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Title: Pentecost Sunday
Preacher: The Reverend Tom Mumford, Vicar of St Mary le Tower, Ipswich
Date: 28 May 2023 11.00am
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Good morning. Now before I begin, can I just say ‘thank you’ for welcoming all of us from Ipswich, so warmly. It’s a real privilege for us to be here. We’ve been looking forward to it very much…though do spare a thought for my choir. The poor lot have come all the way to York and are still stuck hearing their Vicar preach…!
…BUT, at least we made it to York. Other folk from Ipswich haven’t been so lucky. Our most famous son, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, whose 550th birthday the town is celebrating this year, was Archbishop of York for 16 years but never actually visited. The only attempt he ever made was when, having fallen from grace, he sought to re-establish himself by being enthroned in this very church. He rode all the way up to Cawood Castle, about 10 miles from here, but the night before he was due at the Minster, he got arrested and died on the way back to London.
I don’t in all honesty know why he failed to visit this glorious city for more than a decade while Archbishop. Perhaps he hadn’t heard of Betty’s? But anyway, here we are, and you’ve got a different Thomas from Ipswich in your pulpit this morning, so let’s talk about Pentecost, and the Church today.
The reading from Acts we heard at the beginning of this service has in it one of my favourites lines of the whole Bible. Here’s the scene: The disciples are gathered in one place, the Holy Spirit comes amongst them as if a violent wind, tongues as of fire appear on their heads, and everyone bursts into languages of every kind. We come to see that this is a demonstration of the width and breadth of a gospel message for the whole world, but the onlookers are bemused and think the disciples are drunk. Peter, then, with a loud voice, addresses the onlookers really quite wonderfully:
“Listen to what I say. For indeed these are not drunk, as it is only nine o’clock in the morning!”
Now Peter obviously hadn’t been to York on a race weekend… but what his point betrays, I think, is the transforming effect that God as the Holy Spirit has on people’s lives.
Luke’s ‘Acts Pentecost’ shows us quite colourfully the diversity of ways people experience the transforming power and effect of God (and note, not a single one is of a distant bearded white bloke on a cloud…). But though this transformative effect of course looks different for different people, make no mistake, a real encounter with God, the God powerfully present and intimate with us as Spirit, this will change lives, this will change everything.
I want to tell you a personal story. In my early twenties, I was a bit lost. It all started after a number of big changes in my life, and I began to suffer with quite acute anxiety. I experienced panic attacks, and all the sorts of strange physical manifestations that come with them. Unsurprisingly, my self-confidence was quickly eroded. I began to question pretty much everything. After I had hit what felt like rock-bottom, life was different. I had unlearned all sorts of un-truths about the world. I had learned all sorts of new truths about myself. And though I was beginning to pick himself up again, I still felt lost. The only consolation, I recognised, was that I was not alone. And that this was true for far more people than would ever let on.
At about this point, I received a visit from my parents. In a rather bizarre and unexpected conversation, the topic of the Christian faith came up. And, for some reason, against pretty much everything I had ever thought or felt, there was a part of me that wanted to explore, enquire, and perhaps even learn something from this source of ancient wisdom.
A number of weeks later, finding the internet quite unsatisfactory, I decided I might try the very novel thing of actually going to a church. Wandering around the place where I lived, I tried a few, but found their doors locked. Eventually, just at the point where I was ready to put all this Christian stuff to bed, I tried one last door, and it opened. As it happened, there was a service about to start. Now I had no idea what the service was for, or what was going on, but I listened, and found I didn’t totally disagree with everything being said. I didn’t have the language for it at the time, but I was struck by the beauty and the majesty of the building, it’s atmosphere, the music that filled it. I suppose there was a sense of transcendence, a sense of something ‘other’ that I’d not really experienced before. I would now describe it as an experience of God, an experience of the Holy Spirit.
After this day, thanks to a caring priest, a community of loving people, and, a choral tradition that taught me to pray, slowly but surely, I didn’t feel so lost anymore. This was my Pentecost experience, and it changed my life… And it’s at this moment I need to stop and say thank you. Because sisters and brothers, this all happened here, in this very place. Even with some of you sat here today. From it I learnt to pray, I opened myself to a relationship with God, to a way of life that allowed me to experience peace, to feel a love free of conditions and expectation, in a way I had never really done before. It enabled me to explore what a life of fullness, freedom and flourishing, could really look like. And as you can see, it began a journey that allowed me to discover what it truly meant to be me, what God had longed for me all along.
Sisters and brothers, the world needs this love. It needs the Church. It needs God. So we here have a job to do, we have a calling. We are to be people who consciously seek and discern the signs of God’s Spirit. We are to be people of prayer, who seek out the lost, welcome the stranger, work for peace, love all people. We are to be a Church of the Pentecost (not looking too convincingly like we’re drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning) but a Church, a people, so obviously open and changed by God’s transformation, that we cannot help but speak his love, share his Gospel, build his Kingdom.
So let us be inspired again this Pentecost. Let us commit to be a church alive with the Spirit of God. Let us not be a Church that worships ashes, but a Church that preserves fire. Let this celebration be the start of a renewed faith, a transformed life, a new world, a hope-filled, Spirit-filled, God-filled future. And as we have been loved, let us love, and let this love change the world.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
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