Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 28/05/2020
Pentecost, released 28th May, 2020
Hello everyone. I hope and pray that you are keeping well. On Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. I had the privilege of recording a service from the Cathedral before the lockdown to mark the occasion, which will be broadcast on the BBC on Sunday morning, May 31st. I also need to record this message on the theme and another one for the ecumenical service to be broadcast on Sunday evening. At least three opportunities to talk about this wonderful event which was the birthday of the church: the transforming experience that, in the disciples at least, turned fear into courage, cluelessness into clarity and reticence into confidence.
The contrast between Acts chapter one and two couldn’t be more dramatic. In chapter one, as they are given their final instructions by Jesus, they show the same dim understanding they’d shown throughout his earthly life. At first, their thoughts are all to do with the political regime change they hope will come about. They ask in v. 6, “are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They are seeing faith as social transformation, the kingdom in purely social and practical terms. Jesus ascends, and by v. 10 they are looking up into the sky, lost in the moment and have to be hustled back to Jerusalem by an angel. Seeing faith as personal experience, seen as simply conversion and my relationship with God.
However, post Pentecost, by the end of Acts Ch.2, Peter, full of the Spirit, preaches the first Christian sermon. Here, succinctly and with great clarity he interprets their experiences through the lens of Old Testament prophesy. The crucifixion, something he had previously sought to prevent happening, is seen for the glory it is, the place where sins are forgiven, a world is reconciled to God. The resurrection and ascension are proclaimed as the ultimate vindication of Christ’s work on the cross and the precursor to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now available to be poured out on men and women, young and old, making Jesus a lived experience not a historical theory. Faith as a relationship, not a set of rules.
There is an English reluctance to talk about faith in these experiential terms. We Anglicans have been wary of what we see as the cultural excesses of those from a Pentecostal and charismatic tradition. We can be very good at picking holes when we should be seeking to learn what it is about that spirituality that generates such conviction, joy and enthusiasm for God. A former Archbishop once said, “Why is it that if a cinema comedy produces laughter, the film is regarded as successful; if a theatre tragedy brings tears to the eyes of the audience the production is regarded as touching; if a football match thrills the spectators, the game is reviewed as exciting; but if the congregation are moved by the glory of God in worship, they’re accused of emotionalism.” But frankly, if you can’t get excited by the fact the creator of the universe became a human being to show you what he’s like; died for you to bring you a relationship with him you are powerless to achieve yourself, and then offers his very self as an indwelling spiritual reality so you can participate with him in the adventure of changing the world, I don’t know what you can get excited about. And that without the defeat of death and everlasting life!
At the time when new experiences of the Holy Spirit began to manifest themselves in mainstream denominations in the early 60’s, Denis Bennett, one of the early pioneers of the movement, was summoned to speak to the gathered theologians of the World Council of Churches. At the end of a deep conversation they concluded that they all believed something similar about the Holy Spirit. “Ah yes,” said Denis, “the difference is my truth is on fire, yours is still deep frozen.”
Jim Packer, the great evangelical theologian said this, “Understanding the work of the Holy Spirit is a crucial task for Christian theology at all times. For where the Spirit’s ministry is studied, it will also be sought after, and where it is sought after, spiritual vitality will result. Conversely, where the Spirit’s ministry arouses no interest and other pre-occupations rule our minds, the quest for life in the Spirit is likely to be neglected too. Then the church will lapse, as in many quarters it has lapsed already, into either the formal routines of Christian pharisaism or the spiritual counterpart of sleeping sickness, or maybe a blend of both.”
I’m standing here in the churchyard of Dore Abbey. This reminds us of a renewal of the Church by the Holy Spirit that not only kept the church alive through the dark ages, but civilisation itself. In a world of brutality, monks exercised hospitality, nurtured learning and prayed in a better world. A few miles away across these hills in the mid nineteenth and early 20th century the Holy Spirit broke out in the churches of South Wales. It was a powerful move of the Holy Spirit, particularly amongst the urban poor, and led to thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus. In some parts the transformation was so dramatic that pit ponies stopped working properly. They didn’t know what to do when their handlers ceased beating and swearing at them.
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, urges them to be filled with the Spirit. The word is actually a present continuous sense – go on being filled. Pentecost was unique, but the Lord longs to pour out his Spirit on a people ready to receive him.
A collect for Pentecost Sunday
Holy Spirit, sent by the Father,
Ignite in us your holy fire;
Strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
Revive your church with the breath of love,
And renew the face of the earth,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen