Within the Love of God: A Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost

The readings:
Acts 2v1-21
Psalm 104
Romans 8v14-17
John 14v5-24

There is a beautiful line in the marriage service that is commonly used in the Church of England as part of the vow that the bride and groom make to each other. Man and wife promise each other: all that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we arrive at the feast of Pentecost, I want us to hear these same words coming to us from Jesus Christ. If we understand that line from the Anglican wedding service, we understand what Pentecost is all about. Were we to ask God for one thing, we may not be bold enough to ask for a) all that he is, and b) all that he has, and yet this is the offer that is before us and that we may receive this Pentecost. 

But first, what happened at Pentecost? Our reading from Acts gives us the events. The disciples of Jesus — not just the Twelve, maybe around 120, men and women — were continuing to gather every day and to pray. On the fiftieth day after Easter, the tenth day after Jesus ascended into heaven: God answered their prayer. The sound of the rush of a violent wind filled the place, tongues of fire rested upon them, they were filled by the Holy Spirit. You could say that Pentecost is the first day that God comes to church. And in coming to church, Jesus fulfils his promise in John that he would not leave them, but that he would come to them. The Father answers Jesus’ prayer to send them another advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who would be with them forever. All that he has, he gives to us.

All that I Am, I Give to You
What is Pentecost all about? It is about how Jesus continues to be present with his people, and when we talk about God being present, we are talking about the whole story of the Scriptures. The whole story of the Scriptures is about God trying to find somewhere to live. The story starts in the Garden of Eden, where we read that Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect fellowship with God, and that he walked with them in the Garden in the cool of the day. God lived in a garden, with his favourite part of creation until sin broke that fellowship, and God and humanity did not live together. Until, of course, God brings his people Israel out of slavery in Egypt, with signs and wonder, power and plagues. And yet after the dust settles and the Red Sea returns to its place, something like fifteen chapters of the book of Exodus are devoted to a description of how to build a tent. Why does he want that? Because he wants to be present and to live with his people. And for a thousand years or so God lived in a tent in Israel, until the Lord Jesus was born – and the Gospel of John says God became flesh, and ‘pitched his tent’ among us. He lived with us, he was present with us. On the day of Pentecost, we move into the fourth chapter: from Garden, to Temple, to Jesus, to the Church. This is now where God lives on earth, until the Lord returns and makes his dwelling place with us again in a city without a Temple. 

From Eden, to the Tabernacle and the Temple, to the incarnation of Jesus, to Pentecost, to the second coming, the Scriptures are all about God living with people. A friend asked me a few weeks ago, ‘what is Christianity all about?’ This is the heart of it is that God wants to be with us. This is the pattern and message throughout the whole Bible: God following us when we wander away, because he wants to be with us, he wants to be with you. This is why he offers us his Spirit, to live with us and in us and to be with us forever. The greatest of the Pentecostal gifts is God Himself. All that he is, he gives to us.

Through this gift, we enter into the life of the Trinity. So it is that Jesus describes the Spirit as ‘another comforter’, and yet says also, ‘I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.’ Christ offers himself and brings us to himself. In doing so, he brings us, by the Spirit, into relationship with the Father as well. As our reading in John begins, Philip asks the Lord to see the Father. The Lord replies that the one who has seen him has seen the Father. So Pentecost brings us into fellowship with the three: to know the Spirit is to know Christ, to know Christ is to know the Father. 

This means that there is no genuine spirituality that is not Trinitarian. There are movements within Christianity that generate a great deal of excitement around the Holy Spirit, but very little around Christ or the Father. We are right to feel some suspicion about these movements, for there is no true spirituality without the experience and presence of the Father and the Son. Outside the Church, there is much talk of Spirituality as well, a term that is fluid and flexible, and often deliberately so. Any spirituality does not lead to the Father is a road to nowhere. As Christ says in response to Thomas, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.’ Spirituality without Christ is a road to nowhere. True Holy Spirit-uality is the Way through the Son to the Father.

