Words for the Day of Pentecost – 31 May 2020 – Parish of Felixstowe
A Cyber Sermon from the Vicarage
everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2v21)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
A word that (when accompanied by the clenched fist ✊🏾 of what is known as the Black Power salute) was something, during Apartheid, that set fear into the hearts of many White South Africans. Accompanied by the response ‘awethu’ it means simply ‘Power is ours’ but it was only made possible if all the separate fingers, fragile by themselves, were folded together into a united fist.
The saying, Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ has been proven to be true on far too many occasions. Unbridled power has been the agent of misery and famine, war, and oppression. There are many ways of using and abusing power and the church is no different to any other human institution in that power is at the same time useful and dangerous, full of promise and the agent of devastation.
Pentecost was the time when the disciples of Jesus were ‘clothed with power from on high’ and in the gift of the Holy Spirit they then, and we now, were to use this power for the work of bringing the Good News to everyone.
The purpose of the gift of the Spirit is not that we may be powerful, but that we would use the power to ensure ’everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’. The disciples had a sneaky suspicion that the Good News was for more people than just the Israelites. The polyglot proclamation to people from every nation under heaven on the first Day of Pentecost made it obvious that God was no longer going to be locked up in a Temple in Jerusalem or on a Cross on Calvary.
But with what sort of power have we been entrusted?
It is a Power to proclaim not to profit
It is a Power to heal not to hurt
It is a Power to comfort not condemn
Power to proclaim not to profit
It is the way of the world to use power for personal gain. Look at the powerful on our TV screens. Too many of them are so self-involved and secure in their authority that they neglect or even deliberately trample upon those who do not have power. Even in a democracy the slimmest of majorities bestows all the power and control in the hands of the ‘winners’ and once in office it is too easy to only serve the needs of those who voted for you and not the whole nation.
The powerful profit in other ways than the use of status for personal prestige but also the acquisition of wealth. In the early church it did not take too long before Simon Magus tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit (and so naming the ecclesiastical crime of simony) that he might profit.
The power of the Holy Spirit is given to help us proclaim the Good News. It is given to turn timid fisherfolk into evangelists and frightened followers into founders of a church that welcomes everyone and refuses admission to no one.
Power to heal not to hurt
After Pentecost the disciples are, like Jesus, able to make the lame walk, the blind see, and raise the dead to life. This is no small gift and one which remains present in the church today and is captured in our own prayer when we anoint the sick with oil.
It is so sad, since healing is at the heart of the church, that so many people find themselves to have been hurt by the church.
We are given power to bring wholeness to people. The community of faith is to gather up all God’s precious broken ones. We must guard against damaging them further instead of restoring them. The work for this begins in our relationships with each other. A broken church cannot bring healing to broken people. It can only infect them with its own dis-ease.
‘Physician heal thyself’ is a word for the Church that is called to physick others. This begins with a decision to love, forgive, and be penitent ourselves before we have any hope of healing others.
Power to comfort not condemn
The Holy Spirit is often called The Comforter. The Greek word for her is parakletos, which describes someone who sits next to us lending us their support and strength and power.
It is a ‘soft’ power that envelopes and holds, cherishes, and restores. It is a ‘waiting’ power that patiently listens for our response and will not desert us even if we wander away. It is not a ‘pushy’ power that insists on getting its own way (see 1 Corinthians 13). It is not a ‘compelling’ power that demands we choose between compliance and condemnation – which, if you look at them, are both the same…
A Church that is overflowing with the Holy Spirit will be a soft church not a strident church, an open church not a closed church, a weeping church not a church that makes others weep.
We are not called to be people who minister the power of the Holy Spirit through the clenched fist but by the offering an open hand.
We are called to be
A Church that proclaims Good News
A Church that seeks healing and wholeness for all
A Church that is a place of comfort for all
A Church that lives the truth that ‘the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory’, belongs to God and not to us.
[This blog ‘Powerful Powerlesness’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged.]