Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost 2019  with Julyan Drew

Not so much Back in the USSR as back in the RCHT. For the third time in three weeks, I had been admitted to Treliske and, via the usual route of care and assessments in varying departments, I was once more on the wonderful Lowen ward.

Safe in my new berth, I looked across the ward  to see Arthur Brown, 68 years in Mousehole Male Voice Choir, of which I have the honour of being President, and of which my Great Granfer Dick Thomas was a founder member.  We got chatting until another patient needed more care and, therefore, my bed which was easier to access for the nurses. I was moved. Right next door to Arthur. Now, as some of you will have heard, Arthur passed away just a few days back, so I’d like to dedicate these thoughts to him.   Closer now, our conversation deepened and extended, and people heard and latched on to the connections we made. Comments came such as, “Oh, I know him.” Or, “He goes to my church.” After a while a nurse approached, ready to do our “obs”, and said, “I hear you’re both involved with a choir. My dad sings with Four Lanes. Would you sing for us?” After some cajoling, we agreed, and Arthur and I sang Trelawney and Lily of the Valley among others. I’m proud to think that I was probably the last man to sing with Arthur in public. Arthur and Julyan, for one night only, Lowen Ward!

What struck me, however, was the number of connections that existed between that random group of people, and how acknowledging them gave such pleasure.   

Have a look around.

What connections do you note with others here today? They will be stronger or weaker but they’re there, if no other than the faith or questions that have drawn us to this particular place on this particular day.

As I was thinking about the connections made in that hospital, and with our Pentecost celebrations imminent, I remembered the late Bishop John V Taylor’s book which treats the Holy Spirit as “The Go-Between God.” Hold that thought.

So we come to Pentecost. And we celebrate the making of connections via the gift of the Spirit, how language ceased to be a barrier, how homeland ceased to be a barrier, as the fire of the spirit burned away our divisions and the church was born. And I thought of you, of the people of the Penlee Cluster and particularly the people of Paul church. Your welcome, support, kindness and generosity over these last months, I see as the work of that Go Between God, but also of your human response to my situation. That Go Between God had called and you acted. Thank you.

However, this too I see as important and as coming from the same source or impetus, and that is the enormous support I am receiving from the wider community, from the unchurched, the ex-church, those of different faiths and none. The gift of the spirit may have birthed the church, but we do not now own or control the Spirit. And neither did the Spirit arrive just in time for the job of bringing the church to being, having not been around or doing much before. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit formula is pretty much, from the New Testament era, how we have nailed down our understanding of the divine conundrum when a humble silence before a great mystery might have been a better approach. Today, let’s try to move beyond any reliance on mere formula with a look at how the Spirit herself is described in Scripture and beyond.

First of all, how did we get into the trap of referring to the spirit as male when the original words denoting spirit as wind or breath are feminine? Largely because men cobbled together the creeds, the women confined to bringing in the wine or whatever. There’s a first shift for some of us. But let’s go deeper, let’s find some divine dynamism. Let’s see how the spirit, unconfined, goes between.

Just think about the way the Spirit has been described or alluded to in scripture and beyond. Wind and breath as mentioned, cloud and fire, Wisdom, counsellor, one who walks alongside, the Dove descending or as in the early Celtic church and still in the Iona community, the Wild Goose! Quite in keeping with John’s description of wind that blows where it will but adding to it. The church may shut out the wind, or lock in our breath but we’ll not confine a wild goose. A wild goose. Not merely a meek dove or the flickering flame of a candle but an untamed, uncontrollable big, wild bird. This is a spirit who will not be contained or controlled by words, creeds or institutions. The rebel heart of the divine. Exciting this, isn’t it? Well, I am excited: trapped physically by my illness but despite that free like that wild goose to go where I will in my mind and heart.

Let’s have a little wisdom from AA Milne’s poem, Wind on the Hill.

No one can tell me, nobody knows

Where the wind comes from, where the wind goes.

It’s flying from somewhere as fast as it can.

I couldn’t keep up with it not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding the string of my kite

It would blow with the wind for a day and a night.

And then when I found it wherever it blew

I should know that the wind had been blowing there too.

So then I could tell them where the wind goes …

But where the wind comes from nobody knows.

Well, Bishop Taylor says this wind comes from God and AA Mine says we’ll know where it touched down if we follow the kite.

And that’s our Pentecost challenge. This wild creature wasn’t given ?to the church as some sort of tool to use in our mission but rather to equip us to join in with hers. Getting a little more exciting? And a touch scary?

Where are those places where the Wild Goose has landed? They are where you responded in kindness to me. They are where, even though others may describe it differently, in the response of the wider community to my need. They are where a hungry child is fed, where believers break the bread, where the homeless find a home, when a stranger’s not alone, where a wrong is being set right, wherever we find grace and love in action or just beginning.

Years ago, I served on the Newlyn Fish Industry Form, chaired by Sir Michael Galsworthy, then Cornwall’s Deputy Lord Lieutenant. A great networker, Michael would often lead me by the arm saying, “You must meet so and so.” Michael the go between.

However we are led to those places of pain, grief, suffering even of great joy, let us discern what the Wild Goose began, and where we can join in. Bless you one and all. Follow that Wild Goose.