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Come Alive in Christ – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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I love cities. They can be so full of life and excitement: but they can also be suffocating, claustrophobic.  I was once staying with my brother Michael in a small apartment in the middle of Manchester, England, one August weekend.  It was hot and oppressive. So we took off into the country, the lovely Peak District, which is a bit like the hills of Vermont.  We climbed for hours up to the top of one of the highest hills called Kinder Scout. We were exhausted, but wonderfully exhilarated.  We drank in the air in great thirsty gulps and as we breathed we felt intoxicated by the fresh air and the amazing views…and we started leaping around and shouting and screaming with sheer delight.  A couple of hikers below us looked up and I think they probably thought we were drunk.

Today is the Day of Pentecost. On this day the gift of divine power came down upon the disciples, and there was no mistaking it, for it was accompanied by an experience which pounded their senses.  Divine power was invading them.  An intense catastrophic experience; a rushing wind, tongues of fire; a power beyond human lives invading human lives. Tongues like fire rested on each of them and they then began to speak in other languages.  It must have been an extraordinary scene, the disciples as amazed as everyone else.  Perhaps they were leaping around in their ecstatic state.  No wondered some scoffed and said, “They are filled with new wine!” (Acts 2:13)

What was happening to them? Quite simply it was the fulfillment of the promise made in our Gospel reading today from John.  In this passage Jesus is about to leave the disciples, but he tells them not to worry or be sad, and he makes them a promise. He says these deceptively simple words: “Because I  live, you also will live.” (Jn 14:19)

I bet they didn’t understand what he meant. ‘What does he mean, “We will live?”’  We’re already alive aren’t we?’  But by LIFE Jesus doesn’t just mean ‘existing’, being alive rather than dead.  By ‘life’ Jesus means ‘eternal life’; a quality of life so different to your life lived before, that it’s as if we were never really alive at all.  Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)

So how do we understand eternal life? How do we understand the Holy Spirit? I could give you a pneumatalogical discourse! But for me the best way to talk about the Holy Spirit is by experience – what it’s like.  So often we know the Holy Spirit is there because of its effect.  It’s like looking out of the window and seeing the leaves moving.  We know it must be windy even though we can’t see it.  And in the same way I think, we can see people’s lives change and move and grow under the power of the Holy Spirit.

An image that I’ll never forget took place when I was about 20 and I helped take a group of small children out for the day. A friend of mine was a teacher and I was helping her take her class out for an outing. The school was on the Isle of Dogs, which then was a depressed part of east London. The children lived in pretty dreary projects and there was nowhere for them to play.  On this day, we took them, and I guess there were about 25 of them, through a foot tunnel under the river Thames, and out the other side through Greenwich Park and up onto Blackheath, a great windy open space.  I though the kids would love it. But at first they were scared. Scared by all this openness after the confined space of their high rise homes.  They all huddled together and tried to stay as close as possible to their teacher.  But then one or two of them started walking off hesitantly and then a few more, and then they began to skip and jump on the grass, and they started to laugh and shout, and then, suddenly, like when the wind catches the sails of a sail boat, they were OFF!  Running wild through the wind, breathing it in, screaming with delight, racing and leaping about in every direction.  It was really moving to see it.

It seemed to me like the image of two kinds of life.  The first kind of life is like those children were when they first arrived on the heath.  They were scared, confined, huddled together anxious, imprisoned.  But then they were, as it were, caught by the Spirit. Life giving, liberating, inspiring, released, freed…O Spirit of God as free as the wind.  That’s the OTHER kind of life. That is the eternal life which God is calling all of us to.  I wonder, today, which kind of life best describes your life?  Do you experience freedom and openness and inspiration and joy? Or is your life more about anxiety, confinement, frustration?

The day of Pentecost is a wonderful day to ask that question. What would my life look like if I took Christ at his word, and asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Jesus said, “Because I live you will live.” Not, “You will exist,“ but “You will truly live.”  Truly experience that abundant life, that eternal life which Christ came to offer each one of us. Christ is risen, he has conquered sin and death, and through incorporation into Christ through faith and baptism, we too can receive life which is truly eternal, and can never die. ”Because I live you will live.”

How do we get this life? We don’t have to earn it, or deserve it – that’s like expecting the sail boat to propel itself.  The sail boat simply has to extend its sails and allow the wind to fill them, and away it goes.

And so the invitation to us this morning, this Pentecost morning, is to ‘open our sails.’  That is always a risk, because God’s spirit sometimes takes us where we don’t want to go.  Once the wind of the spirit catches us the journey may be scary.  God may take us to places where we don’t feel comfortable, where we shall need all our courage and fortitude.  So, a warning. God has a habit of answering our prayers. Be careful what you ask for.  Don’t pray, “Come Holy Spirit, my soul inspire” unless you mean it!  Don’t pray, “Breathe on me breath of God” unless you are prepared for the consequences. Those first disciples had their lives turned upside down by the divine power invading them. For them the gift of the Holy Spirit changed their lives forever.

