A sermon preached on the Feast of Pentecost, at St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, 24 May 2015:
I bring you warm greetings from the clergy and congregations of St Thomas’ Fifth Avenue New York, and the National Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, Washington DC, with whom I spent the past week. During my brief journey to the United States I reflected on with my colleagues what it may mean to belong to, to be a member of a Cathedral, and thinking more about how our ministry as Cathedrals or civic churches at the heart of our metropolitan cities, can enable people to belong and to become equipped for the ministry of making known the good news of the transforming love of the Holy Spirit.
It is a particular pleasure to welcome this morning two new members of our Cathedral Chapter and their families and friends, welcome to Canon Rosemary Maries and Lay Canon Campbell Bairstow, who have come to join us in sharing in our mission of proclaiming the good news of Christ at the heart of our city, and taking it to the places where they worship and minister: to Barwon hospital and Geelong in the case of Canon Rosemary, and to Trinity College, the University of Melbourne, in the case of Lay Canon Campbell. It is a joy to welcome you to your home church, and to reflect with you, and our congregation, on the promise of this morning’s readings. That we are called to be people who live the life of Pentecost; people who, by the way we live, minister and worship, give others an insight into the values of God’s kingdom, and so show forth the way to walking close with God.
This morning’s lessons not only call us to live out the good news of Pentecost as a community of believers, and make it known so that each may hear ‘in their own languages … about God’s deeds of power’, as our as our first lesson tells (Acts 2.11). They also invite us to be open to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to recognise the gift of the Spirit in others. Both men and women, young and old; people from across the known compass of the globe: ‘Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs’ (Acts 2.9-11). Our readings invite us to recognise that all people are called, to be bound together by the Holy Spirit, as a community of believers that together makes known the transforming power of God’s Spirit.
Christ calls people from all backgrounds, with different languages and stories, from different ages and with diverse gifts, with differing abilities and skills, to follow him. Today’s festival reminds us that the way by which Christ calls people, the agency through which we and others are enabled to hear, follow and share his call, is God’s Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who unites God’s people on earth, who amplifies God’s message, and enables people to respond to and testify to Christ’s call. Our Gospel reading tells us how ‘the Holy Spirit will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and … declare to you the things that are to come’ (John 16.14). And it is the same Holy Spirit who enables people to live and work together as a community of believers, and equips them with the needful gifts of ministry.
Those who have responded to Jesus’ call already and have chosen to follow him, are invited to live according to the promptings of his Holy Spirit (John 16.14). For it is the Christ-given values declared to us through the power of the Holy Spirit that will equip us for our journey of discipleship on earth. And not only on earth: the Holy Spirit’s guidance and promptings have the capacity to bridge heaven and earth: for ‘the Spirit of truth comes from the Father’ (John 15.26). Those who obey Jesus’ call are to live knowing that by their actions they have the capacity to bring about here on earth something of the life of heaven: ‘all the Father has in mine’, Jesus assures his followers; all the things of heaven are already Christ’s (John 16.15). And the Holy Spirit will make those heavenly gifts known to us, to equip us for our pilgrimage on earth: ‘the Holy Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you’, Jesus promises us (John 16.15).
Jesus tells his followers that living the life of Pentecost has the capacity to transform all relationships. Not only the relationships between individual humans will be changed through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The values of this world have already been fundamentally changed: ‘the Spirit will prove the world wrong about … judgment’, Jesus asserts, ‘because the ruler of this world has been condemned’ (John 16.11). The values declared by the Holy Spirit also will transform the relationship between God and us. By reminding us that righteousness has given way to grace ‘the Spirit will prove the world wrong about righteousness’ (John 16.10). And it is the Spirit who will help us testify, on Jesus’ behalf, how God loves to bring home the lost; will enable us to extend to others the invitation contained in our first lesson from Acts, that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2.21).
The key to this profound transformation of relationships between God and humans, and individual humans, can be found in this morning’s epistle reading from the letter to the Romans (Romans 8.22-30). Paul reminds the people of Rome that our hope of restored and transformed relationships was wrought by the redemptive power of Christ. By Christ’s death on the cross, by his resurrection, ‘creation itself [was] set free from its bondage to corruption and [we are enabled to] obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God’, we read a few verses before our epistle reading begins (Romans 8.21). By his dying, Christ broke down the rule of any other power once and for all: ‘Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us’, Paul assures the Romans (Romans 8.34).
The death and resurrection of Christ is a cosmic event, both the writer of of Gospel and our epistle readings know. Christ’s death on the cross broke down of powers that stood opposed to the values of God’s kingdom. Christ’s resurrection brought us the promise of a new life that is forever. These cosmic events assure us of the certainty that relationships can be transformed, where people accept Christ’s invitation to enter into life in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the hope to which we are called, the unseen hope for which we wait with patience: that ‘those whom God predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’, as Paul tells the Roman church (Romans 8.30). And we are assured that this hope can sustain each one of us during our life on earth, and prepare us for life in heaven.
Paul speaks of this hope in terms of an inheritance into which we enter when we respond to Christ’s call. And the pleage of that inheritance, our epistle reading affirms, is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.22). The first fruits of the Spirit are already at work within us, Paul assured the Romans. The gift of the Holy Spirit is freely granted to all who desire to enter into the new life that Jesus offers. And in order to equip his people for this new life, with all the riches we are promised and all the hardships of which we are forewarned, we are given Christ’s ‘advocate’: the Holy Spirit who is given us as our guide through life.
As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, the Spirit ‘dwells in us so that God might give life to our mortal bodies’ (Romans 8.11). It is this Spirit that will enable us to face hardship the disciples were foretold, the ‘sufferings of this present time’ (Romans 8.18). It is the Holy Spirit that ‘helps us in our weakness’, assisting us to reach out to, and include in our community, people from all nations and languages. And it is the Holy Spirit that helps us reflect here on earth something of the certainty of the life of heaven, helps us to be the community of God’s people—his saints—on earth: ‘because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God’, Paul assures the Romans (Romans 8.27).
All of us are called to be God’s people, his saints, this morning’s readings assure us. All of us are invited to become, and to be, people who live life in the assurance that the ultimate battle against sin and death has already been accomplished, when ‘God raised Christ from the dead … and put all things under his feet’ (Ephesians 1.20-22). And in the strength of that conviction we are called to reflect in our lives something of the life of heaven: are inbvited to lead lives lived in the convictions that the kingdom of heaven here on earth can be ours, lives where we live out the values of the Holy Spirit (and do not shrink away from the kingdom-promise, should life become difficult or should we encounter hardship, rejection and ridicule because of the hope that lies within us).
In my time as Dean I have come to appreciate that as Cathedrals we have a special role to show forth and make known that way of Spirit-filled living. We are uniquely placed at the heart of our city and diocese to testify to the good news of Pentecost, to introduce others to the ways of the hope that motivates us as Christians: ‘that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 1.21). And this has very practical implications for the way we conduct and resource our ministry: whether by a ministry of intentional reconciliation that seeks to bring together Aboriginal and other Australians, or through our ministry of Christian education that enables and encourages frank and searching conversations about our convictions and hopes. Whether by reaching out to those who are the object of racial hatred or those who find themselves on the margins of society; by ministering to the homeless or those who are reduced to begging from others, or by comforting those who come to our Cathedral broken-hearted, who know the pain of ‘inward groaning in labour pangs’ our epistle reading speaks of (Romans 8.22).
I am grateful that as the home church of our diocese at the heart of this wonderful city we have countless opportunities to make known, through our ministry, the powerful hope of Pentecost. I give thanks for the assurance of Pentecost that the kingdom of heaven is ours already; is growing among us now. I give thanks that it is both when we see and experience difficulty and hardship, and when we experience growth and blessing, we are assured that the ‘Spirit intercedes on our behalf’ as a sign of our hope (Romans 8.26).
I give thanks that the ministry of Pentecost is a shared ministry, which brings together people from all cultures and backgrounds and all ages, binding us all together in fellowship, and equipping us for our shared mission. I give thanks that through this joint Pentecost minstry, we can live out the promise that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’; the promise that we and many others have already become, and will be, God’s Saints (Acts 2.21).
I pray that we may be richly blessed in living out the shared ministry of Pentecost as members of our congregations, as Cathedral volunteers and staff, as those entrusted with the leadership of our ministry here in this place, and as those charged with the oversight of that ministry as members of our Cathedral Chapter—old and new. I pray that we may be richly blessed in our shared ministry of inviting others to walk with us in the power of the Holy Spirit. As we commission our new Chapter members, I invite you to recommit yourselves with them to our shared calling.
It is my prayer for you and for me, that God the Holy Spirit would continually equip us for the work of ministry: that he would give us all needful gifts for building up the body of Christ, so that we can indeed be people who know, believe and trust, that ‘those whom God predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Romans 8.30).
‘Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.’ (Ephesians 4.20-21).