DARE to carry the flame of the Holy Spirit – John 15:26-27 16:4-15 and Acts 2:1-13

All Saints Church, Minstead

Here is the DARE that I gave the people of All Saints, Minstead on Pentecost Sunday.

More information about the service, the liturgy and the local pub are in my previous post here. You will note that I make reference to several people by name, all of whom I know personally and some of whom contributed greatly to my spiritual journey when I was a teenager living in the village.

Perhaps I’m biased, but I’ve always felt Minstead was a place where people are comfortable with the idea of being a bit different in the way they do things, a bit daring and willing to take a risk to make a point.

A scented flame coloured Azalea at Furzey Gardens

This week I reckon Minstead has excelled itself – or more accurately the Chelsea RHS Show Garden team from Furzey Gardens and the Minstead Training Project have excelled themselves at daring to be different! There, next to Simon’s thatched lantern house were the (currently unfashionable) flame coloured flowers of the scented azalea’s that filled my childhood as I played hide and seek with my friends among their stems – even when the garden was open to the public!

This morning as we think about some other flames, and receive some real flames later in the service, I want to suggest that we all need to DARE to carry the flame of the Holy Spirit.

In fact I’m going to use that word DARE to unpack some of the details of the Pentecost story, and give us a mnemonic with which to remember how we are to live out our faith with the flames of Pentecost visible in our lives.

The Holy Spirit is part of God; the way that God works in the world to achieve his purposes, and quite specifically how he works in the life of each of us that believes in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. That was why we remembered the Easter story in our opening acclamation as we lit our Pascal Candle at the beginning of the service.

In the Pentecost Gospel reading that H read, Jesus knew that he was soon to die, but rise again. He also knew that try as he might, the disciples at this point just didn’t have the understanding that would enable them to make sense of all that was going to happen – especially all mixed up with their very human emotions.

So Jesus explains how the Holy Spirit would be God’s means of delivering to Jesus followers, an understanding of what God was doing through the experiences they were about to encounter. The Message version of the Bible has Jesus saying it this way:

Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’ (John 16:15 MSG)

So the D of our DARE to hold the flame of the Holy Spirit, is all about DELIVERY. (Hang the first word up! – I had large Comic Sans words to hang on a string for those with learning difficulties to see.)

Think of it as being like the Olympic Torch Relay, which I think comes to Lyndhurst in July (14th). The flame is very cleverly, and usually without going out, being passed from one torch bearer to the next, all the way round the country, until it arrives at the Olympic Stadia in London to deliver it’s flame to the centrepiece of the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

If you like, the tongues of flame at Pentecost, a visible form of the Holy Spirit, were the opening ceremony of God working in the lives of the disciples in this profoundly different way to what they had experienced when Jesus was alive. With the wind that accompanied them, the flames showed God delivering something quite special to those who believe in Jesus!

As the Olympic flame burns in London, people will have gathered to do things that might be utterly beyond our abilities, and in some cases probably seem beyond anything the competitors expect themselves to achieve. There will be personal bests, Olympic records, and world records in the weeks that follow.

The story of Pentecost that G read us, describes what happens when the flames alighted on each person gathered that day in Jersualem.

“They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:4 NRSV)

And there’s the A of our DAREABILITY (Hang second word up.)

The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to do things that we could never imagine possible!
“Ah but…” we have a tendency to say when we’re asked to do something we’ve never tried before, or step out of our comfort zone. “I can’t possibly….” “I don’t do things like that…”

What can’t we do?

  • Don’t we have the ability to talk about Jesus in the ordinary goings on of our lives?!
  • Don’t we have the ability God needs to make a difference here?!
  • Couldn’t we let the Holy Spirit have control of our lives and (with a little hard work on our part) give us abilities we’ve never dreamt of?

Well, if all that were true, I for one wouldn’t be standing here this morning!

