Today it was great to be back at St Denys celebrating the feast of Pentecost, when we remember the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus’ disciples and filling them with a new power and passion. It was a good day to return to church after my walk and a wonderful way to mark the end of what has been a very special period in my life.
It was especially moving to be welcomed back into the arms of my church family with such love and warmth, knowing that they have been praying for me while I’ve been away. Together we remembered all the walking and praying that had gone on over the past ten days as part of the #ThyKingdomCome initiative, and church members, including me, shared testimonies of where prayer had been answered. We prayed too for those affected by all the recent terror attacks in this country and across the world, praying for the Spirit of peace to fill the earth and its people.
I’ve said before that the book of the Acts of the apostles is much more about the acts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is living and active so verbs give us a good way of describing what the Holy Spirit is all about.
First, the Holy Spirit SURPRISES – the disciples must have been pretty surprised to see flames on their heads and to hear one another speaking different languages. Even though Jesus had told them he was sending them another comforter, did they really expect him to come like this? And the people around them in Jerusalem were certainly surprised. The Spirit can surprise us too and disturb us, he can shake us out of our complacency. The response to the walk4andy has been amazing and there have been some lovely surprises along the way such as my encounter with a priest and his party from Argentina, a reminder that we are part of a worldwide church.
But life can throw us nasty surprises at times such as sudden bereavements or changes of circumstances, or the terrible tragedies we have seen in Manchester, London and other places in recent days. I believe the Spirit can work in those situations too and that in itself can come as a surprise as we learn to trust again in God’s power to transform us.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit POINTS back to Jesus – the Bible talks about different kinds of spirits as do a lot of people today and while we shouldn’t be afraid of tales of spirits, we should be wary. The Spirit of God, the Bible tells us, will always point us back to Jesus. I did have a little map book to guide me on my walk but the National Trail acorns were a very helpful reminder of which way to go if I was ever unsure. There were some wonderful moments too where I could see the Wall snaking off over the hills into the distance pointing the way I should go, giving me confidence to keep going. The Holy Spirit also points out the path we should tread, the path that follows in Jesus’ footsteps, and leads to life.
The Holy Spirit INSPIRES – an obvious one as the two words are connected, meaning breath. There were times climbing the Wall when I felt quite out of breath and had to stop to get my breath back. The disciples had lost Jesus again, they were waiting around in Jerusalem with no idea what would happen next, probably feeling a bit fed up. After all the excitement of the previous few weeks, maybe this was a chance for them to get their breath back too. Suddenly, the Spirit comes upon them and they are inspired to go out and speak to people about Jesus and all he had done. People think they are drunk but that doesn’t stop them. Look at Peter, an uneducated fisherman, suddenly preaching a blinder of a sermon all about Jesus and thousands respond by committing to follow him. It’s amazing what a bit of inspiration can help us achieve. My brother Andy was an inspiration to many, and if you’ve been following my blog you’ll know how his inspiration gave me the determination to walk 84 miles to raise money for people like him with VHL.
The Holy Spirit REVEALS (at this point I stripped off my red Pentecost clerical shirt to reveal my ‘I walked the Wall’ t-shirt!) – there were many points along the Hadrian’s Wall path where the Wall couldn’t be seen which felt very strange. Sometimes bits of it were hidden in houses or churches where people had used stones from the Roman Wall for their own buildings, sometimes it was under my feet where the Military Road for example had been built over it, in other places you could see where the grass had grown to cover it and leave a long grassy mound. But when it appeared, you couldn’t miss it. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth as Jesus says in John’s gospel, can reveal to us all sorts of things about God, sometimes in surprising places, where we don’t expect it. The Spirit can also reveal things about ourselves that we might be uncomfortable about but things we need to face up to and deal with.
The Holy Spirit INSTRUCTS – I learnt a lot on my walk, a lot about the Romans but also a lot about the people I was walking with and about myself. And the Holy Spirit can teach us to work through those things he has revealed in us that need to change. He can help us to learn new ways, ways of life, ways that bear fruit, the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the things we need to learn and the Spirit can help us do that. Paying attention to the Spirit in prayer might lead us to different decisions about all sorts of things in life, like how we might vote in the election on Thursday or thinking about how best to respond to the news that America are pulling out of the global Climate Change agreement. How can our decisions, our actions, be Spirit-led so that we see more of those fruit in our lives and in our world?
Finally, the Spirit TAKES us on a journey – one thing the disciples discovered was that the Spirit never leaves us where we are but takes us to some place new. For many of them, that meant travelling physically to other places, taking the news about Jesus out to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the world. But for others of us, maybe that journey is one that leaves us physically in the same place but spiritually and in other ways in a very different place. I know that the 84 mile journey I began in Bowness hasn’t really finished and the Spirit has much more work to do in me, continuing to move me on but I am excited about that journey now, knowing that I am not alone. Like the Wall was my ever present companion on much of the walk4andy, so the Spirit of the risen Jesus accompanies me on my journey through life. Sometimes I’m much more aware of his presence than others but he is always there as Jesus promised to the end of the age.
So the Spirit Surprises us, Points us back to Jesus, Inspires, Reveals and Instructs, and finally if we allow him into our lives and try to walk in step with him, the Spirit can Take us on a journey from where we are to where he wants us to be, transforming not only us but the world around us. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen.