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Sermon for Pentecost

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church Windsor, AD 2005


“He shall teach you all things, and bring all things

to your remembrance”


Pentecost marks the fiftieth day after Easter and celebrates the birth of the Church through the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples who “were all together in one place”.  Was it the Upper Room, perhaps, the same place of betrayal at the Passover Supper, the same place, too, of the making known of the Resurrection behind the closed doors of our hearts and minds? Perhaps.


But over and against the hidden things of our hearts and the closed doors of our minds, Pentecost is all out in the open.  It is public and for all to see.  It is universal, for all people.  “We do hear them speak in our tongues.”  Out of the Babel of the nations, out of the differences and diversities of tongues and cultures, one thing is heard, openly and for all peoples and for all times. The one thing is “the wonderful works of God.”


We are united in the praise of God.  Contrary to the prevailing winds of controversy in our Church, doctrine does not divide but unites.  The essential teachings of the Church are comprehensive and unifying.  Without them we fall into disarray and confusion, a veritable babble of tongues and conflicting opinions, a confusion of noise and nonsense.  When we subordinate the teaching of the Faith to experience, then we are divided and rent asunder.  The challenge, actually, is to gather up the broken fragments of human experience into the unifying vision of God.  The wholeness and healing of our humanity are to be found in our being raised up into the mystery of God revealed and proclaimed in the life of the Church faithful to that mystery.


The wonderful paradox of this day is that the elevation of our humanity to participate in the life of God in the world happens because of the coming down of the Holy Spirit.  It appears as a wonderful event, an ecstatic experience, “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind” and “cloven tongues, like as of fire” resting upon each, resulting in the astounding and disturbing phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”.  But the content of the experience is the doctrine of Pentecost.  The content is the unifying praise of God heard in all the tongues and languages of the world.  Actually, speaking in tongues is what we do every Sunday in our liturgy!


And in no way does this diminish the wonder and the mystery of God.  The revelation of God as the Trinity is something born on the wings of the Spirit leading our spirits into “something understood”, something understood which unites all the aspects of revelation into coherence.  It is also “something understood” which gives unity and order and purpose to the forms of human experience.  The experience of Pentecost, ecstatic and mystical, literally, a standing outside of ourselves by placing us in the mystery of God, humbles us and exalts us.  It signals the redemption and the sanctification of the experiences of our lives.


Wind and fire.  These are intangible things.  Who has seen the wind?  Who can touch the fire?  But they open us out to the mystery of God as Trinity, the mystery which we can only think and adore.  We cannot take the mystery of God captive to our understanding, reducing God to our experience or to our culture, making God my personal deity, my personal saviour, as if God were my possession, your possession, our possession or some cultural token.  For that is the essence of idolatry, the idea that God is made in our image.


It is the exact reverse of what is signaled in the Pentecostal vision of wind and fire.  We are made in the image of God.  Something of the spiritual reality of God is wonderfully signified in the Feast of Pentecost, in the coming down of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Spirit who signifies the essential nature of God.  And we are raised up into the mystery of God by God’s embracing us in the vision of his glory.  Only so can we be changed.  “We all with open face,/ beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,/ are changed into the same image from glory to glory,/ even by the Spirit of the Lord.”  God engages our imaginations.  God engages the cultural distinctives of our humanity but without being reduced to the cultural and the experiential.


Pentecost gathers us into the whole pageant of God’s dealings with our humanity.  There is creation.  The Spirit moving over the waters brings order and unity to the inchoate forms of the material world.  God breathes his Spirit into the dust of humanity and we are made alive, living beings.  There is redemption – the pageant of God’s dealing with his wayward, recalcitrant and disobedient people who seek to have things their way which is no way.  God’s spirit speaks to prophet and people, and constantly and steadfastly recalls them to his law, to his word and will for his people delivered on the mount of glory in cloud of majesty and awe; God leading his people in the wilderness journeys of our persistent sinfulness, a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of light by night.  Once again, these contrasting and intangible images of things seen and heard open us out to the transcendent mystery of the glory of God.  We are being taught.


There is sanctification – the process of our being conformed to the image of God by lives of holiness lived in each of the circumstances of our lives.  It only happens when we let the Holy Spirit guide us.  And how does that happen?  Through holy raves?  Through whooped-up happenings?  Through the only too tangible manipulation of our hearts and minds by drugs and by over-charged music?  No.  Through our being taught.  Through the intensity of worship that engages our emotions with the high things of God which is quite different from the manipulation of our emotions.  Through the experience of worship that constantly grounds us in the mystery of God revealed and honoured.  God is spirit.


The Holy Spirit is the spirit of unity and order. “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, And lighten with celestial fire;/ Thou the anointing Spirit art,/ Who dost thy sev’nfold gifts impart”.  And what are those seven-fold gifts?  They are the gifts of the Spirit.  They are the spiritual and intellectual qualities of the soul, not material and physical things.  They are the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, as Isaiah teaches, and the spirit, too, of piety.  They are the gifts that embrace and gather us to God in worship and in truth.  They signal the highest potentialities of our humanity.  Not only do we have an end with God in the everlasting reason of God signaled in the Ascension and Session of Christ, but we participate in the divine life now through the gifts of the spirit made manifest in the teaching life of the worshipping church.


The Gospel for Pentecost is, once again, taken from the so-called “farewell discourse” of John’s Gospel which has been before us throughout the greater part of Eastertide and Ascensiontide.  It has been the formative gospel of our instruction throughout these holy times and seasons.  Jesus has been at pains to open us out to the larger meaning and reality of God, teaching us that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching us that the Spirit of the Father and the Son will “lead [us] into all truth”, that the Spirit of the Father and the Son, “shall teach [us] all things and will bring all things to [our] remembrance.”  And what are those things? “whatsoever I have said unto you”.


The whole pageant of God’s Word in the witness of the Scriptures, as our Anglican tradition in its truth and glory would remind us, is comprehended in the creeds and in the pattern of holy doctrine and worship and life that arises from the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the ordered and disciplined life of the Church.  When we forget that, then we are at the mercy of ourselves in the idolatry of our experiences; the paradox is that only in the Spirit of God revealed in the pattern of order and doctrine can there be the redemption and the sanctification of experience.  Pentecost signals the redemption and the sanctification of human experience by gathering us into the life of God revealed.


“He shall teach you all things, and bring all things

to your remembrance”