Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost’

Wholly and unreservedly

June 3, 2017

Pentecost – 2017

John 20:19-23

Marian Free

In the name of God who enlivens and empowers us to do God’s will on the earth. Amen.

The third person of the Trinity is, in all but Pentecostal circles, the most neglected of the three. For a start, out of 52 Sundays each year we only dedicate one to the Holy Spirit. The Apostle’s Creed mentions the Holy Spirit only by name. The Nicean Creed describes the Holy Spirit in more detail, but both creeds include the Spirit with belief in the church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body. It hardly seems respectful, but it does illustrate the fact that the church as a whole becomes lost for words when trying to describe and express faith in something as indescribable as the Holy Spirit. God’s creative energy and power are visible in creation. Jesus lived and breathed as a human being, but the Spirit is elusive, vague and impossible to pin down or to define.

In the New Testament the Spirit is described both as breath and as fire or violent wind. At Jesus’ baptism the spirit appears as a dove. In Corinth the Spirit was discerned in the ways in which members of the community were gifted to speak in tongues, to prophesy or to teach. According to Galatians observers will recognize the Spirit through our love, gentleness, patience and long-suffering. Apparently the Holy Spirit can be wild and unsettling or tame and enabling.

In the church’s calendar we celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (the Jewish Festival of Booths) fifty days after the Passover, or in our case fifty days after Easter. The scene for such remembrance is one with which we are very familiar – the rush of wind and the tongues of fire; God’s dramatic bestowal of the Spirit from heaven.

According to John’s gospel however, the conferring of the Spirit on the disciples is very different. The Spirit is given directly to the disciples by Jesus. It is not conferred remotely, dramatically or colourfully nor is accompanied by signs such as being able to speak in a multitude of languages. In John’s gospel the bestowing of the Spirit is, as you might expect, intimate and intensely personal, indicative of the union between Jesus and the disciples that has been the theme of our readings over the past few weeks. The giving of the Spirit brings to a conclusion Jesus’ mission and it brings to fulfillment the promises Jesus has made to the disciples almost since the beginning of his ministry.

Jesus has made numerous references to the Spirit. When he visits Jesus at night Nicodemus is told that he must be born of water and the Spirit. In the same chapter readers are told that the one whom God has sent – Jesus – will give the Spirit without measure. In the alternate gospel reading for today (Chapter 7) we read that those who believe in Jesus will receive the Spirit which will be like streams of water flowing out of the believer’s heart. At his final meal with the disciples, Jesus promises that the disciples will not be left orphaned by his going, because he will send “another Advocate” – the Spirit of truth who will continue to teach them and will remind them of everything that Jesus has said to them.

Jesus’ guarantees the Spirit as a quiet assurance that the presence of God that they have known through Jesus will not abandon them even when Jesus is not physically with them. He promises the disciples that the intimacy that they have shared with him will continue through the presence of Holy Spirit.

John’s time frame is quite different from that of the author of Luke/Acts. Whereas Luke divides the events after Jesus’ death into the resurrection (three days later), the Ascension (forty days later) and the coming of the Spirit (fifty days later), the author of John records the giving of the Spirit on the same day as the resurrection.

John provides us with a much more personal account of the conferring of the Spirit. There is no rushing wind, no tongues of fire and no terrifying, awe-inspiring visitation from heaven. Admittedly Jesus appears out of nowhere but having given the disciples proof that it is he, Jesus simply breathes on the disciples transferring his Spirit to them. In so doing Jesus is extinguishing everything that had made them distinct or separate from him. From this moment on their union with Jesus is complete. The role that God gave him to perform, Jesus now gives to them. As the Father sent him, so now he sends the disciples. Jesus does more than hand over the baton. He empowers the disciples to do everything that he has done (and more) (14:12).

These are the same disciples who fled when Jesus was arrested, denied him three times and abandoned him to face the cross alone. Weak, faithless and frightened, these are the people whom Jesus commissions to take his place. That the Spirit empowers them to rise to the challenge is demonstrated by the fact that despite being few in number, uneducated and unknown they were sufficiently effective that, two thousand years later we are here affirming the faith that they proclaimed.

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives himself wholly and unreservedly to us – entrusting us to be the presence of God in the world. Jesus unites himself to us so completely that there should be no distinction between the Holy Spirit and ourselves. If there is any separation between us it is not because Jesus distances himself from us, but because we distance ourselves from him.

Jesus gives himself wholly and without reserve to us. What is it that prevents our giving ourselves completely and wholeheartedly to him?

If the Holy Spirit could inspire and enliven such a rag-tag group of people who had no resources, no education and no influence or power, imagine what the Holy Spirit could do with us!

 

 

Pay attention

May 14, 2016

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

The Holy Spirit – wild and exuberant or quiet and restrained?

June 7, 2014

Pentecost – 2014

Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, John 20:19-23

Marian Free

In the name of God whose holy Spirit energises, enlivens and empowers us. Amen.

 

We have a feast of readings today. They reveal, among other things, a variety of ways in which we can think about the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Of course, there are other readings that would shed a still further light on the subject and give us an even wider perspective. Today however, let’s just look at those we have heard this morning – Acts, John and 1 Corinthians. The first two provide us with two different accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples whereas the letter to the Corinthians gives us a glimpse into how the Spirit was experienced by at least one early community.

The descriptions in Acts and in John are so different that we could be excused from thinking that they were accounts of different events. In Acts the Spirit is explosive, uncontrollable, empowering and life changing. The Spirit appears out of nowhere and yet is visibly and audibly present to the disciples in the violent wind and tongues of fire. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would give the disciples power that would enable them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, still I imagine that the actual event took them by surprise. Whether it did or not the effect was immediate – without warning and without years of study – the disciples discovered that they could speak in the variety of languages represented in a cosmopolitan Jerusalem. As a consequence of their newly acquired skill 3000 people joined the believers on that day.

In contrast to the very dramatic and public event described by Luke, is the report in John’s gospel. Here the coming (or the giving of the Spirit) is quiet, discrete, peaceful and controlled. In Acts, the disciples are depicted as a confident community – they meet together to pray and sing. They have just elected someone to replace Judas which suggests some sort of leadership structure. This more settled situation may reflect the fact that in Luke’s account the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples at least forty days after the resurrection. They have had time to get used to Jesus’ risen presence and to think about the future. John’s version however, takes place on the very same day that Jesus rose from the dead.The disciples have heard the reports of the empty tomb, but they are yet to see Jesus for themselves. They are frightened and disorganized and have no apparent plan. Into this fear filled situation Jesus (not the Spirit) quietly appears. He offers them peace and breathes his Spirit on them. There is no wind or fire, just the gentle breath of the risen Christ. The event is private and personal and the consequences subtle and indeterminate. Instead of being given the ability to speak in difference tongues, John’s disciples are empowered to forgive or to retain sins. No converts are added to John’s community on that day, but the disciples have been armed with an important tool for the formation and building of a community of faith – the forgiveness of sins. The giving of the Spirit and Jesus’ resurrection appearance occur concurrently. Frightened disciples are not only assured of Jesus’ victory over death, but are powerfully reminded that, as promised, Jesus will not leave them alone.

Finally (for today) the reading from Corinthians provides us with an insight into the experience of the Spirit in one particular situation – the community in Corinth. Here the work of the Spirit does not equip the recipients for mission. Rather the Spirit endows members of the community with the gifts that will enable them to play a variety of roles within that community – the use of unintelligible language to worship God and to prophesy, the ability to utter wisdom and knowledge or to work miracles and heal. If we read further, we discover that the Spirit also empowers those who teach, lead and administer. In this fledgling community the Spirit seems to be inwardly focused rather than outwardly directed. The Spirit gives to members of the community different skills and these are to be used within the community for the building up of the church. As in Acts, the impression here is that the Spirit is exuberant and unable to be contained and that it leads it recipients to behave in ways that they would not otherwise behave.

