A couple young mums, a retired council worker, a podiatrist, a couple of teachers, a musician, a job centre employee- just some of the people I have interviewed this week. All of whom have put their heads above the parapet and said- I just get the sense that God is calling me to ministry in His Church.
It`s a great privilege to take part in these –what are called- Bishop`s Advisory Panels- because we advise the Bishop on whether someone should go forward for training- but underneath it all, beyond whether or not these folk are called to be Clergy- is the point that they have sensed the touch of God.
It could have been a single moment, a combination of events and circumstances or the comments of others have led them to believe that something is going on.
It can be variously described as an itch, a nagging feeling that won`t go away- even, as someone once put it to me “I think God has a contract out on me”. But however it`s described- they simply believe that something is going on- and they`re looking to make some sense out of it.
The `what`s Going on` of course is what we call the work of the Holy Spirit. What we celebrate today on this Pentecost Sunday is for me what we might call `Practical God`. For me, the Holy Spirit is the great `So what` of faith. That reminds us that all the fine words in the world don`t matter a jot unless it`s all rooted in our daily living and the desire to act on the presence of God in our midst.
The concern I have, however, is the sense that talk of the Holy Spirit tends to be downplayed somewhat- and for a number of reasons.
Firstly, many of us grew up with the older form of service which spoke of the Holy Ghost- which leads many to assume we`re talking about rather spooky and maybe irrational things.
Secondly, poor teaching about the Spirit has led many of us, unconsciously at any rate, to live with a picture of life in which Jesus has, as it were gone his way and left us to get on with it. We don`t see the point of any indwelling Spirit.
And thirdly, talk of the Holy Spirit has often been thought of as the preserve of one part of the family whom we might, at best describe as a bit `quirky` and at worst somewhat elitist and who give the impression that Holy Spirit is for the privileged few.
Well, it perhaps wouldn`t surprise you to learn that I would want to refute all of these and to point out a much neglected piece of Scripture where we`re told that this is a fundamental purpose of Jesus: John the Baptist said: I Baptise you with water- but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit`.
Now, as I was explaining to our Confirmation group only a few weeks ago- that word `Baptise` means `drench`. Think of a walk o the Lakeland fells and you`ll know what I mean! In other words we`re being told that one of the primary tasks of Jesus is to quite literally `soak` us in the life and presence of God…..
So where does this lead us?
Well, firstly- when you hear talk of the Holy Spirit remember that we`re talking about the life and presence of God being given to ALL. Liberally and generously.
This is the point of that quotation from the prophet Joel that we heard this morning: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams”. And notice, in particular- there`s no age barrier- it doesn`t matter how superannuated you are! And for good measure he tells us that ALL who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And this is brought home to us in Luke`s Gospel where Jesus tells us that since we who are parents know how to give good things to our children `How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him`. So the first thing to get under our belt is this notion of the generosity of God who liberally pours out his spirit upon all who ask him..
And secondly, to take this further- when you hear talk of the Holy Spirit- think of this as your birth-right. Just as Jesus says `I will not leave you orphans`, so St. Paul tells the Romans that the Spirit `bears witness` or assures us that we are God`s children- I other words we HAVE come into a new relationship with him.
It`s not presumption to say `I am a Christian`. Being a Christian, being His is not about what we do or achieve but again, it`s God`s gift. And to cap it all we are promised that because of the Spirit we have what Paul calls `every spiritual blessing`: Or as the Psalm puts it: `I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine for ever`.
So, just as Jesus was present to the disciples so he is present to us now by the Spirit- The Holy Spirit is what the Gospels call – our Advocate (on our side)- our Guide; our inspiration and comforter and he brings to mind all that Jesus has taught.
And I say again- he is present in all these ways- not just for the privileged few but for `all` his people. Just look at the arguments Paul has with the Corinthians about the perils of Spiritual one-up-man-ship. And take to heart what Jesus is saying when he describes the Spirit as `the wind`- which is fundamentally beyond our control. We need to beware those who come over all `prescriptive` about what the Spirit is and isn`t doing.
So when we get this under our skin- the purpose and desire of Jesus to be continually with us. His generosity and the specific assuring and strengthening gifts he wants us to have – the next thing is to consider the `so what?` In other words, if I am inwardly possessed of the Spirit- how will I come to recognise the signs of this presence and come to be inwardly guided by him?
So much of the answer to this question, it seems to me, revolves around the willingness and ability to stop, look and listen to ourselves and the circumstance in which we find ourselves or learning to give attention to life and its undercurrents.
Very often people say to me that it`s only in hindsight that the perceive the hand of God at work- and perhaps over a long-ish period of time- through perhaps difficult circumstances and the like. But how about within the twenty-four hours of a given day?
How about becoming more aware of your moods and your inner temperature as the day goes by? How about noticing those moments when you were perhaps unexpectedly patient, forgiving; life`s little coincidences. Or times when you felts encouraged or built up by a word of scripture or something someone said? How about noticing the inner wrestling- and the times you felt in tension with some person or decision or admonished for something you had thought or done?
This is not an exact science- far from it – but we are called, I believe to look at the lives we lead and `name` these moments as the grace of God and go forward with gratitude and wonder and humility.
Part of my reflection this morning has included a warning to those who feel they have a monopoly of the life of the Spirit. That part of the family who are particularly fond of bringing before us the work of the Spirit in all his vitality are often called `Charismatics`.
Now the word Charismatic means `gifted`. Such people rightly emphasise the gift and presence of Jesus among us by the Holy Spirit. God`s generous immediacy. But my simple point is this.
We always need to remember that there are no first and second-class Christians. In one sense we are ALL Charismatics- because by God`s generosity we are all gifted, inwardly and lavishly by his Spirit. But each and every day needs to be a day in which we make a `yes` to that wonderful gift.
Or as St. Paul told the Ephesians- insisting that we avoid any half measures- simply said `Be FILLED with the Spirit`.