Pentecost 2 May 31st 2020
Revd. Canon Cheryl Collins
May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit
‘Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people,
And kindle in us the fire of your love.’
All who are led by the Spirit of God
are children of God and fellow-heirs with Christ.
Renew the face of your creation, Lord,
pouring on us the gifts of your Spirit.
For the creation waits with eager longing
For the glorious liberty of the children of God.’
This responsory prayer is part of our daily prayers in the period between Ascension and Pentecost.
It reminds us of who we are, and what God has done and is continuing to do for us.
It calls us to let ourselves be filled with life-giving, cleansing and renewing water.
It asks God to re-kindle our first passion for God and the things of God.
It recalls us to obedience- to surrender ourselves to the Spirit’s leading.
It tells us who we are -God’s children and fellow-heirs with Christ.
It reminds us that God’s saving work is not just for human beings, but for the whole of creation, damaged and deformed by our sin and selfishness.
It refreshes our memory about the gifts of the Spirit- not dramatic magical powers, but the power of God re-shaping us in our everyday lives and relationships- loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, full of goodness, faithful, gentle and self-controlled.
All these things come from God.
Our gospel reading today is situated at a time of festival for God’s people. Tabernacles, Weeks or Sukkot was a harvest festival, combining thanksgiving for present blessings with remembrance of how God provided for his people, even in the wilderness. Just as in the wilderness Moses struck the rock and water gushed forth, so Jesus promises to quench the thirst of believers and give them abundant living water.
Like all clergy of my generation I have spent my 27 years of ministry in a declining church. It can be a depressing experience at times. But today, the day when we celebrate the birthday of the church I am not here to depress you. After all, as I reminded us last week, no one could have imagined that we would stand here today, heirs of that raggle-taggle band of the first disciples. And yet we do, we are. Instead I want to encourage you to see the church outside the church. You may remember on our first week of lockdown Tom sent round a very helpful cartoon asking where the church is and reminding us the church is here in us, where we serve and share and comfort and console. Wherever we respond to God’s love with our gratitude and love, there is the church. Maybe our problem is that we have been focussed on the institutional church for too long. We’ve made it the subject and object of practically all our attention and energy. We’ve focussed on the buildings, the liturgy, the structures, the governance- imagining that if we only tried this or that or the other the problem would be solved. But the Holy Spirit does not specifically dwell in the building or the structures or the governance, or even the liturgy. God’s Spirit dwells in us. We are the living stones of the new tabernacle, our calling to enshrine God’s life in our own lives. We cannot yet fully imagine what the world will look like when we emerge from the ever-present oppression of the coronavirus threat. We are not even sure that we will ever completely emerge. Perhaps at this time we can empathise with the people of God spending 40 years wandering around in the wilderness. But the wilderness has always been where God meets God’s people. Those who have given up hope, like Hagar, those who are fleeing oppression like Moses and his merry band. It was the Holy Spirit that sent Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted and to reaffirm his utter dependence upon God. The roots of monasticism lie in the realization by early Christians like St Antony of Egypt that going into the desert was what they needed to learn to live in the same way. And like the exiles returning, the route across the desert is the fastest way home.
We are a society that expects instant results. Lured by the promise of one day delivery, instant streaming, global connection at the touch of a button. The present situation has taught us to queue again. To slow our pace and attend to who and what is around us. Maybe we can slow down enough to remember that God is here, not just in our locked-up churches but here. Maybe now we have time to stop running around like headless chickens and look and listen for God. For God’s primary location is always out in front, ahead of the churches, just as he led the people of Israel as a pillar of cloud and fire. I am trying to attend to where God is working and not get caught up in an anxiety that wants to know when we can open the door, how we will weather the financial crisis, how we will re-invent ourselves. I don’t want to reinvent myself, I want God to renew me. At the moment all we can do is wait. And that might just be the opportunity we need. To wait faithfully, remembering that the God who protected and provided for God’s people in the desert is still out there in front of us. That it is when we stop striving and rest in God that we can be re-filled with living water, remembering that all things come from God, in our own strength we can do nothing. To remember that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are still new every morning.
Every morning the Manna appeared in the wilderness, but when they tried to hoard, it was spoiled. Every morning may we rest in God’s abundance, with trust in God’s enduring goodness. Every morning may we be alert, not just to the rules of social distancing, but to where God is present in our town, in our country, in our world. May we be led by the Spirit in obedience, to become part of the new thing God is doing where we are.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people,
And kindle in us the fire of your love.