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31st May 2020

Pentecost Today

Passage: Acts 2; 1-12 and 14-41


When you hear of someone being “full of the Holy Spirit,” what do you picture them doing?
- Taking part in charismatic worship? Where people pray and sing spontaneously, lifting their arms high, caught up passionately in the worship of God?
- Or do you picture a strong, visionary leader; someone inspired by the Holy Spirit to change the world: William Wilberforce, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa.
- Or you might just think of someone you know whose influence on your life has been profound. They might not have hit the headlines, but they have taught you wisely, dealt with you kindly, inspired you in your faith and been there for you when that faith was low.

The Holy Spirit, we are told, is the living presence of God in the world. It was the Holy Spirit who brought life into being; the Holy Spirit who inspires human beings to believe that there is a God and who stirs us up until we find that God. It is the Holy Spirit who makes us passionate about peace, justice and the integrity of creation; the Holy Spirit who brings out goodness and kindness in us; the Holy Spirit who leads us into truth.

The Bible tells us of people worshipping in the charismatic style and of those caught up in the Spirit in silence; it speaks of people like Gideon, Deborah, King David- charismatic leaders, filled with the Spirit to create a just society. And Isaiah wrote of one filled with the Spirit of God, whose ministry was to bind up the broken-hearted; ease the suffering of the sick; strengthen the fragile and be good news for the poor.

There is a huge diversity of what you might call “spiritual activity.” It is not just about being in church; it is not just about “being nice,” it is not just about working for world peace. Everything we do which makes us better people, and the world a better place is the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is frighteningly easy for us to descend into an animal state of being; where we focus entirely on our physical desires and instincts, especially when we are scared or frustrated. But the Holy Spirit lifts us up, connects us to God and enables us to live as children of God.

OK. Now, here’s a question: how would you say that the Holy Spirit relates to your computer? Speaking treacherously as the mother of an IT teacher, I am more inclined to believe in the presence of demons in my computer than I am of the Holy Spirit.
I do not have a natural aptitude for computer technology, and I am not of a generation brought up with it. It is useful, when it works but it does not bring me what you might call, deep joy.

Until ten weeks ago…. when we were suddenly plunged into complete lockdown. Our church building had to be closed. No services of worship could be held. And this at a time of deep fear and stress when, more than ever, we needed to worship God and to know the strength of a faith community.

What could we do? I can only say humbly that “The Spirit of the Lord” was upon our friends Paul Gill and Steve Bebbington. Using their considerable technological skills they worked tirelessly to create a way of offering church worship via the computer, online, meaning that 95% of church members would be able to access a regular service of worship. Not to mention the neighbours, family members, people from other churches without these facilities who have also been worshipping with us online.

Some of you may have some idea of the hours needed to get about thirty minutes of worship onto our screens for a Sunday morning but I thought you might like to hear Paul himself telling you a little of what goes on “behind the screens.”

Here, Paul Gill explained briefly about the process of putting together an online service.

Thank-you Paul. And thank-you from everyone engaging in this worship today.

One thing the Bible makes clear is that the Holy Spirit never keeps doing things “the way we have always done them.” It is not about routine. The Holy Spirit inspires and empowers people, to do different things as each new situation requires.

From Moses, prince of Egypt, setting slaves free and leading them safely across the desert, to Amos, obscure shepherd, finding a voice to speak out against social injustice and hypocritical religion; from Peter the fisherman standing up in public to tell a crowd of Jewish pilgrims that they had been wrong to crucify Jesus because he was the Son of God; to Phillip the Christian fugitive, meeting a court official from Ethiopia and finding courage and wisdom to explain the Christian faith, sending the man off to take Christianity to Africa.

The Holy Spirit is given by God in any number of forms, when there is need. And this is what we must hold onto at a time like this.
You human fathers, Jesus once said, you do not always get things right. But even you do your best to give good things to your children. So, do you not think that God your heavenly father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?

In the Pentecost story, the disciples of Jesus, having been told that it was their mission to go out into all the world and preach the good news of Jesus Christ, suddenly found that they were sharing this universal language. They believed in the power of the Holy Spirit in them and so went out to tell the world. The people in the streets found that they were sharing a common language and hearing a message which got right through to them. They came forward for baptism, as a sign that they believed and that they wanted to turn their lives around. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and created a strong, committed faith community to which we still belong two thousand years later.

Many of us, right now, are doing things we never dreamed of doing.
Or doing things in a completely different way.
We are holding online meetings, prayer times, study groups, afternoon tea.
We are even experimenting with a zoom “coffee” time after this service if you are watching it live (bring your own coffee of course).
We are learning how to hold a conversation across a road with cars going backwards and forwards. Or from one side of a garden to another.
And people from all around the world are finding right now that they share a common cause and so can understand each other.

It is scary being where we are right now. And it is also scary to think of going back because we know that nothing will be quite the same again and that some things we love and cherish may disappear for ever.
But on Pentecost Sunday we are given the promise of the Holy Spirit. Did you hear it in our reading?
“This is God’s promise to you and to your children and to all those whom God will call.” That’s us!
Whatever happens we shall be given the gifts and the strength we need to fulfil God’s purpose for our own lives, for the life of the church and for the life of the world.
I asked Margaret Collins to sing and play the prayer “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me” and as you hear it, you will see some pictures of people around the country and some from our own church family, offering the gifts they have been given in this time of crisis.
Keep praying that you too will receive the Holy Spirit in the way most needed in your life right now; keep believing; look for the way forward and take it. And who knows what might happen?
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me……

In the slideshow which followed we saw NHS workers, a postman with mask and gloves, volunteers shopping for others, plus the following church members:
Andy Clare working at the Foodbank; Anne Sutton making cakes for church members;
Paul Gill working on the service at his computer; Margaret Collins recording some music;
Angela Liddell doing pastoral work over the phone; Jon Henderson and his monkey cheering everybody up; Tina Wheeler with her banner of HOPE at the church fence.