'When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.’ Acts 2:1
Brothers and sisters, this morning we gathered together twice. We first gathered to receive Christ’s forgiveness, to hear His word read, and then to receive Christ in the sacrament. This first gathering is what unites us, and what gives us the strength to be Christians in the world. However, today we also had a second gathering. We gathered after today’s eucharist for our Annual Parish meeting, when we discussed the practical side of our life together. This second gathering was about the budget, and reflected the very many ways in which so many people offer their varied gifts in the service of Christ. Unity and diversity. We gathered in both cases as a diverse bunch of people, united in following Christ; but how do we ensure we are united? And how do we ensure that our uniting does not strip us of our God-given differences? For an answer, let’s turn to our main reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles, the first eleven verses of chapter two. Let us go back to the origin of the Church, to the day of Pentecost.
In verse 1 (printed above) we find the beginning of a unity, the Christians were all in one place. They were gathered together, as we were gathered together this morning. But think for a moment about the Apostles, some of them were fishermen, but there were also others, like Matthew, who was an educated tax collector. They were from different backgrounds and different social contexts. In terms of character, some were meek and others were excitable; they all had different ideas and personalities. Now look at v4: ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.’ Again, there is a sign of unity, as all received the Holy Spirit, but notice here too is diversity. Jesus did not change them; He did not make them into a set of pre-packaged models. No. He left their differences but united them by anointing them with the Holy Spirit. With the anointing comes their union – union in diversity. Pentecost is God giving Himself to His Church, to unite them - not as clones, but as diverse individuals - all with the same task, which they complete in as many different ways as there are people. Now come forward two thousand years, to the Church of today. We can ask ourselves: “What is it that unites us, what is the basis of our unity?”. We too have our differences, and the temptation is always fiercely to defend our ideas, believing them to be good for everybody and agreeing only with those who think as we do. We might think that all that unite us as Christians are our beliefs and our morality. But there is much more: our principle source of unity is the Holy Spirit. He reminds us that, as Christians, we are God’s beloved children; all equal, in this respect, and all different. The Spirit comes to us - in our differences and difficulties - to tell us that we have one Lord – Jesus – and one Father, and that for this reason - and this reason alone - we are brothers and sisters! Let us start again from here; let us look at the Church with the eyes of the Spirit and not as the world does. The world often sees us only as on the right or left, with one ideology or the other. The spirit sees us as sons and daughters of the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus. The world sees conservatives and progressives; the spirit sees children of God. A worldly gaze sees structures to be made more efficient; a spiritual gaze sees brothers and sisters asking for forgiveness. The Spirit loves us and knows everyone’s place in the grand scheme of things: for Him, we are not bits of confetti blown about by the wind, rather we are irreplaceable fragments in His mosaic.
If we go back to the day of Pentecost, we discover that the first task of the Church is proclamation. The Apostles set off: unprepared, yet putting their lives on the line. One thing kept them going: the desire to give what they had received. Here we come to the secret of unity, the secret of the Holy Spirit. The secret of unity in the Church - the secret of the Holy Spirit - is that it comes as a gift. For the Spirit Himself is a gift: He lives by giving Himself and in this way He keeps us together, making us sharers in the same gift. It is important to believe that God is a giver, that He acts not by taking away, but by giving. Why is this important? Because our way of being believers depends on how we understand God. If we have in mind a God who takes away and who imposes Himself, we too will want to take away and impose ourselves. But, if we have in our hearts a God who is Gift, everything changes. If we realise that what we have received is a gift, free and unmerited, then we too will want to make our lives a gift. As we give ourselves to God in worship, we are then more freely able to give ourselves to the world in service of Jesus’ Gospel. Then, we will be united in our mission, as we are united and sent out by the Spirit, and we will still be diverse. If there is a danger to this first gathering - to the gathering of the Eucharist - it is that people might think that I have all the gifts, and my task is to make you like me! I have my gifts to be sure, but even in this gathering there are others’ gifts on display. But in our second gathering this morning even more diverse gifts were on display. Gifts of finance. Gifts of organisation. Gifts of representing your diverse opinions to the structures of the Church. This Church of St George is hugely and beautifully diverse, and under God - and through the Gift of His Spirit - we are called to be united in our mission to worship God, and to take His Gospel to the world. We gathered this morning then, in unity and diversity. Called to use our individual gifts - our individual personalities, our individual ways of seeing things - for the same purpose and united by the same Holy Spirit. Diverse and yet united through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that - in the quietness of our own hearts - we would be filled afresh by the Spirit, so that, united with our brothers and sisters, we might use the diverse gifts we have been given to take God’s Gospel, to God’s World. Amen. (from Fr. Mike).