20 May 2018 – Pentecost – 6.30pm – Choral Evensong – Revd Michael Camp
I will put my spirit within you, says God - so Ezekiel tells us.
God has poured out this that you both see and hear – so Peter tells us.
In many ways our two readings this evening are telling the same story. Let’s look at the different ways they’re doing it
Ezekiel first. Here we find God pretty exasperated, as he often is in the Old Testament, but he’s promising to do something new; he’s promising to take a new action to sort it out. It’s helpful for us I think to look at the context in which Ezekiel was writing.
c6th BC – Babylonian exile – deep trauma – end of covenant that they would live in the land – reflection on their situation – that reflection principally in Jeremiah and Lamentations (at the time of the siege and exile itself). The unmistakable conclusion is that Israel’s sin has brought this catastrophe. They have only themselves to blame. They knew the deal; they followed the law and God sustained their community. But they broke the deal. God was patient but not for ever and this is the end.
2ndly reflection by Ezekiel – Priest – living with the exiles – reflects back on the causes of exile but crucially Ezekiel also looks forward and promises hope of renewal and re-establishment and this passage in chapter 36 of his book sums this up really.
First the condemnation – you have profaned my name among the nations – picks up on the conclusion that the catastrophe as come about because of Israel’s sin
But secondly comes the promise of restoration
Interesting little aside here – God not restoring for their sake but for his. He’s fed up with the bad PR – his people, the people he’s chosen have sinned so badly that he’s had to tear them away from their land, its almost as if God is embarrassed about that, so he’s going to restore them to the land – not for their sake but for his sake so that the rest of the world can honour him again. The sin of his people has made him look bad but now he will restore the honour of his name
And so he did of course, as I’ve mentioned before the Babylonians were in their turn defeated by the Persians and the Jews were sent back to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild their life and their community.
What is of interest to us on this feast of Pentecost is how God planned to renew and refresh things; how he planned to make it all right again
Sprinkle clean water and clean you
Give you a new heart
Give you a new spirit
3 images – flowing water, new heart, new spirit
Remember that the heart is not just the seat of the emotions – but the will
Spirit is the presence of God in us – NB OT idea of a human being – a body into which God has breathed his spirit – Genesis and also Ezek 37 valley of dry bones
Message of Ezekiel – God is going to start again with them – a new beginning – a recreation – this dead useless body that it the old sinful Israel will be given the new life of God once again – renewed and refreshed
And in the end ‘You will be my people and I will be your God’
Let’s turn now to the NT
Day of Pentecost – Peter preaching – the very first Christian sermon
Apostles have been seen in public proclaiming Jesus and people have been variously amused, scornful, interested. Peter stands up and speaks to them
You killed Jesus, he says but there is a prophecy about him from long ago. King David said that God’s messiah could not stay dead. God has declared that Jesus is the messiah so he has raised him from the dead and he now his sits in heaven with God. Not only that but he has also poured out the spirit of Jesus on us and this is a new start for us. It’s almost like Peter is saying that the prophecy of Ezekiel is coming true right before your eyes. Ezekiel promised an outpouring of God’s holy spirit and here it is. What you can see and hear today is a sign of what God is doing as he promised he would and its all because of Jesus. Its as if he’s saying that the people of his day are just as dead, just as sinful as they were in Ezekiel’s day and God’s answer is the same; to breathe his spirit into them once again and make them live anew – that opportunity is there for all
There is just one thing they need to do and that is to be honest; to acknowledge their shortcomings and repent
Then …. you will be my people and I will be your God, says God, just as he did in the time of Ezekiel
Both readings then – new beginnings – refreshment – new start and the new start is signified by a new outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. Just as he did at the beginning of creation so from time to time God pours out his spirit anew and reinvigorates his people.
We’ve seen it happen since, every now and then in the church there is a massive movement of the spirit; a radical renewal; the Reformation perhaps; in the church of England the evangelical revival of the 18th century or the catholic revival of the 19th; in the Roman catholic church it was the second Vatican council in the 1960s
Elsewhere in the NT we shall be able to read more about what to expect when God pours his spirit out. At Pentecost he poured his sprit out on his church and brought to birth a new community and in that story we learn that the outpouring of the spirit can be overpowering, like a mighty wind and like fire;
in Jn we learn that the spirit is as gentle as breath; here Jesus gives his disciples his spirit simply by breathing on them. In Jn too we find that the Holy Spirit is equipping the church. St John tells us that the risen Christ says that the gift of the spirit gives them both authority and ability to forgive sins; the spirit is a source of the authority and wisdom which the church will need if it is to be the body of Christ
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we shall learn that the spirit provides the gifts the church needs: wisdom and knowledge and faith; miracles, prophecy, discernment; the ability to communicate in diverse ways. Paul also talks about administration and teaching. All these things he says are the gifts God gives through his holy spirit and they are given for the common good. These gifts are given to the church community in order to make it the body of Christ and in order to enable it to be the community it was born to be and to serve the common good.
In his letter to the Romans Paul contrasts spiritual life with what he calls life in the flesh. The body is important, of course it is, but it is the life of God; the spirit of God that animates the body; it is the spirit that must direct who we are and what we do. And to the Galatians Paul writes that people who are directed by the spirit will bear fruit; he said you can tell what a spiritual community looks like because it will be loving and hopeful and joyful and peaceful and so on.
God’s Holy Spirit is the energy that animates the Christian community; to engage with the holy spirit is as natural and as necessary as breathing; the spirit is the life blood; the resources and the authority the church needs, and without attending to the spirit the church couldn’t exits for a day; for an hour; for a minute even; the life of the spirit is a normal, every day life. When a priest of the church pronounces God’s forgiveness she or he does so in the power of the Holy Spirit; when the church is well administered and the faith is taught by effective teachers that is done in the power of the Holy Spirit; When a church community displays love; joy, hope, faith, peace, the fruit of the spirit, that is a sign to the world that the Holy Spirit is alive and well within it. It is the normal way of the church
But sometimes; as in Ezekiel and as in Acts; sometimes when the church falters God does something abnormal; something new and radical and there is a new movement of the spirit; a movement that breathes new life and brings resurrection; a movement which might be shocking; a movement which might blow us all away and might burn up all our cosy assumptions
That’s a bit scary isn’t it? But sometimes its necessary and we must hear and feel what the spirit is saying to the church
So where do we see the spirit burning us today? Well the church in Europe is not strong at present but elsewhere in the world its is strong so perhaps that raises a question for us in the prosperous world about our relationship with wealth and power; We are being challenged to rethink our traditional understandings of sexuality and of what marriage means; we are being challenged by the needs of the global poor, some of whom are coming here and the spirit is moving us to hospitality; we are being challenged to have a radical new look at how we care for the natural environment; we’re used to exercising dominion as it said in genesis but now we need to understand that word very differently. I think all these things are movements of God’s Holy spirit; ways in which he is sprinkling clean water upon us; calling us to repentance; giving us a new heart and a new spirit
We are his people and he is our God so let us live by the spirit day by day and let hear what the spirit is saying to the church.