Acts 2v1-21 Pentecost 31st May 2020
‘Keep your eye on the ball’ my old cricket coach used to tell me. It’s all too easy for the cricketer to be distracted by a fielder moving around or some excitement in the crowd, and that lack of concentration can lead to his downfall. The cricketer has to keep focussed on the ball.
Perhaps ‘keep your eye on the ball’ is an idiom which should be a motto for all Christians. On this Pentecost Sunday as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, in this very difficult ‘lockdown situation’ when we are unable to meet together to worship, it is important that ‘we keep our eye on the ball’, we stay focussed on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Why did God send his Holy Spirit? The question permits of more than one answer. I want to think of three areas that we need to keep central to our thinking and to our living. These are that the Holy Spirit came because he had work to do in the individual, he had work to do in the church, and he had work to do in the world.
First the individual, you and me. ‘Keep your eye on the ball’. What should be our primary focus of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives at this difficult time when we cannot meet together? The Holy Spirit was given to us to make us more like Jesus Christ. It is when the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, that we will be empowered to keep our old sinful natures nailed to the cross, so that the lovely Christ-like characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control may blossom in us (Galatians 5v22-23). This is the Fruit of the Spirit, it is a description of the character of Jesus. Life is not always kind to us, nor easy for us, but it is especially at times like these that we should live out the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, so that others may see in us ‘the image of his Son’, or ‘the family likeness of his Son’ (Romans 8:29). But we must rid ourselves of our sin that spoils the Holy Spirit’s fruitfulness within us.
We know that the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, and that our holy God requires his people to be holy. ‘as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct’ 1 Peter 1v15)., or as the AV says ‘as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation’ Take out the five, two letter words ‘AS HE, SO BE YE’, is a helpful way to remember this. But remember also that the God who calls us to be holy also gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us to be holy.
The whole of Jesus’ life was the embodiment of God’s love. It is the love of God which shines through Jesus. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’ (Romans 5v5). The Holy Spirit has been given to us, to live out God’s love in our own lives, love which is not essentially a feeling but a way of living. Love does something, it gives, it acts. ‘Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action’ (1 John 3v18). The power of the Holy Spirit is the power of love, this should be the distinctive mark of the Holy Spirit within us.
Note also that the Holy Spirit never says come to me instead he focusses us on Jesus. His is a floodlight ministry. Picture if you will a building floodlit at night time. Without the floodlights, the building merges into the darkness of the night time background. Switch on the floodlights, and they make visible what would otherwise be in darkness. And when the floodlighting is well done you simply see the building lit up, you do not see the actual floodlights, just their effect. That is like the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is to floodlight Jesus, to glorify Jesus. In John 16:14 we read that Jesus said ‘that the Holy Spirit will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you,’ If as individuals we are to ‘keep our eye on the ball’ we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that we may bear the fruit of the Spirit and become more like Him. The Holy Spirit has a Christ centred ministry.
Second, the Holy Spirit has work to do in the church. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The church needs to ‘keep its eye on the ball’. The Holy Spirit came upon the Christian community to unite individual Christians in a fellowship of love which could not be paralleled in any other group. Our corporate life together as a church is very important, which is one reason why many of us find these days of lockdown so difficult, we miss the fellowship, we miss being able to worship God together.
Our Lord’s great will for the church is that we will be one. In Jesus’ great prayer of John 17, part of which we thought about last week, Jesus prayed that the church may be one, as He and the Father are one. (John 17:11). This is why St Paul was so distressed at the divisions in the Christian church at Corinth. They quarrelled amongst themselves, they were of the party spirit – some following Paul, others Peter, others Apollos. Tragically the same thing can happen in the church today, following the leader who says what we want her or him to say, or joining the church solely because its emphasis is what I want rather than what God wills.
I remember attending a National Anglican Congress at Nottingham in 1977 when The Revd David Watson commented on the reformation, the great historical event involving the split with Rome and formation of the Protestant Church. David Watson was a hugely respected leader in the evangelical wing of the church at the time. He said that what the reformers tried to do was to reform the church and not split it into pieces. But that is what happened and today there are lots of separate protestant denominations across the world. His remarks caused uproar. It was not the thing to say at a conference for whom the reformation was such an important event. Bishop Festo Kivengere spoke at the congress for the first time since he escaped from Uganda following the murder of Archbishop Janani Luwum by Idi Amin. He said that denominationalism was second only to Apartheid in South Africa as a scandal to the church.
But the work of the Holy Spirit is the opposite of this disunity. The Holy Spirit brings unity and reconciliation, creating fellowship enabling worship and so builds up the Body of Christ in love. The Psalmist said ‘Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity’. (133v1). Churches Together is an important element in the corporate life of our churches in the Bognor area.
In his book ‘I believe in the Church’, David Watson wrote ‘the church is totally dependent on the Holy Spirit for the whole of its life. It is created by the Spirit, and it must be continuously sustained and renewed by the Spirit.’ If the church is to ‘keep its eye on the ball’, we need to remember this and the importance of living together in the unity of love.
Third, the Holy Spirit has work to do in the world. The Holy Spirit was given to us for Mission, to be witnesses for Jesus. If we are to ‘keep our eye on the ball’, we will remember that Jesus said to the apostles ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit came to equip us for mission, to enable us to fulfil ‘The Great Commission’ to ‘go and make disciples’ (Matthew 28v19). We need to hold on to this missionary aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit, lest we think the Holy Spirit came simply as an internal gift for the faithful to facilitate holy huddles.
Furthermore, it is in making us witnesses for Jesus that holds all the other aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit together. As individuals we are to be Christ-like, showing the Christ-like characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit, so that our lives may floodlight Jesus and so attract the people of the world to Him. As Christian congregations, our unity, our fellowship and worship will be attractive, because the love amongst our members will be so real, and genuine and outgoing.
The early church grew rapidly because their mission was led by the Holy Spirit who so energised the early Christian community to fulfil the task for which the Holy Spirit had come to them. That task was to be witnesses to Jesus. The Christian community was so in love with God that that is what it did. They were witnesses and the church grew. This is not easy in our present lockdown situation, but being good neighbours, assisting the Foodbanks, etc is a good start.
The early church ‘kept its eye on the ball’. It kept focussed on the Lord Jesus Christ. So must we – in our individual lives, in the life of the church and so bear witness to him in the world in the power of Holy Spirit.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!