Sunday, 12 June 2011

Grey skies and grey seas ... where has summer gone?

Grey skies and grey seas in Portrane this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Day of Pentecost. I was in three churches in Fingal in north Co Dublin – Kenure (Rush), Holmpatrick (Skerries) and Saint George’s, Balbriggan – to celebrate the birthday of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But after yesterday’s wonderful sunshine in this golden coastal region, the rain returned with vengeance today. On the road from Rush to Skerries, the tide was in and the waves were choppy. Back on the road again, on the coastal road from Skerries to Balbriggan, the rain was coming down.

Three consecutive services in one church after another are difficult to time precisely, and by the time we got to Balbriggan we were already running behind schedule.

By the time I was heading back into the city centre the rain was heavy and there was considerable surface water on the road, making visibility difficult. Where has summer gone to?

John's Lane in the rain ... behind Christ Church Cathedral this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

I had a double espresso in La Dolce Vita in Cow’s Lane (Temple Bar), before Choral Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral. There I read the first lesson (Joel 2: 21-32), which re-emphasised the account of the first Pentecost in the readings from the Acts of the Apostles in the each of the three churches this morning.

There was an extra Pentecost joy at Choral Evensong when the Cathedral Choir sang as the anthem Edward Elgar’s The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me, which is the prelude to his 1903 oratorio, The Apostles, Op. 43, written four years after the London premiere of his Enigma Variations.

Three of us went around the corner to Bottega Toffoli in Castle Street for coffee, and then two of us returned to Fingal for a family visit in Portrane. Below the Quay in Portrane, the sea was still choppy, and the waves were still churning the sea onto the Burrow Beach.

Oh where has the summer gone, indeed>

Waiting on the Holy Spirit in Balbriggan

Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’... a peaceful scene at the Harbour in Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 12 June 2011: The Day of Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin:

12 noon, Morning Prayer.

Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; I Corinthians 12: 3b-13; John 20: 19-23


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

So often we think the gift of the Holy Spirit is something to consider only at ordinations or confirmations, or as a gift only or Charismatic Evangelicals to talk about. But the gift of the Holy Spirit does not stop being effective the day after confirmation, the day after ordination, or the day after hearing someone speaking in tongues.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is the beginning, the birthday, of the Church. And this gift does not cease being effective after the Day of Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times.

The Orthodox Church speaks of the Church as the realised or lived Pentecost, for Pentecost is about the gift of the Holy Spirit and is the Birthday of the Church, founded through the preaching of the Apostles and the baptism of the thousands that day who came to believe in the Good News of Christ.

On that Pentecost morning, as we read this morning, the disciples were full of fear and hiding, when suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rushing wind, filling the entire house. Tongues of fire appeared, one on each of the Apostles, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 1-4).

When the people in Jerusalem heard this, they came to hear the Apostles, speaking in their own languages (Acts 2: 5-6). Some even thought the Apostles were drunk (Acts 2: 7-13). But on that day, about 3,000 people were baptised. The story goes on to tell us that the newly baptised continued daily to hear the Apostles’ teaching, joining the early Church for fellowship, the breaking of bread, and for prayer – just as we do at the Eucharist – and the Church grew in numbers each day (Acts 2: 42-47).

At Pentecost, we the promise of the Holy Spirit given by the Risen Christ in our Gospel reading is fulfilled. With that gift, the Church is brought together in diversity and sustained in unity.

This is the Holy Spirit that is to guide the Church in our missionary endeavours – not just throughout the world, but here in this diocese, in this parish, yes, in Balbriggan too.

This is the Holy Spirit that nurtures the Body of Christ, the Church, in truth and in love.

And yet I know if I were to ask most people, they probably think of the Holy Spirit as some invisible appendix of God the Father and God the Son, something or someone that comes down at Pentecost; perhaps, that gave us gifts at confirmation; but something or someone best not to talk about too much in case someone thinks we are too enthusiastic about Christianity, about religion.

Thinking about the Holy Spirit is more difficult because of the images of the Holy Spirit in traditional Christian art: a dove in paintings and stained-glass windows that looks more like a homing pigeon; or tongues of fire dancing around the meekly-bowed heads of people hiding together in the upper room.

We think, perhaps, that it is best to leave sermons about the Holy Spirit to this day, the Day of Pentecost, or to once-a-year Confirmation services, and let the rest of us get on for the rest of the year with God being God the Father or God the Son.

But the Holy Spirit is not an added-on extra, or some sort of after-thought after the Resurrection and Ascension.

When it comes to the point in the Apostles’ Creed today where we say “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” do we really believe that this is the Holy Spirit who, in the words of the Nicene Creed, is “the Lord, the giver of life,” in the Holy Spirit as the way in which God “has spoken through the prophets”?

As a regular blogger, I post every day or two with my lecture notes, my sermons, or my walks on the beach, especially in Fingal, in north Co Dublin, about travelling, local history, music, architecture and poetry. But I seldom know whether those postings have any impact once they go out into cyberspace.

