Tag Archives: Pentecost


Acts 2.1–21
John 7.37–39


The whole of our uneasy debate about the meaning of the word ‘God’ for modern [people] cries out, I believe, for a recovery of a significant doctrine of the Holy Spirit. That is where we must now begin our talk about God — God working anonymously and on the inside: the beyond in the midst. If we had not relegated the Holy Spirit to the merest edges of our theology we might never have got ourselves into our present confusions — or, better still, we might have endured our present expansion of awareness without dismay. As it is, we seem to have rarified God out of existence.… Any insight which make us exclaim: ‘Oh, now I see the connection!’ is potentially a new revelation. — John V Taylor, The Go-Between God 


Someone asked me the other week how progressive Christians may speak of the Holy Spirit without sounding like Pentecostal™ wannabes or Evangelical® soundalikes. 

So today I’ll try to say something about how we might speak about the Holy Spirit, we who may feel shy about the Spirit. 

We need to speak of the Spirit, because the Spirit is central to our experience of faith. The Spirit is fire that purifies by burning off all our crud. The Spirit is wind that comes through like a cyclone to blow the chaff of our lives away. The Spirit is water that cleanses by half drowning us. 

The Spirit is a dove that swoops like a magpie in nesting season. 

Have you had an experience of the Holy Spirit? You probably have. Possibly, you don’t realise it. Or, you may be hesitant to talk about it. 

Let me tell you about the first time the Spirit took hold of me. The first time I know about, anyway. You may have heard this before. Apologies if so. 

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Come Holy Spirit: a text from the 13th century

It is Pentecost on Sunday. This prayer is attributed to Stephen Langton (†1228), Archbishop of Canterbury. The original Latin text and this translation from Leonardo Boff, Come, Holy Spirit: Inner Fire, Giver of Life and Comforter of the Poor

Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit)

Come, Holy Spirit, send forth the heavenly radiance of your light.

Come, father of the poor, come, giver of gifts,
come, light of the heart.

Greatest comforter, sweet guest of the soul, sweet consolation.

In labour, rest, in heat, temperance, in tears, solace.

O most blessed light, fill the inmost heart of your faithful.

Without your light there is nothing in the human,
nothing that is pure.

Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.

Bend that which is inflexible, fire that which is chilled,
correct what goes astray.

Give to your faithful, those who trust in you, the sevenfold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation,
grant eternal joy.

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The Holy Spirit *is* the Spirit of Christ (Pentecost, Year A, 8 June 2014)

Numbers 11.24–30
Acts 2.1–21
1 Corinthians 12.3–13
John 7.37–39a


Today is Pentecost, which means next week is Trinity Sunday. Preachers often feel the Trinity Sunday is a hard gig, but I really feel that Pentecost is the hardest day to preach and to do justice to the message.

How do we preach the Holy Spirit, whom we picture as wind, water and fire? How do we hold wind in our hands? We know the Spirit only by the effects she has in our lives. It’s like what John says (3.8),

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

We only know the Spirit by what the Spirit does. We can’t pin the Spirit down. Ever. We can’t say

  • You have to believe the right doctrine to receive the Spirit;
  • A bishop must lay hands on you if you are to receive the Spirit;
  • The Spirit comes only as a second blessing to particular believers;
  • You don’t have the Spirit if you don’t speak in tongues.

We can never put the Spirit in a box or enclose her in any theological system.

With apologies to Donovan, we may as well try to catch the wind as speak of the Spirit.

One thing we do know: the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If we speak of Jesus Christ as we speak of the Spirit, we may say words that are true. Let’s try it with a few reflections. Continue reading

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The Spirit and Baptism (it’s messy)—more thoughts about the Baptism of the Lord, Year C

Acts 8.14–17
Luke 3.15–17, 21–22

…when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. (Luke 3.21c–22a)

The Son of God is baptised, and the Holy Spirit comes down to earth. It’s the beginning of a new age, ‘God with us’!

But wait. Just a few spare years later,

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them…). (Acts 8.14–17)

Did the Spirit dry up? Was the Spirit upset, or asleep? Doesn’t the Spirit like Samaritans? Is there one law for Jesus, and another law for everyone else?

Or is this the way it’s meant to work?

There are those who say this is the way it’s meant to be. You become a Christian, you get baptised and then you wait for a ‘second blessing’. You are ‘filled with the Spirit’ at some later time, when you ‘speak in tongues’.

