This is you, Jesus. This is us. This is you and us together, the Body of Christ. You Jesus, here with us and in us, your church.
That is the sense I had today (Sunday, 2nd) back in the building for a service which was both different and yet irrepressibly the same, filled with the spirit of a group of people together turning to God, opening themselves up to God, and so letting God’s Holy Spirit in.
Jesus was recognised by his followers as the Christ, which means the anointed one, anointed with God’s Spirit. It flowed through him in his time on earth, spilling out of him and into others. That same Spirit meant that his death was not the end and it filled the early Christians; that same Holy Spirit hasn’t gone away. It/she/he, however you like to define the indefinable, means that we are not alone, that anything is possible.
We don’t understand everything, or even very much; we are in the dark a lot of the time; we grasp at and express our faith in different ways; we fall out; we are all shapes, sizes, personalities, backgrounds, traits, nationalities, skin shades, loves. We have strong feelings and opinions and aren’t always careful of each other. We don’t know what the future brings. But today, back in church I knew that we are the Body of Christ here on earth now, filled with that Spirit.
Jesus Christ, this is you, this is us. This is you and us together, the Body of Christ. You Jesus here with us and in us, your church.
Pictured: Christ the Redeemer, picture by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash.
Media outlets have a new rival – the Roman Broadcasting Company (RBC) whose reporter has been recording virtual interviews, trying to uncover the truth behind strange events taking place in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. The interviews will be broadcast on this website on Sunday, May 31, in a Pentecost service which will be online from 9am.
The RBC will be investigating stories of ordinary people being transformed from scared individuals into confident and joyful women and men who started telling everyone about Jesus, a man from nearby Galilee who had been killed by crucifixion but had risen again and was offering a new way of living and coming close to God.
The story, of course, is the one recalled in chapter two of the book of Acts, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit and began a new ministry which saw the beginning of what became the Christian church. This story will be celebrated on Sunday, May 31, in three services – a formal one and an informal one available in the morning, and an all-sung service in the evening, available from 6pm. The informal service will include a dramatised version of the story involving the RBC interviewing witnesses of the events. You may also want to have a candle, a pot of bubbles and also cake to help you take part!
Here’s what Lesley Crawley has to say about it: “A few days before the events we celebrate at Pentecost, the risen Jesus had ascended to heaven and had promised that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came down on them, enabling them to be brave and follow Jesus in loving service to others. This is what we are reflecting on here. And of course, the Holy Spirit wasn’t just for those early disciples but is available to all of us and is in us as we work to help others and love others, trying to be the hands and arms and heart of Jesus today.
“So come and join us online on Sunday, May 31, at our formal or informal services in the morning or our all-sung service in the evening from 6pm. Even the sermon is being sung! It’s all on https://badshotleaandhale.org/ and everyone is welcome!”
Pentecost also marks the end of The Kingdom Come, the period from Ascension Day which each year is dedicated to prayer. We are celebrating Thy Kingdom Come with a different version of the Lord’s Prayer each day at noon and sharing resources from the Thy Kingdom Come organisers.
One of my friend’s husbands called it the Holy Spook.
And also it can make us think about people who seem a bit weird:
In one church which was quite formal a woman who had just become a Christian, and she was really excited about what she’d experienced, about the Holy Spirit. And in the middle of the service she shouted out, `Hallelujah!’ And the churchwarden was standing at the back, and he came up to her and tapped her on the shoulder and said, `Madam, you mustn’t say that here!’ And she said, `But I’m so excited! I’ve got religion!’ So he said, `Well, you didn’t get it here, madam.’
It might be worth looking at the Bible to see instances of the HS.
The Holy Spirit was in creation – brooding over the waters… it is creative and brings change.
The Holy Spirit gives gifts – in Exodus one of the craftsmen was named as filled with the HS to perform all sorts of crafts – creative again.
Gideon was afraid until he was filled with the HS.
The HS enabled Samson to break free of his bonds.
In Joel it says that the Holy Spirit is for all people – all people – you, me, everyone.
It will result in old men dreaming dreams and young men having visions, and all of us, women too will have this fantastic sense of God within us and of God’s dreams and visions.
I was talking to someone this week who told me that she suddenly realised that she had faith, and with this realisation came this sense of God within her. Wow! It made me realise how exciting being a Christian is – sometimes we just take it for granted. We compared notes – I feel the HS in my heart, for her it was partly in her heart and in her gut too – this sense of God with us.
Remember the Holy Spirit is for us all – every one of us, those of us who are near and those who are far away, and it will cause something new to happen, something creative, something that frees us, something that gives us a vision for the future.
When we try to be Christians in our own strength then it is like a balloon filled with air –we have to hold it to keep it up. That is sometimes called muscular Christianity – we toil, we struggle, we do it in our own strength. But if we have a balloon filled with helium then it will rise up to heaven unless we keep it down. Perhaps it is our fears, or our sins or our circumstances that keep it down. Perhaps we need to be freed of some of this stuff.
I believe that the Holy Spirit come to give us freedom. The Bible tells us that it was for Freedom that Christ has set us free, no longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery. It seems to me that it is mostly the fears that stop us being free.
When I was preparing for this sermon I looked in a book that gives quotes or thoughts for each sermon and it used an essay about the film Shirley Valentine as the example for Pentecost. Which surprised me rather. If you haven’t seen the film then it is a gentle comedy of a woman, middle-aged wife and mother who is stuck. Stuck in her life. Rather unhappy. She goes to Greece, I think, on holiday with another woman who is her friend and meets a Greek called Costas and has a torrid affair. Then at the end of the film she calls for her husband and he comes out and walks past her on the beach. She calls to him and he doesn’t recognise her and she responds:
“I know. I used to be The Mother. I used to be The Wife. But now I’m Shirley Valentine again. Would you like to join me for a drink?”
