Sometimes I struggle a bit with this great day for I sometimes feel as though I’m celebrating a birthday of someone or rather something I don’t know that well. Yet though that’s where this sermon began, I’m thankful that as my words today will show, it’s not where I end up.
So why the struggle?
It’s something about that feeling of being excluded.
Often we human beings are good at finding ways to divide ourselves. It’s understandable enough I suppose, we’re all different with different gifts and abilities. No use trying to say we’re the same when we are not.
Yet it doesn’t take much for that recognition of different gifts to soon become a means of separating or dividing us from each other.
That can be about ability – “He is good at football and I’m not.”
“he’s good at maths and I’m not.”
But also about things “They have a new car and we don’t”
Keeping up with the Jones’ is a seductive and exhausting business.
Comparing ourselves with another is often the root of division and we do it because we don’t like to stand out from the crowd, we like to belong to the club.
There’s nothing wrong with that really, we need a bit of mutual support, but the trouble comes when that difference becomes a means to divide, to exclude, to make another feel as though they’re missing something, not quite got what it takes.
St. Paul writes of this divisive nature in some of his letters, in particular he reflects on the life of the Holy Spirit in the church.
On the one hand he recognises the diversity of gifts but importantly writes that these do not make you better than anyone.
In one memorable passage he relates that difference to the parts of our body. He graphically makes the point that a hand cannot function in isolation, it needs to be attached to something.
So he says in words as relevant for us, as when first written ‘there are varieties of gifts but the same spirit.’
And yet, and yet we keep falling into the same traps for the Holy Spirit has and still it used as a means to separate and divide a means to authenticate, give you a proper faith.
Which reflects in some way my struggle with today.
In my old diocese, during my curacy and beyond I often felt like a fish out of water. My colleagues all spoke of the Holy Spirit and apparently experienced it in ways completely alien to me.
So I often felt a bit left out and excluded, I still sometimes do.
I’m guessing that Paul had the same problem as me, that there were some amongst the followers of Christ who had no idea what some of the others were on about, quite literally when it came to speaking in tongues.
He had to remind them that their experience and their diverse gifts were given by the same life giving spirit.
I, we, sometimes need to hear that afresh, for today we give thanks for how in some way we’ve all been caught up in its life giving breath. For to speak of the Holy Spirit is to speak about life. Just think of those words some of you will have said thousands of times in the creed ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit- The giver of life’.
For me that goes to the heart of how we should understand the work of the Holy Spirit, that it gives life , animates all things whether you’re aware of it or not.
Animates the child in the womb, the artist at the easel, the writer at his desk, the chef at the worktop, the sewer with their needle, the preacher staring at the blank screen, animates the dry bones in the valley we heard of in Ezekiel.
I began with the idea that I find Pentecost difficult because I feel as though I’ve missed something, that is probably more a statement about me and my narrow ideas for the Holy Spirit, is so much more than I can ever grasp.
Of course the Holy Spirit can be made known in power, in those what we might call the Big Pentecost moments.
But the Holy Spirit is also at work in the ordinary stuff of life and each one of us knows something of the Little Pentecosts that we sometimes have, those little insights glimpses of the life of and love God at work in each other and in the world.
Think also about what we are doing this morning. We take bread and wine, ordinary things and ask the Holy Spirit to make them extraordinary. ‘Send your Holy Spirit that these gifts of your creation may be to us the body and blood of Christ’ as one of our Eucharistic Prayers puts it.
The Holy Spirit acts to inject the life of Christ into bread and wine, so that we might take his life into ours.
So to return to my beginning the life giving Holy Spirit cannot ever be about division, only life.
As we heard with great power it animated the first followers of Jesus, sent them out to the nations of the world. We are caught up in that movement still in our own way here, bringing the life of Christ to the world.
There is then much to celebrate then on this day of Pentecost when we celebrate the life of the Holy Spirit in the church and in each other.
And we celebrate knowing there is more to come. What we don’t know, like the wind as St John wrote ‘the spirit blows where it chooses’ but we can be sure the spirit is about breathing new life into us again and again, animating, changing and sustaining us.
At any decent birthday party there is always a cake and atop of the cake sit candles. Alas no cake today but we do have candles and at the end of our service we shall light them and in words unites ourselves with that first Pentecost, reminding us that through our lives, as they did we take Christ’s light and life into the world.
Thanks be to God for his life giving Holy Spirit. May that Holy Spirit, our souls inspire.