(You can see from the story though that the Apostles were concerned. This was not the way it was meant to work.)

Let’s talk about baptism (in water) and the Holy Spirit. Two things to say:

  1. Baptism and the Holy Spirit go together
  2. It’s messy. Quite messy.

Baptism and the Holy Spirit go together in the Book of Acts. But it’s messy.

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These bones can live! (Pentecost, Year B, 27 May 2012)


Ezekiel 37.1-14
Acts 2.1-21
Romans 8.22-27


Can these bones live?

It was ‘only’ a vision, but still Ezekiel felt uncomfortable. He was standing in a valley of dry old bones. And God was asking him a very silly question.

Mortal, can these bones live?

What to say? Standing in a pile of bones bleached white by the sun was not inspiring Ezekiel’s confidence. If he said No they’re dead and dusted, he could be accused of doubting God’s power. But if he said Yes Lord of course, he might have to say how on earth that could possibly happen.

So he takes the cautious path:

O Lord God, you know.

Ezekiel tosses the ball right back into God’s court. But God has been around the block a few times more than Ezekiel and the ball is tossed right back at him:

Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel prophesies, and the bones become a mighty people. No one is more surprised than Ezekiel.

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No partiality (Easter 6, Year B, 13 May 2012)

Acts 10.44-48
John 15.9-17

Pentecost is coming in two weeks’ time. The name ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek word meaning fifty; the Day of Pentecost comes on the fiftieth day after Easter. It’s the end of the Easter Season and the climax of Eastertide—God raised Jesus from the dead and then sent the Spirit of the Risen Christ upon all believers.

Pentecost is a big day; we often call it ‘the birthday of the Church’. We’ll hear the story then, and we know it well already: the believers are gathered together, the Spirit comes upon them as wind and fire, and they speak in other languages. And some lucky reader gets to say delicious words like Phrygia and Pamphylia.

The Pentecost story shows how much we—the Church of Jesus Christ—depend upon the Spirit as we go out into the world on God’s mission. It also shows that the Spirit continues to grow more and more of the risen life of Jesus Christ within his people and among us.

I’ve mentioned an author called John V Taylor several times. In a book first published in 1972 called The Go-Between God, Bishop Taylor spoke of the Spirit and the Mission. He said:

The chief actor in the historic mission of the Christian church is the Holy Spirit. [The Spirit] is the director of the whole enterprise. The mission consists of the things that [the Spirit] is doing in the world.

The mission of God consists of the things the Spirit is doing in the world—especially the light that the Spirit is focussing on the risen Lord Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus leads, we follow. The Spirit raises us to renewed life with Jesus.

But the people of God don’t always welcome the way the Holy Spirit works. In fact, the Spirit caught the Church off-guard right back in the time of the Book of Acts. The Spirit was raising all sorts of people to new life. The Holy Spirit was intent on tearing barriers down, pulling down walls of separation, bringing people together as one in the name of the Risen Lord.

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Pentecost (Year A, 12 June 2011)

The risen life: in the Spirit

Acts 2.1-21
John 7.37-39


A few years ago, I was visiting Harrogate, the Yorkshire town in which I was born. I had a feeling I’d like to go to a nearby place called Ripon, just to see it again. So I went to the railway station, and asked for a ticket to Ripon.

The lad behind the counter looked stupefied. He said, ‘Trains ’aven’t run t’Ri’om since t’mid-60s.’ (Long, may I add, before he was born. For him, this was a factoid he’d managed to imbibe.) My accent gets quite Yorkshire-ish when I’m over there, so there was no point saying, ‘I didn’t know, I’m from Australia.’ There are times over there when I must appear to be quite stupid.

Sometimes, people ask me about what things are like in England. I have no idea. My personal ‘England’ is something that was last seen in the 1960s through the eyes of an eleven-year old child.

Anything I know about the England of today I know through the news, and through talking to people who’ve been there recently; my knowledge of England is second-hand at best. That’s surely true of much of my knowledge about God. I believe what I believe because it’s what is taught by people I trust. When I was a boy, I had a sense of God. I don’t believe that sense of God was second-hand; but the specifics, the details, the bits I coloured my sense of God in with—they were all second-hand. Of course they were.

But as I’ve grown older, I’ve been less inclined to stick with second-hand knowledge. I’ve needed to test what I’ve been told about God by my own experience.

