Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 20 May 2018.
Some of us may have watched the royal wedding yesterday, and a fine event is was. And yes, those of us who have married will indeed remember our own wedding days, even if it was a few decades ago.
On each occasion it is a time to look forward rather than back, for it is a ceremony and a celebration that is all about a life – and indeed joined lives – to come.
Yet in the New Testament, Jesus gives us the vision of a new kind of wedding feast, when He will be wholly and fully joined with His bride, the church. The church is to be not only the bride of Christ but also the Body of Christ and this is the totality and intimacy with which Jesus sees His people, and indeed His disciples.
Yet before that ceremony takes place there is an engagement and a promise of thing to come, made on the strength of an existing love and commitment. This also looks forwards and is sealed with the giving of an engagement ring, which is the token of yet more, far more to come.
So while it is easy to speak of the Day of Pentecost as the birthday of the church I think that it is truer to speak of it as the engagement or the betrothal of the church. The fullness of that union will be in heaven as Jesus is indeed joined with His bride.
But here there is something else as we look forward to the fulfilment of that promise and commitment of Jesus.
And I would say that here on the Day of Pentecost we have it. Jesus has bestowed on the church a special gift which speaks and reminds us of His particular and personal presence.
This is a gift which is there to draw us closer to Him in all things and events. All trials and all challenges are to be brought before Him in the presence and intercession of the Holy Spirit. He is never absent from His church and His Holy Spirit is given as a permanent reminder of His love and His word.
And this is the context in which we can approach our lessons for they all speak of us being joined with Jesus and being close to Him at all times.
On the Day of Pentecost itself the disciples were already gathered together and were gathered with one intention and agenda There was a common memory in which each person there had his or her own perspectives and understandings. But it was still a memory and a purpose that they held in common and with a unity of purpose.
And then the second aspect is that they were there together not only in fellowship but in peace and harmony and in expectancy. Their prayers were also of one mind even when they had their own memories and life experiences.
And this was the point when God met them in a new kind of way: one which was going to draw them closer to one another and certainly closer to Him. This was to be the stalling point of the life of the church which would continue until the whole world had been evangelized and the fullness of the church had then been united with Jesus at His own special marriage feast.
So part of that engagement gift was to be not only the presence of the Holy Spirit but His abiding life as He drew each generation closer to Jesus, and never apart from Him or from one another.
More than that, He would bestow spiritual gifts on the church so that it could be more effective in portraying the power of Jesus Christ and more fruitful as it grew into the likeness of His life and character in the fruits of the spirit.
The gifts would show his power and the fruits would show His life. The gifts would never be earned and could only be received while the fruits would be cultivated in the lives of each disciple and in the life of the church as a whole.
And so Jesus comes to us, not only on this day but on all days to meet us in our lives so that we may follow Him in His.
Nothing is forced onto us and yet as we open ourselves to Him so He will meet us and endow us.
For some the gifts may expand into areas of personal Christian life and service such as prayer, helping others, proclaiming God’s word without imposing ourselves onto it, leading and giving life to worship or the administrative tasks of ensuring that the people of the church know what to do and when and how to do it.
For some the gifts may be up-front and even dramatic while for others that may be more hidden. Yet at the end of time all will be tested in terms of how they were used and whether they were used for the Glory of God or for other agendas.
But yes, as we celebrate the betrothal of the church we also find that in our own generation the Holy Spirit seeks those to whom He may bestow new gifts and areas of Christian serving, and indeed lead into new areas of the life, the love and the holiness of Jesus Christ.
Of one thing we may be sure: the Holy Spirit will surely challenge us and test us, but He is also perfect gentleman and never tricks us or forces or beguiles us.
The Lord loves a cheerful giver and this surely applies to us as we offer our lives before Him. But He will never fail us or abandon us, and His gifts and calling are irrevocable.