John 14: 8-17 & 25-27 (Sermon 1: “Your Counsellor”)
Romans 8: 14-17 (Sermon 2: A Confession: My Uneasiness’)
Acts 2: 1-21
Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b
Like a mighty, rushing wind,
like tongues of living flame,
the Spirit fills the place where God’s people meet
What no eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the human mind conceived;
what God has prepared for those who love him,
has now been revealed by the Spirit.
The Spirit assures our spirit that we are now children of God;
and if children, then also heirs;
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Let us worship our generous God.
Let us celebrate the Pentecost event!
These people are not drunk with wine, as you might think.
This is the fulfilment of the prophet’s words:
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your young people shall see visions
and your old folk shall dream dreams.
Let us pray.
Wonderful are you, Creating Spirit, who from the very beginning have brooded over the world with loving intent.
Wonderful are you, endowing Spirit, who filled the Man of Nazareth with the courage of the purest, costliest saving love.
Wonderful are you, inflowing Spirit, who fills the church with gifts for compassionate service within the world.
We your children worship and adore your glory; world without end.
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
# for 2 voices or Leader and People.
Let us seek the saving grace from Christ through the ministry of the Spirit within us.
Let us pray.
Spirit Friend, with the confidence Christ Jesus has given us, we come to you,
confessing our sins and receiving your strength.
Come as the gift of truth to expose all pretence and self deceit.
Come as the rushing wind and scour our being of all that is stale, dusty and sour.
Come as the tongues of fire and purge us of everything that is corrupt, base and infected.
Come as the breath of the risen Christ, bringing forgiveness and new beginnings.
Come as the Counsellor to encourage integrity and faithfulness.
Come as the seal of adoption that we may rejoice as children of God.
* Silent prayer
O grace of Christ, redeem us.
O love of God, enfold us.
O power of the Spirit, invigorate us.
My Friends, The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of fear pushing you back into a life of drudgery, but a Spirit of love.
Amen! Where the Spirit is, there is liberty.
Be happy! You are a forgiven family to whom the gifts of heaven have been promised and on whom the first instalment has been poured.
Thanks be to God!
PRAYER FOR CHILDREN
The Spirit’s Warmth
Great God, we know your Spirit just a little bit.
We can’t explain you, or ever tame you;
‘cos you come and go whenever you want.
But we do feel your loving Warmth
around us and within us.
We want to be warmed with more and more
of your light and love.
Through Jesus our Lord.
PSALM 104 24-34 & 35B
Our God, we cannot count the living things
that all pour out from your wisdom;
all creatures that cover the earth are yours.
Around us is the sea, deep and wide,
which teems with countless fish,
and living creatures small and huge.
Out there is the restless ocean
where the brave ships sail
and enormous whales play..
All creatures depend on you,
they look to you for food
given in the right season.
As you freely give, they gather it;
when you open your hands
they are filled with good things.
If you hid your face, they would be dismayed,
if you took away their breath, they would die
and their bodies return to the dust.
If you breathed again with your Spirit,
they would be created again,
renewing the face of the earth.
Please let your glory, God, last forever,
smile on your handiwork and be happy
For if you frown, the earth will tremble,
at your touch the mountains will smoke.
I will sing to my God as long as I live,
I will give praise while I have being.
May my meditations give you pleasure,
for I delight in you, loving God
With all my being I celebrate God!
O yes, my soul! Praise God!
© B.D. Prewer 2000
(Another version is found in “Australian Psalms.” B D Prewer Ó Open Book Publishers
Spirit Friend, you come
like the wind
and the earth grows hale
at your breath.
over the face of the waters
as they were meant to be.
like the wind filling sails
on Sydney Harbour,
our slack churches
with a bold impetus
towards new landmarks.
Some days you spin
like a whirlwind,
startling, shaking, tearing,
uprooting us from apathy
and leaving us giddy
with new possibilities
You visit us
in the evening of life
when all our work is done,
like a soft breeze at dusk
soothing tired faces,
comforting our grieving
and giving peace at the last.
Adapted from “Australian Psalms” B D Prewer Ó Open Book Publishers,
God most wonderful, Friend most holy, you have fulfilled the Easter season by sending us your Holy Spirit in abundant power.
You have opened the window of opportunity to every race and nation on earth, and created out of dispirit elements the fellowship of the one universal church.
Keep us, we pray, in the unity of the Spirit, that every tongue may tell and every life display the wonders of your love.
Through Christ Jesus, who lives and loves with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God to be praised forever!
SERMON 1: YOUR COUNSELLOR
John 14: 16-17a
I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Counsellor, to be with you forever even the Spirit of truth.
“They think they have swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all.” So spoke a frustrated Martin Luther about the sectarian Anabaptists of his day.
