She Is with Us

Sunday 19th May 2013
Year C, Pentecost (Whit Sunday)
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Parish Eucharist
Acts 2:1-21

As I remarked a few weeks ago, Pentecost comes chronologically near the beginning of Acts, but at least reading substantial passages from it before today provides a fitting build up because Acts is, above all, the book of the Holy Spirit who, as an equal member of the Trinity, gets rather short shrift  in the Church's year and in the Creeds where she is almost an after-thought; but the story of our salvation, beginning on Advent One, reaches its triumphant culmination today as we prepare ourselves for Ordinary Time, for the Spirit is in the Church and we are the Church.

What do we learn from Acts? The Spirit breaks into human time at Pentecost, just as the Creator broke in through creation and our Redeemer through incarnation, and she then proceeds to turn the world upside down, laying the foundations for the triumph of Christ over insipid and self-regarding paganism. We see Peter transformed from the timid and impetuous disciple into Peter the leader, reaching out - with some lapses and some misgivings - to the Gentiles: he stands before a massive crowd on the day of Pentecost and preaches Christ crucified and risen; he heals the sick in the name of Christ; he stands fearless before the Jewish religious authorities and denounces them for the murder of Christ; he visits the houses of Gentiles; he is freed by an angel from prison; and he is part of that great watershed decision to allow Gentiles into the Christian community without full adherence to the Jewish Law because he sees, above all else, that love crowns the Law.

And as Peter fades from Luke's narrative, Stephen dies for Christ; and Paul rampages all over the Empire suffering, as he never fails to tell his correspondents, great hardship which is rewarded by steady and sometimes spectacular progress before he reaches the very centre of the Evil Empire, Rome where, by tradition, he and Peter both give their lives for Christ. It is a breathless tale, so intense that the Spirit is more present in it than even Peter or Paul.

But that is not the end of the matter. The Spirit is with us now. Look at what we have built in the Spirit: look at our building made new; look at the children in the crèche and the Sunday school; listen to the bells summoning us to worship; listen to the choir leading us in praise; listen as I ring the Sanctus bell to let the whole world know that Jesus is present with us in the bread and wine through the power of the Spirit. Remember how many gathered for the celebration of our new beginning; remember the achievement long after the glass becomes an unending charge on the commitment of the Martha’s and Mary’s; remember the joy and the love we all felt; but, above all, remember that The Spirit is with us in our new beginning.

A building is a fine thing but its worth depends entirely on what happens inside it. We have done the easy bit but the hard bit lies ahead. As the final tasks are completed by the builders and craftsmen the story of Acts is still fresh in our hearts but it must not fade. We will all get behind the Churchwardens and the PCC in setting out afresh as the pilgrim church but full rotas and fresh approaches will not be enough unless they bring more people to Jesus.

And what are we bringing them for? To hear the good news that all are to be enrolled in the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven, in worship and love. We really must stop frightening people away with pointless moralising. We are replacing the forbidding, old, heavy dark church doors with glass; so let our hearts be as open as glass so that people can see who we are and why we are. Let us be good hosts and not judge our guests; let us be hospitable and give all we have to the stranger, to the timid, and even to the cynical and the hostile.

Some will say that Christianity is dying; but I say that The Spirit can't count; it is the love she generates through us that counts not the number of people who come to church out of some antique obligation. We are not the conforming Church of yester year; we are the affirming church of today and tomorrow. We are here because this is where we want to be; and if it's that good being here, we want other people to be with us.

And for that to happen we need to keep two relationships with the Spirit in balance. First, there is our collective relationship in worship and service, nourished by Word and Sacrament, without which we are not a church at all; those who say that they can sustain a relationship with God purely through private means are either deluding themselves or they are saints. We all need that mutual support for where we are gathered the Spirit is with us. But, secondly, we are not a church unless we have our personal relationship with the Spirit, sometimes in prayer and study but also in listening and in silence.

This church building is to be a power house of mission but power is not best exercised in excess where force can damage what we would seek to nourish: the relentless persistence of grass breaks the stone; electricity runs along wires to power a myriad devices; an insect colony thrives on team work and balance; water, fire, oxygen, electricity, gas, fertiliser and other power agents work best with modest application. So our power house of mission must be a solid enterprise directed by the Spirit.

And you know, "they won't do it". "They" aren't about to fix the world, the country, the church, the parish or the family; God will not fix what we were created to fix; and "they" will not fix what we were created to fix. We are the hearts and minds and limbs of the Spirit. She is with us. And we must be with Her.