The ‘tree house’ at Furzey Garden’s in Minstead (2005)

I’m pretty sure from what I’ve seen on the TV this week, that Chris Beardshaw for one, doubted that the Furzey team had the ability to pull that Chelsea Garden project together to a standard that would win an RHS Gold. The tears in his eyes were ones that showed humility, the relief of having been proved wrong, and the delight with which he knew the news would be received by the rest of the team whose abilities that Gold would celebrate!

So the Holy Spirit is the delivery system by which God works in our lives, but also gives us the ability to do things, big and small, that we might not otherwise do. But those two things might feed, strengthen and enhance who we are as Christians, but if we are to DARE to carry the flame of the Spirit, then we need to make a conscious effort to make connections that take that flame on a journey in us.

Tom Wright’s version of John’s Gospel puts Chapter 16 v4 this way:

“I have told you this, so that when the time comes… to do these things, you will remember what I told you.”

There’s the trick you see, we need to remember to make the connections between what happens in our lives and what those simple, or larger occurrences, say about God, as creator Father, risen Son, and holy Spirit.

To remember, is the R of our DAREing! (Hang third word up)

I tend to describe the Bible as a collection of stories about God in action. In both the Old Testament, the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, we know that the stories now written down were originally those remembered and told as people made connections with how they saw God acting in the world, and later what they remembered of Jesus’ teachings and actions. Writing them down was a mechanism for helping people remember and understand.

But God didn’t stop revealing himself in our world after Jesus ascended into heaven, or even after people decided that there would only be a certain number of books in the Bible. Through the Holy Spirit God remained living and visibly active on a far larger scale, and in a far more personal way.

When we look at our own lives, and that of the world around us, we can see God at work. Perhaps we’ve been praying for someone and they experience something that we recognise can only be explained by God’s action in their lives. We will need to remember the life and teaching of Jesus, or perhaps a passage of scripture like a psalm, to be able to recognise that; and if they are not aware of it already, we then need to make those connections known to the person concerned.

Another flaming Azalea at Furzey Gardens

If we can see the beauty of God’s creation in a flower, a collection of sticks, and a particular fragrance, or a combination of all three, then that may make us a flower arranger, a gardener, a woodsman or a designer. But unless we remember to praise God for the raw materials, and ascribe our abilities to the way he has made and developed us, inspired and strengthened us through the Holy Spirit, then we still aren’t being DAREing enough! I’m sure that’s why Revd Tim Selwood is calling the Furzey Chelsea Garden quite specifically God’s Gold Garden!

We have to explain the connections we make between our lives what we see in the world around us, or the lives of others, and the revelation of God that we remember through the Bible and the life and example of Jesus.

It’s the explaining that completes the DARE (hang fourth word up) There is no point carrying the flame of the Holy Spirit, if it’s not going to explain how important to us our connection is with Jesus.

Those disciples gathered together in Jerusalem had been hiding and waiting. They hadn’t been able to make proper sense of all that had happened. Christ had died, then in the midst of their grief he was once again among them. Then, just before he vanished for good, he had told them to wait, wait where they were until some powerful force came and worked among them to help them understand it all, just as he had said to them it would before he died.

“You will speak about me.” Jesus had said in the opening words of our Gospel reading. (John 15:27).

The force that enabled them to do that was the Holy Spirit. It delivered the ability to remember what Jesus had said and done among them, to make the connections that gave them understanding. But the real value in the Holy Spirit coming upon them was that it enabled them to explain to others all that had happened, and how that related to people’s own existence now that Jesus had gone from this world.

I spent Thursday at Alton Abbey with the Benedictine monks there, part of what has become a regular pattern in my life. One of them Dom Anselm, is an iconographer, and was teaching iconography to a group staying there for the week. He was explaining to them the techniques that create an image that tells a story related to Christ. They were down to the detail whilst I watched, how to mix a particular colour, how to make the fine brush strokes that created the detail or wrote the Biblical text.