But how do I get experience of God? There’s only one way I know—through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. We’ve just sung

Lord, unveil my eyes,
let me see you face to face,
the knowledge of your love
as you live in me.

Isn’t that what we want?

We’ve already heard about some ways of connecting with the Spirit. We talked a lot about spiritual practices last year. Practices like prayer, study, confession, worship. We’ve spoken this year about living as people of the Beatitudes, as the poor in spirit, the meek who hunger and thirst for justice, as the pure in heart who wait upon God. It’s putting these things into practice, not just talking about them, that gives us experience of God’s Spirit.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to someone who knew something of God our Father through the working of the Holy Spirit. Her name was Catherine of Siena, a town in Tuscany, Italy. Catherine lived from 1347–1380 (do the maths: she died at 33 years of age). Catherine was a woman of great initiative and courage who often told popes and cardinals how they should behave.

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The Feast of Pentecost

Children of God

Romans 8.14-17
John 14.8-17, 25-27

I love chapter 8 of St Paul’s letter to the Romans. There’s so much in it—for example, verses 15 & 16. Here, St Paul writes:

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…

We have sung ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ today. We have prayed, ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’ When the Spirit comes, she assures us that we are God’s children. I want to talk about two things today that stop us realising within our spirits that we really are children of God. Those things are (1) listening to accusing voices; and (2) pain.

Listening to accusing voices:

What voice do you listen to? Remember when Jesus is baptised, the Spirit comes upon him and the voice from heaven says,

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

God says, Jesus, you are my Son. And God’s Spirit witnesses to this great truth by coming upon Jesus.

Then what happens? Jesus is immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness. We might think he should have a really long mountain-top experience; but no, God’s way is to lead him into the wastelands of Judaea. In actual fact, it’s more like God drives Jesus out there.

It’s not a good place out in the Judaean sticks. It’s inhospitable, and the great Accuser is there. Satan says to Jesus,

If you are the Son of God…

God says at his baptism, ‘You are the Son of God.’ Satan says, ‘If you are the Son of God…’ ‘If’ is such a little word, just the two letters; but ‘if’ makes the world of difference. Who does Jesus listen to? Who do we listen to?

You see, God also calls us by name and says to us, You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.

Many of our problems in life come because we listen to the accusing voice and not to God’s voice. How could I possibly be a child of God, we ask ourselves!

  • Nothing I do will ever be good enough
  • I’ve made too many mistakes
  • My life’s a mess
  • It’s all my fault
  • It’s too late for me
  • They’d be better off without me—

But you know, these accusing voices do not come from God.

God calls us by name and says, You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son.

Many of us need to hear a dozen affirming voices for every accusing voice. You know how it is—people tell you you’re looking well, what a good job you’ve done, what a good friend you are… Then one person comes along and makes it clear they don’t appreciate you, and your day is ruined. Isn’t it so? Continue reading

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The Spirit Season

Sermon for Pentecost

John 7.37-39; Acts 2.1-21

There are a few more people here this week! Last week, some of our number were at the annual tent camp at Bigriggen, just down the road from Rathdowney. (And turn right, and then a left, and continue down the road, and if you’re lucky, it’s just… Well, you get the idea.)

The Jewish people have an annual tent camp too. It’s called the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths. It’s a harvest festival, and Jewish people are meant to live in a tent or a hut for the week of the festival. It’s not that easy sometimes to pitch a tent!—I read a fabulous book by AJ Jacobs earlier this year called The Year of Living Biblically. The author is a New Yorker who says that the book is

about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible—as literally as possible. I obey the famous ones:

• The Ten Commandments
• Love thy neighbor
• Be fruitful and multiply

But also, the hundreds of oft-ignored ones.

• Do not wear clothes of mixed fibers.
• Do not shave your beard
• Stone adulterers

When it came to October, time for the Feast of Tabernacles, Jacobs was in a fix. Where could he erect a tent to live in for a week in New York City? On the roof of his building? Central Park? Neither place seemed like a good idea. In the end, he set up a pup tent in the living room of his apartment, and at bedtime he tried to get as much of his body as he could into it.

It was the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7, and Jesus was in Jerusalem. During this week-long festival, the high priest would pour out bowls of water at the altar. So it comes as no surprise that Jesus uses the image of water:

‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’

What are these flowing, sparkling, living rivers of water? They are the Holy Spirit… Continue reading

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