Pay attention

Pentecost – 2016

John 14.8-17

Marian Free

May the Spirit of God flow through us, enliven us, empower us and equip us for our mission in the world. Amen.

 

If we were traditionalists, next week on Trinity Sunday we would recite the Athanasian Creed. Together we would affirm such things as:

“The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.”

We are not going to be using that Creed on Trinity Sunday, and today, being Pentecost, we are not going to preach on the Trinity. “And yet there are not three eternals: but one eternal.” Instead, our focus is on just one member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. It is interesting isn’t it, that while we proclaim a Trinitarian faith – Father, Son and Spirit – the last of these sometimes seems to be the poor cousin. God the Father is invoked in prayer and is always a part of our consciousness, Jesus is front and centre through our proclamation week by week of the gospel, but the Spirit is given only one day each year on which to shine. Only one Sunday out of fifty-two is set aside to pay attention to the third person of the Trinity.

To be fair, this doesn’t mean that preachers necessarily need to ignore the Spirit on the remaining fifty-one Sundays, but it does mean that it is easy to overlook. Unless we or our Parish have been influenced by the charismatic movement, or unless we belong to a church with a more Pentecostal bent, we are unlikely to name the Spirit on a regular basis and less likely to attribute a role to the Spirit in our daily lives.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is our English heritage. Anglicans tend to be reserved and non emotive. We keep ourselves to ourselves and by and large consider our faith to be a private matter – not something that we need to be constantly putting on show. (It is taken as a given that others hold the same or similar beliefs to ourselves.) Another reason is the Spirit itself. Of the three persons of the Trinity, the Spirit is the most illusive, the hardest to pin down. It is relatively easy to comprehend and to speak about God – the creator of the universe. Most of us have some conception of God as a force for life and love that is beyond description, but which has become so much of human experience that everyone knows what we mean.

Jesus is made real by the gospels and the fact that we have concrete stories of his life and examples of his teaching on which to base our understanding and build our relationship with the second person of the Trinity.

Karoline Lewis[1] speaking for Lutherans says: “the Spirit is the ‘shy member of the Trinity’”. Apparently, Lutherans too, can allow the Spirit to fade into the background of their awareness. Lewis suggests that like anything else in our lives – playing an instrument, running a race, we have to practice if we want to achieve a level of competence or excellence. When it comes to the Spirit, she says, we have to practice paying attention. If we are expecting to see/feel/experience the work of the Spirit, then we have to practice being conscious of the Spirit’s role in the world and in our lives. We have to teach ourselves where and how to look for it.

So where and how do you experience the Spirit in your life? When were you last actively conscious of a Spirit-event, a Spirit-idea or a Spirit-emotion? How did you recognise the moment? What caused you to label it as inspired?

If we are awake to it, we will discover the Spirit in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of moments in our lives. Think for example of those moments when an answer to a problem came to you “out of the blue”, those times when you were moved deeply by a piece of music, a stunning view, an act of love, or those times when someone said just the right thing at the right time. Call to mind those occasions when things just “fell into place” or when you knew for certain that you were making the right decision for yourself or for your family. Remember those times when you were sure that you were not strong enough to face a difficult decision or situation only to discover that your fear was unfounded and that you had all the courage that you required.

Sometimes, the action of the Spirit is public and dramatic such as it was on the first Pentecost after the resurrection. People from all traditions are moved to speak in tongues, find that they have the power to heal or are raised to great heights during worship. But for a great many of us the Spirit works quietly and subtly – nudging us forward, revealing new truths, drawing us into a deeper relationship with God, opening our eyes to the wonder of the world around us and giving us a strength that we never imagined that we could have.

To neglect the Spirit is to overlook the way in which God is a constant presence and guide in our lives and to deny ourselves the wonder and privilege of seeing God in both the extraordinary and ordinary moments of our days.

The Spirit is God’s gift to us. That gift can remain dormant, unopened, or it can unleash wisdom, wonder, courage, joy and so much more if only we would learn to pay attention and to recognise something that we already have.

[1] Working Preacher

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