For some reason, when it comes to belief about the Holy Spirit, we are in religious territory which has been marked by more extravagant behaviour than any other. And yet, conversely, too many other Christians have been slavish and cautious where they should be free and daring in the liberty of the Spirit.
Maybe we might find a better balance if we took our model of the Spirit filled person from Christ himself, rather than some of the exotic phenomena of the adolescent church. Today I want to take up one of our Lord’s ways of speaking about the Holy Spirit.
I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Counsellor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth. John 14: 16-17a
JESUS PROMISES THE PARACLETE
The word “Counsellor” is of course one attempt (RSV)to translate the Greek word paraclete into English. In the of King James version paraklhton is translated “Comforter”. In some contemporary translations it is given as “Advocate”. In the Good News version it is translated as “Helper’. I’m no Greek scholar, but for what it is worth I reckon the RSV have got it right with the flexibility of the word “Counsellor”. I will return to this in a few minutes.
First, the setting. Jesus spoke of the Paraclete at the last Supper. Jesus is comforting his distraught disciples who have, finally, got it into their thick heads that he is fair dinkum about being betrayed, tried and crucified. Gathered around that table at night, under the flickering light of oil lamps, they are both frightened and beginning to grieve.
Jesus says: Don’t be upset. You will not be alone. You are losing my physical presence, you will not have me bodily walking beside you, counselling and encouraging you all the way. But God will give you a gift more permanent: the Counsellor, the Spirit of truth, who will be with you and in you. With this Spirit I will come to you, I will be in you, God will be in you, and love will be the sure sign of the Counsellor’s presence.
COUNSELLOR: IN COMMON USAGE
As it happens, in current English the word counsellor has two common meanings.
1/ We use counsellor to describe a person who enables us to cope wisely. It can be a financial counsellor, a marriage counsellor, a pastoral counsellor, a psychiatric counsellor, a family counsellor, or a close confidant and friend.
.2/ We may also use the word counsellor, for a person who gives us legal counsel and pleads our cause in court. As in Q.C- a Queen’s Counsellor here in Aus. The counsellor is one who speaks for us, who stand in our place and argues our case.
These usages take us close to the paraclete used in John’s Gospel.
It can mean the “enabler,” the one who helps us to cope wisely and well. Thus, in the old (King James) Bible version we have the word “Comforter”, and in some later translations “Helper”.
But paraclete can also be the legal counsellor, the legal advocate. Which is exactly why some translators give us: “Advocate”. The Spirit is the Advocate who speaks up for us.
For me therefore, “Counsellor” with its duel meaning takes us closest to the word paraclete. It is a double edged word. The Holy Spirit is both our Enabler and our Advocate, the one who enables us, and when necessary, which is often, speaks for us.
ENABLER AND ADVOCATE
1/ I will try to tease out these meanings a bit more, starting with the “Enabler” emphasis.
The Holy Spirit, God intimately with us, helps us to cope well, to give of our best. The Enabler fosters our faith and assists us to turn what seems like road blocks into stepping stones. The Spirit helps us to reach towards the fullness of life as God’s children. The Spirit imbues us with the love that will last the distance.
Maybe one aspect of this Enabler is often neglected: toughness. A good counsellor will at times confront us, challenge our evasions, question our motives, allow us nowhere to hide from the hard truth. The Spirit is such a counsellor. When necessary, the Holy Spirit pursues us with relentless love. Do not for one moment think just of some comforting, easygoing, sentimental kindness. In truth, there are times when it will feel as if the Paraclete is our beloved enemy.
2/ Then there is the other stream of meaning: the Counsellor as our Advocate.
Some Christians see this as the Spirit pleading our cause before God. This thought works for them. That is fine; I am not saying they are wrong. But it does not work for me. I find that way of thinking puts a wedge between the Holy Spirit and God, as if they were separate entities, or at least not of the same mind. Whereas in fact the Holy Spirit is God intimately present with us.
What has been true in my experience is that the Counsellor speaks for me in my dealings with other people. If a seeker talks with me about the meaning of Christian faith, I attempt to explain it. But my words are just words unless some larger force electrifies them with the spark of living truth. That something is in fact Someone: the Holy Spirit the Counsellor-Advocate. The Spirit, dealing directly Spirit to spirit with that other person, pleads my case.
Without this witness of the Counsellor, my ministry would be a wash out. And so would whatever pattern you have for serving Christ.
I counsel someone, and the Spirit pleads my case. I preach a sermon -more inadequate words- but the Spirit pleads my case.
I write prayers and poems and have them published but the only relevance they will ever have to another human being is if the Counsellor pleads (advocates) their truth in the mind and soul of the reader.
