The Holy Spirit, prompting everyone towards truth and goodness

Mary Copping, 31 May 2020

Acts 2: 1–21; John 20: 19–23 

I wonder what we think about when we hear the term ‘The Holy Spirit’. A bit puzzled, a bit fearful, not sure what to think? But we hear the words at every blessing: ‘In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit’. He, she, it? Well, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity – so he or she, but not it. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God amongst us, working in and through us in the world.

Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ ascension, however one may understand that. The disciples were witnesses to something and only they knew what actually happened; we can come to our own conclusions. And if the disciples hadn’t seen this, they may still have wandered around afterwards thinking, I wonder where Jesus is now, is he going to appear to us again?

Now today we celebrate what Jesus promised the disciples before he went: the special outpouring and gifting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – a Pentecost when amazing things happened as people gathered in the Temple.

Before this, we’re told in the gospels about Jesus carefully preparing the fearful disciples for his going away. He spoke a lot about how he would not leave them comfortless but would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them. He told them he’d send a comforter, a helper, one who would lead them into all truth, one who would guide them. But he also said, ‘The world cannot accept him, but you know him for he lives with you and will be in you’.

In our gospel reading we hear of Jesus breathing on the disciples and saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. Then in Luke’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples, ‘I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’. Jesus breathed on the disciples – his breath, his Holy Spirit.

Then in Acts we hear how the Holy Spirit came in great power on all the people as they gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Thousands of people were gathered there, and Luke the apostle, who wrote Acts, describes the scene for us: tongues of fire, wind rushing through, people speaking different languages. I wonder how many people actually understood what was happening. Some obviously didn’t understand and accused them of being drunk, at 9 in the morning. I wonder what we would make of that if it had happened in church – probably fearful and alarmed.

But what does this mean for us today? Sometimes we as Christians don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit, and yet he’s working in us, in the world – quietly, gently and sometimes very powerfully through us to others and in all areas of the world.

We are told that straight after this very special Pentecost, Peter – the fisherman, the one who was always questioning, the one who denied Jesus three times – got up and gave the most amazing and powerful sermon to the crowd, explaining to them what had happened and telling them about the salvation of Jesus. ‘3,000 were added to their number that day’ – obviously a powerful and profound sermon that touched many. Peter was led by the Holy Spirit of God; as Jesus promised, ‘He, the Holy Spirit, will give you the words to say’.

And, most important of all, our faith in Christ is not something we’ve worked out in our heads, drummed up through our wills and kept going by our determination. Our Christian faith is given to us by God, through his Holy Spirit. It is by faith that we have been saved, not by works, so that no-one can boast.

So, this is an exciting celebration when we can ask God to fill us afresh with his Holy Spirit to enable us to do the works that he wants us to do. That prompting to ring that person who, when you phone, tells you that you have rung just at the right moment. The words you’re given when you don’t know what to say to someone. The prompting to write someone a letter, and you discover that letter meant the world to the person who received it. Sometimes we can dismiss these promptings, thinking, ‘Oh, that would be a bit embarrassing, or maybe the wrong time’. But the more we listen to those promptings, the more we get used to following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I became a Christian in my thirties, many years ago, through someone prompted by the Holy Spirit telling me that Jesus loves me. That was it, and it took great courage for her to tell me as I was from social services and visiting her as a prospective childminder. But she did it, and from there I felt the love of God in my heart and continued on my Christian journey. A year later, I was driving past her house and was prompted to call in to see her, even though my head was saying, ‘No, she’ll be busy, or she’ll be out’. I went in to find her in a distressed state with her friend, and told her that I had become a Christian through her words a year before. She was given such encouragement through this and I was so glad that I hadn’t listened to my ‘thinking self’ trying to put me off. I mention this because her words were so important to me – the beginning of my Christian journey.

What are the promptings of the Holy Spirit that you are following, or ignoring? God is working in our world. He hasn’t just wound us up like a clock and let us get on with it. He cares about us and his Holy Spirit is forever blessing, helping, strengthening.

God hasn’t just wound us up like a clock and let us get on with it. He cares about us and his Holy Spirit is forever blessing, helping, strengthening.

In this distressing and fearful time of Covid-19, when we may feel out of control, don’t know what’s going to happen, feeling lonely or afraid, we have God’s Holy Spirit to comfort and help us. And the Holy Spirit of course is not just confined to Christians; he’s working in the world, with the world, in all the acts of kindness we see, all the beautiful, loving things done to help people. When things happen through the work of the Holy Spirit we can say, ‘That was lucky’ or ‘That was a coincidence’, or we can say, ‘Thank you, God, for helping me by your Holy Spirit’. The power of the Holy Spirit can be felt in gentle ways or in powerful ways, when the urge to do something good is so strong we can’t resist, or we see someone healed where there is no logical reason.

As Jesus comforted his disciples he said, ‘I will ask the Father and he will send you another counsellor to be with you for ever’. As we go forward into the unknown at this time, as we try to live each day in hope and faith, let us continue to ask the Father to send his Holy Spirit to help, guide, comfort and protect, and sometimes to work powerfully in our lives.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

View the sermon here
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