Pentecost Sermon, May 2021
by Revd Jessica Malay
There is this series of books I like to read for a bit of fun they are called The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. Its about a historical research organization called…St Mary’s. But they have a unique way of studying history…they time-travel…or as they say, carry out historical research in real time. Well you can imagine why I like these books. They are action packed, they visit Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots, thy are on sight for the Fall of Troy, they visit the hanging gardens of Babylon and even steal King Arthur’s sword. If such an organization really existed, I would be one of the first to sign up, and one of the first people I would want to visit would be…yes you guessed it, the Lady Anne Clifford at Skipton Castle! But of course if I had to choose only one person from history, I would choose to go to the edge of the sea of Galilee and listen to our Lord teach. Now in Jodi Taylor’s series, there are banned times and places in history, and key religious sites and events are the most important of these - no one may visit them. Though in one book a crazy man forces them to go to Jerusalem during the Crucifixion, and the heroine of the series, a plucky red head calls Max, puts her life on the line to ensure that no images, no viewing of events takes place - they are eventually saved by the time police…but that is another story.
Still, if such a thing were possible, that is where I would go. I wouldn’t even care if I was just one of the 5000, to hear Jesus, to see Jesus in the flesh…amazing. In fact, very few people actually had the opportunity of being in the same place, the same time as our Lord. His life was short, and his ministry lasted about three years. And Jesus knew this, and I think he is not only speaking to his disciples, but also to us in that passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus tells the disciples that he must leave them, but then he comforts them by telling them, ‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send this advocate to you.’
The gift of the Holy Spirit. And this gift of the God’s divine and holy spirit, is the divine presence that surrounds us all, and that seeks to join our lives, our mind, our body, our spirit. Indeed we need no time machine, we don’t need to do ‘historical research in real time’ to walk with Jesus. You’ll remember a few weeks ago I read a part of the naturalist and theologian, Charles Raven’s memoir where he talked about his conversion, when he entered his friend’s room and knew that another person was there, that Jesus was there in that room. And I suspect that all of you can think of a time when you felt the presence of our Lord most vividly.
Sometimes we know that Jesus is close to us because pain, sorrow, grief lifts a little or a lot and we feel that we are being sustained by something that is not ourselves. Other times it is that shaft of joy that pierces our heart and we do not know where such joy came from. I especially love these moments - I used to try and explain them, but now I don’t, I just enjoy being so fully in God’s presence. When Jesus told his disciples that he had to go or the Holy Spirit would not come, he was speaking in some sense figuratively, because the Holy Spirit is the Divine presence of our Lord in our lives at all times. And thus, Jesus has never left this world, Jesus is our advocate, Jesus is teaching us now just as surely as he did when he walked in physical form on the banks of Galilee.
This is truly ‘wonder’ filled, but there is more, and Pentecost is about that more. It was not only about our relationship with God, but about our relationship with each other. In our reading today the coming of the Holy Spirit was not a private affair, it was public, it was loud, it was showy, it was noticed. This gift was not just for the 12, not just for the wider group of disciples, this gift was for all people.
Peter prophesies, repeating the words from the Prophet Joel: ‘I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters…even upon my servants both men and women in those days I will pour out my spirit.’ Pentecost was the day of days, the day that the divine spirit, entered the world most evidently and those people did prophesy, they told out what they knew of our Lord, they spoke of love and healing and forgiveness, and they stood and the stand for the worth of every human being, every being that God intends and does fill with the Holy Spirit.
Acts is a fast paced narrative, not long after Pentecost, that thing which the apostles did not expect happened, the Gentiles who had come to them to learn also opened their hearts and accepted the gift of God’s grace, ‘Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.’ (Acts 10: 46-47).
And it was God’s spirit that inspired St Paul to proclaim, ‘For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13). And Paul knew what this meant, telling the Galatians, ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3.28), Of course, of course. The Spirit of our God entered into human history through our Lord Jesus Christ, and when he had done what he needed to do for us, his human body left this existence, but his spirit remained with us, and continues to draw each and every individual in this world to the divine.
As one of my favorite writers, Evelyn Underhill puts it, “Our small created spirits originate with God the Pure Sprit; we owe our being to God and depend utterly on God. …And only under the Holy Spirit’s penetrating action and through its indwelling presence can any human life become complete…God’s Spirit is always present and working within our lives, it is that place within ourselves where all good dwells and where all good we do in our life comes from. (The Golden Sequence, 1932: p. 26)
We all participate in Pentecost, the Holy Spirit binds us to all that have come before and all who will come after. Within it we live and move and have our being, and all that inspires and supports us to good, all that inspires us to live the lives that Jesus taught us to live, comes from this divine spirit. All that is in us that loves our neighbor, that moves us to give, to sacrifice, all that helps us to love and support each other, all that helps us to recognize God in the face of a stranger, that is the Holy Spirit. It is the ‘Spirit of Truth’ that guides us in all things, and it rests on all of us today, and every day. Amen