I sit in a tram going into the city; the person next to me opens up about their personal troubles; I try to lead them towards the help they appear to need; but only the Spirit can intimately plead my case and make it real to them.
IT DOES NOT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE DRAMATIC
None of this is exotic or dramatic: The Spirit’s most common mode of action is silent and deep and steady. Like the profound love of a mother brooding over her family. Like a good mother, the one incontrovertible sign of the Spirit is love.
This is not to say that the Counsellor does not at times act dramatically and cause some excitement. The day of Pentecost witnesses to this kind of happening.
The Spirit can come like wind and fire and shake the very foundations of our life. It can be very exciting or sometimes very frightening. For example, when the Spirit seizes our attention and thrusts us into a new task from which we would like to run away. The Paraclete can also in special moments lift us to soaring highs in prayer and praise and Christian fellowship.
However, the most common mode of action is in quietness. Like the still waters than run deep. The most Spirit-filled people I have ever known have not been the flamboyant, colourful characters, but the quiet people who without a hint of drawing attention to themselves, radiate the love of Christ Jesus. They have lived so intimately with the Spirit that the ministry of the Spirit takes shape in them. They too are enablers and advocates . The Holy Counsellor creates more counsellors.
In Jesus we see the mint product: Spirit-filled humanity. The Divine become human. And with Jesus love is the one unmistakable characteristic; such complete love as the world has not seen before or after. The Counsellor is incarnate in the human Jesus.
Our Christ is and must remain the one, dependable “blood test” for genuine, twenty first century spirituality.
I conclude with a prayer from the sixth century:
Counsellor, Spirit of Truth, you are present in all places and you fill all things. You are the treasury of goodness and the choirmaster of life. Come and live within us, cleanse us from all stains, rescue and make our spirits whole.
SERMON 2: A CONFESSION: MY UNEASINESS
Texts? Many!: Acts 2, John 20: 19-23, Luke 4: 16-21, Genesis 1: 1-2, Psalm 104. Exodus 31:3, ! Corinthians 12: 27:13 - 13: 1-13, Romans 8: 14-17
Why is it that some of us feel ambivalent about Pentecost?
Why do we feel a mixture of celebration and discomfort? Is it because we are dead hearted people who have never been blessed with the new life liberty of the Spirit? Is it a sign of our spiritual poverty? Are we damned by our lack of enthusiasm?
Maybe. But then, maybe not.
Maybe it is actually a sign of growing spiritual maturity?
Let me express one person’s uneasiness. Mine.
I cannot speak for any of you. I can only speak for myself on this sensitive matter. In doing so I am not trying to verbally clobber those who differ from me.
There is one thing I do know about the Holy Spirit.
She does not work in identical ways with each person. The Spirit does not produce clones, but lovingly creates individual works of living art that are meant to compliment one another in the community of the church.
SOME REASONS FOR MY DISCOMFORT
I recoil against those devotees who only see God at work in the extravagant and grandiose religious happenings.
There is a wealth of quiet, unobtrusive spirituality, all inspired and nurtured by the Spirit of God in humble people. The claim of being possessed by the Spirit must not be high-jacked by those who boast about performing “wonders and miracles.”
Much work of the Holy Spirit takes place in the silence.
Reason 2 :
Too many people derive their benchmark of the Spirit from the excitement of what happened on the Day of Pentecost. They act as if before that day the Spirit was not around, or at the most, acted in a subdued way.
Yet, the Book of Acts is only one account of the coming of the Spirit. The Gospel of John has another, where the risen Christ “breathes” the Spirit into the lives of the disciples.
Luke, who is also the writer of Acts, in his Gospel emphasises the Spirit coming upon Jesus at his baptism, and displaying holy power in all the loving events that followed.
Moreover, in the Old Testament the Spirit of God has always come; with us from the very beginning, creating and recreating. The Spirit has never been absent.
Among those who have revelled in the effervescence of Pentecost, I have met a number (not all!) who have appeared to be extremely religious , but not particularly loving in the practical business of life.
Some of these have been ridiculed by neighbours or workmates, not because they are believers but because they don’t do their work very well, or treat others very kindly, or are notably mean when the “hat” is being taken around for a charitable cause.
If we ever lose sight of the fact that love,
love of God and of one another, in deeds not just words, is the prize gift of the Spirit, then we make a travesty of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
As a pastor I have, from time to time, had the difficult task of caring for mentally ill
parishioners who think that their mania is the sign that they have been singled out by God for double dose of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe, just maybe, this should not influence me, but it does. It is an irrevocable part of my
experience. Therefore extravagant claims and behaviour discomfort me, in certain
situations where people claim to “be in the Spirit.”