About three years ago, as I faced some personal difficulties and problems, I blogged some reflections on those reassuring words from Dame Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

I wrote how Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond her own pain and suffering and to look into the compassionate face of God. In this she was reassured that – despite her pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, “all shall be well.”

Almost immediately, a former work colleague rang to know if I was all right. He offered a friendly ear, and his response was comforting and consoling. He had been moved by the Spirit.

Over the years, there were few other responses to this posting. Then, last month, an anonymous reader posted, saying: “Thank you for this gift. [I r]eceived very difficult news this past week and kept looking for a silver lining – some way to give thanks to God for what has happened in my life … In reading the words ‘All shall be well . . .’ was a great reminder of the hope that Christ gives us and as well, that Christ is with us each second of the day. Thank you again for the reminder of ‘God with us’ no matter what.”

It was a response out of the blue. And after three years it put my own difficulties then in perspective. Three years later someone else found comfort in my own reflections on my own sorrows.

I don’t know who this person is, or where she lives. But if this was the only blog-post that I had a response to, if this was the only reader I had for the past three years, then all the other postings were worth it. We cannot control, quantify or restrict the way in which the Holy Spirit uses or values our work, or uses us to work with others. And for most of the time, we’re better off not knowing.

When I shared this experience with some colleagues recently, one of them was reminded of a saying in the Talmud – one of the sacred texts of Judaism: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” [Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 1 (22a); Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a.]

It is a saying found throughout rabbinic literature, that is repeated in the Quran, and that inspired Oskar Schindler, the hero of the movie Schindler’s List.

As our conversation continued, one colleague told of a man who had turned up in his church that week for a quiet mid-day service. The man, now in his mid-40s, was visiting Ireland on business. He had often visited churches and cathedrals, but had never before been so moved as he was by this mid-day Eucharist.

He approached my friend afterwards and asked for a quiet moment. He wanted to be baptised ... there and then. He had been moved by the Holy Spirit.

My friend asked him to wait, to come back in an hour or two. And he did. Two parishioners stood as sponsors or godparents. It was all over in 10 or 15 minutes. The man rang his wife full of joy. He felt he had arrived where he ought to be. Outwardly, he was full of joy. Inwardly, he had arrived, he was at home, he had found his peace with God.

What had happened? The Holy Spirit had moved, and he had responded.

“Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

God never leaves us alone. This is the promise Christ gives the disciples, the whole church, in our Gospel reading. We need have no fears, for the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space.

And as a sign or a token of this, as a promise of this, Christ says in our Gospel: “Peace be with you.”

If you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift at your Confirmation, the gift that we all receive as the Church at Pentecost, how then do you let others know? How do I share that peace? Can I truly forgive others as Christ forgives me?

If the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and is living in me, then who am I an advocate for? Who do I speak up for when there is no-one else to speak up for them? Who am I, in my own small, quiet, un-dramatic way, an Oskar Schindler for?

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand. And that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways rather than in the big dramatic ways.

Don’t put down or dismiss the small efforts to make this a better world. “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Gandhi once said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And he also said: “Only he who is foolish enough to believe that he can change the world, really changes it.”

And sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and leading others to be there too.

And so, may all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This sermon was preached at Morning Prayer in Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, on the Day of Pentecost, 12 June 2011

Waiting on the Holy Spirit in Skerries

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” ... looking across to the towers and spires of Holmpatrick from Skerries Mills (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 12 June 2011: The Day of Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries, Co Dublin:

10.30 a.m., Holy Communion.

Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; I Corinthians 12: 3b-13; John 20: 19-23


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Quite often, we think the gift of the Holy Spirit is something to consider only at ordinations or confirmations, or merely as a gift for Charismatic Evangelicals. But the gift of the Holy Spirit does not stop being effective the day after confirmation, the day after ordination, or the day after hearing someone speaking in tongues.

The gift of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning, the birthday, of the Church. And this is a gift that does not cease to be effective after Pentecost Day. The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times.

In the Orthodox Church, they speak of the Church as the realised or lived Pentecost, for Pentecost recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit and the Birthday of the Church, founded through the preaching of the Apostles and the baptism of the thousands on that day who came to believe in the Good News of Christ.

On that Pentecost morning, as we read this morning, the disciples were at first full of fear and hiding, when suddenly, a sound came from heaven like a rushing wind, tongues of fire appeared, one on each one of Apostles, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 1-4).

When the people in Jerusalem heard this and came to hear the Apostles speaking, each in their own language (Acts 2: 5-6), some even thought the Apostles were drunk (Acts 2: 7-13). But on that day, about 3,000 people were baptised.

The story goes on to tell us that the newly baptised continued daily to hear the Apostles’ teaching, joining in fellowship, the breaking of bread, and for prayer – just as we are doing at this Eucharist this morning – and the Lord added to new members to the Church each day (Acts 2: 42-47).

