Now I’ve more leisure I’ve more time for conversation around the place. Some time back I had one about spirituality with a businessman in the relaxation area at the Dolphin gym. His firm gave him a wellbeing allowance he used to go on a Buddhist meditation course. He was surprised to hear we did contemplation in the Church of England! Somehow he’d not come to see the Church as a spiritual body. I was thinking of him as I read today’s Gospel.
It is the spirit that gives life Our Lord says in the Gospel, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. All we’re about at St Richard’s - the door left open day by day, the many services we hold, the friendships built within these walls - all this is barren without the Holy Spirit’s touch upon our membership!
Reading up to this last section of St John Chapter 6 in recent weeks we’ve heard again and again from Our Lord how we must eat his flesh to have eternal life. Now we’re told at the end of the passage that flesh is of no avail, not the Flesh of the Son of God clothed this morning in the form of bread, but our flesh. When they speak of Our Lord’s intolerable language its a reference both to welcoming this Eucharistic change - bread into flesh - and to welcoming the life-giving Spirit, the living presence of God in Jesus Christ. Echoing Joshua’s words we too will serve the Lord, for he is our God in the Old Testament reading Simon Peter shows the same decisiveness: Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.
How can our spirits welcome more of the Holy Spirit? This is the question for us this morning as we take on the decisiveness invited by today’s scripture.
As I hold my hand up to God as a prayer for the Spirit it's five digits remind me of a rule of life involving worship, prayer, study, service and reflection. Sunday Mass, daily prayer, regular bible study, service to others and confessing my sins are the means by which my spirit can welcome more of the Holy Spirit.
A quick thought on each heading.
First Sunday worship. One of the things Anne and I miss leaving Horsted Keynes for Haywards Heath is sitting by the fire. The way fires burn has something about it which challenges a major spiritual deception which is that we can live a healthy Christian life as long as we go to Church on occasion. Just as coals cool when separated from one another so Christians need one another and worship especially to keep being fired by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s day in the Lord's house around the Lord's table. Each Sunday is a new Easter - and it can be a new Pentecost!
Second we welcome the Spirit of God in prayer. In prayer we affirm moment by moment what’s real. My life and my thinking is influenced all the time by material concerns which are natural to living with a body but in prayer I open myself to the primacy of the spiritual: It is the spirit that gives life. Like God’s presence prayer is invisible, an activity of the soul, though as with God it can find a voice. Without that activity life turns soul-less in the sense it loses its place within the overarching compassion, truth and empowerment of the God who is ground of our being. This is why I’m excited about the Year of Prayer and our forthcoming Week of Guided Prayer.
I remember once in Horsted Keynes attending a Council meeting which many feared could turn ugly. The police had been called. After a few affirmative words to those attending I said I agreed we were in something of a hard place and in need of a miracle. I believed good would come out of our meeting if we listened to one another and assumed the best of one another. I announced I’d spend the meeting quietly praying through the Psalms with their different moods of joy and sorrow which I did for almost three hours. One of the leaders said afterwards he believed this action had turned the mood of things. For myself I felt my heart, carrying the people around me, caught up into and carried by the prayers God himself provides for us in Scripture through the Book of Psalms.
When I pray for specific things I am more surprised when nothing happens to change things than when there’s an obvious outcome as at the village meeting.
Thirdly bible study. Prayerful reading of scripture is an indisputably powerful means of welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives and through intercession into the lives of those in our circle. This is why the church provides us with a cycle of praying through the Psalms hour by hour and day by day. We’ll have a chance in the forthcoming Week of Guided Prayer to look at ways you can pray from scripture but I’ll rest content to give one example from my own experience when parish priest in Coventry. My mother was staying with us but I’d been rather busy and hadn’t found time to really be with her. One morning during a time of what’s called Ignatian prayer I was reading Luke 7 about the raising of the widow of Nain’s son.
As I came to the words he gave him to his mother I felt convicted of neglecting my widowed mother and came back from Church to spend time with her I’d otherwise not thought to have done. My spirit had welcomed the Holy Spirit as it leapt at me out of my Bible!
Fourthly to welcome the Holy Spirit we need to give to others of our own spirit in service. Whereas rules of worship, prayer, study and reflection are relatively simply organised a rule of service is more complicated. I can make time to attend Church on Sunday, pray daily, study and regularly examine myself but making time to serve my neighbour is so open ended as to be scary. One overarching rule is to see everyone you meet as God’s gift to you. That meeting, fleeting or ongoing, is given so we see Christ before us. Here’s one of the most exciting and challenging ways of welcoming the Holy Spirit, engaging in conversations such as the one I described as having earlier at the gym which impacted me as much as my business friend.
How can our spirits welcome more of the Holy Spirit? Lastly by reflection including self examination and confession. Thinking of the power of reflection, Albert Einstein was told off as a young man for wasting time though overall he made wondrous application of his life to science.
Why do people keep so busy they have no time to reflect?
Sometimes, I’m sure, because they can’t bear the pain of facing the truth about themselves, their situation or God. Yet - if only they knew - if only we sometimes knew - with all our failings God loves us through and through. If we follow Jesus our love for the God who so loves us finds expression in a rule of life in the power of the Holy Spirit so we worship on Sunday, pray every day, study the Bible, serve our neighbour and reflect upon our lives confessing our sins.
Such is decided Christianity, the counter to superficial living, an opening up to the God of life who wants to anoint us with his Spirit. It is the spirit that gives life… The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.