Welcome + Worship + Witness

Bishop John Flack: Listening to the Spirit

Editor’s note: Bishop John Flack, formerly Bishop of Huntingdon, is the son-in-law of the late Canon Maurice Slaughter, formerly Priest in Charge of Bolton Abbey, and the late Jean Slaughter. After the Eucharist at which this sermon was preached, Bishop Flack interred the ashes of Jean Slaughter in the Priory Tower alongside those of her late husband whose ashes were interred in 2013.

The Kathy Galloway hymn, She comes with mother’s kindnesses, and the text of the New Testament reading in Danish, both of which Bishop John refers to in his sermon, may be found in an appendix to the text of his sermon

24 May 2015
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Whitsunday/Pentecost
Bishop John Flack
Acts 2. 1-21 (in Danish); John 15. 26-7 & 16. 4b – 15

It is always a pleasure and a privilege to preach at Bolton Priory, and this is the sixth time that I have done so since 1978 when my father-in-law Canon Maurice Slaughter came here as your priest-in-charge.   He died in December 2012 and we buried his ashes in the narthex of this Priory Church underneath the gargoyle which bears his likeness.    My family and I come today to inter his wife Mrs Jean Slaughter who died in Aberdeen a few weeks ago on 22nd April,  just short of her 97th birthday.    Jean’s ashes will be buried in the same spot, and so she will be re-united with Canon Maurice, with whom she shared 68 years of married life.

Maurice and Jean spent  eight years here, between 1978 – 1986,  during which the Priory underwent substantial refurbishment and improvement :  and even more important,  experienced huge growth in the number of regular worshippers.   Jean was a very significant partner in this work.   She undertook the basic task of offering hospitality to the growing number of tourists and visitors.   She became an authorised guide to the Priory church and the Abbey grounds.   She was a leading member of the worshipping congregation, not just on Sundays but on every weekday as well,  as she joined Maurice for the daily recitation of Morning and Evening Prayer.   Jean was very aware, as he was, that they were heirs to the long tradition of monastic life here,  since Augustinian Canons established  Bolton Priory beside the River Wharfe in the fourteenth century.

Jean loved this place and the opportunity to serve it gave her enormous pleasure.   It is fitting that her mortal remains should lie here amid the beauty of  this dale,  while the seasons come and go and the years pass on.

The interment of her ashes will take place at the end of this service.

But today is the Feast of Pentecost and Jean, always devout, would want me to say more about that than about her.    If, like me, you were brought up in the Church of England more than 60 years ago,  you will be more familiar with the other name for this Sunday, Whitsunday, the title used in the Book of Common Prayer.    This was the name for today from the middle ages down to 1980.  It is a an elision of the title White Sunday  so called because in medieval times many  Confirmations took place on this day,  and in those days,  as older people will remember,  candidates always wore white.   By 1980, when the Alternative Service Book came into use,  the custom of wearing white at Confirmations was no longer universal.    At the same time the government was abolishing the old Whit Monday and replacing it with the Spring Bank Holiday.   Because of this, our Church thought it right to return to the title the early Christians used for today, Pentecost.   The events we celebrate today originally happened during the Jewish feast of Pentecost, and “Pentecost”  is the Greek number “50” – 50 days after Easter.    It is rightly regarded nowadays as the Feast of the Holy Spirit.

The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of that first Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus had risen from the dead.    He had told his disciples “see, I am sending you what the Father has promised, so stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high”  (Luke 24 v 49).    That promise was kept on the Day of Pentecost itself when the disciples had three extraordinary experiences

the sudden sound of a rushing mighty wind
tongues of fire appearing on the heads of all of them
able to speak in different languages and understand one another

Wind and fire were, of course, common experiences in the Old Testament – Moses in the Burning Bush,  Crossing the Red Sea, Elijah and the Prophets of Baal, the call of Isaiah to name just a few.   Wind and Fire are just two of the ways in which God announces his presence among us.  The ability to understand different languages relates back to Genesis chapter 11,  when those who were building the Tower of Babel  (“babble”) found their efforts were defeated because they could not understand each other’s languages.   Wind, Fire and Languages are all instances of how the story of Jesus in the New Testament overturns and redeems the stories in the Old Testament.

I was delighted to hear the story of that first Pentecost read in Danish this morning.   The rhythm, sound and syntax of the Danish language, brought here by the Vikings 12 centuries ago,  can still be heard today in the Yorkshire dialect and the regional accent.    When those Augustinian canons arrived here 700 years ago, they would have prayed in Latin but made conversation with each other in a mixture of Danish and French !     We are so used to thinking that God only understands traditional English that we forget how He has been worshipped in many different languages and the faith of His Church handed down in multi-layered traditions.   One of the important lessons of the Feast of Pentecost,  is that our God is greater and bigger than any description of him, in any language.

