THE LOVE OF THE HOLY

Sermon delivered on Whitsunday the 24th May 2015 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England (Cayman Islands).

Scriptures: Acts 2: 1 - 21     Romans 8: 22-27     S. John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15

Acts 2: 2 "Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and filled all the house where they were sitting."

St. Paul said that the Law is a schoolmaster unto Christ, and when I think of Pentecost and Whitsunday, it reminds me of life in a boys' boarding school with one of those best types of Headmaster, which some may judge have become rather rare. When a child enters the school, he would never dream of being familiar with the Headmaster. He seems so awesome and terrifying that you wouldn't want to put a foot wrong with him. But by the time you have left the school you have become quite fond of your Headmaster. You respect him tremendously still, but that respect has been mingled with appreciation for what you have seen him do and for who he is. You want to do what pleases him, not so much because of what will happen to you if you don't, but because you wouldn't want to disappoint him or let him down. But a wise headmaster knows that such motivation on the part of pupils does not come automatically, and some never arrive at it at all. He knows very well that if he wears his care for his pupils on his sleeve from the beginning there will be numbers among them who will see that as a weakness. They will judge that the Headmaster may not actually REQUIRE that they obey the rules, but that he NEEDS them to do so for his own gratification.

So because of our fallen frailty and proneness to sin, there were no doubt lessons which our divine Teacher chose to deliver before revealing Himself in the form of our own flesh. To foreclose the certainty of human misinterpretation, the holiness of God must be the primary revelation, so that in due course the love of God, which indeed He puts forth eternally, could be begun to be understood by us only in the context of His holiness and His unique independence.

The day of Pentecost, which is observed in our Christian calendar as Whit Sunday the day of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to the waiting disciples, was observed by the Jews as the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the Passover; and Jewish tradition maintained that on this day, fifty days after the escape from Egypt, God gave the Law to Moses and Israel, from Mount Sinai. Jewish Tradition further says that the voice of God was so loud and universal that all nations heard it; thus, the Gentiles were culpable because whereas they too heard God's voice they did not obey. Well, whatever the basis may be of the tradition, what is being observed demonstrates the authority, the power and the terror of the Lord. The people are forbidden to come near. This is the ancient revelation of God in "earthquake, wind and fire", or indeed in something more catastrophic still, an overwhelming and terrifying intervention.

Over a thousand years after the giving of the Law from Sinai, a group of Jesus' followers were all together on this commemorative day of Pentecost. The book of Acts puts the Ascension into Heaven by Jesus some ten days earlier. As if to remind them of the terrifying intervention of God on Sinai, there is a great sound from heaven like a mighty wind. But although it is awesome, this time the intervention is different. There is no question of boundaries being set beyond which they must not pass to approach God as was the case on the earlier occasion. On the contrary, the wind and the fire CAME TO THEM. The tongues of fire actually rest upon them. Why such a difference? Why is there closeness now in contrast to the separateness before? Why, because the centuries of the divine school had now yielded its prefecture. Because of the Incarnation and the Atonement wrought by Jesus. This new Law being conferred now on the anniversary of the old may be compared with it rather as Easter may be compared with the Jewish Passover. Now we see the power of God not unto condemnation but unto salvation. It is the power of God that attracts rather than repels. It is the power that renews the presence of the Spirit of God with our spirit. It is the power that draws all peoples, nations and languages to serve Him. This is the high wind from the throne of God and of His Son, blowing the seeds of His Kingdom into our hearts.

Jesus promised His disciples, as was heard in the Gospel today, not to leave them without an interior witness to Him, the Spirit of God called the Helper, to compensate for the fact of the Exodus He would accomplish from the earth. That promise, in St. John's Gospel, is linked with their response to the Lord Jesus, their love for Him and their keeping of His word to them, in the form of their bearing true witness to Him for the benefit of others.. Those who respond in love and obedience to Him will never be orphaned from Him. Thus the promise of the Holy Spirit is real for the people of God, in our own time as much as in any other. What was manifested dramatically that first day of Pentecost after the Resurrection is as true now as it was then, even if less immediately visible, just as the Resurrection is as true now as it was when Jesus manifested Himself to His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Indeed the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and His gift to His people of the Holy Spirit are both aspects of the one great reality of the redemption and atonement. It is less important for us to analyse it than it is for us to receive this grace through faith. We celebrate today the great gift, the wind straight from heaven of the closeness of God to and with His people. In Him His people shall overcome, because they keep looking to Him, who HAS overcome the enemy, and has brought us close to Himself. However, God's love remains for us the love of the Holy. If we have been admitted like the prefects of an old school into the closeness of the love of the Principal, it behoves us to remember that this God who loves us even to death is still the God of Sinai, the God whose love may not be known without His holiness being first appreciated. The Pentecostal charisms to the Church may only be received and employed rightly by deference to their holy origin. The original phenomena in the Upper Room in Jerusalem recalled the awe and terror of Sinai, and those early lessons of our race should not be forgotten, lest the holiness of the Spirit of God be forgotten also. The love of God does not exonerate us from obedience to Him, and our heavenly Principal commands us still, as certainly as He cares for us. St. John's Gospel often reminds us of that. He is commanding the Church today to do that which is right, and those right things we are commanded to do may seem to us to be costly things. This is where faith enters the equation. What we embark on in faith and all honest and prayerful wisdom, though they may seem even impossibly costly, are the right things, and the things that we are commanded to do. God will display His love in providing for these things, but His holiness and our obedience to that holiness must be attended to first, lest his love be taken for granted. For Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. ... And when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness about me." May it indeed be so, for you and for me.