Sunday, 28 May 2023
Bishop John Armes, on behalf of Bishop Kaisamari of Espoo, Finland
The Holy Spirit is the river that connects God [with] human beings – and human beings with each other.
We were very much looking forward to having Bishop Kaisamari from our link diocese in Finland (Espoo Diocese) here with us today. For, as we’ve just heard in that long reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples went into the streets of Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost and spoke of God so that everyone, no matter what their native tongue, understood them. How very appropriate, therefore, to welcome a Finnish bishop and to hear her speak to us of the deeds of God in the way we can understand, admittedly because she speaks English so very well. Her illness means she can’t be here, and we wish her a rapid recovery but, next best thing, she’s sent us the text of her sermon (in English), the substance of which I want to share with you.
But let’s note first that both our readings speak of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The first describes the Spirit rushing on the disciples like a violent wind and as tongues of flame. Wind and fire, two images of something turbulent, disruptive and, potentially, destructive. The gospel reading adds a third image: Jesus speaks of the Spirit flowing like rivers of living water. I remember seeing an arial photograph of Victoria Falls in Africa, showing how over the eons water had cut a deep gorge in the land. Our land too is shaped by water. Water, as we know to our cost can, like wind and fire, also be uncontrollable, overwhelming. But it is also the symbol used in our baptism, the water that cleanses and quenches thirst, the water in which the old self dies so that the new self may live.
These are powerful images that form the backdrop to our celebration of the birthday of the church, powerful too for Beatrice and Annabel’s big confirmation party, in which they offer their lives to the inflow of the Spirit. Beatrice and Annabel, +Kaisa sends her best wishes to you as you renew your baptismal vows and profess your faith. Her prayer for you, a prayer echoed by this whole congregation – all of us gathered together here at St Mary’s Cathedral – is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will increase in you and in your lives.
+Kaisa reminds us that the Holy Spirit has many different names in the Bible, names which speak to us of the good gifts and the influence the Holy Spirit has on the lives of Christians everywhere. But for today, she picks out three: the Holy Spirit as Advocate, as Comforter and Life-Giver and she reflects on them in the light of that third image of the Spirit flowing like living water.
1. Advocate: not in the sense that we can hide behind the Holy Spirit so that God does our work for us. +Kaisa says, ‘The Holy Spirit is not at our beck and call. The Spirit blows where she wills, flows when she wants, regardless of our will. Nor is the Holy Spirit something we receive from outside, but she is a stream of living water that springs up in the innermost part of the person – in the heart, the mind, the soul. The Advocate testifies about Christ to us’ and gives gifts which build up the church. But these gifts aren’t just for our enjoyment, ‘They are intended to be shared further. The rivers of living water do not merely flow; they well up with power. So great is their power that there is enough to share with all who thirst and to feed all who hunger. The Holy Spirit advocates on behalf of the most vulnerable. She encourages us to see those who are forced into the shadows, to hear those whose voices are silenced, and she helps us encounter Christ in all who suffer.’
2. Comforter: +Kaisamari explains that ‘The Catechism of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland says [of the Spirit] that “She brings God’s goodness and Christ’s love into our midst”. So the Holy Spirit does not bring God’s goodness and love privately to us as individuals. She brings them to us all, so that we can share them and rejoice in them together. Without the Holy Spirit we wouldn’t know Christ or God. The Holy Spirit is the river that connects God [with] human beings – and human beings with each other. The Holy Spirit is a cool river that refreshes tired feet; God’s compassionate and encouraging whisper; a promise that we and the whole world have hope and a future.’
3. The Life-giver: in describing the mission of the Holy Spirit, the American writer, Ginger Barfield, says, ‘Our world is being watered by God at this moment. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal it to us.’ ‘The world,’ explains Bishop Kaisa, ‘is drenched with God’s love. It is filled with God’s presence, just as the earth is watered by the spring rain. Equally [it is] filled with God’s creative new encouragement, God´s grace and the goodness of new growth.
[For t]he Creator is present in all God’s creation. God is constantly creating new things, both in our surrounding reality and in how we learn to understand the wonder and diversity of all created things. It is the Holy Spirit’s task to reveal this reality to us, to open us so that we may see and hear, to open all our senses so that we may recognise the loving presence of God in everything and everywhere. The Spirit is the Life-giver because the Spirit shows us the overflowing love of God for and in all God’s creation.’
If I may sum up, the Holy Spirit is God’s living presence in the world, making Jesus Christ known. On the one hand, like fire, wind and flood, disrupting the settled patterns of our lives with a power beyond our capacity to control or to understand, on the other, touching our lives with a gentle breeze, a warming flame, a thirst-quenching drink. Untamed and wild, intimate and protecting. It’s the Holy Spirit in that latter guise we’ve been asked to reflect on today, the One who is advocate for truth and justice, comforts us with hope and refreshment, and reveals to us the irrepressible surge of God’s life-giving love – God who creates and recreates.
May Annabel and Beatrice, may we all, recognise and rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit in our worship today, in the world around us and in the loving and persistent touch of goodness on our lives. Amen.