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  • alisonwale

Be Prepared.

On this Pentecost Sunday, our Lay Worship Leader, Alison, led our service of Holy Eucharist, reminding us of the need to be ready and expectant for the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Acts 2:1-21

  • 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

  • John 20:19-23

  • Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Can you imagine the scene: sitting with your friends in a room together, when suddenly, without warning, there is a rushing wind, flames dancing above your head, and an overwhelming feeling that you can speak any language necessary…You can no longer stay seated, but you need to rush out into the street and accost strangers. I think that you would be concerned that you were having a seizure of some kind, rather than thinking about the Holy Spirit.

But of course, to the disciples, the friends of Jesus who were gathered in that room, it was not without warning. I think perhaps we forget that. We assume that they had no idea what was happening, but ever since his resurrection – in fact, even before his death – Jesus had been preparing them for this very occasion and teaching them how to prepare themselves.

The disciples knew that Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit, although before the events of Pentecost they did not really know what form this would take. However, they knew they could trust Jesus not to go back on his promises, and they had learned that God and his promises could be trusted. So, they understood that the promise made that they would receive the Holy Spirit would be fulfilled.

Not only did they know they could trust Jesus to fulfil his promise, but they also realised that they had to prepare themselves for what he had promised. And so, they followed the instructions that they had been given and were sustained by their belief in the risen Christ. In the past few weeks, we have heard how they met together, supported each other, and prayed together, and through this careful preparation they were ready when the Holy Spirit did come. At the Ascension Jesus had told them you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and they had come together immediately after this momentous event to pray, to stay together and to strengthen each other They were ready and open to do God’s work and to follow God’s will. As it says in Acts 1:14,” they all joined constantly in prayer.” and this prayer was a vital ingredient in their preparation.

Another important part of their preparation was to truly understand who Jesus was. Remember, they had known Jesus the man, and although they had seen him as the Risen Christ I suspect it was Jesus’ humanity that was still their overriding memory of him. But he was no longer a man; instead, he was the Risen glorified Christ, ascended into heaven. In his manhood Jesus was, to a certain extent, limited in what he could do. As the risen Son of God, there were, there are no limits to his power. He is omnipotent. The disciples had to let go of the Jesus they knew and be ready to take on a new understanding of him. They had to let his power envelop them and enfold them; they had to understand that Jesus is everywhere, both within them and outside of them. They had to be aware too that this power was theirs for the asking. This is why it was so important that they witnessed the Ascension: seeing their beloved Master taken up to his rightful place in Heaven helped them to comprehend that Jesus was no longer the human Master they had served but was now truly the Son of God.

On this day of Pentecost, we remember how the Holy Spirit came, like a rushing wind, like a cleansing fire, to the disciples. But the Holy Spirit is a dynamic, living, challenging being. The Spirit does not descend upon us once and then depart, never to be experienced again. If we are open, as the disciples were open, then the Holy Spirit fills us again and again; the Spirit is within us, leading us, challenging us, comforting us. As Christians we have already experienced what he can do if we are open. Our acceptance of Christ into our lives may have been a very charismatic event, with speaking in tongues or other such manifestations, or it may have been a much more sedate affair with a deep sense of God’s presence, and assurance of God’s forgiveness. It doesn’t matter which it was. If we sensed God and felt forgiven then God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, WAS THERE!

I am sure I have told you this story before, but I remember when I’d first become a Christian I was full of joy and ready to share how I felt. I was stopped by a street evangelist in the centre of Liverpool who asked me if “I knew the Lord”? I replied that yes, I’d just become a Christian and yes, I did know the Lord. Have you spoken in tongues she asked. No, I replied. Well then, came the devastating reply, you’re not a Christian. As a young Christian that answer almost destroyed me. Luckily, I was able to talk this through with a more mature believer who reassured me that God had accepted me, that God loved me, that my faith was real and valid and valued. I wish now that I could meet that evangelist again and tell her that I was sure of God’s forgiveness on that May lunch time when I accepted Christ as my Saviour, and that the Holy Spirit was there and rejoicing whether I was speaking in tongues or not!

