1 June 2014
10.30 Priory Sung Eucharist
Sunday after Ascension
Canon Robin Greenwood
Today is the pivotal moment between Christ’s Ascension and Pentecost.
The early disciples were purposively together, actively expecting the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The invitation to us in our prayers this week is to be asking God’s Spirit to come among us again so that we’re ready for wherever Jesus is now calling us and this community. Our daily prayer could be “Come Holy Spirit!”
The passage from John that we just heard is from “the farewell conversations”. The disciples had experienced the foot washing sign of God’s deep love and been called to the new commandment: to love one another. Jesus prays that the desire of the Father, that all should be one, may be fulfilled.
Here we see our own calling, personally, and as a church community. It is the calling to let ourselves be drawn to the light and away from darkness. Sometimes, the light we see may just be a chink, but that can be enough.
A gardener suddenly had to make a long journey in the spring. When she returned, several weeks later, she was amazed to find a luxurious plant growing up the front of her garage door. When she opened the garage, all became clear. In a dark corner was a sack of seed potatoes. One stem had been attracted by a chink of light under the garage door and it had used all its energy and instinct to grow right across the floor and was now flourishing outside in the sunshine.
In every moment we have a choice whether to follow or to refuse the light, preferring to stay loyal to old ways of managing our lives for ourselves. God leaves us free to cling to our own security, wealth and power rather than to let ourselves be drawn into the light.
When we lose trust in the glory of God we need only go outside again to gaze at the stars and planets, or explore the geological formation and landscape of the Dales, or the multitude of different kinds of birds, fish, fruit, insects and plants, all entwined in a glorious whole. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins exclaimed:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God,
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.
And our lives can reveal the power and greatness of Jesus, the Word of God, for all things were created by him, and without him, nothing is.
Jesus prays that the Father’s purposes will be glorified through us. He announces that when he goes away we shall accomplish even greater things, through the Spirit he will send. To do this we need to hear God’s word about us rather than some destructive alternative word of guilt and judgement that we cling on to.
“Why don’t you come out into the light”, says Jesus. “Know that you are friends of God. Welcome God who is already within you. Come out of the castles you have built
with your own hands and cleverness, the towers of success, of wealth and privilege
Allow God’s life to run through you like the sap in the trees; be humbly dependent like branches of the vine that bear much fruit. Be one with God, be fully present to yourself and to one another. The poet, Mary Oliver, says “I would not wish just have visited this world”. This is our only life, we are called to be fully alive in it.
Those who are most aware of their need are the ones who follow Jesus most joyfully.
Jean Vanier, born in 1928, is a Canadian theologian. Founder of L’Arche international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. The spirituality of L’Arche is based on the revolutionary upside-down vision of the Beatitudes…welcoming and integrating weakness both in ourselves and others. Those with disabilities are among the lowest and most marginalized in most societies, as the least “wanted”, the least desired, people. To desire them for their own sake, to have them as focus of respect, love and friendship in a covenant community,
to honour their names and tell their stories, fits with Jesus saying if you really know you are loved there is no limit to the love you can pour out.
Today, as we pray towards Pentecost, when the Spirit of truth comes, we can expect to receive the promise of superabundant fruitfulness, overwhelming blessings. Jesus’ prayer is for us to be open to receiving more of the Holy Spirit and taking on the full responsibility that is inseparable from love. As we approach Pentecost next Sunday we are offered again a wisdom of love and friendship with Jesus and with those he loves, a communion of heart, the indwelling of the same love that unites Jesus and his Father.
St John says that friends of Jesus are no longer just casually ambling along. No, purposefully serving one another, we are together, one in God, because God is in us.
The comprehensive language for all this might be called “living in glory, living in praise or living in blessing”: the love of wisdom and the wisdom of love. The God of blessing who loves in wisdom both cries out to humanity and hears our cries.
Wise living before the particular Good that Jesus shows us involves a faith that, above all, acknowledges being desired and loved by God, like Jesus at his baptism, and that in response desires and loves God, immersed in the challenges and risks of everyday existence.
Church, if you like, is a school of desire and wisdom. Jesus Christ can be seen as the one who embodies the love of God for God’s sake and teaches the transformation of desire that that requires. His loud cry on the cross, the Easter acclamation “He is Risen!” and the ongoing petition of the church “come Holy Spirit!” are at the heart of our life.
The core dynamic of Christian wisdom is learning to live together in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of love for a God who is praised, thanked and blessed for no other reason than “for his name’s sake”.
I’d like to tell you briefly about a project I am working on based in a research Fellowship at Durham University and for which I’d be glad of your help.
William Leech, in his life a highly successful builder in the North East endowed a Foundation to promote the development of communities and churches. For a time, through his generosity I am free to help churches of different denominations recover a sense of purpose, identity and confidence. In these so called neo-atheist times when spirituality is dis-connected from with Christian practice, many churches are feeling lost and to be honest, quite sorry for themselves.
In my research I’m spending time with five churches of different denominations in the North East. I’ve taken up the scriptural theme of blessing as a counter weight and a challenge. After working face to face with the five churches for a year, I shall this autumn be drafting a resource book for wider use. My urgent message is “believe that God is blessing you now – even if you haven’t noticed. This is what God does. God blesses us, as he blessed Abraham, Moses, Miriam, Sarah, David, Elizabeth, Mary and all those who have been part of the Christian tradition until now. God overwhelms us with blessings – each day we need to stop and notice…count our blessings. But blessings are for sharing not for hoarding. So churches are called out of being half alive to becoming actively a blessing to others and to the neighbourhood wherever we can have influence. We have to use our blessing to fulfil our calling in the public square public even though many say churches (and other religious groups) have no place there.
Small stories in the bible are God’s ways of showing us his way of loving. After the dramatic high of Pentecost, a lame man and two apostles come face to face in the ambiguous space – neither religious nor secular – at the gate of the temple in Jerusalem. He is given a material blessing – not the one he expects, merely a casual gift of silver or gold thrown into a bag – but a face to face encounter and hands reaching out so that he stands and walks away. We can’t know how. The power of the Spirit given at Pentecost made it possible for the apostle to speak with confidence, ”in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk”. Peter takes a huge risk when he calls for the man to stand up. There’s no point in us trying to determine how this man’s body was suddenly fixed. The point of the little story of an encounter in a gateway is that none of us has the wherewithal, in ourselves, to fix the world. And none of us can predict what might happen when we let the power of the Holy Spirit fill usand when we call on Jesus Christ to make a difference.
The draft of my resource book on knowing we are blessed to become a blessing is going to be road tested in a variety of churches next Lent. Simon, your Rector, hopes that we might work together on this. I would be very glad if some of you could trial the book and give your honest and friendly feedback, so that when it goes to the publisher after Easter next year, it can be in as good a shape as possible for general circulation. In that way hopefully you might be blessed and be a blessing to wider church. I hope you will.
So that deceptively simple prayer for us all during this coming week would be
“Come Holy Spirit”. Amen.