20 May 2018
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Revd Jonathan Cain
Acts 2: 1-21; John 15: 26-27 & 16: 4-15
It has become a bit of a joke in our house that on the relatively few occasions that Rebecca has been asked to read in churches, the list of what the Apostle St Paul calls earthly desires has come up in the lectionary: “Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing.” Is God, or the keeper of the rota at least, trying to tell her something by giving her this particular piece of scripture to read? I don’t help because when she is practicing I usually interject with the line, “We’ll have none of that!” which some of you might recognise as a line from Monty Python. There is of course a serious point. Paul did not set out a list of earthly desires to be some kind of religious kill-joy; nor did he do it in an attempt to deny our humanity, our fleshiness if you will. No, he set out a list of what he came to see and understand as the things that separate us from ourselves, from each other and from God.
Today is the Feast of Pentecost, the day on which Christians remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues as of fire. We read in Acts that the Spirit gave the disciples special ability to speak in other languages. When this outpouring of the Holy Spirit happens, and the disciples begin to tell people about Jesus, cast out demons in his name, and perform miracles those in the crowds find it irresistible. Later in chapter two of Acts we read of three-thousand baptised in a single day.
The Apostle St Peter, remember he was a fisherman not well versed in public speaking, is given confidence to stand up and speak. He quotes from the Old Testament prophet Joel who says this: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” The prophet Joel’s references to “the last days”, to portents in heaven, blood, fire, the sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood are apocalyptic references to the end of time. We know that the coming of Jesus heralds the beginning of God’s work to redeem all creation; the beginning of this end time. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers to this day are all signs of God drawing creation back to Godself; but the final promise that God will pour out the Holy Spirit on all flesh, universally, unbounded by gender, generation and social standing, is yet to come.
Major outpourings of the Holy Spirit may be rare, but when St Paul lists earthly desires, he also lists what he calls, “The fruit of the Spirit … love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The vocation of the church is to be signs of God’s active work in history by being communities characterised by these fruits.
On Wednesday of this week Simon and I accompanied your churchwardens Paul Middleton and Matt Hey to the annual Archdeacon’s visitation at Holy Trinity Skipton. This is the occasion when churchwardens from across the diocese receive the Archdeacon’s Charge, and take their oaths for what the church describes as their spiritual and holy calling. During the service the churchwardens ask for the Lord’s help to discharge this calling, and formally take up office.
In her charge on Wednesday, Bev Mason, the Archdeacon of Richmond and Craven challenged the churchwardens to play their part in creating church communities characterised by the fruits of the Spirit. Such fruits are evident in the quality of our hospitality, and here we might point to the welcome given to couples who get married at the Priory – two of whom are returning today to baptise their babies – and the reaction of the tens of thousands of visitors who say “what is it about this place.” But we need to be attentive. Earthly desires are persistent, and in wider society knowledge often trumps love as does a desire to control trump self-control.
I’m sure you will all join me in congratulating Simon following the news that he is to take up the position as Dean of Wakefield. The news is a reminder that clergy have the privilege to sojourn with a community for a season; but it is the lay members of a church community that give it stability. As we celebrate Pentecost this year let’s pray for Simon and Anne as they prepare to move; let’s pray for Paul and Matt as they bear additional responsibility during the vacancy; let’s pray for hearts open to the work of the Holy Spirit, and all take our responsibility for creating a community of love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Such communities are irresistible.