What are we to take from all this? It seems clear that we will be able to build a coherent or accurate historical picture of the sending/receiving of the Spirit or that from today’s readings we will be able to neatly sum up the way that the Spirit is manifested in the communities that made up the early church. What we can do is to use all the information that we have to hand to help us to understand and to interpret our own experience. In so doing, it will be important for us to hold together the various biblical accounts and to allow each to inform the other, to recognise that just as the first Christian communities experienced the Spirit in different ways, so too, our experiences may differ one from the other. For some the presence of the Spirit might be wild and unrestrained and for others it might be understated and contained. Some of us will be gifted with the more extraordinary gifts and others will have to be content with those that seem to be less glamorous.

As we try to interpret our experience and to recognise our gifts it is important that we heed Paul’s caution and understand that the Spirit is of God and cannot be used or manipulated for our own ends, nor should the Spirit provide us with a means to compare ourselves favourably with others. The Holy Spirit is not something that we own or control, but a gift from God – the presence of God with and in us that prods us to take risks, that reveals skills that we did not know that we had, that gives us courage in the face of persecution, provides us with wisdom and understanding and opens us to new things, new teaching and new experiences and helps us to build and sustain Christian communities.

As we seek to recreate and renew the church both here and elsewhere, let us be alert to the Spirit in and among us, open to the Spirit’s leading and willing to be led into whatever future the Spirit has in store for us.

 

 

“People can’t talk about God from the outside”

May 18, 2013

Pentecost – 2013

John 14:8-17, Romans 8

Marian Free

In the name of God whose Spirit moves within us so that we might know God as we are known by God. Amen.

There are so many books in the world that I tend to read most books only once. However, there are some exceptions, some (to me) iconic books that I return to time and again. Sometimes I re-read them in their entirety because the story is just so imaginative or moving and sometimes I just dip in and out looking for that brilliant idea or expression that made a difficult concept much clearer to grasp. One such book is called Mister God This is Anna[1]. It is the story of an unlikely friendship between a nineteen year old boy, Fynn and a five year old girl – Anna.  Their lives collide, when late one foggy night, Fynn sees Anna sitting alone on a grating down by the docklands in the East End of London. Fynn sits beside her and offers her his hotdog. Initially hesitant, Anna gradually loosens up, laughs and plays, finally deciding that Fynn loves her.

At ten thirty, it is time to go home. Fynn asks Anna where she lives. She announces that she lives nowhere, she has run away. She flatly refuses to tell him where she lives and absolutely refuses to be taken to the cop shop. On being asked about her parents she states firmly that her mother is a cow and her father is a sop. She is, she says, going to live with Fynn. It is late and so Fynn takes her home with him. At home the whole household is awoken by their arrival and they busy themselves preparing a bath for what is – after three days on the streets – a very dirty little girl. It is only when Anna’s clothes are removed and she is sitting naked on the table that Fynn understands why she cringed in fear and whimpered piteously when she accidentally blew sausage in his face while blowing out his match. It is clear that she had expected him to thrash her for the perceived offence. She is used to being beaten – her whole little body is bruised and sore.

Despite all their efforts, Anna never tells the family where she comes from and she simply will not go to the cop shop. So it is that Anna joins this warm, welcoming family. Anna is bright, curious, unconventional and engaging and her relationship with God, which is what draws me back time and again to the book, is direct, personal and insightful. For example, when the parson asks her why she doesn’t go to church, she responds: “Because I know it all!” “What do you know?” “I know to love Mister God and to love people and cats and dogs and spiders and flowers and trees,” and the catalogue went on, “- with all of me.” (33)

Another time, Anna is pondering the nature of love, especially God’s love. She fills Fynn with despair by claiming: “Mister God doesn’t love us. I love Mister God truly, but he don’t love me!” Fynn needn’t have feared. Anna has not lost her innocent faith, she has simply taken it to a different level. “No he don’t love me, not like you do, it’s different, it’s millions of times bigger.” “People can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but Mister God can love you right inside and Mister God can kiss you right inside. Mister God can know things and people from the inside too. So you see Fynn, people can’t talk about God from the outside; you can only talk about Mister God from the inside of him.” (40-43)

It is an extraordinarily profound insight, one that – had Anna been versed in the Bible – could have come straight out of Paul’s letter to the Romans or from the gospel of John, yet stated with such simplicity and such clarity that it needs little further explanation. God’s love is incomprehensible, God can only be known through the presence of God in us and our being in God.

