Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff


Sunday 24th May (Pentecost)

Today’s readings do, of course, speak about the Holy Spirit – what else do we expect on the day of Pentecost.  

The reading from Acts tells us about the first Pentecost and how the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul’s letter to the Romans explains that it is the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness and in the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit of truth will testify on his behalf.

The Holy Spirit has been given more attention over recent years than was the case during many generations of church teaching.  However, The Holy Spirit can still be something of an enigma – and of course everything about the Holy Trinity is a mystery – but for many the Holy Spirit is especially so. 

For me, the Holy Spirit was the person of the Trinity I first ‘recognised’ if you like.  I realised that it was the Holy Spirit who prompted me, patiently and for many years, to actually walk up church hill and take my first faltering steps on my journey of faith.

I would like to mention, before I continue, that when I make references to the Holy Spirit as she, I am not making a feminist statement or trying to establish a different theological understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit.  It’s simply that God is neither male nor female and I’m just attempting to balance the constant references of he with some she’s.  The important thing to remember is that the Holy Spirit is a person, not an it and I apologise if my use of she has ‘grated’ with anybody.

So, back to the Holy Spirit ........ To our ‘worldly’ ears, used to hierarchical structures, being known as the Third Person of the Trinity, could lead us, if only subconsciously, to think of God the Holy Spirit as being somehow less important than God the Father and God the Son.

God the Holy Spirit is, of course, in no way the third in line in a hierarchical way. The Father, The Son and The Spirit are God – one God.   The Father, the Son and the Spirit are differentiated in that the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, nor is the Son the Spirit, they are three persons and The Father, Son and Spirit are not persons because they operate independently of one another. They’re persons in their relationships with one another.

At creation the Father creates through his Son, breathing his Spirit into humanity. At the incarnation, the Father sends the Son into the world in the power of the Spirit.

The Father reveals through his Word (his Son) whose revelation comes to us in the Spirit-inspired word of God (the Bible) and speaks to our hearts through the illumination of the Spirit.

·         We pray to the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit.

·         The church is the people of God, the body of Christ

·         and the community of the Holy Spirit, the place where the Holy Spirit abides. 

We have assurance through of the love of the Father, the finished work of the Son and the confirming witness of the Holy Spirit.

I think that puts paid to any notion that the Third Person of the Trinity is, in anyway, third in line. 

Sometimes people overlook the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and believe He doesn’t put in an appearance until Pentecost.

In reality, a reference is made to the Spirit of God even before God’s word, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, is mentioned. 

The Holy Spirit, actively involved in the creation of the earth, is first mentioned in the second verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:2, ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’.   

We see the Holy Spirit at work throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Books of the prophets and in the closing books of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is frequently mentioned

When Jesus spoke to His disciples He says ‘the Spirit of truth .. who comes from the Father’ - why does He make a point of stressing ‘the Spirit who comes from the Father’, rather than simply ‘my spirit’?

Perhaps Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that the coming of the Holy Spirit was something that was promised long before He came. If the Holy Spirit was promised by the Father, then the Holy Spirit was promised by the Old Testament. Our Lord could only reiterate a promise already made, a promise made by the Father.

As in the New Testament, The Holy Spirit is described in the Old Testament as creative, life-giving, and life-sustaining.

The account of the “coming” of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, like the account of the birth of our Lord in Luke’s Gospel, is simply a key event which sets the stage for what follows.

If the ministry of Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, is the outflow of His birth (His incarnation), then the ministry of Jesus through the church, recounted in the Book of Acts, is the outflow of the descent of the Spirit in described in Acts 2

We read in Acts 2 of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit on those present.  Not only were the disciples now unafraid to speak out but they now understand what has happened, what Jesus ministry, death and resurrection actually mean in a way that they didn’t before.  Despite the fact that they had known Jesus, been part of His ministry and had spoken with Him, touched Him, shared food with Him following his resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit illuminated that understanding with a truth that set them free.

Peter is, therefore, able to explain to the Jewish spectators the fulfilment of the promise of the Old Testament prophets, which Jesus spoke of as the “promise of the Father.”

Peter and the other disciples now understood that God’s promise had been fulfilled.  He had come to rescue, not only Israel, but the whole of His creation.  Something that they had been waiting for had happened and God’s plan to restore His creation had been set in motion. 

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, not only the world, but the whole of creation was back on track as it were.

The Son works for us and the Spirit works in us in fulfillment of the Father’s will.  From all eternity the Trinity has existed in love.

God has always existed, not a solitary individual, but as divine community.   God is three persons-in-relationship.  God is not only loving, but as I stressed last time I preached, he is love – and became love incarnate in Jesus and shares that love with us through the Holy Spirit.

And we are made in the image of this triune God.  We are made to live in relationship, loving one another as we are loved.  To live rooted in the vine as branches united by the Holy Spirit.

‘In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’ (Romans 12:5)

God’s redeemed people are his image in the world. 

We, as a Christian family are to reflect the divine family. We’re to love one another; share with one another; rejoice and mourn with one another; share our lives. We’re to make decisions with each other in mind.

What the world witnesses when they see how we live as a  Christian community will, for many, be the thing on which they base their understanding of the Gospel.

The challenge then is this: When the world sees the life of our St Barnabas Church family, does it recognise a sign of God’s salvation? Does it see a community of believing individuals, living in relationship, in action?

Does our church reflect the image of the Triune God?

It is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, who illuminates the scriptures, who quickens our very being at the communion table when we share in the bread and wine – the body and blood of Jesus given for us.

It is the Holy Spirit who prompts and encourages ....... and sometimes gives us a big shove ......... to realise the truth of Jesus.   But as I have said on more than one occasion, we can so easily grieve the Holy Spirit.  We can close our eyes and ears, think we know better and carry on in our own way.

Let us remember, therefore:

that ‘for us and for our salvation, Jesus came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit’. The Holy Spirit is God and God is love ....... the Holy Spirit simply seeks to enable us to be the people we are meant to be, living as part of that relationship which the Holy Trinity enjoy. 

The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.  Amen