Religious flamboyance, if it operates without a hard-headed, practical application to that the
mundane aspects of following Christ day by day, is uncomfortably close to mania. The line
between them seems paper thin.
Of course I have to carefully watch myself on this matter, and not rush to superficial
conclusions, nor ignore genuine moments of elevated spiritual experience in other people.
To do so, would be to deny my own Pentecostal events.
ROOM FOR EMOTION?
Does what I have said mean that I try to squash, or despise, emotion
in the expression of Christianity? Never! I am an emotional person. Hugs and smiles, and groans and tears, are never far away.
Those of you who know me well, know I am a person of strong feelings
in matters of the faith. I have plenty of enthusiasm. Fire in the gut! Worship for me involves an enthusiastic outpouring of wonder and love in the Presence of God.
In my ministry I have tried to make the day of Pentecost a truly HIGH FEAST
in the church calendar. It does mark a momentous occasion where the young church became dramatically inspired to get of its posterior and boldly begin outreach in the name of its Lord and Saviour.
In the experience of most Christians
there are times and events where the work of the Holy Spirit is felt more intensely than others. Times of wind and fire. When the Spirit gives us a profound shake up. Or maybe a thorough make-over. These are special and wonderful occasions. Yes, there are moments when we want to sing and dance to the glory of God!
Therefore my discomfort
about some of the Pentecost paraphernalia isn’t fear of emotion. It is more a measure of my fear of maybe trusting my ephemeral emotions rather than trusting God; fear of its potential to lead me into pious fantasy. Far from denigrating the emotional side of Christian experience, I know that unless it is channelled into loving deeds it becomes a damning self-delusion. What I am about to say to you may sound offensive to some of you, but I must say it: I fear that emotional extravagance can become a kind of spiritual masturbation.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO CELEBRATE
Having said all that, I now say to you: :Don’t be afraid to celebrate this Pentecost.
Don’t be afraid to do so whenever the Spirit dramatically moves you. There are times of unexpected spiritual elation and comfort, and other times of intense spiritual discomfort. Both are to be welcomed and embraced.
And finally this:
My inadequate words today are me “seeing through a glass darkly.” Nothing I have said., for better or worse, can inhibit the Holy Spirit working in ways which are beyond my ability (or yours) to predict or even comprehend. The Spirit of God operates when and where and how she will. The Holy Spirit moves with sovereign liberty. As an old hymn says:
“The Spirit floweth free, high-surging where it will.
In prophet days it spake of old, it speaketh still”
THANKSGIVING: HOLY SPIRIT
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
Holy Spirit, life of creation, you moved on the face of the waters, and creatures that were not came to be.
We thank and praise you, Spirit of life.
Holy Spirit, courage of the prophets, you surged in the hearts of your servants, and they were inflamed with a message of justice and mercy.
We thank and trust you, Spirit of courage.
Holy Spirit, guide of Jesus, you came upon him like a dove, and through his words and deeds the land was filled with the glory of the Lord.
We thank and adore you, Spirit of Christ.
Holy Spirit, joy of the church, you created a new people and gave them the fruits of love, happiness and peace.
We thank and worship you, Spirit of joy.
Therefore, with angels and archangels....................
Spirit of creation, never resting, never hurried, we pray for all those who try to work with you for the care for the earth and its creatures.
May they have your wisdom and your resilient determination.
Spirit of new creation, never confounded by folly and sin, we pray for the re-birth of individuals, communities and nations.
May they be ready to suffer the birth pangs of your new age.
Spirit of good counsel, we pray for counsellors in medicine, psychiatry, social work, marriage guidance, family therapy and education.
May they have sufficient compassion and insight to be your agents of rehabilitation.
Spirit of advocacy, we pray for all those who stand up and put the case for the weak, the deprived, the exploited, the oppressed, the abused , and the accused.
May they find joy in small victorious and retain the boldness to expose major wrongs.
Spirit of truth, we pray for your churches which, like common clay pots, hold in trust the treasure of the Gospel for the enrichment of the nations.
May we preach and exhibit not ourselves, but Christ Jesus and his abundant grace.
Spirit of comfort, we pray for all who are broken or disillusioned, suffering, diseased, lonely, afraid, neglected, betrayed, or heartbroken.
May they know your Spirit’s warm love, undergirding their being with everlasting arms..
Spirit of forgiveness, we pray for some who are prisoners of their own shame, and for others who are chained to their own anger and lust for revenge.
May they trust your full forgiveness and find the joy of those who set the prisoners free.
Holy Spirit, choirmaster of life, please join our energies into one common anthem of love and praise. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.
God has not left you to go it alone. Through the ministry of Christ, a Counsellor has been introduced to you, to enable you to be fruitful, and to guide your feet in the way of truth and peace.
Thanks be to God!
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you now and always.