Pentecost: Acts 2, 1-21 & John 15, 26-27 & 16, 4-15
I love the story of Pentecost; it's dramatic, full of energy, excitement and vitality. It plays into our desire to enjoy and believe in the fantastical. It's wonderful drama. However, the challenge is to take the words out of the text and allow them to breathe into the here and now. Yes, we as a church community need to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit.
So what is the job of the Holy Spirit? One popular way of thinking about the Holy Spirit is as the sustaining form of God. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are equipped to keep telling the Christian story, salvation’s story. The Holy Spirit, if we are open to him, gives us the right words to say, in the right time, in the right way. The Holy Spirit is that impulse, or energy within us, that allows us to tell the Jesus story, in myriad different ways, or different tongues, to different people. And, just for a moment lets pause and consider this:
Right at the start of the gospels it is clear that Jesus has come for all people in all nations. Simeon makes this clear through the words of the Nunc Dimitus. Pentecost in all its multi-lingual vibrancy is the proof of this. Pentecost is the seal of God’s pledge that salvation’s story is the universal story. In the gospel reading we hear that the work of the Spirit is to lead us into all ‘truth.’ The greatest truth is the universality of the gospel.
As contemporary Christians we need to be open to this Pentecostal truth. And, the only way we can do this is by opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit within us. The way we do this is by prayer, and maybe in particular corporate prayer: ‘When the day of Pentecost came they were all together in one place’ and presumably they were praying, as they had earlier been instructed to do.
I suspect that they were praying in a spirit of openness to God, but I also suspect that they must have been ever so slightly anxious and scared. They had after all been through the most bizarre of sequential experiences; their Lord had been betrayed, tried and crucified, then he had been resurrected. In the period between the resurrection and ascension he appears to his disciples, feeds them, breathes on them, challenges them, and then disappears, again, from them. But the disciples despite all this hang on in there and keep saying their prayers. Pentecost is in some ways God’s way of answering their prayers. Pentecost is not a divine imposition. Its the fulfilment of a divine promise: ‘I will send you another advocate.’
Just like the early disciples we too can be recipients of the divine promise. We too can receive a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of such an anointing is to lead us into all ‘truth,’ and to help us to tell the universal and radically inclusive salvation story to all people in ways which they can understand and relate to.
Loving God, pour your Holy Spirit on us, your church. Lead us into all truth and equip us to tell salvation’s story to all who we encounter. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Saviour we pray, Amen.
Thy Kingdom Come: Philippians 4, 4-9 and Matthew 6, 5-15
Sometimes the words we utter, say and yes, even pray, are so familiar to us that we can lose any sense of their radical edginess. This I think is true for the phrase ‘thy kingdom come.’ And maybe, if we are honest, these are words that slightly scare us: what if the kingdom of God really was to come, not just ‘in heaven’ but ‘here on earth.’ Again, if we are honest, I suspect there is something far less challenging and far more comfortable of keeping the Kingdom of God out there, in the distance, confined to heaven. But as Christians our mandate is to help bring the Kingdom of God into the here and now. If we aren’t prepared to accept that mandate – the mandate to preach the good news to all the nations – we really have no business praying the Lord’s Prayer.
But here is a bit of good news: God knows our weaknesses and our reluctance to do that which we have been mandated to do and that is why we have been given the gift of prayer. However, both our readings make it clear that before we begin to pray, we first need to make sure that our orientation to prayer is correct. Paul, in his letter to the Phiippians, is clear that we need to make sure that we ‘rejoice’ or give thanks to God for all of our many blessings. Jesus urges us to render ourselves vulnerable before God, retreating to a place of quietness and solitude and making sure that we pray in a spirit of humility: ‘whenever you pray do not be like the hypocrites for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners, so that they may be seen by others.’ So humility and joy should be two of the guiding virtues that underpin our lives of prayer.
But, what of the phrase itself, ‘thy kingdom come,’ what might we make of it? I have just three thoughts:
First, it is in itself a prayer for the suppression of ego: ‘thy kingdom come, ’ not my preferred version of whatever that might mean. It is a prayer for the breaking in of God’s kingdom. The one thing I can promise you is that if you really pray these words you will be changed and transformed. You will start to see the world around you from God’s perspective and when you, or we, do this then the result will be that your prayers will be answered as ‘the Father who sees in secret will reward you.’
My second thought is that the answers to your prayers might come in a rather unexpected fashion. Too often our requests are too modest, too restricted, too ‘me orientated.’ Too often our prayers are not orientated towards the breaking in of the kingdom but instead for an off the shelf, cheapened version of grace; one that seems to sort things out but in fact never really does. Real prayer always allows for, even anticipates, the unexpected, the truly transformational, the supernatural. We must allow our prayers to be answered lavishly. In the gospels we hear the stories of how a few scraps of food, when prayed over, fed thousands. We know from the testimonies of people like Chiara Lubich and Mother Theresa how God seemed to multiply the seemingly scarce resources at their disposal simply through the act of prayer. We also know how the prayer life of people like Desmond Tutu helped transform an entire nation. Lubich, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu are all examples of humble yet joyful people who sincerely prayed ‘thy kingdom come.’ We can and must follow in their footsteps. We must be, as I keep saying, a church that is ‘rooted in and routed from prayer.’
