Anyone who uses computers knows the feeling.
You press the on button and wait – and nothing happens. Or it starts up but never finishes – it just switches on and never quite finishes loading everything. And you start to get that awful sinking feeling deep down inside. Everything is on the computer – all your email, thousands of family photos, the book you’ve been writing, twenty years’ worth of sermons! And you start to say to yourself:
- I knew I should have paid for another year of that anti-virus software
- Why on earth didn’t I install the firewall
- I know I said that backing everything up could wait until tomorrow – what on earth was I thinking
The computer is dead. And everything on it is gone. And because you didn’t look after it properly there’s no recovery, or if you’re lucky and can afford it an expert might – just might – be able to dismantle it and get your stuff off the hard disk. But there’s that lingering feeling – if only I’d done what I knew I should, everything would all be safe. If only …
If you’re sensible then – like me – you run software on your computer that continually monitors it and keeps it running at peak efficiency, and highlights problems before they cause your computer to complete crash. And you backup your files daily so they are kept safe. Not backup up is a mistake nobody makes more than once.
Of course, if you don’t have a computer you probably haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about!
In the gospel of John we hear how, when Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples, he tries to prepare them for what was to come. We have heard some of what he said over the last three Sundays in the run-up to Pentecost, in extracts from the body of teaching that Jesus gives to his disciples at the Last Supper that we call the Farewell Discourse and in his prayer in Gethsemane, sometimes called the high-priestly prayer. He is setting out the foundations for the new community that will carry on his work.
The thing is, Jesus knew full well that if he just left his disciples to get on with things after he was gone that sooner or later this new community would simply seize up! They might have managed for a while, and on the outside everything might have looked fine, but sooner or later everything would have ground to a halt. With Jesus no longer at the heart of all they were doing they couldn’t keep going for long.
So – what to do to enable the new community of the Church to grow, to prosper, and to do the greater works that Jesus promised they would do? Jesus needed to ensure that he remained at the centre, the heart, of the Christian community. Yet he was going to the Father – that’s what he told them. Jesus needed to find a way to keep the Church regularly serviced and running smoothly.
And the solution, of course, was to send the Holy Spirit. He promised his disciples: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever … the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I said to you. And today we here, in our reading from the book of Acts, how that promise is fulfilled in such a dramatic way upon the Day of Pentecost.
The way that Jesus sustains his Church, the way that Jesus is able to be right at the heart of the Christian community, his body on earth, is through the presence of his Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a bit like the software on a computer that keeps everything running at peak efficiency – the Holy Spirit is God’s way of ensuring his Church and his people run at peak efficiency. And as for that daily backup – well, we need to connect with God daily through prayer so we are kept safe.
And, of course, it is just as true today as it was then, that Jesus must be at the centre of the Church if it is to function properly and teach the world about him, make disciples. And Jesus enables this to happen by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And just like a computer that doesn’t get looked after properly, sooner or later if we don’t keep Jesus at the heart of all we do, if we don’t allow this wonderful gift of his Holy Spirit to permeate every part of our being, we’ll just seize up and stop working. At first it might not be obvious – because like all those things we can’t see inside a computer, so there’s much in the Church that we may not see underneath that’s not functioning as it should. And a Church without the Holy Spirit is like a computer where the owner has failed to take a few necessary precautions – it will keep going for a bit without anyone noticing that something is wrong and then one day, without warning, it will just totally crash and in the end be beyond repair and fit for nothing.
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower the Church, to enable his followers to carry out his will in the world. He told his disciples that once he was ascended they would do greater works than he has done. What did he mean by that? What might those greater works be?
Well, contrary to the impression given by some churches they are not polishing the brass or trying to compile rotas that keep everyone happy or making sure no one piles chairs more than five high in the Church Hall. The greater works are not going to lots of committee meetings. They are works like those of Jesus: befriending the outcasts, healing the sick, speaking up for the marginalised, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, speaking the truths of God to and about those in secular authority. And first and foremost bringing people into a living and worshipping relationship with Jesus.
Because that’s what Jesus did. And a Church with Jesus at its centre will do all those things. And a Church that does all those things will be seen to have Jesus at its centre. And a Church that is not doing those things does not have Jesus at its centre – however much it may think it does!
We can have Jesus at the centre of all we do and all we are! And all because of the gift that Jesus sends us from the Father. The Spirit who helps the Christian community remember all that Jesus did, the Spirit who helps us to know Jesus, the Spirit who helps us to be obedient to Jesus and do his work in the world. And all we have to do to receive that gift is ask – and he will come.
Let us pray
Father, open our hearts to receive your Holy Spirit into our lives and our church. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we may put Jesus at the centre of all that we are and all that we do. Through the power of your Holy Spirit may we do the works of Jesus, that our anxious and troubled world may know the peace that only Jesus can give. Amen.