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23rd May 2021

The Powerpack

Passage: Acts 2;1-41

THE POWER PACK The sermon began with a video clip of the Beavers packing for a journey. The Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” When you go on a journey, you make sure that you have everything you might need. And what you need, of course, will depend on where you are going. If you are going to Spain, you take sun cream; if you are going to Wales you take wellingtons. Wherever we go, we need a carefully prepared “Powerpack” of essentials for the journey. But just suppose you were going on a journey with no idea of where you were going? No idea whether it would be hot or cold; mountainous or flood plain; air or sea. No idea what you might need to take. How could you possibly prepare your “Powerpack” not knowing what you might need to deal with? Actually, that’s life, isn’t it? We never know what we might have to face day by day. We have our routines and the challenges that go with them: the need to keep energetic enough to do our work; patient enough to care for our children; disciplined enough to lead a healthy lifestyle. But we never know for sure what will be coming our way or what we shall need in order to deal with it. As we know, the Covid crisis presented us with huge challenges we could never have foreseen, not only to our physical wellbeing but also to our mental health. Many of us have faced “issues” deep inside us that we never dreamed were there. Is it possible to create a kind of spiritual powerpack for all eventualities? Can the Pentecost story help us here? On first reading, this story comes across a bit like our superhero tales, where an ordinary man or woman is suddenly transformed into Batman, Spiderman or Superwoman, equipped with superpower to deal with the crisis in hand. In the same way, this small group of nervous Christians, hiding themselves away were suddenly transformed into dynamic preachers and confident crowd pullers. In a short space of time three thousand cynical onlookers had become committed Christians; a new faith community had been established, the Christian church was born, and they all lived happily ever after……… except that they didn’t, not always. Superheroes, having received superpower to deal with a crisis, then return to quiet lives. The Christian church did not. There was still plenty of trouble to come from powerful people and many Christians did lose their lives. There was still plenty of trouble to come within the church, as people from different cultures found it impossible to work and worship together without argument. There were still plenty of huge mistakes to be made as spiritual power got mixed up with political power and the name of Jesus became an excuse for physical and spiritual oppression. That first mighty surge of power did not remain indefinitely in the Christian church and, although many others since then have experienced similar dramatic outpourings of spiritual power in their ministry, this has still not left them immune and invincible in trouble. Where is the Holy Spirit then? I started looking at what the Bible actually teaches us about the Holy Spirit. Right at the start, in the creation hymn, the Spirit of God is recognised as being the power behind the universe. The Spirit of God is also the source of that awareness which makes human beings unique in the animal kingdom. (And before anyone mentions Charles Darwin, yes the Biblical creation stories are ancient and non-scientific. But the points they make – that a power we have not manufactured ourselves brought the universe into being and a power we do not fully understand somehow makes us “human” is what I hear science saying right now.) Moving on through history in the Bible, the Spirit of God is perceived in leaders who come to the forefront to save their people in times of crisis; the Spirit is thought to be speaking through those with special insight into the working of God; the Spirit is shown in loving compassion for the weak and powerless; the Spirit enables some to be musicians, some to be artists, some to be builders and so on. The book of Proverbs then (the Wisdom literature) takes us back to the creation stories, celebrating that spirit of God in the world and each one of us, encouraging us to believe in her (it is a feminine word in Proverbs), to live by her guidance, to trust her in showing us what is real and what is important. In the Gospels we hear of the Holy Spirit seen to descend upon Jesus in the shape of a dove and the voice of God declaring, “this is my son.” The Holy Spirit as the living presence of God in the world and in his people is both powerful and incredibly diverse. Having thought this through, the Pentecost story now suggests itself to me as a culmination of everything those disciples had been taught. It is as though they are saying “we get it! Now we know what God has been telling and showing us for centuries. This is the Spirit which unites us with God; which gifts us with God’s power; the Spirit which filled Jesus Christ; the Spirit which frees us up to be children of God. That is what this amazing experience is all about.” OK, what happened next? It was not just about being in Spring Harvest type Charismatic worship 24/7. Some of those disciples did end up as full-time pastors or missionaries; some went back to fishing or farming or carpentry and raising their families. Each life and faith journey had its own different issues. Do you remember that strange story in the Gospels where Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission- go all around the country and preach the good news of God’s saving love? But,” he tells them, “take nothing with you. No food, no spare clothes, no money.” This has always seemed a bit “over the top” to me. How were they supposed to live? But I wonder whether this story might have been more of an allegory. Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep amongst wolves.” Life is dangerous. And the “wolves” which threaten our safety and wellbeing are so many and so various that there is no way you can carry a weapon to deal with every single one of them. So maybe when Jesus told his disciples to carry nothing, he was telling them simply to trust that in each situation their “powerpack” would be replenished with every specific gift they needed. The Holy Spirit is poured by God into our lives on a daily, hourly basis. This actually makes a lot of sense to me. First because life is so very uncertain. We never know what is going to be demanded of us any hour of any day. Second, because we are all so very different. One of the saddest hindrances to being faithful Christian disciples is when we think that that our “measure” of the Holy Spirit is inferior to another person’s and give up trying. And one of the most dangerous ways of thinking is that “my Holy Spirit is right and yours is wrong.” That is how church division and religious wars begin. And third, because it takes a lot of pressure and anxiety from us if we can but trust God to pour into our lives the power we need as we need it. Sadly, it is often only as we look back -as in the famous Footprints poem- that we realise just how much strength and support God actually gave us during a difficult time. It is not for us to try and grasp the Holy Spirit and place it neatly into our Powerpack but for us to open our lives to receive that Spirit as and how we need it. Let’s just finish with St Paul. He certainly lived a life which was full of surprises. One day he would be surrounded by people listening to him preach and the next he would be facing an angry mob howling for his blood. One half of a year he would spend establishing a great new church plant and the second half of the year he would spend writing letters trying to sort out all its problems. Sometimes he was the guest of well to do families; sometimes he did not know where the next meal was coming from. He spent time in prison, time under house arrest, time on the run and precious little time sitting peacefully under a tree in the sun. Paul certainly faced the inner “wolves” of doubt, fear, huge regret, anger and total spiritual meltdown. Yet he learned that the Holy Spirit would empower him day to day to deal with whatever life brought. These, he wrote, are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy and peace. Patience, kindness and goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Holy Spirit was bringing to these gifts to life in him every hour of every day. And, looking at that list, I guess we do have there the kind of powerpack we need every hour of every day in our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.