31 May 2020

St Dunstan's Anglican Church Camberwell

Pentecost is such an interesting event in the story that is the basis for the formation of the church. Pentecost was an Old Testament festival, one of the great pilgrimage festivals in Jesus’ day with its roots right back in Jewish history which meant that the faithful had assembled in Jerusalem. We tend to think of this as the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work for us, and we often describe the event as the beginning of the church. However the Holy Spirit had been active since the beginning of everything that we know. This morning I want to think more broadly about the Holy Spirit.

We had, as we usually do, three readings. They are all New Testament readings, and they all contain references to the Holy Spirit, but the picture is quite different in the three texts. As human beings one of our great desires is to catalogue and contain. We want information about things that enables us to put them in their place in the world so that we feel as if we are in control of them. The Holy Spirit resists this human tendency and so is the least known and understood part of the Trinity, or Godhead. We also have a tendency to anthropomorphising which the Holy Spirit resists. God the Father, we understand, and for some of us getting beyond the picture of theOld White male with the long flowing beard is quite difficult. I often quote Marcus Borg who says, tell me about the God that you don’t believe in because I probably don’t believe in him either. One of the gifts of feminist theology has been to disrupt this picture of the male God and help us to realise that our picture of God is too small. Jesus, anthropormorphises the Christ intentionally, so that we might learn from and know God in a very direct way. The Holy Spirit is the aspect of the Godhead less easy for us to understand. The Holy Spirit as a concept is complex and undefinable.

On the one Sunday of the year when we try to come to terms with the Holy Spirit we might have added the text of Genesis 1, or indeed a number of other OT texts to build a fuller picture of the work of the Holy Spirit, as that is the only way that we have of comprehending her. And I say her advisedly. In Hebrew the word is ruach, breath, in other words life itself, also wind and spirit. These are all things which are difficult to quantify. It is a feminine noun. In Greek its is neuter in gender. In English we feel the need to refer to the Holy Spirit as he, because the rest of God is “He” But I think that using a feminine pronoun helps us to recognize the complexity that is God. Luke describing the Spirit’s arrival describes it in quite violent terms, untamed and untamable. When Peter quotes Joel it is also a very overwhelming picture of the Spirit, poured out and not in a way sanctioned by human systems but rather contravening them. This hints also at the creative power of the Holy Spirit.

And this is the first of the four pictures of the Holy Spirit that I want to share with you today. In Genesis 1 the HS is seen dancing the creative dance that brings all into being. The action is described as being the work of the three aspects of the Godhead. God the Creator, who speaks as the Word and dances as the Spirit, or life itself. And this Acts account of rushing wind and tongues of fire is a metaphor for God’s powerful breath or life being poured out on the disciples. this is today’s second aspect of the Holy Spirit, the giver of voice. The disciples are given voice for the people assembled, and let me just point out that this is not the glossolalia mentioned in the Corinthians reading but rather polyglossia, or many voices so that many could hear. And the ongoing promise that Peter quotes from Joel is that we male and female, slave and free, old and young will be able to give voice to God’s message of love for all, a prophetic voice that speaks of mercy and justice. Giving voice is a fundamental function of the Holy Spirit and one that has not ceased.

The reading from Corinthians talks about some other gifts of the Holy Spirit which are more specifically for building and equipping the body of Christ for our work in the world. Some of them seem slightly odd to us now, or perhaps redundant, but they were clearly what Paul thought the Holy Spirit was doing for the early church. And please note that none of the gifts is given for the benefit of the individual but always for the common good. The most important thing about these gifts is that they somehow equip us for growing together and being the body of Christ, that is the hands and feet, the head and heart of Christ here in our world.

The fourth aspect of the Holy Spirit that we are shown in these readings is that of the giver of peace and forgiveness. Jesus sends his followers out to bring shalom to the world. And part of that peace is the business of forgiveness and reconciliation. We must never forget that Jesus is sending us into our world for this purpose. I once heard +John McIntyre talking about this business of forgiving and retaining sins. He said that when we human beings could forgive the sin could be dispensed with but when we humans refused to forgive the sin was held onto, retained in the lives of all those concerned. This is not to say that the sins don’t matter, that forgiving them causes them to go away, but rather that forgiving them means that they can no longer cause harm in our lives, though, as we see with post-traumatic stress the affects of sins may go on being felt. When we think of sin and the church the first thing that we think of is Child Sexual Abuse, and it is important to understand that we cannot forgive the sinners for what they have done to the children, that is not ours to forgive. And it is not an easy matter for victims to forgive things that have done significant damage. Jesus isn’t being flippant here, and he is not offering the Holy Spirit as a kind of panacea that will fix everything. Rather that in the power of the Holy Spirit forgiveness can be found, though it may be experienced differently for different people. The other aspect that is particularly significant today is that of reconciliation, which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is something we must pray for and act for in our Australia of today. Without reconciliation we will never be able to truly go forward as a society.

The work of the Holy Spirit is so much bigger than our often small picture, creator, giver of voice, giver of gifts for others and giver of forgiveness and reconciliation. mercy and compassion. This is our big picture God. This is God who permeates the whole of our existence, the giver of life itself. It is easy for us to try to see the work of God in very small ways rather than understanding that every aspect of life is a function ofGod. As John Bell says in his song that we are about to sing the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be captured, silenced or restrained. The prophetic voice, which is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit must go out into our world- words of salvation for everyone. Words of human worth and dignity, justice and mercy. And in this National Sorry Week we have a prime example of a place where the prophetic word must be heard.We also have, as we look around our world many other examples of where the words of peace and reconciliation need to be spoken and heard. Our world, created by God and peopled by those made in God’s image must be called to peace. Our world is created and inspired by God.

Our knowledge of God is always constrained by our humanity so it is in how we treat each other that God is reflected.

As we go out this week we must go in the courage of the Holy Spirit to bravely love and serve God by loving and serving the humans that surround us. We go filled with the Holy Spirit which is not an add on but rather the breath within us. We are filled with the Holy Spirit as we are filled with life itself. May we breathe peace and love, mercy and justice on our world wherever we go.

Vicar Roberta Hamilton