If you dare to say ‘yes’ to the prompting of God’s Spirit in your heart, if you follow where God seems to be calling you, you won’t be spared trials and hardships along the way, but you will discover what it is to be alive, truly alive in Christ.  And this life is for all eternity.  Whatever challenges that God places before you, however hard they may seem, God promises to give us his strength and power to help and support us.  I love those words of Bishop Barbara Harris, ”The power behind you is greater than the task ahead of you.”

So on this Day of Pentecost, I will dare to pray a prayer for you and for me. That God the Holy Spirit, the breath, the wind of God may come in power to each one of us.  May he fill our sails, that we may know what it is to be alive, truly alive – with abundant life – God’s gift to us.

Alleluia

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19 Comments

  1. fred adams on May 30, 2016 at 13:00

    Brother Geoffrey, Each time I read this sermon i stand in awe. I means more each time. So thank you once again for this timeless message. Blessings.

  2. Rh on May 23, 2016 at 08:39

    When I was 16 (1970) I watched a young man from CA with extra long blond curly hair and bare!!! feet walk into our short haired, proper, very white, pentecostal MA church. He sat in the empty front row where no one ever sat and during our 3 hymns raised his hands high in praise. I was captivated. At the end of the service (our Pastor would offer prayer at the altar rail) this boy stepped forward and began to praise God and speak in tongues. This got interesting as it suddenly occured to me this boy was either nuts or totally with it…with God in the Spirit. I was open. Hey, we were supposed to be Pentecostals!! That week my life changed as I started reading scripture to figure out if what he was doing was ‘correct’. Our church worshipped differently than our black sister churches. We were quiet and kind of boring and God was my parents thrall not mine. I started wondering if God was who He said He was. What might that mean to me? Did Christ really come to die for MY sins? Might worshipping God look like this boy if I were totally in awe and felt love with great passion? Why did he have this electric energy writ large.? Could the HS radically alter a persons life in 1970 just like the Apostles? If being filled with the HS imbued life changing energy why would’nt every Christian seek to be filled? Through scripture my eyes and heart opened. I witnessed the change God affected in our church through that young man who stayed with us for a few months. He blew our minds. He had a back story of addiction – finding Jesus and forgiveness real. He opened his heart to love and compassion and determined to walk the country to spread the gospel. He touched our hearts. Ultimately the Holy Spirit rescued my little church and allowed it to become an open positive force for great change. And, grow from 52 members to over 1500. Love in bloom. The greater commitment would come later as God tested that resolve and new love through deep waters. But, at 16, I was given the gift to see The Holy Spirit at work, and even now, at 62, I see the HS still giving purpose and strength. SSJE! This mystical part of God is alive and well and He/she is the true power offering breath, movement, healing and discernment to all sorts of Christian love and service all over the world. Thanks be to God.

  3. Peggy-Ann Berube on May 24, 2015 at 19:01

    Enjoyed todays message.
    Also my Granddaughter is living in London now and sends me lots of pictures. She is goes somewhere every weekend. Thank you!
    out traveling around every chance she gets

  4. pam on May 24, 2015 at 16:24

    Thank you Br Geoffrey! O to be so brave …. 🙂

  5. Agatha Nolen on May 24, 2015 at 09:08

    Wonderful renewing words for another Pentecost season. I was received into the Episcopal Church in May of 2008. It happened to be Pentecost Sunday and Mother’s Day that year. I was fortified by the memory of my Mother and her insistence on going to Sunday mass, but then uplifted by the power of the Holy Spirit laced with my physical pronouncement by going forward before the Bishop. It has been “windy sailing” ever since, and I am grateful!

  6. Christopher Engle Barnhart on May 24, 2015 at 07:57

    Each morning awaking early, 4 am, I read the daily lectionary, Richard Rohr, and the SSJE sermon for the day. This starts my day. Sometimes, something within clicks, turns me on, and sets in motion, my path for the day. Thanks be to God!

  7. Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer on May 24, 2015 at 07:13

    All the choices the Church has made in who receives and who can speak of the Holy Spirit with authority, all across the Greek, Roman, European and American empires since the mid First Century CE, have excluded and narrowed more than expanded and accepted. So the range of our understanding of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost is really limited to what the Church, by accepted Church authority, says it must be. With the differences among denominations a given, I find the results too predictable in every institutional setting. That is, if the results of the kindled fire counter the institution in some way, then that is not the Holy Spirit. If the results are sufficiently in line with authority, then, yes, that is the Spirit inspiring one. Ordinary people in church are reduced to serving the shape of the household as set and defined by the ones who have been ordained. That we all are called to a royal priesthood seems to be a very difficult subject for any member of the clergy. How could that be controlled?! The Holy Spirit is a fine subject if we can be sure that the sail boats will all be in the bay, or better yet, all in the canal, turning around promptly when reaching the other end. Walter Wink, NT theologian, once described the Church today as an electric lamp with no idea that the plug and cord are meant to connect to the socket. “The problem seems to be that we don’t believe in electricity,” he said. Perhaps we don’t want the light to touch others without our approval or control. “Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and You will renew the face of the earth.” I can gladly pray that every day throughout the Season of Pentecost, because I don’t need to control what God does, where or when, and can hope God will open out and out what the Church has defined into pinches of being. This Pentecost I celebrate the 65th anniversary of my baptism. What I pray for the Church worldwide–“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,” I pray for myself as well. We will be created, and God will renew the face of the earth, not just the people of the Christian household. We need a greater vision of Holy Wind than we have been working with so far!

