Pentecost People - Thirsty for the Spirit?
Revelation 22:12-14, 16, 17, 20-end; John 17:20-end / Pentecost People 2 / Thirsty for the Spirit?
Last Sunday we started a new sermon series. It’s all about the Holy Spirit, and we’ve called it ‘Pentecost People’. And last week I started the series by telling the story of the Holy Spirit, as recounted by the bible. It’s on the website if you want to go back and read it.
The reading we’ve just had from Revelation talks about the water of life. It’s a powerful metaphor - water is refreshing, it’s necessary for all life, it’s beautiful, it’s cleansing. And the Spirit in the bible is a bit like water, and according to the Scriptures, the water of the spirit is given out in different ways at different times.
In the Old Testament, the Spirit comes to particular people at particular times for a particular purpose. Like bottles of water being given out to those who particularly needed it. Not everyone, only those who need it for God’s specific work.
And then, at the start of the New Testament, the Spirit is around more - as if running water has been installed for the first time, and is now available much more easily, to many more people. And as Jesus preaches, heals and prays, it’s like he is turning on taps of this living water all over the place, so the water starts to flow - but still only when Jesus is there.
And then we get to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, and as soon as he leaves the earth, it’s like the water is switched on for everyone - there’s suddenly water everywhere; free flowing, gushing, fresh running water for anyone and everyone who wants it. I said last week that the word ‘baptise’ means to immerse, to plunge, to go deep down under water. Where, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was given out to particular people, for particular tasks, now, on the day of Pentecost, there is a deluge, and inundation, a baptism of the Spirit for all people, in all places, every day. A Pentecost people are born, the age of the Spirit has begun - and we still live in that age today. We are God’s Pentecost People.
And this sermon series is all about what it means to live as Pentecost People in the age of the Spirit.
But it’s not a series where we’re going to ‘learn about’ the Spirit so much as to ‘meet with’ the Spirit. It’s possible to tell a thirsty person all about water, and what it’s made up of, and why it’s good to drink - but it’s much kinder to give them a drink. Likewise with the Spirit - we can talk about the Spirit, and that might be interesting, but we are all thirsty for depth and healing and love, and the Spirit says ’Come. Let everyone who hears say come. And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.’
So, if you’re thirsty; if you want something deeper and more meaningful; if you’re up for taking a risk; if you long to know God - either for the first time, or in a richer way; if you long to be baptised, immersed, plunged in God’s love and grace, then come, join in, let the Spirit happen to you. Use these few weeks as a special time, a time of openness to the Spirit. The water is flowing, the Spirit is here, and we are God’s Pentecost People.
So take a moment now to ask yourself this question….
What, of God, are you thirsty for today?
Christianity invites us into a relationship. It says, God loves you and he longs for you to love him, because he knows that, the more we love Him, the more we will be the person he has designed us to be. Faith is not, first and foremost, a set of beliefs that we agree with. It isn’t coming to church. It isn’t ‘being good’. Faith is, first and foremost, a relationship. And relationship is the Spirit’s business. If a relationship is 1 person + 1 person, then the Spirit is the ‘+’.
And because the spirit is relational and personal, I want to tell you about two ways that I have been called into a relationship with God personally.
The first is through sung worship. I am deeply unmusical. I learnt the piano for 2 years as a child and still didn’t manage to get Grade 1 - something my teacher said was impossible. But I love it when other people make music, and I love to sing. And over the years I have learnt how music and singing can free me from myself, and allow the Spirit to get hold of me and draw me into deep worship.
I grew up in pretty standard Anglican churches, singing pretty standard Anglican hymns. And then, as a teenager, my family went to Taize, the monastic Christian community in central France. They use a very particular kind of music - many of you will know the songs. They’re simple chants, usually based on a verse of Scripture which are sung repeatedly, over and over again. And Taize is an extraordinary community. Every week throughout the year, tens of thousands of people, most of them teenagers and young adults, join the community, worship and praying together three times a day, studying the scriptures and eating together.
