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Thought for Penetcost

"The love of God has been poured into hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

There are in our Christian churches today those who claim to have received the Spirit, or to be in the Spirit. Whether they call themselves Pentecostals or Charismatic, or what, they seem to suggest that after a long slumber of many centuries, the Holy Spirit has at last awakened and has been poured out on them. There is often, though not always, the implied criticism that other Christians who have not had spiritual experiences similar to theirs are somehow not quite Christian. There can be that spiritual arrogance that St. Paul encountered among the Corinthians and condemned in his letter to them. There can also be that Christian experience which, whilst giving warmth and joy to the one who experiences it, does not extend that same warmth of Christian love to others. Whether the”charismatic movement will blow itself out in the next few years" (Richard and Anthony Hanson), I don't know. But it does seem to me to lack depth.

More to the point, what does seem clear to me on this Whit Sunday, is that the Holy Spirit has not recently woken from a deep sleep to pour himself out exclusively on those charismatic Christians. The Holy Spirit has been active in the universe always. It was the Holy Spirit of God who hovered over the waters of Chaos bringing Creation into being. "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters," to quote the first words of Genesis.

In the Old Testament when anyone is commissioned by a God to a particular office he is given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"The Spirit of the LORD came upon Joshua, so that he became Israel's judge."

"So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him (David) in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power."

It is the Holy Spirit of God who inspires the prophets of Israel to proclaim "Thus says the Lord."

"Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon me, and he told me to say: "This is what the LORD says."

It was the Holy Spirit of God who descended on our Lord at his baptism. And, as we remember today, it was the Holy Spirit of God who empowered the infant church to bear witness to Jesus and proclaim his name among the nations. Significantly, the Holy Spirit is mentioned thirty seven times in the Acts of the Apostles, which describes a Spirit filled Church. And it is the Holy Spirit who continues to empower the Church today.

It is the Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of the books of the bible, so that we can quite rightly call them the Holy Scriptures. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired the Fathers of the Church in their councils, bringing forth the creeds which we still proclaim today. That self-same Spirit was given to us at our Confirmation, "Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit." It is the Holy Spirit who was given to me at my Ordination. "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God."

It is the Holy Spirit who inspires the Eucharistic sacrament so that the simple gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the saving gifts of the body and blood of Christ. The Spirit is with us in the sacrament, because it is in His power that we offer this Eucharistic worship to the Father through the Son.

It is only in the power of the Spirit that our prayers can be made. I remember the elderly lady in the hospital bed who was greatly distressed because she could not pray. I reassured her that the desire to pray was the prayer itself, the Spirit praying within her. As St. Paul reminds us: "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." The sighing of that old lady was the sighing of the Holy Spirit. The Christian soul who cries out, with St. Peter, "Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief." cries in the Spirit. No one can invoke the name of God in faith unless the Holy Spirit makes that invocation within him.

To celebrate Whit Sunday, to celebrate Pentecost, as we do today, is to recognize that the Church - yes even the Church of England - is Pentecostal because it is the Church endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit of God which is poured out as at this time.

But the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us for a purpose, and that purpose is that through the power of that same Spirit we might bear witness to God, just as those apostles on the first Whit Sunday were given the power to proclaim the good news of God's saving acts.


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