Monday, 4 April 2016

Breathe on me breath of God

The cross of Christ, shorthand for the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the world is tremendously important but it is not the whole of Easter.
The resurrection of Jesus on Sunday is also tremendously important, an event without which Christianity would not exist and in which we see God’s vindication of Jesus and the future of all creation, but that too is not the whole of Easter.
The completion of the Easter event is accomplished through the giving of the Holy Spirit so that the Easter event is given legs in the church to carry the transforming message of Easter to the whole world.
The whole Easter event can be described by the shorthand of Cross, Resurrection, and Pentecost.
And in the Bible there are two stories that describe the giving of the Spirit. One is Pentecost inself, which you will find in the book of Acts and the other we heard in John’s gospel this morning when Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”
This happens in John’s gospel  on Easter Sunday. The two different stories fulfill different functions. 
Pentecost in Jesus’ time had become a time when they celebrated the gift of the Torah, also known as the “Law of Moses”. One of the emphasis of Judaism of course was that one day that law would be written on our hearts so having the giving of the Spirit on that day carried enormous significance and also carried with it universal nature of the Spirit symbolised by all the different nationalities present hearing the same message in their own language at the same time.
The giving of the Spirit in John emphasises the connection with Easter and also the moral dimension of the church that “if we forgive the sins of any they are forgiven and if we retain the sins of any, they are retained.
The emphasis given by Luke in Acts and in John’s gospel cannot be separated from eachother. One is not right and the other wrong. We need both.
And this little extract from Acts is a perfect little creedal statement that binds the cross, the resurrection and the preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit together, and is also a lovely Trinitarian statement that binds Father Son and Holy Spirit together. There is no doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the New Testament but these few lines from Acts come as close as you can get.
The completion of Easter is conveyed in verse 32 when the Apostles state;
“And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those that obey him.”
In Revelation the Holy Spirit is described as the “seven spirits” before the throne of God. Seven in the book of Revelation means completeness or perfection, and in the same way John’s revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Asia. Now of course there were more than seven churches in Asia but here symbolically Revelation is being addressed to the whole church as well as individual churches and that includes us of course.
In the messages in Revelation to the seven different churches you can see all the different kinds of churches, their virtues and their deficiencies and we can learn from them because in a way they are simultaneously also being addressed to us.
Even more specifically those letter are addressed to the “angel” of those particulachurches. The Angel of the church embodies the character and general state and health of the church.
Possibly the most interesting exercise on our away day to Alnmouth was trying to discern the character of the Angel of this church, Holy Saviours Tynemouth. The most common image that came through was the image of a wounded angel.
The images chosen depicted hobbling angels, disgruntled angels, angry angels. It is important to note that the character of an angel in not fixed but is just a reflection of the current state because all the message to the churches in Revelation carry an exhortation to change.
Holy Saviours Tynemouth needs to be nursed back to Spiritual health. Recuperation is never a short process, it takes time, and sometimes a patient doesn’t like the medicine, but the medicine has to be taken if the recovery is to be as quick as it can be.
The alternative is to stay on the sickbed and refuse the healing that Jesus offers.
I would characterise Thomas in John’s gospel in that light. A journey from Unbelief to belief, from fragmentation to wholeness, from spiritual death to life, a journey to a place where Thomas could say “My Lord and my God”.
Thomas’ journey is our journey.  Instead of the resurrected body to put our fingers into we have the Holy Spirit to directly experience instead.  This is our inheritance of faith to which we must be true. 
Robert Warren was asked what the church needed to do to survive and thrive and he gave a very interesting answer. Most of all We had to be true to our inheritance of faith. They were named as scripture and the Holy Spirit.

This my friends is how our angel will be nursed back to health.  Through serious engagement with scripture and the Holy Spirit.  

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