I’ve referred to God as “him” but in a few minutes we’re going to be singing a hymn which calls God “her” – again reminding us that God is both male and female and that she/he transcends all cultures and traditions.    Both that hymn and the Gospel reading we heard just now help us to understand something of God’s Holy Spirit :  here are some of the Holy Spirit’s characteristics:

he/she
offers us guidance, direction and wisdom
empowers us for the work to which we are called
as a waiting Father,  restores us by his forgiveness and mercy
as a Loving Mother,  cares for us with tenderness and understanding
strengthens us in times of challenge and difficulty
is available for us in any circumstances,  always faithful
leads us into all truth

So whilst we can’t describe the Holy Spirit,  we can  see how that Spirit affects our own lives and the lives of those around us.    At Pentecost  (especially) you should not just listen to the words of the preacher,  but find the Holy Spirit in the words of the liturgy, in our prayers, hymns and readings.   Three of our hymns this morning give very clear details of the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Church

1        Kathy Galloway’s Offertory Hymn
          “She comes with mother’s kindnesses and bends to touch and heal”

2        Bishop John Cosin’s  “Veni Creator”
         “Thy blessed unction from above is comfort, life and fire of love”

3        Archbishop Stephen Langton’s Pentecost Sequence
        “fill the faithful who confide in thy power to guard and guide”

and then as always in the Eucharist,  we call down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine,  that in them we may meet with Jesus.   It was Jesus who promised all who follow him the gifts of the Spirit we have been thinking about this morning.

To sum up, we might say that the Holy Spirit gives each one of us the ability to MAKE A DIFFERENCE our lives.   It is the Spirit who enables us to achieve more than we think we can.   It is the Spirit who helps us to bring God’s grace into the lives of others.   Making a Difference to them.

Are you someone who really makes a difference in the place where you live ?

May each of us know as we leave church this morning, that the Holy Spirit is strengthening us  and that somehow, somewhere, he/she is guiding us in every aspect of our lives if only we will listen.   There is a special word for YOU and for ME in this morning’s Pentecost service.

Appendix

New Testament Reading:  Acts 2. 1 – 21 (in Danish)

Og da Pinsefestens Dag kom, vare de alle endrægtigt forsamlede. Og der kom pludseligt fra Himmelen en Lyd som af et fremfarende vældigt Vejr og fyldte hele Huset, hvor de sade. Og der viste sig for dem Tunger som af Ild, der fordelte sig og satte sig på hver enkelt af dem. Og de bleve alle fyldte med den Helligånd, og de begyndte at tale i andre Tungemål, efter hvad Ånden gav dem at udsige. Men der var Jøder, bosiddende i Jerusalem, gudfrygtige Mænd af alle Folkeslag under Himmelen. Da denne Lyd kom, strømmede Mængden sammen og blev forvirret; thi hver enkelt hørte dem tale på hans eget Mål. Og de forbavsedes alle og undrede sig og sagde: “Se, ere ikke alle disse, som tale, Galilæere? Hvor kunne vi da høre dem tale, hver på vort eget Mål, hvor vi ere fødte, Parthere og Medere og Elamiter, og vi, som høre hjemme i Mesopotamien, Judæa og Happadokien. Pontus og Asien, i Frygien og Pamfylien, Ægypten og Libyens Egne ved Kyrene, og vi her boende Romere, Jøder og Proselyter, Kretere og Arabere, vi høre dem tale om Guds store Gerninger i vore Tungemål?” Og de forbavsedes alleog,vare tvivlrådige og sagde den ene til den anden: “Hvad kan dette være?” Men andre sagde spottende: “De ere fulde af sød Vin.”

Da stod Peter frem med de elleve og opløftede sin Røst og talte til dem: “I jødiske Mænd og alle I, som bo i Jerusalem! dette være eder vitterligt, og låner Øre til mine Ord! Thi disse ere ikke drukne, som I mene; det er jo den tredje Time på Dagen; men dette er, hvad der et sagt ved Profeten Joel: “Og det skal ske i de sidste Dage, siger Gud, da vil jeg udgyde af min Ånd over alt Kød; og eders Sønner og eders Døtre skulle profetere, og de unge iblandt eder skulle se Syner, og de gamle iblandt eder skulle have Drømme.Ja, endog over mine Trælle og over mine Trælkvinder vil jeg i de Dage udgyde af min Ånd, og de skulle profetere. Og jeg vil lade ske Undere på Himmelen oventil og Tegn på Jorden nedentil, Blod og Ild og rygende Damp.Solen skal forvandles til Mørke og Månen til Blod, førend Herrens store og herlige Dag kommer. Og det skal ske, enhver, som påkalder Herrens Navn, skal frelses.”

Offertory Hymn

She comes with mother’s kindnesses
and bends to touch and heal.
She gives her heart away in love
for those who cannot feel.

She comes with lover’s tenderness
to answer love’s appeal.
She gives her body with her heart
to make her passion real.

She comes with worker’s faithfulness
to sow and reap and spin.
She bends her back in common task
to gather harvest in.

She comes with artist’s joyfulness
to make and shape and sing.
She gives her hands, and from them grows
a free and lovely thing.

She comes, a child in humbleness
and trust is in her eyes.
And through them all of life appears
in wondering surprise.

She comes with power like the night
and glory like the day.
Her reign is in the heart of things –
Oh come to us and stay.

Kathy Galloway