One more thought about our prayer heroes: they were not people who prayed only on Sunday. Prayer was, and in Tutu’s case is, part of who they are. Prayer is the very oxygen they breathe. They are all people who have taken Paul’s advice to pray without ceasing. They are all people, ordinary people, who ‘by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving in their hearts’ brought ‘everything’ before God in prayer. We too need to ensure that prayer, true prayer, is part of the fabric of our daily lives.
Finally, praying ‘thy kingdom come’ from a place of humility and with joy in our hearts will change us, and when we change we become signposts to the kingdom, because we are already, even ‘here on earth’, citizens of the kingdom. The consequences of an active life of prayer, where the phrase ‘thy kingdom come’ is prayed with utter sincerity are a loss of anxiety, a renewed sense of peace, the ability to survive and thrive on a simple diet of ‘our daily bread,’ and, forgiveness of those who have ‘trespassed against us.’ Through praying this one phrase we become increasingly compassionate and merciful; we become deeply committed to justice, equality and inclusion; kingdom values in other words.
We become the sort of people who bring the Kingdom of God into the here and now; we become part of the answer to our own prayer, for prayer’s concern is bringing us into partnership with God and his will. When our wills are aligned with God’s will then the result is the coming of the kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven,’ and that is truly something worth praying for,
Easter 7: Acts 1, 15-17 &21 -end, Psalm 1 & John 17, 6-19
Have you ever asked yourself ‘what is the point?’ It's a question that the disciples must have asked time and time again. The Messiah has been crucified and then resurrected. He has spent time with them through the post resurrection encounters and now, just when they were beginning to understand things, he is gone again. They must have been confused and they must have repeatedly asked ‘what is the point.’ But as well as having an existential crisis they must also have felt afraid. It must by this time have started to occur to them that following Jesus is a risky and deeply unpredictable experience. And yet, at the very deepest level, they also know that the story must not end, that it needs to go on.
The church’s mandate is a timeless mandate: we exist primarily to spread the word and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Telling the good news of Jesus Christ, offering to people a different, more compelling, and life giving story through which to live their lives is not for the faint hearted. It takes courage and it takes commitment, for when we tell the Jesus story we challenge all manner of assumptions. In a very real sense we risk incurring the world’s cynicism and wrath. But, tell the story we must.
But here is the good news: we are not asked to tell the story by ourselves alone but as part of a community. This is why the apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas. This is why the church continues to raise up men and women for vocational ministry. Spreading the word is not however just the job of professional clergy. It is a shared responsibility; yours and mine.
Jesus, above all others, knew the risk of spreading his Father’s word. He paid the ultimate price for telling salvation’s story. Jesus also told his disciples that they were not capable of telling salvation’s story in their own strength. Jesus knew that they only real way that they could be strengthened to keep going, unafraid of the cynicism, criticism and yes, crucifixions, they would face was through prayer. The gospel reading we have just heard is, after all, John’s account of Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear that ‘Peter stood up amongst the believers’ and suggested that either Barsabbas or Matthias should be commissioned to replace Judas and ‘then they prayed.’ Finally, the believers seem to understand that prayer is the point. They seem to have understood that the church must always be ‘rooted in and routed from prayer.’ If this was true for the early church, it's true for us today. Above all else we - you and me - must be people of prayer. It is through prayer that we are empowered to tell the Jesus story. How people respond is up to them of course. Our responsibility is to pray so that we can, in the words of the hymn, ‘go forth and tell.’
Prayer is not simply the means by which we gain the necessary courage to tell salvation’s song, for it is also the means through which we grow in holiness. Through prayer we are changed, transformed, authenticated. Through prayer we become the sort of people who in the words of the psalm ‘yield fruit.’
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have asked for a renewal in the prayer life of the church. They are right to do so, because prayer really does change all manner of things. Through prayer we become more confidently Christ-like. Through prayer we become more compassionate, and through prayer we become more courageous. Prayer is the point!
Can I ask you all this week, in the run up to Pentecost to join in with the ‘thy kingdom come’ initiative? This evening, at evensong, I will be preaching on this one stanza from the Lord’s Prayer. I will also be leading midday prayer on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and of course we also have the midday Eucharist on Wednesday. Please do come along to these services as we pray for the breaking in of God’s kingdom ‘here on earth as in heaven.’ If you can’t come please do pray the Lord’s Prayer two or three times a day.
I strongly believe, alongside the Psalmist, the early believers, Jesus and the Archbishops that we must be rooted in and routed from prayer, and that it's through prayer that we begin to understand the point of it all and gain the confidence to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. This week let us recommit ourselves to being people of prayer,
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