The crucifix in the grounds at Furzey

One of the other monks, Fr Andrew, spent some time with me in their chapel, using a large icon that Dom Anselm has painted, to explain to me one way in which he prays and intercedes for the people and places that are on his heart. He explained how he uses the image to mentally lay his concerns in a specific place at Jesus’ feet as he hangs on the cross at Golgotha.

Iconography is to me a foreign language, one I don’t speak, and had never tried to apply in detail as part of my faith life. For the monks to bring aspects of their faith, and mine, to life with new understanding, there was an awful lot of explaining going on! Part of that explaining was related to what they were painting (perhaps the detail on the hand of Christ raised in blessing), or in how that icon could be used as a prompt to prayer.

The monks weren’t born knowing how to paint icons, nor how to use them in their prayer life, but through the power of the Holy Spirit they have taken delivery of the ability to do so, and by remembering it relation to the Gospel story, and relating it to how their faith works itself out in daily life, they were explaining it to me in a way which brought something new into my life.

When we declare our belief in God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, (as we will in a moment) we are accepting responsibility for being part of God’s relay race. We will be accepting that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are taking delivery of the abilities God has given us, remembering as we do where they come from, and how their use in our lives is connected to the story of Jesus Christ. It’s now up to us to deliver onwards (in many different ways, according to those abilities that God is giving us) the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, by explaining to others how it works in our lives, and how God wants it to work in their lives.

This morning later in the service, we will DARE to carry the flame of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that Delivers to us the Ability to Remember and Explain, the love of God shown us through the death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And so, let us stand to affirm that faith!

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About ramtopsrac

Church of England Priest, child of God, daughter of the New Forest, wife and mother.
This entry was posted in life, ministry, sermons, theology - how God fits in, uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to DARE to carry the flame of the Holy Spirit – John 15:26-27 16:4-15 and Acts 2:1-13

  1. Pingback: Service for the Celebration of Pentecost | A Reader in Writing

  2. Christopher says:

    Thank you for the sermon, for posting it and for encouraging me to read it. It is a lovely, vivid sermon – very timely, apt and speaks very clearly even through the web, so I can easily imagine how powerful it was in person. And let me say how wonderful the liturgy looks, and I am delighted that you were able to work the complexity of T&S to make the liturgy work locally. This is a wonderful example of best practice. It looked great.

    My tweet last night was simply the shock of changing round the order of the Gospel and ‘first reading’, to make it in chronological order. And it is a very small point in the scheme of things, really. And not ‘wrong’. I do agree with you that that is daring, bold and unusual, (though I guess few people in the congregation will have noticed the order?), and I see even more the reasons for making chronology the name of the game for your context, but it is more the fact that the theological, historical and canonical issues were secondary? Maybe? I don’t know. I have no doubt you thought of these things – all clergy and worship leaders will do – but the whole notion of the gospel reading coming last, is that it places the climax of the Liturgy of the Word, on the Word Himself: Christ, the Gospel. Christ is always the end (as well as the beginning), but in liturgical terms, the Liturgy of the Word always ends with the word/event of Christ, nothing else. In a way, putting the Gospel reading first, is like saying the Prayer of Preparation after receiving the Sacrament. All things prepare for Christ and Christ is the culmination of all other reflection, activity and action. The Pentecost Gospel readings are carefully chosen in the Lectionary to be theological reflections on the events of Pentecost, but in a way, the events of Acts were only ever secondary to what Christ himself said would happen and continues to happen. OT and NT readings are journeys towards the Living Word.

    All of that, plus my frustration (given the job I have), that individuals don’t seem to trust the lengthy process through which many people in the Church of England sacrificed time, energy and reputation to come up with a fine-tuned historically and theologically well-grounded liturgical structure.

    But none of this is intended to be borne by you or was it directed to you! Twitter is a nightmare for communication in some sense and instant reactions (like what I gave last night) are not always helpful.

