Being a Spirit Filled Church

It goes without saying that the past few months have been quite disruptive and challenging in a multitude of ways. In some sense you could almost compare our recent experience to the experience of the disciples after Jesus’ death and then ascension – they were, to say the least, a little lost; unsure about how to proceed; not knowing where that next step will take them.

Pentecost is about the disciples’ realisation of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and about how this knowledge allowed them to connect the dots that join together what they had experienced of Jesus during his life and the time after his resurrection, to their own lives and to the rest of history, and about how they had a new understanding their own role in sharing that realisation with others.

For them, all of their confusing and distressing memories of their recent experiences finally made sense at Pentecost, in the light of the love of God revealed to them in Jesus Christ, and of the Spirit’s promptings to live in that light, without fear of the world around them.

In many ways, as the restrictions around Covid-19 continue to slowly ease we are confronted with a similar challenge of trying to make sense of the experiences that we have all gone through, and to try and take what we have learned into a new and different, and possibly even scary, future.

I came across something this week which I think offers us some comfort and help for us face this uncertain future together, that I would like to share an excerpt from with you this morning.

To try help those who are still isolated and at home Rev’d Lesley McLean and the Australian Mother’s Union Prayer and Spirituality Department put together a Pentecost Prayer Leaflet, and the following portion I think is especially relevant to how we can approach the challenge of our current situation:

It reads:

“The experience of ‘social distancing’ will no doubt have made you very conscious of the warmth of closeness. Of course, we have all also experienced the warmth of solitude or connecting with family and friends in digital warmth and the warmth of God’s Love in ‘the stillness of Joy’ in the presence of Christ Risen. Now we are led even further into the Wonder and Mystery of our Trinitarian God…

…There is such warmth and intensity of emotion in [chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel]. Warmth of friendship, admiration and shared experiences. The heat of anxiety and fear and sadness and perplexity.

Yet it is an everyday scene, much like a family gathering for Mothers’ Day or a birthday: over supper there would be chatting between individuals, perhaps long pauses between what Jesus had just said or discussion in groups.

Folk getting up and replenishing the food and drink, washing the dishes, attending to the children.

But all the time, like us, drinking in the love and warmth, the companionship, the shared bond of loving the Lord and each other.

This IS being church.”

Sometimes I think we need a sharp reminder of exactly who we are and precisely what it means to BE the Church.

During these past months we have had to constantly remind ourselves that the Church is not a building that you might have once gone to on a weekly basis, despite the language, which rightly or wrongly, we habitually use.

But rather, the Church is a gathering in Love and that gathering can happen in many different places and in many different ways.

It might be a small group in a living room, reading the scriptures, singing songs and sharing a meal.

It might be in a cathedral with the bells and incense in the grand tradition of Christian liturgy.

It might be gathered on Zoom to say Morning Prayer or do a Bible Study together.

It might be in a hall with contemporary music and a freer style of prayer and worship.

It might be as part of a peaceful vigil to mourn and make others aware of a tragic and unjust death, like that of George Floyd, or the countless victims of domestic violence.

The Spirit can lead us in many different and surprising ways if we let it and are open to it, wherever we might be at the time.

And it is important for us to not only recognise the diversity of worship within the Church and society, but to truly respect it.

Just because it is not done the way we might like it done doesn’t mean it is any less guided and directed by the Holy Spirit.

Because ultimately the Day of Pentecost did not see the Holy Spirit arrive as if it were a bus or train running to a timetable, to the benefit of a few special men and women.

Rather, if it is truly as we profess in the Creed, that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of Life”, then God’s Spirit has been with us, and with all creation, since the beginning of time.

Without it we simply wouldn’t exist.

So when the doors to our buildings finally reopen, let us not rush headlong into them hoping to find the Spirit of God as if we have somehow been cut off from it.

Let us not sit in our homes merely longing to return to how it all was before.

Instead, let us embrace the Spirit wherever we are and wherever it might lead us.

Let us embrace the Spirit so that it might guide us into finding new ways to BE the Church together and to share what that means with others.

Let us embrace the Spirit so that we can truly reflect the love God has shown to us in Jesus Christ and allow ourselves to become beacons of that love for a world that in so many ways is living in darkness.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord,

We know that you are present with us, and with all creation, through the Holy Spirit, which gives life and sustains all things.

Help us to love you above all things, to desire nothing more than to grow more aware of your presence with us, within all our sisters and brothers, and within all living things.

Ignite in us a passion to share your love and the knowledge of your presence with others so that we may all work towards the establishment of your reign of Love and Compassion, where no one is left alone or in the dark.

Unite us all together in one body which can never be separated from you, or from each other.

In Jesus’ most holy name we pray. Amen.

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