I n two weeks time I will leave on a walk to Holy Island. In part this is a fund raiser and publicity event for the Renewal Project. It is also a pilgrimage to a Celtic holy place, in which I will seek to connect with the Celtic saints who walked this land 1400 years ago.
But I have a problem. A symbol of the Holy Spirit in Celtic thought was the Wild Goose – free, untameable, unpredictable. There are stories of Celtic monks going on mission who cast themselves adrift in their coracles, content that wherever the waves and winds took them would be the place that God’s Holy Spirit was directing them.
In contrast, I have done my best to map out a route and pre-book accommodation along the way. Partly this is lower anxiety levels among those I am leaving behind, partly it is to aid the publicity effort that will accompany the walk, and partly it is because I know what it is like to have total strangers show up at the door requesting hospitality. It does make the walk a bit tamer.
Here’s another problem. The book I have been reading this week by Frank Viola has made the case that much of what we do in church life has pagan origins. In particular, the sermon as we know it today derives its origin from the methods of Greek orators – a carefully constructed speech that is delivered to a largely passive but hopefully appreciative audience. This is different, it is claimed, from the preaching and teaching we find in the New Testament. So why I am preaching a sermon this morning? Doesn’t that sound a paradoxical way to lead us in thinking about the person and work of the Holy Spirit?
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come ..” is how the KJV translates this. The disciples had been waiting and praying, just has Jesus had commanded them. One suspects that they did not really know what they were waiting for. When they hear the noise like a mighty rushing wind and see what look like flames, they rush out into the streets declaring the wonders of God, speaking in languages that they have never learned. They were obviously excited, so that some passersby thought that the disciples were drunk.
I was asked the question on Friday evening, would I like to see this or a similar phenomena at St Michael’s? I rather ducked that one, because I thought I would like to ask you all what you think?
How ready are we to encounter God the Holy Spirit and grow in him? Many of us are attracted to the gentle Spirit who comes down like a dove, inspiring love and unity. He is the Spirit of Jesus, an Advocate or Comforter just like Jesus, who comes to live in us and to motivate us for life and service.
How ready are we, though, to encounter the Holy Spirit who if we lie to him can bring about death (Acts 5); who if we sin against him can cause us to be denounced (Acts 8); who can change our travel plans (Acts 16:7).
He is the one who testifies about Jesus. We are not trying to live model lives to convince people to live like us. We are not trying to convince people to adopt our philosophy or system of ethics and morals. We are merely those who have come into a living relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ, and that is the work of his Holy Spirit – we can claim none of the credit.
The Holy Spirit is first the one who motivates and empowers us to continue the work that Jesus began. He works through us as individuals and us united as the church, to prove to people that they have been wrong, sinful, not to depend on and trust in Jesus. Second, the Spirit is he who has demonstrated God’s righteousness by raising Jesus from the dead, and he continues this work as we live that resurrection life out in the midst of the brokenness that we see all around us today. Third, he shows by the life of his church that all the rulers and power structures of this world have been judged and found wanting.
It all comes back to the work of the Holy Spirit, exciting, disturbing, potentially discomforting. We try to be organised, but are continually reminded that the way to make God laugh is to tell him our plans. We aspire to worship in a reverential, orderly way, but there is always the suspicion that God’s Spirit would like to burst our banks and flow out to bless and bring life in ways that will surprise, perhaps even shock us.
Today on this feast of the giving of the Spirit, may we open for all that God has for us, open for all that he would teach us, open to help all those who seek after him, and open to follow him wherever he leads us.
Pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit.