Tag Archives: Saints

Pentecost: Together living the transforming life of the Holy Spirit

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:

Holy Spirit

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).

Caught up in the Net of Grace: the incredible treasure of God’s kingdom

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, on All Saints’ Sunday, 2 November 2014:


Wise teaching, hidden instruction, and the vision of a kingdom that is always close at hand for those who search for it stand at the heart of tonight’s readings (Isaiah 2.1-6, Matthew 13.44-53). The kingdom our readings speak of is at once near and far off. It is open to all people from ‘all the nations’ (Isaiah 2.2), and yet may remain elusive to those who do not care to search for it. And our readings promise that those who persevere in their search for the kingdom ‘will shine like the sun in their Father’s house’ (Matthew 13.44), will be numbered among God’s servants; his saints: the faithful people of every age we celebrate this All Saints’ Day.

Our gospel reading from Matthew’s story of Jesus takes us to Jesus’ home town: not the city of his birth, Bethlehem, nor the city in which he grew up, Nazareth, but the city in which he made his home to teach the people of gentile Galilee, ‘Galilee of the nations’, about the kingdom of God (Matthew 4.12). Early in Matthew’s story, we read how Jesus ‘left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea of Galilee’ to proclaim the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4.13-15). From his home in Capernaum Jesus taught the people of this regional centre, a busy fishing port and cosmopolitan trading hub where Jews and Gentiles freely mingled and lived together. The way in which Jesus taught takes into account his multi-cultural, international audience: he chooses poignant short stories as his vehicle to teach them about his vision of a kingdom where people from all backgrounds would come to know God, both those who already knew themselves to be among God’s chosen, and those who were yet searching for God.

A few verses before tonight’s Gospel reading commences, Jesus explains to his followers who had gathered at his home, why he chose stories as a way to explain to those who were yet searching about the mystery of God’s kingdom: ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’, Jesus tells his disciples, ‘but to them it has not been given’ (Matthew 13.44-53). For Jesus’ disciples, the secrets of the kingdom of heaven were an open secret, as it were: the open secret that stands at the heart of the gospel—the secret that God sent his only Son into the world to save it from perdition. The ‘secret and hidden wisdeom of God’ is, in fact, and open secret which underpins all Christian teaching: it is the secret of ‘knowing nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2.2, 7). The stories Jesus tells in his home town, then, are first of all a way to reach out to those who do not yet know about God, and God’s purposes: to reach ‘those to whom the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have not been given’.

Matthew has assembled for us three small vignettes as an example of the way in which Jesus taught in Capernaum. There are, of course, much longer teaching stories or parables: the story of the Lost Son, who squandered his inheritance and returned to his Father in shame, only to be feted and restored to his rightful place—a parable about repentance; the story of the differing soils and the Sower we heard a fortnight ago—a parable about spiritual growth, and the extension and growth of God’s message. And then there are the three, short stories that make up tonight’s Gospel reading: two- or three-line verses that speak evocatively of the way in which people may discover the secret of God’s kingdom, and how their knowledge of that secret utterly transforms them. Jesus retells the same story three times, each time a little differently, giving his multi-religious and multi-cultural audience the opportunity to examine his claim that all people may find God’s kingdom, and how the people who become caught up in God’s kingdom react to that revelation.

All of the short stories we hear Jesus tell in tonight’s Gospel speak of the spiritual treasure of knowing the secret of the kingdom of heaven in terms of material value: knowing the secret of the kingdom of heaven is like searching for, and finding an incredible treasure. It had been hidden in someone’s field long ago, and was recovered by a treasure-seeker, who then gives up all his possessions in exchange for the newly-found treasure. The finder ‘sells all that he has’ to gain the treasure he found (Matthew 13.44-45). This story may well have resonated with those who farmed the rolling hillsides around Capernaum, places where past settlements had made way to farmland; where treasures of the past could be unearthed: it is a story addressed to the settled community of Capernaum.

The second story Jesus tells may have been addressed to the itinerant community of foreigners that lent the region its name ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matthew 4.15). It speaks of a merchant who travels far to buy and sell pearls. Again, the merchant uncovers a treasure beyond expectation: he finds a pearl of rare beauty and value, and ‘sold all that he had and bought it’ (Matthew 13.45-46). Discovering the secret of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus suggests, is greater than any value, wealth or treasure. It requires risk and determination, requires our all, to gain and possess it.

Tonight’s final short story is addressed to the third group of inhabitants who made up the cosmopolitan port city of Capernaum: those who made their living on the waters of Lake Galilee, like many of Jesus’ first followers. It speaks of the kingdom of heaven not as treasure in itself, but as a means of gaining treasure: ‘the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind’ (Matthew 13.47). A net that catches all in its wake, brings in all kinds of fish; a net that is carefully lifted out of the Lake and brought to port, where its contents are processed: ‘the good fish are collected into baskets, and the bad thrown back’ (Matthew 13.48). Becoming caught up in the kingdom of heaven is easy, Jesus suggests: all are called to be caught up in this large net that is thrown into the sea. It is remaining in the net, being drawn out of the net and collected into the baskets to provide value and treasure for the labourers of the kingdom, that requires a deliberate change of heart. ‘So it will be at the end of the age’, Jesus explains to his hearers: ‘The Son of Man will send his angels to separate the evil from the righteous’ (Matthew 13.40, 49-50).

At the end of the age, Jesus tells in his short stories, it is God, and not the religious, who will separate saints from evildoers. Jesus’ saints are those who are not only caught up in the large net of the kingdom of heaven—many will be drawn into its wake, Jesus confirmed—but those who react to this engagement. It is those who find themselves caught up in the life of the kingdom of heaven, and then decide to take the risk to invest their all into that kingdom, who will ultimately be numbered among the righteous, among the saints of the kingdom.

For the people of his multicultural home town this would have been radical news: in three short stories, each tailored to a specific cultural subgroup of his community, Jesus does away with the established belief that only a certain group of religious people can enter God’s kingdom. While the story of the net would have excited Jesus’ gentile audience, it may well have irked some of his Jewish hearers: it would have been unsettling news to hear the goal of the life of faith described in terms of a broad net that brings together people from all families and nations. It would have been even more unsettling to hear and understand the undertones of Jesus’ Greek – the Greek word Jesus uses when he speaks of catching the fish is the same as that used for the Jewish place of worship: synagagouse. Just as the Greek words for ‘all kinds of fish’ can mean ‘all kinds of peoples and nations’. God’s vision is for all people to be gathered in his kingdom, Jesus tells, is for an assembly—a synagogue—of saints that encompasses Jews as well as Gentiles.

Jesus’ short stories are clearly told within the context of his home town: a unique melting pot of Jews and Gentiles on the crossroads between the Jewish heartlands and the Gentile diaspora. But his stories are not only there for the people of Capernaum. Matthew includes these three vignettes among his collection of longer parables to make a theological point that is also made in our first lesson: that at the end of the age, God will bring together people from any nation and any background to be his saints: ‘all nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord’s house; many peoples shall come’ (Isaiah 2.2-3). The secret of the kingdom of heaven is there for all people, tonight’s readings assure us. Everybody is called to learn the secret of God’s plan: his hope that all people may come to him, and live with him. Everybody is called to make known that secret, share in its future: the secret of the crucified Son of God, through whom sinners can be made saints. The secret of the treasure that exceeds all we can ever possess or own; the secret of the treasure that fills us with such longing that we embrace the risk of losing all in order to gain it, and share in it.

Tonight, we give thanks for the saints throughout the ages, who have responded to the invitation to discover for themselves the secrets of the treasure of the kingdom of heaven, and share in its future. As we celebrate their response in faith to the good news that all are called to share in God’s kingdom, it is my prayer for you and for me, that we like them may show forth in our own generation something of the great treasure entrusted to us: the secret at the heart of God’s kingdom—the open invitation that is extended to all who will hear it, and who will respond to it in faith.

Now may ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe’ in Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord (Ephesians 1.17-18). Amen.