Sermon preached by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington at All Saints’, Cuddesdon on Sunday 14th October 2018.
Collect God, the giver of life,
whose Holy Spirit wells up within your Church:
by the Spirit’s gifts equip us to live the gospel of Christ
and make us eager to do your will,
that we may share with the whole creation
the joys of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
It has been a blustery few days. After the golden warmth of the autumn sunshine, storm Callum has arrived. Our greenish brown lawn has been transformed into a sea of golden red leaves which have been torn from their summer home. Being surrounded by trees on our small knoll of Garsington we often hear the wind whipping through the branches and making its presence known and felt. So loud has been the effect of this invisible force that on occasion I have sent up a silent prayer in hope that the ancient oaks will survive another day of battering.
Not for nothing do we often use the image of wind to describe the mysterious presence and effect of the Holy Spirit. The spirit or breath of God blew over the formless void that was this earth, bringing it into life at the moment of creation. It tore through the upper room filling the whole house and transforming, recreating the disciples into the church at that moment of Pentecost. At baptism and confirmation we call down the same wind to fill us with the breath or wind of God that we may be enlivened, empowered and inspired by the invisible presence of God within us. It is such a powerful and breath-taking image for the work and nature of God within our daily lives. Both a force from without which is only known by being felt as a gentle breeze or awesome buffeting but also the continual rhythm from deep within our bodies which we are hardly aware of.
Today in our collect we are given another image for the nature and work of the Holy Spirit which struck me as I listened to the storms outside and felt their effect on my face when walking Flossie. This image like wind and breath is another life giving metaphor. But instead of wind from without, the Holy Spirit is described in terms of water that wells up from deep within.
All of us regardless of which village we live in, know the rather remarkable effect and nature of natural springs. It is a feature of the geology of this area where limestone meets clay for water to seep out in uncontrollable ways. Many of you probably saw the cavernous hole that such springs created at the bottom of the Oxford Road in Garsington and despite the numerous patching there is still a stream running down into Denton ready for us to slip on when the cold weather transforms it into ice. No matter how many times roads are fixed or drains dug, still the springs well up, indefatigable and undaunted.
There is something about this image being used to describe the nature and work of God which I find deeply comforting. At a time when we often feel beleaguered as a church and so much is seemingly dependant on what we do and how many people we attract, today we are reminded that renewal and regeneration is something which God continually and indefatigably works within the very core and at hidden depths of his people. Like a spring he wells up within us, tirelessly renewing and revitalising the people he loves and who love him. It is a secret, hidden force which we do not need to dig out or search for but is just given, welling up and breaking out at the most unlikely places and uncontrollable ways.
For God, all things are possible says Jesus in our gospel reading this morning. They were words given to all of us to remind us that it is not by our methods or riches or worth that the kingdom comes into being but that ultimately we are wholly and utterly dependant on God who as the Holy Spirit wells up deep within us, his church, equipping us with gifts that we may live the gospel of Christ.
And what are these gifts? In Isaiah 11 verses 1 -3, seven are named: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. How different are these from the seven fruits of the Spirit which I’m sure you know from Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And yet it seems to me that the two are deeply connected for the fruits arise out of the gifts. When we have wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord, when we place our hope, trust and strength in the power of God welling up within us then we begin to experience the comforting, life giving waters of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We become enlivened and empowered by the presence of the Spirit within our lives which cannot but flood out to transform the world around us.
So let us pray that God, the giver of life whose Holy Spirit wells up within his church this morning, by the Spirit’s gifts may equip us to live the gospel of Christ and make us eager to do his will, that we may share with the whole creation the joys of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.