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Everything Changed
(A Pentecost Reflection)

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Everything Changed 

Read : Acts 2: 1-12; Romans 8: 14-17; John 14: 8-17 

In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul writes 'When we cry 'Abba, Father' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God'  

And in John's Gospel we read that [Jesus said] 'I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate ... Helper... to be with you forever. This is the Spirit...'  

Then in the book of Acts we hear that 'All of them were filled with the Spirit'  

This is the Day of Pentecost! The Day on which God's Spirit came in power upon the first believers, filling them with God's presence.  

It's an old joke which you will have no doubt heard many times. The minister, looking somewhat exhausted and distracted stands up to preach the sermon.  

'I am very sorry' he tells the congregation 'I have had such a busy week that I have not had a moment to prepare my sermon. So I suppose I will just have to rely on the Holy Spirit. Next week I hope to do better!'  

Of course, preparation on the one hand and relying on the Holy Spirit on the other are not mutually exclusive! Depending upon the Holy Spirit does not take away the need for careful and thoughtful and indeed prayerful preparation. But then neither does meticulous preparation, persuasive eloquence nor soaring oratory take away from our fundamental need to rely upon God's Holy Spirit.  

If the Church is not inspired, transformed, empowered, equipped and enlivened by the Holy Spirit of God then we are just another human organisation battling against the odds with failure around the corner and irrelevance our fate.  

But it need not be this way if we will but open our lives and our hearts and our church to the dynamic and unpredictable wind of the Holy Spirit. 

Think of the disciples after the Ascension, the words of Jesus ringing in their ears 'Go and make disciples' he said, 'you are witnesses of these things'. And then he said 'I am sending upon you what my Father promised... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.' 

But still they wait, gathering together, praying, but otherwise unsure what to do, seemingly unable to do anything; unable to engage in God's mission, unable to fulfil their calling, unable to obey the Lords' command, unable to respond to his commission.  

And then on the Day of Pentecost, when they were gathered together... a mighty rushing wind... tongues of fire... and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and nothing was ever the same!  

Nothing ever is the same when people receive the power of the Holy Spirit!  

Think of this community of St Cuthbert's, gathered faithfully week by week, comforted by our history, proud of our tradition, and yet wondering if we have a future or a hope.  

Will we open the doors of our congregation to the wild and unpredictable wind of the Spirit?  

For nothing ever is the same when people receive the power of the Holy Spirit!  

Or what about our beloved Church of Scotland met in General Assembly, grappling with major financial challenges, concerned about the effectiveness of our governance, faced with huge ethical issues and fearing division.  

Will we be able to lay aside our fears and our prejudices and welcome into our midst the disturbing and unsettling and enabling fire of God's Spirit?  

For nothing is ever the same when people receive the power of the Holy Spirit! 

pentecost dove

On that first Day of Pentecost something changed. Yes, something changed. Everything changed!  

Luke records it in Acts chapter 2 'suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind... and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.' 

Now they were aware that the promised Advocate or Helper or 'alongsider' was there with them and on them and in them, working through them. They were not alone... God was not simply 'on high' and distant. God was not simply known amongst them in the Lord who had been taken from them into heaven. God was known in their midst and in their lives through the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had said in today's Gospel, 'I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, Helper, one to come alongside you. This is the Spirit.'  

And on that Day of Pentecost the Spirit came as promised, and everything had changed!  

Now they were aware that God had equipped, empowered and enabled them for a great task which they on their own would not and could not have accomplished... but with the infinite resources of God they now were able and eager to carry out the mission to which they had been called.  

Everything had changed. 

Now they were aware that the words of Jesus had been significant when he spoke of God as Father, when he called them friends instead of servants, when he called them brothers - sisters - and not simply followers. This is what Paul is saying in his letter to the Romans in the passage we read today. The Holy Spirit bears witness within our spirits that we are children of God... Children not slaves says Paul. I will not leave you orphaned, said Jesus, I will ask the Father to give you another 'Advocate' another to come alongside your', this is the Spirit of truth'  

Everything had changed. 

The disciples realised that although Jesus was no longer with them in body yet they still had a living relationship with God. 

They understood with a new insight that they were loved and in an intimate relationship with God, a relationship in which they could call out 'abba, Father'. He was not distant but close.  

They knew that they were not being asked to build God's kingdom on their own but it was his Kingdom and his work and he would equip, empower and enable them...  

They discovered that God was alongside them by his Spirit and they were not left alone to get on with the work.  

The Spirit was poured out and everything changed.  

And the Spirit has been poured out... on us... if we will but open our lives, and receive the Spirit of God into our lives and into our church.  

Spirit of the Living God,
fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.

Yes, me... each of us. Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me.  

Then everything will be changed.  

Yes; this congregation; break us, melt us, mould us, fill us.  

Then everything will be changed. 

Yes; this Church of Scotland, met in General Assembly and in the face of daunting challenges; break us, melt us, mould us, fill us. 

Then everything will be changed. 

Imagine that. A Church fruitful in its witness, firm in the face of hostility, fearless in speaking out for the ways of God's Kingdom, freed to envisage new ways and step out beyond old patterns, faithful in overcoming differences, laying aside prejudices so that all were one in heart and soul.  

Imagine that! Well, we do not need to imagine it.... if we were to read on from the passage we read today we would discover that this was how the church was in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit of God empowered their mission, gave them courage in the face of danger and difficulty, led them into new ways and new understandings, and bound them together in love. We read that they were 'of one heart and one soul'. Not that they were perfect. Very far from it! But they were inspired and courageous and passionate. 

Imagine that St Cuthbert's. Imagine that Church of Scotland  

Well we should not need to imagine it... for the Holy Spirit had been poured out on us. Receive this Helper, this power of God, this alongsider, this fire of love and wind of change. Receive the Holy Spirit.  

Spirit of the Living God,
fall afresh on me...
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us...
...upon this congregation...
upon this Church of Scotland...

that in spite of the challenges our mission may be enabled and our witness empowered...  

that in spite of our differences we might be one in heart and soul...  

that we might be set free from the constraints which bind us...  

that the barriers may be broken down...  

that new horizons may open before us...  

Come Holy Spirit!  

 Rev David Denniston, Pentecost 2013 (Assembly Sunday)


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