June 2019

Helping you out of your comfort zone

This month sees the Feast of Pentecost - the third of the most important Christian festivals in the year. It commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit. And that presents problems. People have o issues with imagining what Jesus looked like: he was, after all, a human being, although western European representations of him tend to make him look curiously western European. God is often depicted as an old man - why, I have no idea: whatever else God is, he is not a human being. The Holy Spirit seems to lie well beyond the outer possibilities of human imagination. And that is a good thing, for if you try to imagine anything to do with God in simply human terms, you haven’t really thought about him(or her).

The idea of the spirit of God was not new. It appears in both of the creation stories at the start of Genesis. In the first - the six day creation myth - creation begins when the spirit of God moves over the face of the water; in the second - the Adam and Eve myth - when God makes man, he takes a handful of dust and breathes on it, and man becomes a living being. the Spirit is understood from the beginning as something which is creative and life-giving. 

Jesus tries to help his followers understand the nature of the Spirit by giving it a number of names, including one which is often translated into English as ‘The Comforter’. This is not necessarily helpful. It makes it sound like your favourite blanket, or like something that says to you ‘there, there: never mind’. And I fear there are some areas of the church - not here, obviously - where that idea takes hold, and where the Christian community appears to be a smug lot of pious people very pleased with being themselves. There are danger signs that this idea might be catching on. Is the Christian community all too ready to criticise? Is it judgmental? Does it expect other people to come and join it rather than go out and be with other people where they are? Is it unwelcoming? Does it scream in terror as the prospect of doing things differently? Because if any of those things apply, the Holy Spirit is not being a ‘Comforter’ as Jesus means it. 

The word, from its Latin roots, means ‘being strong together’. And that is the sort of spirit that any Christian community needs to have. For any true Christian community is one which moves forward. it is a community of people on a pilgrimage, and you can;t be on a pilgrimage if you are not prepared to move. And that can be challenging. That is why a Christian community needs to be a supportive one, it needs to help those who are finding the pilgrimage difficult, and it needs to recognise that you are never on a pilgrimage if you are just on your own. A Christian community needs to have a sense of being together, and it needs to strengthen itself and all its members. And the Holy Spirit is there at all times to help, to encourage, to cajole, to inspire.

The Feast of Pentecost has never, mercifully, attracted the attention of the commercial world in the way in which Christmas and Easter have. But it is central to our faith. God our creative Father makes us creative: Jesus his loving and forgiving son makes us loving and forgiving: the Holy Spirit, strengthening and inspiring, helps us to strengthen and inspire others. If we,as Christians, think we do not need that, we have not really begun to understand the nature of our faith.