  3. ramtopsrac says:

    Thank you for your encouraging critique and explanation. I value your wisdom as a top pro in the liturgy department; you don’t happen to guest lecture at Cuddesdon OMC do you?! Or is there some exciting creative liturgy conference I don’t know about where I might expand my knowledge and skills?

    I’ll respond to some of your comments and thoughts, but much of it probably relates to my own pragmatism and ‘formational’ story so far, and (perhaps sadly) has less to do with the theology. I’ll let you be the judge.

    Did people in the congregation notice the reversing of order between ‘first reading’ and Gospel? Well yes, because I told them that was what I was doing. Unlike in my usual context, Minstead is used to 2 if not 3 readings, and several would have commented afterwards if I had not explained the concious decision and my reasoning based on chronology. We did stand for the Gospel reading though.

    Where my views of theological, historical, and canonical issues secondary? Yes, undoubtedly if not always consciously. As a cradle Christian from that very church, raised through a journey in BCP, Rite A, and ASB before departing for the Church of Wales and ultimately to Common Worship back in my home Diocese, I was definitely aware that I was setting aside the historical pattern. This was in part to do with an awareness that possibly 2 or more regular members of the congregation have learning difficulties – they didn’t in fact attend, but I had to assume they would.

    25 years in what would describe themselves as ‘charismatic evangelical’ churches where often the lectionary has been ditched in favour of a ‘teaching theme’ and the Gospel is rarely ‘honoured’ liturgically (gesture etc) means that ‘canonical’ is a word I barely understand, despite Reader Training (which was more focused on exegetical and contextual skills, and where I rated the liturgy module our weakest, as it didn’t explore the breadth of CW and beyond).

    Theologically, I have been critiqued through selection for ordination as being ‘strong on creation, strong on incarnation, weak on salvation’, and I guess this is reflected in my lack of focus on the word/event of Christ, at least liturgically speaking. However, I think that the word/event of Christ came through strongly in both the liturgy selections I made (starting from the Pascal Candle and Easter story, and returning to refer to it in sermon and affirmation of faith before the ‘commissioning’).

    Do I agree that “the events of Acts were only ever secondary to what Christ himself said would happen and continues to happen”? I’m not totally convinced. If the events of Acts were inspired by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and we agree that the Holy Spirit is an ‘equal partner’ in the Trinity, I’m not sure we can say that? But as a theological pauper I could be wrong again.

    We live in a journey of that Pentecost continuum, and in a ‘comfortable’ community of ‘middle England’ who can be daring with their ‘works’ but not necessarily ascribe them to their ‘Sunday faith’ in Jesus, it is important to encourage them to encourage their journey from where they are in the ‘safety’ of an Easter that happened to Jesus, to an engagement in a Gospel with which they can be more intimately involved. (Rather than being tempted to leave it to a small ‘island community’ amongst them to live it out through their gardening exploits!)

    I think the breadth and possibilities of the liturgical structures created in Common Worship are exciting (and something I’d love to plumb the depths of more), as long as there is no expectation that they will be treated as precious jewels, but rather more as multi-coloured and diverse Lego pieces with which to build something exciting, and engaging, for the context of each community.

    Twitter has it downsides, so I am most grateful for your time and trouble in commenting fully here. Your wisdom has given me more chance to seriously reflect on my praxis than I’ve had for months!

  4. Mike Page says:

    One of the tenets in our Values Statement is that we are “Creative in our approach to worship”, something which I’ve fondly abused to breaking point in the past 😀 – not for the sake of being different, but to emphasise something, or to get something across. When we stand up front at church, we’re often fighting a meme war with the world, the more so as society drifts further and further away from even nominal Christianity. All methods are game in this war as far as I’m concerned, so more power to you as you experiment with liturgy (provided it’s done for the right reason).
    I’m more concerned about your deviation from the standard Anglican three-point sermon. Four points? What WERE you thinking of Rachel? 😉

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