Sunday 15 May
What has the Holy Spirit ever done for us?
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some of you may have seen an article in the Telegraph during the course of the week which reported the results of a survey about clergy using humour in sermons. Evidently the majority of those questioned said they would rather their clergy did not attempt to use humour but should stick to serious expository preaching only.
It could be argued that those questioned for the survey were a self-selecting group with no sense of humour and it could also be argued that the use of humour in preaching breaks down barriers and helps make the message easier to understand and even remember, but the survey has spoken and you can’t argue with science.
So, from now on, it is going to be wholly serious preaching from me. Ladies and Gentlemen, the fun stops here. If the results of the survey are to be believed then for most of you the fun never started anyway. This is going to be serious sermon central. You have been warned.
Today we celebrate Pentecost, or Whitsun if you prefer. And on this day we are urged to consider the work of the Holy Spirit.
But I know that there will be some people here this morning who are a little uncertain about the whole ‘Holy Spirit’ thing, and having spoken to many Anglicans over the years I can tell you that you are not alone. God the Father, we can picture and relate to and Jesus as God the Son we can get our heads around, especially having just travelled through the season of Easter and the Ascension.
But for many the Holy Spirit just seems too terribly un-English. Sometimes he appears as tongues of fire, sometimes as a dove, sometimes as a wind, so we find it very hard to actually picture him. And if we can’t picture him then how can we pigeonhole him?
And the Holy Spirit never sticks to an agenda or a timetable – he blows where he wants, when he wants, doing the work of God regardless of what other people have planned. I mean, that way lies chaos and anarchy, both of which are very un-English.
My deeply held suspicion is that many Anglicans would actually be much more comfortable if we could do away with the Holy Spirit entirely, everything would be much neater, and many of them would say: “What has the Holy Spirit ever done for us?”
Hovered over the earth during creation?
Oh yeah, yeah the Holy Spirit did that, and has been part of God since the beginning of all things. Yeah. That’s true.
Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirt!
All right, I’ll grant you that being present at the beginning of creation and at the conception of Jesus are two things that the Holy Spirit has done…
Created the church at Pentecost?
(sharply) Well yes obviously the Holy Spirit created the church at Pentecost… that goes without saying. But apart from the creation of all things, the creation of Jesus and the creation of the Church…
The Baptism of Jesus…
Yes… all right, fair enough…
kindness, goodness, faithfulness…
Oh yes! True!
Yeah. We’d really miss those if the Holy Spirit left, Paul.
wisdom and knowledge!
He is our comforter and advocate with the Father.
All right… all right… but apart from better being present at the creation of the universe, including Jesus and the church, anointing Jesus at his baptism, giving us love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, wisdom and knowledge and acting as our comforter and advocate with the Father … what has the Holy Spirit done for us?
He lives in all baptised people.
He calls us to the Father and the Son!
The Father and Son sent him to be with us always.
He enables us to say that Jesus is Lord!
So perhaps the Holy Spirit isn’t an optional addition to our faith after all – OK for the really keen but a little bit too Mediterranean for us English Anglican types.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit is fully and completely God to the same extent as both the Father and the Son.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit is a central and necessary part not only of the life of God but is also a central and necessary part of our life, both as a church that was given birth by the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost, but also as individuals who received the Holy Spirit at baptism and on whom he continues to rain his blessings.
Perhaps rather than wishing that God would change his behaviour a little to accommodate our sensibilities – i.e. show up on time, properly dressed and prepared to stick to an agenda, perhaps, just perhaps, we need to change our sensibilities to accommodate God’s behaviour.
Perhaps we need to allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit from time to time rather than us seeking to lead God where we desire.
At the conception of Jesus the Holy Spirit enlivened the body of Christ within Mary.
At the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit enlivened the body of Christ which was the church in Jerusalem.
At Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit demonstrated the Father’s approval of him, and at our baptisms the Holy Spirit makes each of us his dwelling place.
I know that I have said this before but it matters not, when I stand in this pulpit looking across the gathered body of Christ I don’t just see individuals come from scattered lives I see temples of the Holy Spirit being assembled into a remembered body of Christ.
So jokey sermons aside, I do actually think that the Holy Spirit has done a lot for us, but I also believe that if we let him, if we open ourselves more to being led by him, then he has more in store for us in this place than we could ever imagine.
So we give thanks today for a God we know and love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.