Sunday 9th June 2019 - Pentecost
Romans 8.14-17 and John 14. 8-17 and 25-27
May I speak in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have been privileged to preach on the Day of Pentecost for the last 3 years and this year, instead of Acts and looking at the Holy Spirit’s coming and receiving His wonderful gifts, I thought I would like to think about the other aspect of His coming, the fruit and how we begin to show a family likeness within the family of God. The Jews were always addressed as the Children of Israel but from Pentecost, through Jesus, believers become Children of God.
In Romans, Paul writes about the Holy Spirit working within us to convince us we really are God’s children, sons and daughters, adopted into His family through Jesus. I worked in adoption for most of my working life and I loved to see how children and young people, with so much damage and baggage, so distrustful and some not even knowing what to expect from “daddy and mummy people”, because they had no reliable role models to check with, only pain and rejection and hurt, became happy, well adjusted people able to return love.
I remember working with two very young children whose lives had been dominated by abuse. They had no meaningful attachments to any adult, they would have walked off happily with anyone who was kind to them. I worked with them for over a year before they were placed with a lovely couple, who felt they knew the road ahead. But the lack of attachment was so hard to deal with. The mother began to feel like giving in. We worked together each week and after several months, something wonderful happened which she totally missed but which proved the turning point in what became a very successful family.
The little girl had a slightly older brother who delighted in frightening her until she became inconsolable and lost, never seeking comfort because she never expected to find any. One day I was reading with them both and with mum, and the little boy did his usual scary thing, saying a huge slug was inside the juicy lettuce and would choke the baby rabbit!!! I still remember). The little girl then ran to her mother and cuddled onto her knee. Mum proceeded to scold the little boy until I asked her to look at what had happened. She said her naughty son was spoiling the book again, but no! Her little girl had suddenly realised where her safety and comfort lay, in her mother’s arms. Simple but wonderful and the beginning of a close attachment to a parent who had showed consistent loving care and had quietly and gently, and almost imperceptibly, showed her love in a way which created trust and attachment for this damaged, frightened little girl. It was the start of something wonderful, where an adopted child learned to trust and over the coming months imitated her mother’s care in her play and interaction with others.
Can you see how very much like this little girl we can be? Do we notice the little things which show us our Father cares and consciously acknowledge the safety we find in Him? Life throws all sorts at us; we learn fear, we learn rejection, we learn anger, we learn so many things which can make us feel “where is God,” “does He really love me?” And quietly and gently, God waits like the Father of the prodigal son and my adoptive mum. Even when we know Him, it is possible to stifle the work of the Holy Spirit as He tries to convince us that God is truly our Father. And learning to trust helps us turn to God as a good parent, to guide us through the scary stuff, the hurtful stuff, and as our attachment grows stronger, we look to Him for how to behave, and as the Holy Spirit nurtures our trust, we start to bear the family likeness. We start to see things differently, more as God our Father would, and we feel less fearful, less angry and rejection doesn’t destroy us, because we know where acceptance and love lie and they are as accessible as our mother’s laps were when we sought her comfort and assurance.
Within birth families too, there are shared characteristics and traits, ways of looking at the world and ways of reacting. My ten grandchildren all look different and have such different characters and yet there is a family likeness throughout. We will say, goodness I can see Alex in Frank, or isn’t Ellie like her mum. And if there is a trait like for instance, temper, the comments may be different. My 1 year granddaughter is a joy, always smiling and giggling, and full of activity and life, learning new things every moment but she is already fiercely independent and will “paddy” if she is thwarted! My son says, “oh she has Jen’s temper” and Jen will say, “just like her dad”!!! But of course everything wonderful comes from her Nan!! It’s a comfortable family thing and we rejoice in the uniqueness of each member and also take such joy in family traits which we see as making them belong, making them ours. Think how God boasted to Satan about Job, His pride in His child so apparent.
Families share values and memories and this is an important part of belonging, something adopted children take some time to adapt to. As the adoptive family remark on granddad’s quirky ways or some other personal funny memory, every one laughs and the adopted child can feel excluded. They didn’t know that person or go on that holiday and great sensitivity is needed, not only to explain and include them but also to create new memories and funny family tales which they can share fully in: Chat about their parents and family on equal footing with other family members. It has to be a personal as well as a family thing.
And this is true of our Christian family too. We can be adopted as babies through our Baptism and know nothing other than God’s consistent love, or we can come as damaged young people who slowly learn to trust, or we can even come as adults who have very set ideas and much anger and fear, knowing rejection from many things, maybe even an unloving church. And here we must be so careful not to use “church speak,” which can exclude those who are newly entered God’s family and church life. It can take time to belong, it can take a lot of love, patience, acceptance and belief to really fit in and trust the prompting of the Holy Spirit as He heals and comforts and teaches us the truth about our God. Then He encourages us to bear the fruit associated with our heavenly and spiritual family. It doesn’t happen overnight and can sometimes come only at the end of our lives. But the truth remains, we are God’s family, God’s children and the Holy Spirit works consistently to build a strong attachment so that the character of Jesus starts to replace our old allegiances and worldly family traits.
Let’s just look at what Jesus says and remember that verse 18 which we haven’t read says, “I will not leave you as orphans.” Jesus is so clear, when we see Him and the things He does, we have seen our Father. Believing this, others should see Jesus and the Father in us, the family traits, the fruit of His Spirit and we will do the things which He does, because we are so part of Him and Him of us, that our family likeness is for all to see and comment on. When we love our enemy and forgive the unforgiveable things we hold onto, we are showing the character of Christ. When we show love to strangers, feed the hungry, reach out to touch the untouchables, mix and share with the people on the margins of society, we are showing a true family likeness. Like the little girl in her new family, instead of hitting out, she learned to nurture and she learned to give.
Jesus set the perfect example and although we weren’t there to share the memories, we have the Bible. Like an adopted child, we can share the family memories; we can be part of our Lord’s life in a real way and belong to Him throughout time. We read the stories and hear His words. We see the miracles and with modern technology we can see photos of the Mount of Olives, we can walk the wild paths of Galilee, we can see the tomb, the place of the Cross, these aren’t things which belong only to the first followers, they are there for us to enjoy and gain a better understanding of our Lord’s life.
When I worked with adopted children, I always made them a Life Story Book and even for my own grandchildren, each has a Life Story Book with all my memories of the family they may never meet. I know it may be a social workery thing but I have memories of family long gone whose influence lives on in my stories. In the same way, how else would we know Peter was impetuous or Judas betrayed Jesus or Mary and Martha adored spending time with their wonderful friend? All these stories are so important and the Bible is, in so many ways, our Life Story Book. The Holy Spirit leads into truth and He has inspired men and women over the centuries to write their stories, their memories, and their experiences. Some very painful, some full of joy but life is about suffering and joy and all these stories are important for us. Through them, we learn of the family to which we now belong, we get to know our Father, through the life of His Son and His people.
And there are modern day testimonies. We all have them, things which God has done for us which increases our faith day by day. We all enjoyed Father Alan’s life story, a truly inspirational modern testimony. Last week Rev Vincent asked what came to mind when we thought of the Holy Spirit, and there were many answers, from the congregation, and also the Bible. Peace, wisdom, comfort, an advocate, just to name a few.
The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost in a powerful and amazing way, like fire and a rushing wind. He made His coming known to all and created a whole new family of God. We are part of that, centuries later and surely the longing of us all, is not just to receive the wonderful gifts the Spirit offers us but also to become so like our Lord, that people say, I can Jesus in that person. Belonging to the family of God is the most precious and wonderful gift there ever could be. The gift of Pentecost.