Pentecost is the day that we celebrate the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ apostles and to others. That same Spirit is still available for us. It’s given to assure us that we are God’s children and also to enable us to take action to spread the Good News. As Jesus promised, his followers can do work greater than he himself did, through the Spirit. We in Anglicans of SL represent many nations and are reaching people from all over the world and giving them chance to consider the gospel.
The readings on Pentecost Sunday were Acts 2:1-21 Romans 8:14-17 John 14:8-17, 25-27.
I’ve been spending some days with my daughter and son-in-law after the birth of their baby daughter on Tuesday. As you can imagine there have been lots of cards coming through the door, mostly in pink envelopes. There have been some beautiful flowers delivered and a gift pack containing chocolates and champagne. There have also been visitors calling to see and cuddle the baby and to spend time with the new parents. Inevitably they have brought a gift or gifts, mostly in pink! I’m sure our daughter anticipated being given gifts but that doesn’t remove the joy she has expressed when she’s opened them.
Today we are celebrating a birth also and a gift is part of that celebration, though perhaps not a pink gift! Jesus’ disciples were probably more focused on loss than gain on the last night before Jesus died. Jesus talked about leaving them which was hard for them to listen to.
He himself had been a great gift to them; a teacher, a friend, an older brother. To lose him would be a very great loss indeed. However, Jesus spent the time reassuring them that all would be well. In fact it would be even better for them if Jesus left as in that way the disciples would be able to do greater works than Jesus himself had done.
From what we know of the disciples, and probably from what they knew about themselves,
the promise that they would be able to do even better than Jesus seems far-fetched. However, as Jesus explained, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. The gift was to come from the Father, just as Jesus himself came from the Father and was getting ready to return. In contrast to Jesus the Spirit would remain with the disciples for ever, never leaving them.
Just as the many gifts our daughter has received are carefully chosen and given with love, the Father delights to give good gifts to his children. I don’t think most of us would receive a gift and refuse to open it. Usually we are eager to see what has been presented to us. However, I think a lot of people are very wary of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it doesn’t help that in the traditional English of the King James Version of the Bible the term used is Holy Ghost. That means exactly the same as Holy Spirit, but we now associate ‘ghost’ with haunted houses,
mournful moans and white sheet-covered figures which can walk through walls. The idea of having something like that live in us is not necessarily a pleasant one.
What if we find we are told to do things we don’t want to?
Will we lose our independence?
Will we be out of control?
Surely we can trust that God knows what is good for us. Jesus said that this gift of the Spirit would be given to those who obey his commands. Others can’t receive the Spirit. However, if someone comes to believe, that gift is given to them. As Paul says in the letter to the Romans, those led by the Spirit are confirmed as God’s children. They have God as their Father, their Abba or Daddy. It’s an intimate relationship, one characterised by love.
The Spirit is given for the purpose of action as well as showing that we are God’s children. If we consider what happened to the apostles on the Day of Pentecost it’s possible to see the Holy Spirit at work in the apostles. I said we are celebrating a birth and it was at Pentecost that the Spirit brought the Church into being. Without the Spirit there would have been no Church, just a frightened and abandoned bunch of apostles who spent their time hiding for fear of arrest or worse.
The Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in many languages, not as some kind of party trick, but to spread the Good News. Peter was able to preach to the people who heard this amazing evidence of God at work. Many of them in turn became believers and so were able to receive the Spirit. That same Spirit is available to help us. As believers it is as much our gift as it was for the first apostles.
The Spirit is still doing the same work, work greater than Jesus did by working through us, Jesus’ followers. We can reach more people than Jesus ever could. Of course, for us in Second Life we can reach a huge portion of the world. Our blog has reached 146 countries which is a huge amount. Maybe in world we don’t have contact with people from quite as many countries but still from quite a few. In our congregation, if we were all to speak our native languages at once, I think it might sound a little like Pentecost.
Our calling as Anglicans of Second Life is to help people here get to know God who loves them. We set out to welcome them and let them know that they can be children of God with the Holy Spirit living in them. They in turn can go and spread the Good News by the way they live and by their words. It is likely that without our ministry, some people would never even consider Christianity as something they want to explore.
We are not unique in reaching people who might not otherwise consider Christianity as being relevant to them. In the UK and increasingly in other parts of the world, Fresh Expressions of Church are springing up. Churches are being formed which reach out to surfers, to people on isolated housing estates, to young families, to communities who meet in pubs, to children, parents and staff in schools. Where there are people, churches are being formed which look very much unlike traditional churches. God, through the Holy Spirit working in Christians, is always doing a new thing, just as he did at Pentecost. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams was very supportive of this mixed economy of church – older and newer forms of church both existing together and working to spread the Good News. The new Archbishop Justin Welby is similarly encouraging.
Anglicans of SL is a registered Fresh Expression of Church. http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/ We are very different from many other Fresh Expressions but we are all working to extend the reach of the Church in whatever way we can. Tomorrow there is an hour of prayer for Fresh Expressions of Church. People are asked to pray for such churches all over the world. We are taking part in that initiative. However, as our members come from all over the world, we will not just be praying for an hour at noon. Instead we are encouraging our members to come into the cathedral any time between now and noon tomorrow to spend some time in prayer. There will be a visual display giving prompts for prayer running during that time. It will also be possible to put a prayer on a prayer tree. These prayers will be used in our noon service tomorrow which will be held here in the cathedral rather than in the chapel.
Let us pray for the Spirit to blow through all kinds of church, new and traditional, to bring the Good News to as many people as possible.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor