A message for Pentecost from the Bishop of Liverpool

First published on: 15th May 2024

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ

In all of the festivals in the Christian calendar our Pentecost celebrations invite us to reflect on our church at this time and in this place. We can use the biblical stories to hold up a mirror to our lives challenging and encouraging us in our religious and spiritual lives. So as you mark Pentecost this weekend I invite you to reconsider what it can as does mean to your own life and the life and witness of your worshipping community.

At Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the Christian Church. Cowards are reborn and become heroes.  Untutored Galilean fisherman become evangelists of new faith that in one generation challenges the power of the Caesars and conquers the wisdom of the Greeks.

Pentecost is a feast of hope. We cannot live productively without hope. Pentecost reminds us of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power that it gives to life, with the assurance that “the best is yet to be.” It is as Evelyn Underhill wrote two months before her death: “Easter and Pentecost complete the Christian mystery by showing us first Our Lord himself and then his chosen apostles possessed of a new power – the Spirit, which changed every situation in which they were placed. Our idea of Christianity is distorted and incomplete unless we rely on it.”

On this great feast of Pentecost we should give ourselves freely to the deep hope and assurance that a better world and a strengthened church must issue from our present confusion and chaos – a world “full of the goodness of the Lord.”

The Spirit grants the power of peace and union. Since Pentecost, the wonderful gifts of the Spirit were lavishly given to God’s people, but as the Corinthian church makes it clear, Pentecost did not remove problems, rather it caused more difficulties. The greater the presence of the Spirit, the more gifted are God’s people. These gifts tend to make people jealous, defensive and eventually aggressive.

This is why the power of forgiveness was granted simultaneously when Jesus breathed upon the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Whenever there exist the abundant gifts of the Spirit, there will have to be some readiness to forgive. Jesus also said “Peace be with you” showing his hands. The marks of the nails and the imprint of the spear point out the need to suffer for one another. This calls for an attitude of patient endurance.

Pentecost seeks to create a community of exceptionally gifted people wherein each member is brilliant in her or his own way, a community that turns out to be balanced and well put together. We need not fear the gifts of the Spirit, if we are united in prayer and in shared ambitions. We must only remember that our finest gifts can turn against us and become our worst sins, if we do not seek a strong bond of peace with all our neighbours.

The gifts are not reliable signs of a Spirit-led life. Gifts or talents are distributed among God’s people for building the body of Christ, the Church. This is done in divine sovereignty, not based on the merits of the individual concerned. 

On the other hand, spirit-filled (spirit-controlled) life is one of consistent worship of God, joyful fellowship with fellow-believers, thankfulness to God for everything and submission to each other in the community of believers (Eph. 5:18-21). Such life will be recognized by the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

How can we cooperate with the Spirit in his transforming mission in the world, without earnestly listening to what the Spirit is saying and doing in our midst? This is where prayer and our collective discernment become imperatives. Prayer can be an exposure to the Spirit in our own depths – a Spirit who intends to subvert the inner structures that are too narrow and badly built. Then we shall stop our search for spectacular spiritual ‘experiences’, and learn to experience the power of the Spirit in our ordinary circumstances and surroundings. We will not run away from the hard and darker aspects of human life. Rather we will find the spirit at work there.

Come Holy Spirit, the subversive and transforming Lord, renew us and your creation. Amen.

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