All that I Have, I Share with You
On the subject of God our Father, we move to the next step, that all that Christ has, he shares with us. In our reading from Romans, we hear St Paul say things that we would not believe if anyone else had said them. What does it mean when we receive the Spirit of God? It means we become children of God, because the Spirit is not a Spirit of slavery, but a Spirit of adoption, so when we pray, we call God ‘Father.’ 

We could call God a lot of things. He is the King of Heaven, and so perhaps we might rightly refer to him as ‘Your Majesty’. He is the judge of all the earth, and so we might rightly call him, ‘Your Honour.’ He is our teacher, and so we might rightly, or at least, politely, call him, ‘Sir.’ But it is Jesus and the Spirit who teach us to pray, and they teach us to call him Father. All that Christ has, he shares with us, and he teaches us to call God by the same name that he uses: ’Abba, Father.’ When we say that, it is the Spirit of God bearing witness, or testifying with our spirits, that we are children of God.

St Paul says that through this adoption, now that, like Jesus, we can call God father, we also get a share in the inheritance. What does this refer to? A split of the cash when God dies? We may be waiting a while. Instead, I think we ought to think more properly about Christ as the heir to the throne, the one to whom the Lord says ‘Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’ We become co-heirs with Christ, we will judge and reign with him, and the Spirit of God is the mark of this. Under the Old Covenant, the Spirit of God did come upon kings, as when David was anointed. We might think that before, the Spirit was for royalty, and now it is for the plebs. The reverse is in fact true: Pentecost makes each of us royalty. 

We have become joint heirs with Christ, and because of this Jesus says things that, again, we would not believe if anyone else had said them. But Jesus said it, so we take him at his word. In our reading from John, we hear Jesus say, ‘the one who believes in me will also do the works I do, and, in fact, greater works than these.’ What Christ means by this is not entirely clear. It is hard to imagine that our works are greater in quality, but perhaps in number or in impact, as now the Church has been established throughout the world. What it does at least mean is that all Jesus has, he shares with us. 

What is the work of the Spirit? He makes Christ present to us, and this is why it is that we do still see in the world and the Church the same works that Jesus performed. The charismatic gifts should not be seen as a distraction from the work of the Spirit in showing us Christ, but rather an aspect of the manifestation of Christ among us. As the Christ was present and powerful in his earthly life in preaching and healing, wise and tender in preaching, patient and joyful in suffering, so these qualities are manifested in the Church by the Spirit of Christ, as disciples of Christ, members of his body, perform the same works as him. What this means for us is that we all come to church with something to offer. Rather than coming to passively receive, each of us are given gifts of the Spirit to continue the work of Christ here, whether gifts of preaching, prophecy, comforting, administrating, healing, discerning spirits, or something else. All Christ has, he shares with us, meaning that he calls us into the same mission that he has, and shares with us the power to accomplish his purposes. 

Within the Love of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
What shall we say to these things? We ought to pray. In each of these three passages, we receive models for prayer. As St Peter exhorted the crowd of devout Jews on the first Feast of Pentecost, ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ The Spirit is freely offered to all who will call upon the name of Christ, who repent and are baptised. The first and daily prayer of the Christian life is calling on the name of the Lord and asking for salvation.

The second kind of prayer we are invited into is a prayer of presence. As St Paul says in Romans, through the Spirit we pray, ‘Abba, Father.’ All Christ has, he gives to us, and through the Spirit we also come to know and enjoy God as Father. Pentecost secures this relationship, in the beautifully intimate language of this passage in Romans, the Spirit testifies with our spirits that we are children of God. Let us learn to prayer in silence, to enjoy the presence of God, to know him as Father, and to hear the Spirit confirm that within us. 

The third kind of prayer is a prayer for power. The Lord Jesus spoke to his disciples in the upper room, and said ‘Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.’ There is great power in prayer, because there is great power in Christ, so let us pray boldly, that we might see his Kingdom coming in every way. 

All that I am, I give to you, all that I have, I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is where Pentecost ends, being drawn into the love and fellowship of the Trinity. For all eternity we will remain and live and grow in this relationship, loving and being loved, and coming to know even as we are fully known, within the love of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 


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