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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 25.05.2023

Video for May 25th, 2023 for Pentecost

A few days ago, the courtyard of the Palace was filled with ancient Rolls Royce cars. A group of enthusiasts were staying in Hereford for their annual rally and were using us for secure overnight parking. In conversation with some of the owners, I was struck by just how much petrol these enormous old cars needed to stay on the road.  Miles per gallon figures of less than 10 were common.  Clearly electric cars are not the forerunners of range anxiety.

They were beautiful objects on their own, but the purpose of a car is to be driven. For that you need petrol and lots of it.  There are obvious parallels between these cars and the Church.  There is no doubt that we are guardians of significant beauty.  Our built heritage is unparalleled.  The music in our cathedrals is a cultural icon and our faith continues to inspire great works of art and craftsmanship. But, wonderful though all these things are, they aren’t really the point. The point of the Church is to be a vehicle for God to allow him to demonstrate his love and reality to a broken and hurting world. For that you need something more than aesthetic appeal.

The other thing that came out this week, which relates to what the church is for, was a survey of British beliefs. Since 1981 belief in God has fallen from 75% of the population to 49%.  However, belief in a life after death has remained constant at just under half.  Its interesting that the two have become disconnected.  I suspect the belief in life after death reflects the stubborn human tendency to need a meaning to life. A life that is bounded by biology cannot generate that, much to Richard Dawkin’s annoyance.

I wonder what could be done to reverse the downward trend in the graph? It suggests the church is not proving very effective in its core task of making Jesus known. People admire the beauty and even appreciate the acts of service that faith produces, but this doesn’t translate into faith and commitment.  Does the fall in belief in God reflect more than a growing intellectual secularism, or is it because God’s church isn’t supplying sufficient evidence that God is real?  I’m happy to have an argument with anyone about the truthfulness of the resurrection, but even Jesus in his post -resurrection appearances didn’t think an intellectual conviction about it, or even eye witness testimony, would be enough to start a movement.   In one of the post resurrection appearances, just before his ascension, he told the disciples to, “wait in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Just as those Roll Royce cars need petrol to transform them from beautiful engineering artefacts to modes of transport, so the Church needs the Holy Spirit to transform it from an organisation just ‘keeping the memory of God alive’, to a dynamic transformative community full of the life of God. This is what Pentecost was, and is about. Something extraordinary happened to the disciples in the upper room. Fear was replaced with courage; and ignorance and confusion with conviction and clarity.  Something happened that was evident to those who witnessed their emergence from the upper room as a missional community who could be heard in each individual’s language.  It was miraculous, not an accelerated linguaphone course.  As I reflect on the condition of the Church both locally and nationally, I sense we need a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit more than anything else.  Its clear that Pentecost was unique but continual filling by the Holy Spirit was the apostolic experience.  As the great Chinese Christian, Watchman Nee said, “I need to go on being filled with the Spirit because I leak!”

In Luke Chapter 11, verse 13, Jesus invites us to ask for just such a blessing.  “if you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” May the Holy Spirit empower us afresh to demonstrate the reality of God by who we are, how we relate and how we serve. He is the spiritual petrol that turns an artefact into a movement that changes the world.

+ Richard

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