It seemed to me that this was a useful way to think and speak of the Holy Spirit, who to my mind is the most elusive, the most difficult member of the Trinity to describe.

Few of us have felt the Spirit as a violent, rushing wind or seen it as tongues of fire. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen the Spirit descend like a dove. We imagine that we can see God the Creator in the world around us. We can come to know about Jesus’ life and teaching through the words of the Gospels. The Holy Spirit is much harder to pin down because the Spirit has to be experienced, to be felt by us and to be known in us and in our lives. The Holy Spirit moves within and among us.  At our best, the Holy Spirit informs, inspires and directs us. It is the Holy Spirit who fills us with the knowledge and love of God and who is, in fact the presence of God dwelling within us.

In John’s gospel the presence of the Holy Spirit is expressed in this way: before he departs, Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will abide with them and in them. The in-dwelling Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to them. The Holy Spirit will teach them all things and remind them of all that Jesus has taught. The Holy Spirit, who is indistinguishable from Jesus, who in turn is indistinguishable from God will make a home within the disciples – will indeed “know them from the inside out”, and help them to know God from “the inside of God.”

Paul too claims that the Spirit of God dwells in those who believe. In Romans he says that the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies and bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God. “Those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the Spirit,” Paul says. (8:6) What is more, the “Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints, according to the will of God.”(8:26-27)

The Holy Spirit then, is God dwelling within us, enlivening us, revealing God’s love to us, reminding us of all that Jesus taught us, enabling us to be children of God, searching our hearts and speaking to God for us. To use Anna’s insight, the Spirit who is God knows us from the inside out and the inside of God enables us to speak about God.

If we are open and willing, we will learn that the Holy Spirit fills us with the presence of God, so that we can know and talk to God from the inside, because through the Holy Spirit God is already inside us. God who has already given us everything through Jesus Christ, gives us this one thing more – God’s own self as an integral part of our being, an essential part of our lives – that is how we know the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Spirit knowing us.


[1] Fynn. Mister God this is Anna.  London:William Collins and Sons Co Ltd, 1974.

Shepherding God’s people

April 28, 2012

Easter 4 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Benjamin Glennie
Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to serve and to shepherd God’s people and the world beyond the church. Amen.

The history of the church in the colonies must be full of stories of heroism, vision, steadfastness and good humour. Clergy from a vastly different climate and landscape faced isolation and indifference, they had to travel vast distances in a largely unpopulated and sometimes unforgiving country and minister in situations that were quite different from the English Parish Church. A pioneering priest in this Diocese, Benjamin Glennie faced all these challenges with courage, determination and humour. I imagine that many of you are familiar with the Glennie School in Toowoomba, but I wonder how many of you know much of this tenacious man whose anniversary of death falls on April 30 and whose 200th anniversary of birth falls this year.

Benjamin Glennie was born in 1812, in Dulwich in Surrey, England, the twelfth son of William Glennie a school principal. On leaving school, Glennie spent time as a tutor in Europe before, at thirty, entering Christ’s College Cambridge. By this time three of his brothers had migrated to New South Wales – one a landowner, another a doctor and the third a farmer who was later ordained. Glennie himself came to Australia in 1848 with the first bishop of Newcastle, Dr William Tyrrell. Bishop Tyrrell brought with him several young men who were to be ordained and he took advantage of the long voyage to prepare them for ordination.

After their arrival in Newcastle, the only priest in the settlement of Moreton Bay drowned. As a result, Glennie was urgently ordained and sent to replace him. This was only three months after he had arrived in Australia and before he had had any experience in the ordained ministry. When he arrived in Brisbane he was taken to Newstead House to stay with the Governor. The very next day he conducted morning and evening services. Almost immediately, at the Governor’s insistence, he bought a black horse “Jim Crow” which was to be his companion for the next 20 years.

Glennie must have been shocked by his new home. Moreton Bay only opened to free settlers in 1842. It was isolated from the rest of the colony and sparsely populated. There was no church building so services were held in a converted carpenter’s shop on North Quay. This prompted Glennie to begin a fund for the building of what became St John’s.

Like his predecessor, Glennie was the only priest to minister the whole of Moreton Bay which included Ipswich and the Downs. He held services at St John’s church and also established day and Sunday schools in Brisbane. He visited Ipswich once a month and toured the Downs. Glennie was ordained a priest in 1849 and from 1850-1860 (another priest being available) he was made responsible for all of the Downs meaning that he had the oversight of all Anglicans west of Toowoomba! It must have been a daunting task. Each year Glennie (who did not have a strong constitution) covered a distance of nearly 5,000 kilometres and as he did so he established congregations and bought property suitable for the building of churches or schools.

Glennie disliked riding, but in that era, it was the only means of transport available to enable him get around his vast Archdeaconry. At the same time, there were few roads and those that existed often reduced to tracks through the scrub. This meant that, even if the church could afford one, a gig would have been of little use. It is reported that on many occasions, Glennie could be seen walking from place to place with the laden horse walking along beside him. Riding was not his only trial. In the days before telephones – let alone the internet – communication was slow or non existent. On one occasion Glennie wrote in his diary – “Drayton very wet, no one came to church: The Swamp very wet and no one came to church.” Another time he wrote: “Wet day, no person came to church and I did not go to Toowoomba.”

Among the other hardships were locusts, flies, intolerable heat, fleas and the vast distances with no homestead in which to seek shelter for the night. At times he was forced to sleep in a shepherd’s hut which he records was: “a place miserable in the extreme. The natural earth formed the floor and was quite wet.” Loneliness was another problem and he writes that he was “sadly isolated from my brethren of the clergy”.

A testimony to his drive and hard work are the four churches which he built in the four major centres: Drayton, Warwick ,Toowoomba and Dalby – named for the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John respectively . A considerable amount of the funds for these projects came from Glennie himself. That he used money from his own pocket is revealed in a letter written to the Bishop after St Luke’s was built. “ St Luke’s building paid for, but in debt to me of 20 pounds.”

That said, he did not release the congregations of their obligation to support him. At one time, when the Parish of Warwick were behind in paying his stipend, his curate wrote: ” he had an extraordinary suit of clothes – blue frock coat, high collar and sleeves rubbed at the elbows, a pair of short grey trousers which displayed a good deal of white sock and an old cabbage tree hat. Whenever his stipend was in arrears he donned this suit and continued to wear it until the reason for doing so no longer existed.”

One of Glennie’s passions was education – not only for boys but also for girls and to this end whenever he built a church it was expected that during the week it would be used as a school. Glennie also established the “Schools Endowment Fund” to which again he contributed from his own funds, some of which came from the sale of fruit and vegetables grown in Rectory gardens. In 1882 Glennie transferred to the Diocese the sum of £1627 and in 1900 the Synod voted that schools for girls and boys be established in his memory. (By that time the Toowoomba Preparatory School had been founded, so only a school for girls was needed.)

In 1863 Glennie was appointed as the Archdeacon of the Downs. Glennie’s last appointment was to the Parish of Toowong where he built his fifth and final church. He is buried in the Toowong Cemetery and his grave can be visited there.

In 1919, a writer in the Toowoomba Chronicle said of him “The little children ran to welcome with outstretched hands and eager joy in their faces, for to them he truly was the Good Shepherd. ” On this Good Shepherd Sunday, it is fitting that we remember Benjamin Glennie and give thanks to God for his passion for the Gospel, his dedication to the Church and his love for the people. May we, remembering the stature of those whose shoulders we stand on, continue to support and build the church, preach the Gospel and show God’s love to all.


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