A God I know and worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.