Reading(s): John 14: 8-17, 25-27. This sermon was given by Vanessa Lawrence at St John and St Denys.
My most favourite thing on tv over this Jubilee weekend was the trooping of the colour, and that’s because I really can’t resist anything that has horses in it! There is something deeply spiritual about horses – their grace beauty and power, for a start but also their intuitive way of being. I was watching a two year old leading a horse at the yard recently – this tiny little girl was leading a comparatively huge grey horse, and the horse gently and carefully stepped behind her, head very low, watching carefully where the little one went. When I imagine the spirit of God, as we do today as we celebrate Pentecost in the church, I often have in my head the image of a horse galloping full speed, the power and beauty a sight to behold.
I was interested that the commentator at the trooping of the colour used the word ‘spiritual’ several times. Not in fact in relation to the horses, but he referred several times to people, or items such as flags as being the ‘spiritual heart’ of the regiment on the screen. It made me think about that word ‘spiritual’ and the meaning it has for us today. When I worked in the NHS as a Chaplain, we used the word spiritual to indicate things that ‘give us meaning and purpose’ – it’s a very broad category. But I think I’d really like it to have a deeper dimension than that – perhaps the things we hold sacred, the things that point us towards the divine.
For us, the Holy Spirit is at the heart of our spirituality. The Holy Spirit lives within us, lives within our churches, pointing us towards the Holy, giving us glimpses of the divine, teaching us how to live. In ‘The Go between God’ one of the books that has had the most profound impact on me and my theology, Bishop John V Taylor describes an incident he has while lost on a mountain. Searching for the right path in the mist, he looks up to see the sun coming through the clouds, lighting the path he needs to find. The miracle is not that the sun shines at that precise moment, but that he looks up in time to see it. The Holy Spirit works within us, if we allow her to, guiding us on the right paths, nudging us towards our desires to become the best version of ourselves we can be.
We know, and we are inspired by the faith of the Queen, the Head of the church of England. She asked for prayer before her coronation that she may be given wisdom and strength to carry out her duty. We can see clearly in her example the work of the Holy Spirit within her and throughout her reign.
We remember today the gift of the Holy Spirit given by God to the church. It is through this gift of wisdom that we are able to love and keep the commandments of God. She is described by Jesus as the Advocate sent by God. Jesus declared to the disciples and to us that the Spirit of truth would be with us forever. The Advocate would help us to hear the words of Jesus even though he has gone to the Father. The Paraclete – the Holy Spirit as advocate and counsellor “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” as Jesus says in John 14:26. We are able to love God and others because the love of God in the gift of the Spirit will “abide with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17).
This gospel reading from John challenges us to think about how it is that we come to believe. In fact, in this reading from Jesus' farewell sermon, his challenge to believe is made four times in only three verses. Jesus challenged his disciples and challenges us to believe in who he is, what he said, and what he did. How is it that we are able to love Jesus and keep his commandments?
We love the image of the dove appearing on Jesus' head following his baptism in the Jordan. That would be a clear, outward, and visible sign that something important had happened. Likewise, when the disciples gathered in the upper room waiting as Jesus had commanded them, there was “a sound like the rush of a violent wind . . . Divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:2-3). That would be a very clear sign that something important had happened. If only we had such clear evidence.
But often, for us, there are no tongues of fire, no doves alighting at crucial moment. How do you know that the Holy Spirit is guiding you? How is it that you believe in Jesus, in who he was and in what he did? Perhaps you are a cradle Christian, taught from your very earliest years about faith. Perhaps faith was a blinding light, like Saul on the Damascus road. Perhaps is has been the slow steady burning of an ember that glows.
We may not know directly the Queen’s experience of the Holy Spirit, but her reliance on her faith throughout her reign, her many years of faithful service, are an indication that her faith has grown steadily, the counsellor and the advocate has been with her.
Whatever way it happened to us, the fact remains that the Holy Spirit, the divine imprint, is within each and every one of us. How do you live that everyday? What impact does that have on your life, on the interactions you have the decisions you make? But most of all, how does that bring you joy, and life in all abundance?
Hold sacred the flame of the spirit within you. Nurture that spark until it burns. Blow on it gently through your prayers, practice the presence of the Spirit in every moment you can. As it burns, the warmth of it will radiate out transforming your life, and those around you. But most of all, celebrate with joy the gift of the spirit that we have been given, the knowledge that that we are the precious children of God.