Pentecost Dance: A sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Acts 2: 1- 21, Psalm 104:26-36, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, John 7:37-52

I’ve been struck recently by how many of our Pentecost hymns begin with an invitation to the Holy Spirit. ‘Come down, O Love divine, fill thou this soul of mine…’ ‘Come, thou Holy Spirit, come…’ Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire…’ ‘Wind, wind, blow on me, set me free…’ There’s an apparent incongruity here because we normally think of God-things the other way round. The invitation comes from God, from Jesus – not from us. God invites Abram to leave his homeland and go to new places. God invites the people to follow a pillar of flame and cloud and so be led ever deeper into the desert and so on to the Promised Land. Jesus invites the fishermen at the lakeside to leave their nets and follow him; he calls Matthew to leave his tax desk and follow him. Jesus says ‘come to me all who travail and are heavy laden.’

This double invitation – the one from God to human beings and the other from humankind to God – is rather beautiful. It suggests a synergy of wills and minds between God – the divine, and you and me – very human, very much created, very much falling short of that measure of perfection and wholeness suggested in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48). If you like it is the dance of the ice-skaters, each so perfectly synchronised to each other that it is difficult to tell them apart at times. It is the dance of the little child who stands on her father’s feet and walks, clumsily, but safely, in tandem. It is the interweaving of melody as the themes come and go, now favouring one instrument, now the next. It is the blending of colours on the artist’s palette, the careful choosing of fabric that goes into a patchwork quilt, the mixing of ingredients for a rich fruit cake. And all this creativity, this beauty, this coming together and working together, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is our belief, embedded in our profession and credal statements, and acknowledged particularly on this Feast of Pentecost.

From the very first, the creative Spirit of God is at work – brooding, hovering over the deep, bringing forth light and darkness, land and sea, from the terrifying chaos of nothingness into the interconnected beauty of an Eden. And in that Eden, in that garden richly watered by the great rivers of life, is found our place. Such is the story of Genesis chapter 2. It’s a place for the earth creatures, the ‘adamah’ with the God-breathed breath of life – the ruach or pneuma – those called male and female, Adam and Eve, you and me.

Amazingly the Holy Spirit has been apportioned to these earth creatures called humans. Read the Bible and it is not difficult to trace the weaving of the Spirit through the human story – despite the Fall, the wrong-doing, the selfishness, the walking away from God. She’s there in the stories of the ancient judges Deborah and Gideon, of Ruth and Naomi, of Hannah and Samuel. She’s particularly strong in the forward-looking vision of the prophets who, in the midst of trouble and seeming chaotic  disaster brought about by natural or human causes, were able to imagine a future where ‘the wolf shall live with the lamb … the little child shall play over the hole of the asp … and where ‘they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain..’ (Isaiah 11: 66ff)

That creative inviting Spirit of God is at work in the invitation to Mary, enabling her to say yes, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord’ as she accepted God’s will and gave birth to the Christ-child. That same child, on his first public adult appearance in Luke’s Gospel chose words from the prophets to define his ministry reading from the scroll: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…’ (Luke 4:18 and Isaiah 61:1) It is the same Spirit we heard Jesus signalling in today’s Gospel passage, the Spirit which would ‘flow out of the believer’s heart’ as flow rivers of living water. It’s the Spirit of Acts chapter 2 that came down on the heads of those first frightened fallible believers on the Day of Pentecost, filling them with courage and the gifts with which to bless the world. At its best the Church, all who call on the name of God and invite the Spirit to come, is a glorious tapestry of interwoven gifts so eloquently described by St Paul on a number of occasions, including today’s reading from 1 Corinthians.

‘Come down, O Love divine…’ ‘Come, thou Holy Spirit, come…’ Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire…’ ‘Wind, wind, blow on me…’ Dare we utter that prayer today? Dare we open our lives, our hearts, our minds to the Holy Spirit of God – this holy, healing, enabling Spirit which infuses and enthuses and completely takes over our thinking, our actions? Dare we dream of, and then work for, a world filled with God’s shalom as did Isaiah and other prophets – a world beyond the present troubles of Covid-19, of plastic-polluted oceans, fire ravaged homesteads, domestic violence, hungry children, jobless men and women, anxious fearful people waiting with dread for an unknown and uncertain future?

The Feast of Pentecost, today’s celebration focused on the Holy Spirit, suggests we take seriously the mutual invitations that are issued – that of Jesus to follow, and that from us to the Holy Spirit to come into our lives. When these two come together and are accepted, the dance begins. That energising creative power of God which we call Holy Spirit is set free in our lives and we are transformed. Not just the ‘we’ who go to church, who listen to this sermon, who call St Peter’s Cathedral home, but the ‘we’ of all humanity. That great and wonderfully diverse gathering called human – people of every race, language, colour, creed, culture – the ‘we’ of today’s world. Threatened today by a virus and all the other, often self-inflicted, hardships that are so easy to spot, but full of potential for good. That is the Spirit with which we long to dance, the Spirit who lifts us beyond our petty world of tweeting point-scoring, and invites us to open our eyes and see the other with God-vision.

Give thanks today for continued movement towards reconciliation, for courage of health workers, for vision of scientists and researchers, for random acts of kindness, for simple words of beauty and love – for the dance of the Spirit in which all are invited to join. In doing so, it may be we are able to dream again as did our ancestors in this ancient land – a dreaming that sees each person, each people, each nation on earth as precious in God’s sight, each one called ‘the Beloved’, each with a place in God’s heart and God’s shalom.

Will you join the dance? Will you join me in singing the invitation –

“Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire and lighten with celestial fire, thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart?”