What I am saying is, that whatever form our acceptance of Jesus’ Lordship took, we had been prepared for that moment of surrender. Maybe, like me, others had been involved in that preparation, as I was led by loving friends and family to explore my faith and beliefs. Maybe you were prepared in a way you were not aware of, with God dropping hints along the way, that you didn’t notice until you suddenly were faced with that question “Who do you say I am?” In whatever way we had been prepared, our hearts were open to the Spirit, and we received the Spirit’s blessing. If we had not been prepared we would not have been ready to receive that power. Just as, if the disciples had not been prepared, they would not have been ready, or able to receive it.

As Christians we still need to prepare, and we need to expect that the Holy Spirit will work through our prayers and through our lives. We need to prepare in order to see the Spirit working in our lives, and we ought to expect to see him working. Like the disciples, we need to commit ourselves to prayer, to good works, to being together and supporting each other. In this way, we will be ready for whatever the Holy Spirit asks of us, either individually or collectively as a church.

It is the same when we come into church: what do we expect to happen? Do we anticipate being challenged, being blessed, to see the Spirit working, or do we actually not expect anything? This is why it is important to take at least a moment before the start of the service to open ourselves to God’s spirit. If we just breezed into church at twenty-five past ten, sat down and waited for it all to happen...then most likely it won’t. What we need to do is to make ourselves ready, to focus on God and what he has done for us, what he wants for us, and what he will do for us if only we are ready. The Holy Spirit will descend on us, but only if we are ready for him. One way to make ready is to spend time before the service in prayer, and worship, in order to open our hearts.

If we followed the example of the early Christians, by praying for, and expecting the presence of, the Spirit then I believe he could work more fully in us. The Holy Spirit needs an open channel and can’t enter us and renew us if we aren’t ready. All the prayers, sermons and hymns in the world will not make us open unless we are prepared, expectant and willing.

Sometimes I know it is difficult to focus on God, to make ourselves ready to worship God. In that frame of mind, it becomes nigh on impossible to really be open. I used to get very concerned about the fact that I often did not feel like praying, that it often seemed like a chore and that I wasn’t really willing to meet with God. And then I read a book called “Teach us to pray” by WE Sangster which helped me to face the problems I was having. I’d like to read a passage from that book.

Our prayers are more acceptable offered when we don’t feel like it than when we do...When we pray not feeling like it we bring God not only the content of our prayer, but a disciplined spirit. We have kept our appointment with him against inclination. We have displeased ourselves in order to please him and his pleasure is real.... What if your spirit is so cold you still don’t want to pray? Keep the appointment...Tell God you have no inclination to pray...still you will be welcome”.

And so our own preparation to meet God may be the same. We may not feel like it, we may be worried about other things, and if we continued to worry or to think about not feeling like it then we are not open. But, if we admit to God how we are feeling God understands. Not only does he understand but he accepts and welcomes us still. And not only that but having opened ourselves to God, and still said “I’m here. Use me” even when we know we don’t feel like it shows that we are serious about our relationship with him, and that we are open to his will.

It is the same in our everyday lives. I remember a prayer group meeting many years ago, when we were sharing ways in which we felt the Spirit was working through us. It was my turn, and I sighed deeply, and said “To be honest, I don’t think the Spirit DOES work through me.”

Quick as a flash came the response, “Yes, but are you expecting him to?”

That brought me up short, and I realised that in fact I hadn’t been expecting the Spirit to use me, I couldn’t even see how the Spirit might use me, and in this negative frame of mind...well, he couldn’t!

We need to say that we don’t always know how the Spirit will work in us, but we know that the Spirit will. I have to trust that the Holy Spirit will use me and my talents, just as I believe he will use you and your talents for the service that he has in mind for us just as long as we are open, and ready, and expectant. In the same way, the disciples and followers of Jesus had no idea that first Pentecost how the Spirit was going to use them – and they would probably have been shocked if they had had an inkling! – but they knew that now they had been filled with the Holy Spirit they could do anything.

As we heard in the Gospel reading, Jesus sent the disciples out in God’s name to bring about the Kingdom; he does the same to us. Just as Jesus prayed for the disciples, he prayed for us, and he expected the Holy Spirit to work through us. All I can say is that if Jesus expected the Spirit to work through us, who are we to think otherwise!

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