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Day of Pentecost Sunday 31 May 2009 Year B

Acts 2.1-21; Ezekiel 37.1-14; John 15.26f; 16.4b-15.


What part has the Holy Spirit in the life of the church today? The feast of Pentecost
marks the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. It is often referred to as the
birthday of the Church, because Pentecost is when the apostles began spreading Jesus'
message, establishing the beginning of the Church.

There is a saying...Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and
you will feed him for a lifetime. But there are variations...
 Teach a man to fish and you get rid of him for a whole weekend; or
 Teach a man to fish, and he will never come back to church.

After a fishing trip ended in total failure, a man stopped at a fish market, ‘Just stand over
there and throw me five of the biggest trout you’ve got,’ he said. ‘Throw them?’ asked the
puzzled fishmonger, ‘What for?’ ‘So I can tell my wife I caught them. I may be a poor
fisherman, but I’m not a liar!’

The unsuccessful fisherman told the truth but not the whole truth. Today’s Gospel mentions
‘truth’ four times. Jesus told his disciples that he was ‘going to him who sent me’ and
explained, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.’ Did you note
that the disciples did not ask, ‘Where are you going?’ A TV advert has two singing angels in
heaven on top of fluffy clouds, missing a third singer. They find her in a state of ecstasy on
her own little cloud enjoying Philadelphia cream cheese, ‘a little taste of heaven’. And now
you can ring 118 24 7 for Directory Heaven. It is an unappealing future to be somewhere far-
away in the sky on top of fluffy clouds. Jesus and the authors of the New Testament don’t say
much about going to heaven after you die. When a person remains alive, in the presence of
God, but the actual physical body is dead and decaying or is no more, people tend to refer to
this as ‘the soul’. The problem is that we only have human language to describe things. A
bottle of whole milk includes cream. Perhaps you are one of those who like to see the cream
settle on the top, so that you can pour it over your favourite breakfast cereal. To think that
the soul is somehow separated off from the body, like cream on top of the milk, is mistaken.
Tom Wright, our bishop, points out that when our earthly bodies die, we don’t become
disembodied spirits. The bishop says that a more accurate way of describing ‘going to
heaven when we die,’ is ‘going to be with God, with Jesus, until the time when God makes a
new heaven and a new earth and gives human beings new bodies suitable for their new life.
He reminds us that Paul tells us that we shall have totally renewed bodies (2 Corinthians 5.1-5).

Today’s Gospel reading continues…


8
And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about
sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you
will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

Imagine the human race onboard a jet-liner flying through time. From the heavenly control-
tower, God directed the takeoff. The Devil, managed to get a boarding pass. When the plane
reached its cruising height, the Devil produced weapons, threatened the pilot and hijacked the
plane. The Devil was in control of the plane and all of the passengers were at his mercy. The
plane limped from airport to airport, on and on through history, with the passengers fearing
the worst, until in the reign of Tiberius Caesar it landed on the runway of an outpost of the
Roman Empire, the city of Jerusalem. There, Jesus, the Son of God, offered himself as sole
hostage in exchange for the passengers and crew. As we look at the cross in the light of the
Bible, with the help of the Holy Spirit, these truths become clear:
 God judges all sin as it deserves. The Greek word in the New Testament which is
often translated as sin actually means ‘to miss the mark’ or ‘to miss the target’.
 Sinning (missing the mark) deserves suffering and rejection from God and there is
nothing, but nothing, you can do about it.
 Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross us and he is now risen, ascended and
glorified. Jesus has and paid the penalty for our sins.

‘For All the Saints,’ gives the answer to the question where the faithful go after death:
‘The golden evening brightens in the west; Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest: Sweet is the
calm of Paradise the blest. Alleluia!

‘Paradise’ is the resting place for the blessed in expectation of the final day. Paradise is not
the final resting place. After Paradise, there is the resurrection, the life after life after death.
The Christian hope is for a full new life in the presence and love of God; a totally renewed
creation; a new heaven and a new earth, a united heaven and earth combined together, not
separate, where we shall be stewards over the new creation; loving other human beings;
loving and worshipping God, and all of this in the presence of Jesus himself. The hymn puts
it this way:
‘But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day; The Saints triumphant rise in bright array: The King of
glory passes on his way. Alleluia!

William Blake wrote,


‘Man was made for joy and woe; And when this we rightly know, Thro’ the world we safely go. Joy
and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul divine.

Tom Wright suggests that looking at our destiny in terms of the alternatives of joy and woe is
‘probably the wrong way of looking at the question.’ God intends to renew his creation and
this began in Jesus’ resurrection, which we celebrated 50 days ago. We ought therefore to
ask, ‘How will God’s new creation come? And then, ‘How will we share in the tasks which
God will launch in his new world when he is seeking to renew his creation?’

The Vicar has a poster in his study, ‘When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I
ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.’1 These are words of Dom Helder
Camara who also said ‘We ought to do everything as though all depended on us, at the same
time putting ourselves into the Lord's hands, knowing that our own strength lies in offering
him our weaknesses. We really need to learn to live Christ's prayer...’ And this is the prayer
Camara loved to pray, ‘Lord, may your grace help me to want what you want, to prefer what
you prefer...’

What part has the Holy Spirit in the life of the church today? Christian Aid’s strap line
puts it simply, ‘We believe in life before death’. Yes, we should feed and teach and we also
need to be fishers of men (and women), like the disciples. When we pray ‘your kingdom
come’ let us pray that the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Lord
and Giver of Life, will guide us into all truth and strengthen us by his power to live and work
to his praise and glory. Amen

1
Dom Helder Camara (1931-1999) Archbishop in one of the poorest dioceses in Brazil.