Canon Missioner - The Revd Canon Jay Colwill
Let us pray. “Come Holy Spirit”! May the light of your presence, set us on fire with love for you. Now and forever. AMEN
I want to begin by thanking Dean Andrew and +Christopher for this opportunity to preach tonight. As a new Director of Mission and Evangelism, and new to the Diocese as Canon Missioner, you can imagine, it’s quite a daunting experience! However, the transition into my new role has been helped by everybody being so welcoming. When you come to a new diocese, you arrive with a range of pre-conceptions and misconceptions. What will the role will be like? What will everybody be like?
Added to that, you have an image of your colleagues and you find out that in reality things are so different! For instance, I thought that the Dean…Andrew Nunn would be ….. taller …. than he is in reality!
Misconceptions and pre-conceptions. Yet, when you come into someone’s presence, you get to know the real person. Being fully present with someone heightens our understanding. It changes us.
I want to think with you about ‘presence’ this evening. Today, tonight, we join with thousands of Christians, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Christians celebrating the gift… the presence of the Holy Spirit to the church.
And our story begins in the Acts of the Apostles (v.1) with Christians, not very different to ourselves,
being altogether in one place.
They were, in the presence of one another. They prioritised community over isolation, unity over division!
I want to thank you for being altogether in one place tonight.
I want to thank our children and young people for being here tonight. You are not the church of the future, you are the church of the present, and I believe that God’s Spirit wants to strengthen you in your faith!
I want to thank you all for prioritising community over isolation, unity over division!
So, let us remember what a motley, and weak set of believers populated the first church in the Acts of the Apostles! Thomas was there- who we call doubting Thomas. Peter was there- who denied Jesus- 3 times! And we also read Matthew’s gospel, in the passage we call the Great Commission:
When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him, but some doubted!
The risen Christ comes and stands amongst them, and some doubt!
…. Do we have any doubters here? (You might not be too sure. Don’t worry, I’m not asking for a show of hands!)
My point is: you’re in good company. You’re welcome here! The church (from it’s very beginning) was populated with some who doubt. The important point to make is, that we are altogether with our doubts and our fears. We are not isolated.
When you are in a place of doubt. Come to God with it, but talk it through with a trusted friend and stay in community, as you process it. The presence of one another can help us.
And a related point to this:
Can you be present, fully present (in the company of) those who are different from you? Or with those with whom you disagree? I believe that in the Holy Spirit wants to meet us when (even in our difference) we are altogether in one place.
This is the first lesson that this Pentecost, we can learn from Acts 2. Presence together!
Yet, it didn’t end there.
In the very next verse, we read: The very presence of God came upon them!
The presence of God- the Holy Spirit- was not given that Christians should stay locked up, in fear in the upper room!
Presence (to compel them) to go!
So what does the Spirit of God give to those first Christians that we need as well?
The Spirit is Bold! Do you notice, that when the Spirit boldly blows through the upper room, the Spirit doesn’t ask anyone’s permission? The Spirit acts! My friends, I believe that God’s Spirit wants to instil a godly boldness into us! Not brashness, nor arrogance, but a holy confidence that comes from receiving the presence of God.
Do you need a touch of God that you might grow in boldness this night? Are you more timid in your faith, than you want to be? Are you under-confident in your words, when you wish you could speak with clarity? Do you wish you could act for good, but something is stopping you? This transformation happened to those first disciples on the day of Pentecost. It can happen to us as we wait upon God.
The Spirit is gifted! At the beginning of creation, the Spirit hovers over the water and creatively brings the world into being as the Father speaks the word. That same Spirit’s Breath that creates a universe of a infinite galaxies, numberless creatures and beautiful diversity- has made you creative as well! The Spirit wants to give you gifts so that you can grow into the woman, man, girl or boy that he wants you to be! How do you want to grow in spiritual giftedness? It can happen to us as we draw near to God.
The Spirit is generous! On that first Pentecost God’s Spirit speaks through Peter to people from all over the known world! The Holy Spirit continues to touch lives from thousands of nations, tribes and tongues. By that same Spirit, God gives us His presence to go into our communities and neighbourhoods and be ready to share the generous love of God through word and deed.
I was with the Diddy Disciples from St. Peter’s Walworth last Ascension Day eve and downstairs in their crypt we began to make ribbon streamers in the craft at the end of the session. Why? So, that Pentecost streamers could be given out to children, and little ones as the congregation from Walworth processed up to the cathedral tonight! Is that right St. Peter’s? I think it’s great. I think it’s an important visual demonstration that this generous God has given us so much- that we can be generous! What will we do to show the generosity of God?
The Spirit is bold! Is gifted! Is generous! And God gives us His presence to go!
Presence together! Presence to go!
Finally , God’s presence to grow!
How can we experience God’s presence to grow?
Ask for God’s presence.
The prayer “Come Holy Spirit” is a prayer of the church and a prayer of the Bible. Yet, this does not mean that we exercise control over the Holy Spirit. Bishop Graham Tomlin writes: “The spirit jealously guards his freedom from human control.” So, although we cannot control the Spirit, that same Spirit is still promised when we ask. This is a tension that cannot be eased. It is found throughout the stories of the New Testament. But we are invited to ask. If we ask for the Holy Spirit to indwell us, and indwell the church, we avoid (as +Graham says) blithely taking for granted the presence of Spirit, or acting as if the Spirit was not necessary and that we can do it all ourselves. So we should ask. Do you explicitly ask for the Spirit to help and empower you?
Practice the presence of God.
Nicholas- a soldier- became a monk. He was not very good at many of the skills required to rise up through the ranks of the monastery. So, he ended up working in the kitchen, pealing vegetables. Despite his lowly position in life and the priory, his character attracted many to him. He had a reputation for experiencing profound peace and visitors came to seek spiritual guidance from him. The wisdom he passed on to them, in conversations and in letters, would later become the basis for the book, “The Practice of the Presence of God.” I would warmly encourage you to read the book that bears his new religious name- Brother Lawrence. It was written over four hundred years ago. Yet, it contains many riches to help us in our spiritual life.
The most excellent method of going to GOD, was that of doing our common work without any view of pleasing people, and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of GOD.
Try it and see. To begin with, it is very difficult to do common tasks- washing, cleaning, serving, food preparation and so on, without seeking praise and thanks for them. Yet, as we seek the only praise that matters- that is God saying, well done, good and faithful servant- we allow more space for God’s Spirit to dwell within us and less space for pride.
Just as Brother Lawrence did, we are called to share the presence of God with others. We are not to keep it to ourselves. So, I know many of you have been prayerfully thinking during “Thy Kingdom Come”- how can I share the presence of God with others.
Share the presence of God.
Pentecost is all about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is all about the presence of God.
We can experience:
- Presence Together.
- God’s presence to go.
- God’s presence to grow.
Do you want more of that presence in your life, to transform, equip and send you?
Later in our service, if you would like to receive a fresh anointing from God, we would be privileged to offer a ministry time for you to participate in. The Rev’d Canon Will Cookson will explain how that ministry time will be structured in this moment, I invite you prayerfully reflect for a moment- where do I need the presence of God to transform my life? Is it in a deeper sense of unity? Or in a new confidence to go and share God’s love in the world? Or in growing into the person God made me to be?
“Come Holy Spirit”! May the light of your presence, set us on fire with love for you. Now and forever. AMEN.