Sermon 20th May 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 20 MAY 2018, Pentecost

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-from-the-20th-may-2018

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our Lord and Saviour. Amen

 

“Let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth, to see it like it is and to tell it like it is, to find the truth, to speak the truth and to live with the truth. That ‘s what we’ll do.

Who do you think said this? Richard Nixon!

Richard Nixon uttered these words in his address accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida on 8 August 1968.

Sadly later as president he was not able to live up to these great words, as you know. A case of “power corrupts ….”?

 

Today we are celebrating the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised to his friends and called the Spirit of Truth.

50 days after Passover Jewish tradition celebrates the Feast of Weeks or Shebuot, which marks the end of the Spring harvest. While in our climes farmers only begin to sow seeds, in the warmer climes of Palestine the first harvest was gathered and people celebrated and praised God for his grace and rich bounty. From this point onwards faithful Jews sacrificed to God the first fruits of their harvests until autumn stopped the growing season.

However Jesus’ first disciples were at that point far from wanting to celebrate, far from being in a festive mood. Their friend had risen, been given new life by God. They had felt Him to give peace and guidance….but alas, his presence was different from before, invisible, unmanageable, yes, surprising and moving – but confusing and leaving them open and vulnerable.

Jesus foretold the sorrow of his friends at this new situation, warned of the opposition and even persecution they will have to face from those who have not had their experiences with him.

Anyone who has lost a friend, loved one or family member, suddenly taken from them by illness, circumstance or even violence, knows what profound effect this has on a person, a family or group of friends. The absence of the beloved person can lead to a disintegration even destruction of a life, a family or a community.

 

Jesus foresaw this danger and as we hear in John’s gospel today he promised his friends an Advocate, paracletos in Greek. Other translations use the word Counsellor, Comforter or Helper.

Far from being abandoned and simply having to live on memories and learnt wisdom we are promised and today celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit to help us through hard times.

The writer of Acts struggled to describe the invisible with the words we have for this world. There is sound like the rush of violent wind. There is something like tongues of fire to be seen among them, on each of them. And there is a marvelous bridging of dividing languages enabling people to understand each other.

In the story of the tower of Babel peoples are stopped from working together, here the Spirit of God enables people to work together again.

When God revealed himself in the burning bush to Moses alone, here the Spirit of God comes to each one to enable truth telling, God talk, the teaching of Jesus being shared and the world exposed for what it is concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.

 

Many volunteer readers dread to be asked to read today’s passage from Acts with all the strange names of peoples from long ago – well done Sheena! The list is indeed meant to signify ALL the peoples in the world.

When in Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration the Holy Spirit came down, it came only down on him. Now the Holy Spirit comes on all the disciples and reaches out to all people in order to draw them into God’s life giving presence.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth comes noisily, enlivening and connecting the disciples with each other, when they were in danger of separating.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth comes noisily, enlivening and connecting the disciples with the world to continue the work Jesus started in the world among poor and rich, among sinners and saints, among strong and weak.

 

Yesterday ended Christian Aid Week 2018, which stood under the motto “Together we are stronger than storms” asking us to remember the plight of the poor exemplified in the lives of the people of Haiti.

 

People like Marcelin, who lost his home and livelihood when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in September 2016. ‘I lost pigs, goats, everything in the house. I have nothing left,’ he says.

He now lives in an old concrete shower block, a tiny space he shares with his teenage daughters. There are no windows or doors, and the only furniture is a single bed that the girls sleep on.

Every day he gets up at dawn to work the land but he’s struggling to support his family. The changing weather frequently destroys the food he grows and his family often go hungry.

He can no longer afford to send all his children to school and is unable to save any money for a new home.

‘You feel as though you’re not really living when you don’t have a home’

Marcelin has shown incredible resilience in the face of such hardships and is working hard to raise his children alone.

 

Or people like Jocelyne, who when hurricane Matthew struck, lost her home, animals and safety. She was forced to live ‘in mud’, with only a tarpaulin between her and the elements. When the tarpaulin shook in the wind, it sounded like another hurricane.

Even now, her new home – made of sheet metal, wood and tarpaulin – is not secure. Once, she says, a man told her that if he wanted to hurt her, he could just rip through the tarpaulin wall. It’s hard not to feel threatened.

Jocelyne has shown incredible resilience, but her makeshift home would offer no protection in the event of another hurricane. With hurricane season set to arrive in June, Jocelyne and thousands of other displaced people are in grave danger.

 

So, this Christian Aid Week, we and many others collected money in two stations last Friday to build hope in Haiti. And it is not too late to join in to help using the envelopes lying in the pews.

It can help: of the 700 houses built by Christian Aid partners after the 2010 earthquake, just one needed to be repaired after Hurricane Matthew.

 

On the terrifying night when Hurricane Matthew hit, Vilias neighbours fled to shelter with her in one such new house. As the storm raged, she shared her home with more than 50 of her neighbours for several days. Despite the ferocity of the hurricane, which swept away surrounding homes, her house was barely damaged.

Vilia allowed her home to become an emergency shelter when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti. She is incredibly grateful for the help she’s received but worries about those without a secure home.

 

Wind, earthquake, flood and fire are natural forces which can bring disasters hard to withstand. Yet with preparation and careful planning people can cope on this earth given the chance.

 

Yesterday Bishop Michael Curry, the head of the Episcopal Church in the US reminded Meghan and Harry and all the world in his marvelous sermon at the royal wedding of a profound Pentecost truth. If the world were to live in the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of God it would unleash great power for good and be as important as the technological jump in human history when mankind learnt to harness fire.

 

God’s Spirit wants to live in and out of his love and guide us into caring for his creation and creatures.

 

God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Truth comes to expose the outrage of poverty in our rich world, the outrage of injustice when unfair trade rules, unfair wages or discrimination because of gender or race lead to privilege some and squash the life of others.

 

God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Truth exposed in the past and still exposes the outrage of slavery, of torture as an investigative tool, of lacking voting rights for women, of physical and mental abuse of people and much else.

 

God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Truth comes powerfully, not to give us a comfortable time but to lead people forward into a truer future, nearer to God’s vision of his creation, the kingdom of God.

 

Someone said:

“Without the Holy Spirit:

God is far away,

Christ stays in the past,

The Gospel is a dead letter,

The Church is simply an organization,

Authority is a matter of domination,

Mission is a matter of propaganda,

the liturgy no more than an evocation,

Christian living a slave morality.

 

But in the Holy Spirit:

The risen Christ is there,

The Gospel is the power of life,

The church shows forth the life of the Trinity,

Authority is a liberating service,

Mission is a Pentecost,

The liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,

Human action is deified. “                          (Patriarch Athenagoras)

 

Thank God for His Spirit!

 

So let us pray: (Jeu d’esprit, Ann Lewin; Kingfisher page 91)

 

Flame-dancing Spirit, come,

Sweep us off our feet and

Dance us through our days.

Surprise us with your rhythms,

Dare us to try new steps, explore

New patterns and new partnerships.

Release us from old routines,

To swing in abandoned joy

And fearful adventure.

And in the intervals,

Rest us,

In your still centre.

 

Amen