The first time we encounter God’s Holy Spirit is at creation- by God’s ‘out of this world’ spirit (or breath, or words), all things ‘in this world’ were brought into being. People were created for the purpose of being in God’s presence and in each other’s presence. But things didn’t work out like that… People turned their backs on God- think of Adam and Eve hiding in the garden while God sought their company. And then people turned their backs on each other- think of Cain getting jealous and then murdering Abel. And we’ve been doing it ever since!
But that’s not what creation was intended for, so God set about fixing it- reuniting people with each other and with God. And as God’s Holy Spirit was deeply involved in creating the world, so God’s Holy Spirit is also deeply involved in fixing the world. So we read in the Hebrew Scriptures about God’s Spirit- or God’s presence- being with particular individuals for particular times or tasks. The Spirit of the Lord ‘fell upon’ amongst others Joseph, Joshua, Samson and David, for the special things they did.
And God’s presence was most ‘present’ in the temple that Solomon built. Our first reading comes just after Solomon’s moving prayer of dedication. It ends like this: ‘Heaven and earth cannot hold you O Lord YHWH, let alone this temple that I have built…’ And then God’s presence descended on the temple, and it looked like- fire from heaven!
God’s presence is wild, it’s uncontrollable, it’s ‘out of this world.’ And the response of God’s people was to worship. And this sets the pattern for future visits to the temple- they gathered together to BE WITH GOD. To remind themselves that the basic reason for their existence was to be loved by God and to be in God’s presence. So they brought instruments, they brought holy scrolls, they brought their praises and laments, their hopes and dreams, and they realigned their lives to God’s life, they shaped their hearts, minds and strength around God’s presence. They gathered to be with God, and to be All Hallowed by God- made holy, set apart and dedicated to God.
But God’s plan to fix the world went beyond the people of Israel. God didn’t want to be present only for Israel- God wanted to be present through Israel and this temple. And so we have the exhilarating words of Joel’s prophecy (which St Peter quotes in our second reading) that God’s Spirit and presence will pour out on ALL people. And that started with the disciples in Acts 2…
Pentecost was a harvest festival, when farmers would bring the first sheaf of wheat from their crops, and offer it to God. Partly to say thank you, and partly as a prayer that the rest of the crop also be safely gathered in. Jesus’ followers discovered that God had poured out God’s Spirit or presence on them, and this was the start of what God had promised for ALL PEOPLE. They were like the first sheaf of wheat in God’s great harvest. And so they went out to share God’s presence with everyone else- which includes us!
And so here we are to worship. Just like Solomon’s Israelites, we’re gathered together to BE WITH GOD. To remind ourselves that the basic reason for our existence, is to be loved by God and to be in God’s presence. So we’ve brought instruments, we’ve brought holy scrolls, we’ve brought praises and laments, hopes and dreams. Here we are to realign our lives to God’s life, to shape our hearts, minds and strength around God’s presence. Just like the folks in Solomon’s temple, we gather to be All Hallowed by God- to let God’s Holy Spirit sweep through our lives and transform us and set our hearts on fire with love, for God, and for God’s world.
And so let’s do just that! Let’s sit in God’s presence and each other’s presence, and either enjoy some silence or offer our praises to God, as God’s Spirit leads us…
We gather to worship and enjoy God’s presence and be All Hallowed by God. That’s very important and should be an uplifting and profound experience for us. But again, God’s plan to fix the world goes beyond us- God wants to be present not just for us, but through us. We get to enjoy God’s presence, and so we’re also like the first sheaf of wheat in the harvest- but God has an eye on a much bigger harvest- there are so many of our sisters and brothers who need the love, joy, peace and justice that come with God’s presence. We’re the first sheaf of wheat, and God wants to send us out to help gather in the rest of the harvest- to share God’s presence with our world. We get All Hallowed by God’s Spirit, and then we get sent out to go Hallow All with God’s Spirit.
In Acts, God’s people head out in ever-increasing concentric circles: first Jerusalem, then out to Judea and Samaria, and then right out to the ends of the earth. And similarly for us, we should be focusing our efforts on this parish, then on the places where we spend our daily lives, and then on the wider world, remembering that God wants all of humanity gathered into God’s presence and each other’s presence.
In order to go out and Hallow All with God, we need to be All Hallowed by God. And our worship needs to do that- to enable and strengthen us to go out and share God’s presence. And as your still-very-new vicar, as I learn how to lead us in worship, I want to make sure I’m doing that in ways that are sensitive and allow us all to be uplifted and set our hearts on fire with love for God. I know I’m very full of energy, so I’m bound to do and say some things that are insensitive and distracting or annoying- preach sermons that are far too long! Or whatever it is. Please tell me about it! Please talk to me about worship- what do you enjoy and not enjoy? What sets your heart on fire with love for God, and how can we do more of that?!
Our worship needs to be a mix of sometimes holding and comforting us, and sometimes challenging and stretching us. It needs to be both, because there are dangers lurking for us if we hold onto only one or other…
People might think we’re drunk at 9am! If our worship is always very challenging and stretching and ‘out of this world’, then we end up TOO different from the world around us, and alienating or annoying visitors and guests and each other. Are you drunk, are you weird, what’s with you?! This is something that happens with me quite a lot- people often ask me ‘what I’m on’ J Often that’s a good thing, but I know it can also be tiring or annoying, so please catch me if I’m leading worship in ways that are too crazy or full-on.
The equal and opposite danger, is that no one ever thinks we’re drunk at 9am! We can worry so much about not alienating people and not being too different, that we lose the distinctiveness of this amazing way of life empowered by GOD’S PRESENCE with us, which isn’t always predictable and controllable, which can be quite out of this world. And many many people need something that IS out of this world, because this world isn’t yet completely full of love, joy, peace and justice.
Pentecost followers of Jesus are All Hallowed by God’s Spirit, and then sent out to Hallow All with God’s Spirit. Are you feeling Hallowed and ready to go Hallowing?? Is there something fiery and uncontrollable in your heart and soul?
In Pentecost language, God wants to set us on fire, and then send us out to set the whole world on fire. All God asks of us, is that we’re open to the Holy Spirit, so that we can be channels of God’s presence. Jesus said, ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive, everyone who searches will find, and the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. Your heavenly Father is waiting and ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks…