The idea of receiving some divine power is definitely appealing. You will know how anti-Brexit I was when we arrived. After so much work, writing, thinking, statistics, and truth-telling – it made little or no difference. Adrian Low is powerless. When I see the 10-year-old child in Gaza asking why all this bombing is happening, and all she wants to be is a doctor – in perfect English – I know what I would do with some divine power. The disciples must have been on the edge of their seats waiting for something to happen. Jesus said it would and they would get ‘the power’. It could be used locally – to heal the sick, or nationally, to give justice to the poor, or internationally, to get the Romans out. If they had ‘the power’ it could be wielded to zap the conspirators and, ultimately, put them in charge. Wouldn’t that be best? I’ve been watching and reading The Handmaid’s tale by Margaret Atwood. It is a harrowing fictional account of the move of the USA to a so-called Christian fundamentalist right-wing nation. The male commanders suddenly insist on a totalitarian religious society wielding power over others, and the power corrupts them, absolutely so that the ethos of Christian living is lost in the horror of abuse. So it looks as though the power that came from on high did not include the ability to zap the evil ones. By 60AD Rome was still in charge, the Temple was destroyed, and the nation was sacked. Christians were thrown to the lions. So much for power, so much for asking in my name and you will receive. But if you look more closely at the nature of the Holy Spirit, the tongues of flame are not a conflagration with hair on fire but a burning candle in the heart. In Luke’s account in Acts, the Holy Spirit enables the twelve disciples to communicate with others from fifteen different locations. The key was that they all understood. It was a direct counter to the story of the tower of Babel – where humans were getting too big for their boots, building too high – God sent different languages. Something like a Just So story – how the elephant got its trunk. But more than that, the language issue is a big one – only this week do we Brits find ourselves creating trade arrangements with Australia, 12,000 miles away, having turned down free trade and free borders with Spain. Languages can set people apart or bring them together. The power from on high was, even at that stage, the power to communicate the gospel across the cultures, languages, races and borders created by humans. Look at Paul’s description of the Spirit of God. Gifts and fruits, as he calls them: Love Joy Peace Patience Kindness Goodness Gentleness Faithfulness Self-control. The word zap does not appear, nor, actually, does the word power appear in our lectionary. So the Holy Spirit is something which those who have a lust for power, don’t really want. If you start being loving, seeking peace, being gentle and self-controlled, you are not going to have the grit to be launching rockets at Tel Aviv or bombing Gaza. It is a new power, a change in people, a change of nation power. It is a power to counter the tyrants who would divide society, support racism, sexism and all the other isms, and it is a power which welcomes the refugee as an equally loved member of society, giving justice to the broken. Asking in my name works. The key is in the title. Ask in my name. It’s why we say in the name of Jesus at the end of the prayers of intercession. What we ask is what Jesus would ask. The power we claim is the power of love which overcomes, over time, all other powers in the world. Amen
Read John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
The work of the Holy Spirit
26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 ‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.’