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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 11.04.2024

Video for April 11th, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

I have only ever been sailing once in my life.  It wasn’t a pleasant experience.  A friend’s father hired a boat and we set sail from The Hamble to Dartmouth and back one Easter weekend in 1981. I don’t think the wind dropped below a force 7 the whole time.  I have never felt so sick, cold and damp in my life.  The lowest point was sailing into Poole harbour on a dark windswept night with the wind off shore.  I would have thought it was legitimate to use the engine at this point but my purist Captain insisted on tacking for what seemed like forever until we got into the safety of the harbour. Ever since, I’ve always thought it best to go with the wind rather than against it. Some years later, we were on a family holiday in Spain.  My two boys, 8 and 5 at the time, were playing on the water’s edge, but the pattern of onshore wind and tide meant that every wave lifted my youngest up and then deposited him a little further off shore. Eventually he was out of his depth.  Getting to him was not a problem but getting back I realised how fast the undertow was.  We did manage it, but I thought I was going to have heart attack!  Just down the beach the surfers were riding the waves into shore at great speed. It looked much better to go with the wind than against it.

The New Testament uses a number of metaphors to describe the Holy Spirit and wind is one of them. On Pentecost day a sound like a violent wind enters the house.  The disciples have a dramatic experience of God himself entering into them in a new way.  This is transformative as courage replaces fear and confidence uncertainty.  This gift of the Holy Spirit is the way the resurrection moves from history to lived experience. Jesus shifts the emphasis in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3: 8 talking about the effects of the Spirit in human life.  “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sounds, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Wind can move a sailing boat or it can destroy a city.  I was in Florida in the aftermath of one of their many hurricanes a few years ago.  It was disconcerting to see large boats suspended in the trees.  The wind is powerful and unpredictable.  A storm always leaves its mark.

So it is with the Holy Spirit in a human life.  The experience may be dramatic or gentle but Christian life is meant to be a Spirit empowered life.  To submit to Christ as our Lord brings with it the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Elijah experiences something of the paradox of God’s power as he runs from King Ahab in 1 Kings 19.  There is drama: a violent wind goes before the Lord shattering the rocks.  It is followed by an earthquake and a fire. But the Lord proves not to be in any of them.  Elijah emerges trembling from his hiding place in response to the gentle whisper.  That is where he encounters the reality of God. A few weeks ago, we walked with Jesus to the cross, the clearest definitive demonstration of God’s power in utter powerlessness.

The Holy Spirit is like the wind. He can manifest himself in our lives in dramatic answered prayer, or the superhuman patience that endures suffering. This unpredictability is at times maddening.  But if God was a God who we could control or predict we would be little more than ancient pagans, hoping to appease him in temple sacrifices. The wind blows where it will: sometimes fierce, sometimes gentle but the Spirit is about something. The journey of discipleship is about sensing the wind’s direction and trimming our sails to join in. There is an exhilaration (I’m told – I never experienced it in 1981) in sailing with the wind behind you and the spinnaker up.  Fighting against it feels grim, like tacking into a harbour on a cold April night, or rescuing one’s five year old on a beach.  May the Lord give us the sensitivity to his gentle whisper or fierce gale.


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