And in Taize, which I went to every summer for 5 or 6 years, I discovered that singing isn’t just a matter of turning to ‘hymn four hundred and thirty six’, but an invitation to enter into the constant worship that is going on around the throne of the Lord all the time. When we sing, we aren’t just using music to say some words from a book, we are invited to be caught up in the power of the Holy Spirit, who loosens our tongues and carries us into the throne room of heaven, where the angels and archangels gather before the Lord, and worship him night and day.
And the power of the Holy Spirit to use music to lift us beyond ‘this’ world, and into heaven has continued to be crucial to my journey with God. And especially when we sing together on Sundays.
I grew up thinking that anyone who got too carried away in church was a bit odd. Raising your arm? Weird. Closing your eyes? Suspicious. Speaking or singing in tongues? Definitely to be avoided. I know now that was a lie. When we sing together, we are in God’s presence; the Holy Spirit strips us of our ‘fleshliness’ and makes our worship worthy of God - Paul explained it like this to the Ephesians, ‘Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord’ and in the brilliant translation in The Message, that comes out like this Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.
And if we’re caught up in the Spirit, standing before the throne, well why wouldn’t we want to raise our hands, or close our eyes, or let go of some of our inhibitions? Why wouldn’t we want to give ourselves to his glorious holiness, voice, body and soul?
So I encourage you, especially in these these next few weeks, to feel free to take a risk when we sing together. Raise your voice, let the words on the screen be more than words that your given to sing; let them be words that rise before the King of Heaven, let your guard down and let your hands rise; let the Holy Spirit fill your voice and worship him with all you’ve got.
But it’s not just when we sing that the Spirit gets to work. Another important part of my journey has been the opposite - learning to meet the Lord in silence.
Some years ago I went on a retreat - a time away from everything; a time to stop, to listen and to encounter God. There are some very, very beautiful places to go away on retreat; this is Lee Abbey in Devon. This is FFlad-y-Brenin in Wales; This is Holy Island, in Northumberland. And this…….is where I went. To central Birmingham. The place I went was a Jesuit community - and the Jesuits are famous for being fiercely intelligent, and for lacking any aesthetic sense whatsoever. The building was huge, empty and had nothing beautiful in it at all. And the retreat was in silence. Not only was there no talking, I didn’t have any other form of entertainment at all. Certainly no phone or laptop, and not even a book, other than the bible. And it was for 9 days.
For seven days I was miserable. I discovered that silence can be oppressive and lonely. I found out that boredom is horrible. I found it very hard to pray. When there’s nobody to talk to, you’re just left with the voices in your head - and they’re not always the best of friends, are they?
And then, on the 7th day, I was back in the horribly ugly prayer room, sitting in silence, trying to let go of all the busy-ness inside my head, trying to let God speak, and I found myself caught up out of time, lifted into a Universe that is majestic and glorious and far beyond my imagining. I wasn’t alone, and the silence wasn’t empty, I was in God’s presence, surrounded by God, full of God, overwhelmed by God. It was twenty years ago now, and I know that it was the truth. The truest moment of my life.
And so, as well as inviting you to take a risk in the way you worship with music, and I also invite you to experiment with silence. Just you and the Lord, in the the power of the Spirit. Just sitting, without expectation or enquiry; breathing in and breathing out; acknowledging the thoughts that fly into your head and the noises that distract; noticing the temptation to get up and ‘do’ something, but remaining at peace, in stillness. In silence. Try it out this week - maybe in the glorious prayer room here.
And we’ve already sung together, and we’ll do more of that soon.
But I want to invite you to a moment of stillness now. We’re going to enjoy God’s gift of silence for some time. It’ll be a good few minutes, so don’t worry about when it’s going to end.
Sit comfortably, feet flat on the floor, hands on your lap. It can help, as the thoughts come in - which they will - to have a holy word that you can come back to. I suggest you use ‘Come Holy Spirit’. Say it now a few times, gently in your mind. ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, ‘Come Holy Spirit’. And breathe in and breathe out.
And when the thoughts come, notice them and let them go; ‘Come Holy Spirit’, breathe in, breathe out.
Come Holy Spirit, fill our minds. Fill our hearts. Fill our every breath. Come Holy Spirit.