  8. Leslie on June 13, 2014 at 12:56

    Many years ago, when my son was four, he told me, “The Holy Spirit feels just like goose bumps, except on the inside.”

  9. Connie Holmes on June 13, 2014 at 10:36

    Br. Geoffrey brings the strong wind on Pentecost to life in these words and with these images. Powerful and beautiful preaching.

  10. mimi Murley on June 13, 2014 at 09:36

    Each morning I have my iPad by the bed and anxiously await the “Word” for I feel it sets my path for the day and always, always the Word of the Lord is at work in that Word. Thank you for the reflections that deepen my walk of awareness and faith and to your precious love for the Lord which radiates out to us even over the internet.
    May you be blessed today in all you do.

  11. Renee Toth on June 13, 2014 at 08:47

    I love receiving your daily words so much that I save them. Now I have ten pages full which I reread and have wondered what I could do with them. I thought of a daily calendar where one page is flipped for each day with one of your ‘words’ included. Then, I wondered if you have ever thought of producing such a calendar with a mailing envelope. I would love such an item to mail to friends as gifts. God bless you. Thank you for what your words have ment to my life.

  12. Polly Malcolm on January 13, 2014 at 06:56

    Pray that i catch the wind. I”ll pray that your sail be full.

  13. Clarice Boyd on August 23, 2013 at 08:56

    As I pray my daily pray of personal dedication to God, I wait – watch – for the wind in my hair as He moves me forward in the way He would have me go. Amen

  14. Anders on August 21, 2013 at 07:41

    I relate to feeling scared, confined, huddled alone, anxious, imprisoned–from the church, as a child. I am becoming caught and transformed by the Spirit, relating to the life giving, liberating, inspiration and freedom you speak of. Many times I have wondered if that OTHER kind of life can only exist outside the repression of the church. In my healing I also address my anxiety as a physical issue and open up my wounded core open through meditation and exercise.

    I also feel led as a vestry member in my church to speak of the radical (outside the norm) eternal life which God is calling, and no one has asked me to leave yet. I struggle, however, with the idea of the Spirit of God opening and filling our sails from the outside. I believe it comes internally, and we are the bread–if not as dramatic as the wind–of life for one another.

    Perhaps Pentecost is an invitation to fully participate in the everyday, and the church which imprisoned me in fear can also set me free in grace and love. It is a step of faith and I will keep showing up.

  15. RuthEddy on May 29, 2013 at 07:27

    I receive your daily, “Give us a word”.
    Today is the first time that I have clicked the link for more. The analogy of the wind and God led me to o so.
    Your entire piece, Brother Geoffrey, spoke to me in the deepest yet most way.

    Thank you and God Bless.

  16. DLa Rue on May 29, 2013 at 06:45

    I enjoy coming back around again to a sermon from a diffrent tack. Letting go and shaping what is to be given on, to make it communicative, seem to be the message this time ’round.

    Still waiting on that pneumatological discourse, though!!

  17. Charles Searls Ridge, D.Min., Obl.S.B on November 11, 2012 at 13:20

    “So often we know the Holy Spirit is there because of its effect.” Brother, I struggle with this at one level. That is, when is the Holy Spirit not present? Is it not, rather, a question of our perception of the Spirit’s presence. An Episcopal priest with fifty-one years or parish ministry, I always am a little jolted when people begin prayer with, “Come Holy Spirit…” like She is not always present. Any thoughts?
    I am newish to Brother, Give us a Word and am finding it very helpful.

    • Bob on January 13, 2014 at 08:47

      Amen! Isn’t this like limiting the Holy Spirit to the’ streaming with God bit’ and forgetting She is in all of life especially when we are making decision about how much of the world’s resources to collar for our use? Is not then when we most forget Her or can confuse ‘spiritual’ euphoria with the working of the Spirit.
      Yes please Br. Geoffrey that discourse on the holy Spirit!

  18. DLa Rue on November 11, 2012 at 08:27

    This depiction of El Greco’s

    http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/el-greco/pentecost

    has stuck with me when I think of Pentecost: each disciple like a candle on the altar (or more latterly, and albeit a bit jejune, a birthday cake….) alit with a flame that rests over their heads in the somber darkness that surrounds them.

    And us.

    p.s., I would love to see or hear that pneumatological discourse. Perhaps sometime you’ll put it together? Not enough is written about the theology of the spirit that is both reasoned and inspired; one gets a lot of one or the other, but it seems to me that person of the Trinity gets short shrift when it comes to the area of a mature, more fully developed systematic theology (as I found when working on a theology of use for the liturgical arts based on the idea of the arts as one form of the communicative expression of the Spirit among us).

    Just a thought.

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