The Queen, The Holy Spirit and Us

I have just found this in my Drafts. I thought I’d published it. It is from Sunday 5th June

We had a good service in church this morning after a delayed start. The computer and sound system were not working properly. We eventually got underway and pressed ‘record’. Unfortunately the cameras were not working and so we recorded what was on the screen plus sound. I seem to remember that the last time I preached at St Michael’s and thought it would be good to share the recording of my sermon we had technical problems.

The first reading was from Acts 2:1-21. I have trimmed the recording and here’s me reading the gospel (John 14:8-17) and then the sermon. Click here

Here’s the text – I didn’t stray from it very much.

Pentecost 2022

Isn’t it wonderful to see the church so beautifully decorated, with each window reflecting a different decade of the queen’s reign? The queen may not have a great deal of political power, but she certainly has the power of her personality. She is a wonderful example of duty and service. She is gracious and kind and we are told takes a genuine interest in the people she meets.

She wasn’t born into the role, but it did come to her by virtue of being born into the royal family and circumstances leading to her ascension.  It wasn’t a role or a job that she applied for and was chosen as the best candidate. Neither was she voted in by public opinion.

At the heart of the ceremony was the anointing, for which she was stripped of her royal robes and wore a simple white dress. This symbolised her humanity. She was a young woman, just like any of us. I’m reminded of the white dress I wore when I was confirmed back in 1969.  Do you remember your Confirmation?  That was a landmark in your journey of faith.

The queen will be reminded of her Coronation this week-end. A landmark like no other, I admit.  But today I do want to draw similarities between our serving as Christians, and the Queen’s service as a Christian.

I’m reminded of the hymn, king of kings, majesty. There’s a phrase that I find helpful when I consider the role I play as a parish priest: “In royal robes I don’t deserve I live to serve your majesty”

The queen’s attitude was one of: “Stripped of all royal dignity, to offer myself in my own person for his work”

We all, by virtue of our confirmation, have a role to play in serving Jesus, our King. And we do this as ourselves, who we are, for his work.  Our Queen reigns under the authority of the King of Kings, Jesus. She is head of the Church of England. I was happy to swear my allegiance to her when taking up a new role.

Her reign began in 1952 – a new beginning – a new Elizabethan era.  She was helped to prepare for it by being given a book of devotions. Each day she had a different reading and prayer to help her reflect and prepare for her role and the ceremony.  They form the basis of the books we are giving away.

This weekend isn’t just the Jubilee it is Pentecost Sunday. Sometimes referred to as the birthday of the Church. But I am moving more towards thinking of it as a huge landmark in the life of the people of God. We trace our roots back to Abraham and Moses. But I suppose just like the coronation was a huge change in the Queen’s life, so too Pentecost was a huge change in the church’s life.  The beginning of a new era.

There are similarities between the Pentecost account in Acts and the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke. When Mary was given the news of her new role the angel said: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35). 

The Queen echoed Mary’s response in answer to her call and consecration, “I dare to breathe the Virgin Mary’s words: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word.’”

And just before his ascension Jesus said to his disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In both instances, there is the receiving of power before something new coming to birth. Mary was among the disciples in the room at Pentecost but the coming of the Holy Spirit this time was different. The disciples were locked away for fear of the Jewish leaders. They didn’t know when they might be arrested for being one of Jesus’ followers.

The Holy Spirit came upon them, and they were enabled to speak in various languages. This meant that the people gathered in Jerusalem for the festival could all hear the wonders of God in their own language.

The coming of the spirit dispelled the fear and equipped the people of God. They were given the power to do what Jesus had commanded them to do. What is the purpose of the church?  To proclaim, to witness and to serve so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The Holy Spirit gives power to the church to be the church. The flames and wind are just the outward signs of the invisible inner reality. The presence and power of God is sent by Jesus, just as John had said he would.

The bible is full of references of people being given the spirit to enable them to do God’s work, or to make important speeches. It is also a continual process. Not a one-off, flash in the pan. A person who is already filled with the spirit can be, and indeed needs to be, continually filled afresh for each task, each day.

The Queen was anointed just the once in 1952. But she has daily prayed afresh for the Holy Spirit to enable her to continue keeping those promises. Just like us at our Confirmation. The bible states the empowering of the Holy Spirit is normal at the beginning of Christian discipleship and for the continuation of the life of the disciple.

The Holy Spirit unites people in one community, one family, without uniformity.  Unity in diversity of ethnic, social and cultural differences is the hallmark of the church. That unity was the result of the Holy Spirit empowering people in the new age that the prophet Joel spoke of, and Peter quoted in his first ever sermon. We are in those last days when God gives his spirit to everyone who is open to receive. Prophecy is one of the gifts of the spirit. 

Prophecies are messages from God and can often be a key to unlocking blockages to someone coming to faith. The purposes of the gifts of the spirit are to enable people to call on the name of the Lord and be saved.

Gifts of the spirit may be given for specific purposes, but the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a one off, but when a believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them, the fruit of the spirit grows: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc.  The first Christians, who were Jews, celebrated Pentecost as a harvest festival of the first fruits.  We are the first fruits of the new reality, the new era that we call Christianity.

The power that enabled the church to grow, to spread the good news of Jesus is the same power that has enabled her Majesty the Queen to give 70 years of her life in service, in love, and in witnessing to her faith that sustains her. Her Majesty is majestic in a beautifully humble way. She doesn’t come across as proud or arrogant. I believe she is the way she is because her Christian faith is genuine and sincere, not just something she says because she thinks it sounds good.

Today marks the end of the Easter Season. The resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit were both things done by God, the Father, and they both testify that Jesus is who he claimed to be: God’s son, the Messiah and our Lord.

So how should we respond?  By believing in Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is a time for remembering that the profoundly personal experience of receiving the Holy Spirit in our inner lives transforms fear into courage and hope. It turns the believer from looking inward to looking outwards, beyond themselves. It enables us to offer a message of life and hope to all people, so that the Spirit can form us into a people of God who are equipped for the time we live in.

The time we live in is very different from 1952, or even 2002.

We live in a world where people do not believe in Jesus, nor perhaps even in God. Jesus said that the world doesn’t accept the Spirit, so the fact that there are people who don’t believe is nothing new.

I was speaking to someone yesterday who said she had watched the Queen’s thanksgiving service on TV and enjoyed the sermon. She said she could imagine going down the pub with the Archbishop of York.  I had to admit I hadn’t watched it.  She then told me that didn’t believe in religion and when I asked what she meant she said that a humanist can do and be good.  I agreed with her. She asked why people needed a god. And before I could form any sort of reply someone distracted her and that was the end of that conversation.

But she has a point. If people can’t see any difference between Christians and the rest of the population then we are fighting a losing battle. I am glad that the Queen’s faith has been highlighted in the celebrations. I hope that it makes people think that having faith can and does make a difference.

Just as the Queen needed the Holy Spirit to enable and empower her over the last 70 years, so we too need the Holy Spirit to empower us as we encounter people who don’t believe.  We need to be effective witnesses too.

Terry sent a text message while I was eating breakfast.  He had seen a hymn written by a fb friend for today! And we have permission to use it – we won’t sing but I invite you to listen to the words.

A hymn for Pentecost

Come Holy Spirit and work in God’s people
Putting to death what is wrong in our lives.
Cleansing us now from all traces of evil;
Filling our hearts with the love God supplies.

Anger and wrath, malice, slander and swearing,
Evil desires, and the lies that we speak.
These are the clothes that we’re so used to wearing-
Following fashions designed for the weak.

Garments of grace are God’s gift to his children,
Clothes of compassion, and kindness, and peace.
No longer slaves, but rejoicing in freedom,
Bound to Christ Jesus we find true release!

So let our lives be the home of our Saviour-
May Christ determine our words and our deeds.
Guiding us always in thought and behaviour,
Keep us from grasping for more than our needs.

Come Holy Spirit and work in God’s people-
Putting to death what is wrong in our lives.
Cleansing us now from all traces of evil;
Filling our hearts with the love God supplies.

Words: Simon P Woodman
Tune: Epiphany Hymn

I invite you to say, with me, the prayer the queen used in preparation for her coronation, to prepare us for the life of service that God is calling each one of us to:

Come Holy Spirit, and daily increase in all of us, and in me thy humble servant, thy manifold gifts of grace, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and supernatural strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and fill us, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen.

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