Fr David's Sermon for Pentecost
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Like our opening hymn, this ancient prayer unusually addresses the Third Person of the Trinity directly as we invite, or implore the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts. Over the last ten days, as we’ve prepared for this feast of Pentecost, we’ve prayed that God’s Holy Spirit would be poured upon us to strengthen us in our faith and guide us in living it out.
We’ve been using this period to pray “Thy Kingdom Come”, to pray that by the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and in our world, the signs of God’s Kingdom might be seen on earth. At Evening Prayer last night, I raised the question of what those signs might be. What does it mean for God’s Kingdom to Come? What does “God’s kingdom” look like?
In its simplest terms it means every place and moment that God reigns over, where God’s ways and God’s will are followed.
The gospel accounts are full of descriptions of the signs and the fruit of God’s kingdom. Matthew gives us the Beatitudes where Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as belonging to the poor in Spirit – that is those that recognise their need of God, and in his description of judgement, the king’s measure of righteousness is the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the welcoming of the stranger and compassion for the sick and imprisoned.
Paul describes the Kingdom of God as ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’, sometimes translated justice peace and joy.
In Mark’s gospel account we hear Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to a seed which is planted and nurtured, and in both Mark and Luke, a Mustard Seed in particular – a tiny start from which big things can grow.
When we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ When we pray that the Holy Spirit would fill our hearts: we are praying that God would plant a seed within us that from a feeble and small start, would by the Holy Spirit’s power grow into something mighty.
The phrase ‘the fire of your love’ is a fascinating one. It draws, of course, from the image in today’s reading of the flames of fire descending on the apostles. We tend to think of love as something gentle, something harmless maybe. You’re watching this on Facebook, so most of you will be familiar with Facebooks new ‘care’ reaction, using an emoji that is cuddling a heart. I find it rather sickly sweet. I think a facepalm reaction would be more useful for much social media content. Facebook makes me want to express disbelief or despair, more often than a fleeting feeling of compassion. But maybe I just need a break from social media!
The problem with a care emoji, is it says ‘I feel something’, but that kind of response can easily pacify any desire to act on the feeling. That is not love.
What comes to mind when I think of the ideas of fire and love being linked, is the Song of Solomon, where we read “love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”
Love is not the gentle passing feeling of care, seen in that Facebook reaction. It’s anything but. Sometimes it’s the passionate reaction of saying I absolutely love that. Sometimes it’s the wow of shock, sometimes it’s the full-on angry face, and sometimes it’s the tears of sadness. It may even be laughter if that represents the joy God’s love can bring. Whatever it is it is strong, real, intense.
The Anglican Communion identifies 5 parts to the Mission of the Church, 5 signs of God’s Kingdom, of the Holy Spirit at work.
The first is our speaking the Good news of the Kingdom, allowing our awareness of God’s love for us and in us to bubble up until it overflows and we can’t help but want others to know it for themselves. We see in the description of Pentecost that the first thing the disciples did was to speak about God’s power in the languages they were given. God’s kingdom is joy.
The second mark is concerned with our growing and being nurtured in our faith. The seed of God’s love in our hearts needs to be nurtured and grow. Like in any fledgling relationship those first feelings of love need to be allowed to grow and flourish, to be strengthened so that the love endures through hard times and trials. God’s kingdom is strength.
The third is loving service, the putting into practice our love for those whom God loves. This is the feeding of the hungry and the visiting of the sick Christ calls us to in the Gospel. This is the action that makes our words meaningful and able to be received. God’s kingdom is compassion.
The fifth and final one (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten how to count!), is the care of God’s world. God’s hallowing of creation in Jesus’ incarnation reminds us of creation’s value. Yes, our hearts belong to the Kingdom of Heaven, but our bodies dwell on earth and we are called to be good stewards of it, caring for our environment and for those who are most affected by its destruction. God’s kingdom is a challenge to our way of life.
The one that’s really been on my heart of late, is the fourth Mark of Mission, which is concerned with justice, violence, peace and reconciliation.
Over the last few weeks, I have found myself increasingly sad and increasingly angry. I’m sad and I’m angry when I speak to Black and minority ethnic members of the congregation and community worried about how the coronavirus pandemic is, like so many other health issues, disproportionately affecting their friends and families, and feeling once again like nobody in power is taking that seriously.
I’m sad and I’m angry when I speak to a friend of mine anxious for the future of her son in the prejudice he will face as he grows from being a “cute little brown baby” (her words not mine), to an object of fear as a young man, simply because of the colour of his skin. I’m sad and angry when she tells me how many times her husband, a Church of England Vicar, has been stopped by the police while driving.
I’m sad and angry when I see images and read accounts of George Floyd losing his life to police violence over a dispute about a $20 note. I’m sad and angry when people suggest that that is just America extremism and fail to recognise the systemic racism in our own country where black and ethnic minority people are more than one and a half times more likely to be fined for breaking the current lockdown rules than a white person. I’m sad and angry when people dismiss that as complicated and fail to see it as a wakeup call to deal with the underlying inequality that makes it complicated. Sometimes God’s kingdom is tears and anger.
Racism is just one of many issues of injustice and violence in our society, one of many issues that our Christian faith should cause us to seek to challenge, not just get upset about. The work of the Holy Spirit is to take the seeds of anger and upset and to let them grow into action if only we will let it.
The church needs its sons and daughters to speak prophetically as much now as ever. The world needs us to grasp a vision or a dream of God’s kingdom values of justice, peace, dignity, hope and compassion, and in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, find our voices, stand up, speak out, and put our faith into action.
This Pentecost may our prayer be that God would fan the small spark of love placed in each one of us, until is burns brightly with passion for God’s kingdom, and we step out in faith, to share God’s love, to grow in faith, to care for those in need, to protect and honour our world, and to demand justice and dignity for those to whom it is denied.