SIGNS OF THE SPIRIT
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY MAY 31st 2009
Acts 2: 4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”.
It could be argued that one of the signs of being filled with the Holy Spirit is being able to pronounce all the countries listed in Acts 2:9-11, the first reading today!
Seriously, what are the signs of being filled with the Holy Spirit?
Acts 2 tells us it is speaking in tongues – not a phenomenon we associate with the average Episcopal parish. Nevertheless in the 70’s the charismatic movement did come to mainline Christian Churches, and this surprised many people. In the 70’s the Belgian Catholic Cardinal Suenens wrote a book about this called “A New Pentecost”, in which he suggested that this new movement was a sign that the Holy Spirit was renewing the Church.
I remember thirty three years ago attending a Roman Catholic Prayer and Praise meeting. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or ears, that Roman Catholics were speaking in tongues, raising their hands in praise, praying extemporarily and doing works of healing – it was not the thing that I associated with Roman Catholics.
At the same time in Australia, some Anglican priests were preaching about the Holy Spirit and urging everyone to speak in tongues as a sign that they had received what was called a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Such priests started weekly prayer meetings in their parishes which featured all those things and more. Again, it was what one expected in a Pentecostal church, not in the more sober Anglican Church where the liturgy is usually more dignified.
The result in one parish with which I was associated was exactly what Saint Paul had to deal with in the Corinthian Church. as described in I Corinthians. The congregation became divided – and those who spoke in tongues saw themselves as superior to others, whom they regarded as not really 100% Christians.
Is there a link between what happened at Pentecost and that 20th century Pentecostal movement? And if there is, what can we learn now?
The first thing we need to remember is that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a complete surprise. Jesus had promised the Apostles he would send a power, a gift, described as both the counselor and the comforter. None of them expected what they got – that’s why it was so dramatic and transformed them.
Ever since the day of Pentecost, the Church’s prayer to the Holy Spirit has been “Come“.
· “Come Thou Holy Spirit, come”
· “Come down, O Love Divine”
· “Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire”
· “Come Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of thy faithful people”
So the Church prays that the Holy Spirit may come. But what is a sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit to us, ordinary Christians in the year 2009?
A clue surely lies in the first letter to the Corinthians. In this Epistle, Saint Paul begins by criticizing the Corinthians for being divided into parties in their Church. They were parties devoted to various leaders: “I am for Paul, I am for Apollos, I am for Cephas”.
St Paul says that a sign of the Holy Spirit is our devotion to Jesus as Lord – and he emphasizes the community of the Church over against individual gifts. “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit”.
He also criticizes them for over-emphasing fellowship meals and neglecting the Eucharist.
Finally after criticizing them we come to chapter 13, and Saint Paul’s wonderful discourse about love: “Love is patient, love is kind, never jealous etc…”, concluding with “So these three abide: faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is love”.
It is relevant that Saint Paul talks about love after he speaks of unity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And also after speaking about the Eucharist – the great sign of unity. For the greatest sign of the Holy Spirit is love. J
The problems at Corinth arose because they thought they owned the Holy Spirit, rather than the Holy Spirit owning them.
The charismatic movement may have faded some-what – but the same issues facing Corinthians face the Church today:
· Divisions within churches
· Neglect of the Eucharist – or celebrated in a casual way
· Emphasis on superiority of some Christians
These days not the superiority of speaking in tongues, but of those who are more in touch with the spirit of the age.
None of these things endure, for they reflect the values of the world. What is the alternative for ordinary Christians like you and me?
The answer actually lies in the Acts 2: 42:
“And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”.
The result of Pentecost was a community who met to celebrate the Eucharist and were faithful to the tradition.
It is obvious to anyone that All Saints’ is a united and strong Church – and why? Because of our faithfulness to Catholic teaching and tradition, and because the Eucharist is central not just to our worship – but to our life as a community. Just as in Acts.
Acts 2 concludes by describing how the Church grew. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved”. In the course of a few months, the numbers grew from 120 to several thousand.
Yet those gathered in the Upper Room at the first Pentecost were the same men and women who had followed Jesus for up to three years without showing that they had the ability to turn the world upside down.
What happened? They were transformed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 2,000 years later we should probably not expect to speak in tongues, as they did, nor proclaim Jesus’ resurrection with great power on street corners, as they did. But we should expect to love our Lord more and praise him when we meet to celebrate the Eucharist.
And we all need to learn from their commitment, faith and enthusiasm.
So as we celebrate Pentecost yet again, let us ask our Lord to fill us with the love and joy of Holy Spirit – and even his power.
Let us commit ourselves not only to our parish, its tradition, and its liturgy – but to listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and doing his will in our lives.
Saint Paul says in Galatians 5.25: “Walk in the Spirit”. Let’s look more to the Holy Spirit for our daily living and loving.
So we pray: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of thy love”.