The last line of the film is from him “Er… thanks”.
I was a bit non-plussed – I’m used to Christian books moralising at me. What was this story saying?
I think it is that the Holy Spirit frees us to be truly and wonderfully ourselves. And the real us is beautiful and happy and open and free and finding that person and letting her or him out of the cages that we put her or him in is part of the work of the Spirit.
Each night I use an Ignation style of prayer, and in this prayer the first part is Consciousness – becoming aware of God, then the second part is freedom – which still surprises me. God is not foreign to my freedom – God wants to set me free.
But the HS also is about sending us out. It is interesting that the HS enabled everyone to speak in languages that others could hear. It was like a reversal of the Tower of Babel curse, where people could no longer understand each other. The HS allows us to connect more deeply with others. Psychologists tell us that the most important thing for us all is to have connection. As Christians we might say love.
So where is the HS leading us as a church? It makes sense to try to see what the Spirit is doing and join in.
Unlike the vicar who enjoyed sitting at the bottom of his garden where a train line ran past. And when asked why he liked watching the trains he replied that it is the only thing that moved through his Parish without him pushing it.
It isn’t like that here – much is moving, it seems like loads of trains are happily moving and building up steam and it is nothing to do with me or Alan – we didn’t touch them!
Let us watch and pray and asked to be filled and freed and join in with what God is doing to serve those who we live alongside.
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
The baptism of Jesus.
Aren’t there times when we all feel like a fresh start
though sometimes difficult enough to put into practise
But what about those more difficult issues
Life isn’t perfect, we’re not perfect.
We make mistakes, we have regrets,
There are time when it would feel wonderful to leave all these behind us – in the past –
and start again.
One of the great comforts and joys of the Christian faith
is that we know and love a God who by his very nature is forgiving
who allows us
to let go of past failures and begin again.
And because this is what our God is like,
this is how he would have us be as well.
‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’
During every regular act of worship there is an opportunity to remember our failures before God
accompanied by assurance of His forgiveness.
When we are very troubled we can seek a private opportunity for the consolation of confession.
And indeed the very moment of the start of our life in Christ is a moment of new beginnings
Of turning away from evil – towards Christ
Of being washed clean in the waters of Baptism.
For each of us these are very personal, precious moments
moments between me and my God.
But just think, as we say the words of confession together, aren’t we also to consider our failings as a community,
To bring these before God and to find a better way.
At the time we read about in today’s Gospel it seems that a vast number of the Jewish nation were seeking a new way.
People went out to John in the Judean desert from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.
Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the river Jordan.
Not one or two people, but almost the whole nation.
There’s practically no reference to any form of baptism in the Old Testament
So at this time baptism was a very recent development.
We know that the Jews of the Qumran community, made famous by their writings we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, living beside the Dead Sea not far from John,
attached great importance to ritual washing.
They viewed the Temple worship of Jerusalem as corrupt.
And refused to take part in the Temple sacrifices.
They compensated for this by immersing themselves daily in a communal bath – in a spirit of repentance for cleansing of sin.
It’s not really surprising then to find John the Baptist,
just up the road,
demanding Israel’s repentance,
signified by a once for all baptism in preparation for the coming judgement of the Messiah.
John was what we would now describe as a “hellfire preacher”.
He demanded total immersion from his followers,
which symbolised that inward purity and repentance which would deliver them from immersion in the coming river of fire.
John was thought to be the last of the old prophets who preached about the coming day of reckoning,
and who visualised it as something utterly terrifying.
The images of purification are always of refiner’s fire,
as though the badness and evil could only be burned out of people’s souls.
Hence the medieval images of Hell.
The people revered John’s preaching,
and although some left him to follow Jesus,
he still had plenty of disciples of his own at the end of his life.
In fact his following continued long after his life,
some, called Mandeans, survive to this day.
So John’s baptism was a turning to God baptism
‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’.
A conversion baptism
– this link between conversion and baptism remains constant throughout the New Testament.
Jesus was one of those who came to John for baptism by total immersion.
And this seems to have been a transforming moment in Jesus’ own life,
for it was after this that he began his own ministry in Galilee.
Indeed, St.Mark, with his characteristic immediacy, starts his Gospel with this very moment in his account of the Life of Jesus,
he doesn’t record anything before.
At this moment St.Mark describes the heavens as “rent asunder”, torn apart,
using this identical phrase again at end of Jesus’ ministry,
when Jesus is hanging on the cross and the curtain of the temple is torn apart.
At the same moment a dove,
a symbol of the Holy Spirit borrowed from Genesis,
from the creation of the world when God’s spirit hovered like a bird over the waters,
is seen hovering over Jesus.
It is tempting to suppose, as many modern commentators do, that this experience awakened in Jesus a consciousness of his unique relationship to God, and of his vocation as Israel’s Messiah.
This may be so, but it is not a safe interpretation.
– it is a conjecture inspired by a modern desire to enter into the psychology of the religious experience of Jesus.
In the texts we’re never given any hint of the way Jesus’ mind works.
This is not what the Gospel is dealing with.
The message to us here, lies in that Epiphany word – Manifest
God in Man made manifest
Manifest – to reveal – to show clearly
For this moment of baptism is primarily about revelation.
Here we have revealed before us
Jesus the Son of God.
And look at the wonderful trinitarian imagery
God the Father in heaven
Sending his Son Jesus into the world
Empowered by the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove
Here we have God’s supreme fresh start
That which we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us pray
Lord of all time and eternity,
you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father
in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son:
by the power of your Spirit
complete the heavenly work of our rebirth
through the waters of the new creation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Serving the Villages North of Farnham: Badshot Lea, Hale, Heath End & Weybourne