At Pentecost, we see the fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Spirit given by the Risen Christ in our Gospel reading. Because of that gift at Pentecost, the Church is brought together in diversity and sustained in unity through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.

This is the Holy Spirit that is to guide the Church in our missionary endeavours – not just throughout the world, but here in this diocese, in this parish, in Skerries too.

This is the Holy Spirit that nurtures the Body of Christ, the Church, in truth and in love.

And yet, most people probably think of the Holy Spirit as some invisible appendix of God the Father and God the Son, something for Pentecost; perhaps, we think of the gifts given at confirmation. But not talk easily about the Holy Spirit; perhaps someone might think we are too enthusiastic about Christianity, about religion.

Thinking about the Holy Spirit is more difficult because of the images of the Holy Spirit in traditional Christian art: a dove in paintings and stained-glass windows that looks more like a homing pigeon; or tongues of fire dancing around meekly-bowed heads of people cowering and hiding in that upper room.

We think, perhaps, that it is best to leave thinking about the Holy Spirit to this day, the Day of Pentecost, or to a once-a-year Confirmation service, and let the rest of us get on for the rest of the year with God simply being God the Father or God the Son.

But the Holy Spirit is not something added on as an extra course, as an after-thought after the Resurrection and Ascension.

When it comes to the point in the Nicene Creed this morning where we say “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” do we really believe in the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life,” in the Holy Spirit as the way in which God “has spoken through the prophets”?

As a blogger, I post on the internet, on average, every day, or every second day … my lecture notes, my sermons, my walks on the beach, especially here in Skerries, or about travel, local history, music, architecture and poetry. But I have almost no way of knowing whether these notes and ramblings have any impact once they go out into cyberspace.

About three years ago, when I faced up to some personal difficulties, I blogged on how my mind kept returning to those words from Dame Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

I wrote how Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained struggling with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond her own pain and suffering and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that – despite pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, “all shall be well.”

Almost immediately, a former work colleague rang to know if I was all right. He offered a friendly ear, and his response was comforting and consoling. It was a response, I felt, prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Over the years, there have been some other responses to this posting. Then, last month, an anonymous reader posted, saying: “Thank you for this gift. [I r]eceived very difficult news this past week and kept looking for a silver lining – some way to give thanks to God for what has happened in my life … In reading the words ‘All shall be well . . .’ was a great reminder of the hope that Christ gives us and as well, that Christ is with us each second of the day. Thank you again for the reminder of ‘God with us’ no matter what.”

It was a response out of the blue. And after three years it put my own difficulties then in perspective. Three years later, someone else found comfort in my own reflections on my own sorrows.

I don’t know who she is or where she lives. But if this was the only blog-post I had a response to, if this was the only reader I had for the past three years, then all the other postings had been worth it. We cannot control, quantify or restrict the way in which the Holy Spirit uses or values our work, or uses us to work with others. And for most of the time, we’re better off not knowing.

When I shared this experience with some colleagues one evening recently, one of them was reminded of a saying in the Talmud – one of the sacred texts of Judaism: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” [Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 1 (22a); Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a.]

It is a saying found throughout rabbinic literature, that is repeated in the Quran, and that inspired Oskar Schindler, the hero of the movie Schindler’s List.

As our conversation continued, one clerical colleague told of a man who turned up in his church that week for a quiet mid-day service. This man in his mid-40s was visiting Ireland on business, and had often visited churches and cathedrals. But had never before been so moved as he was by this mid-day Eucharist.

He approached my friend afterwards and asked for a quiet moment. He wanted to be baptised ... there and then. He had been moved by the Holy Spirit.

My friend asked him to wait, to come back in an hour or two. And he did. Two parishioners stood as sponsors or godparents. It was all over in 10 or 15 minutes. The man rang his wife full of joy. He felt he had arrived where he ought to be. Outwardly, he was full of joy. Inwardly, he had arrived, he was at home, he had found his peace with God.

What had happened? The Holy Spirit had moved, and he had responded.

“Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

God never leaves us alone. This is what Christ promises the disciples, the whole church, in our Gospel reading this morning. We need have no fears, for the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space.

And as a sign of this, Christ promises the gift of the Holy Spirit and says: “Peace be with you.”

If you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift at your Confirmation, the gift that we all receive as the Church at Pentecost, how then do you let others know? How do I share that peace? Can I truly forgive others as Christ forgives me?

If the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and is living in me, then who am I an advocate for? Who do I speak up for when there is no-one else to speak up for them? Who am I, in my own small, quiet, un-dramatic way, an Oskar Schindler for?

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand how. And that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways rather than in the big dramatic ways.

Don’t put down or dismiss the small efforts to make this a better world. “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Gandhi once said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And he also said: “Only he who is foolish enough to believe that he can change the world, really changes it.”

And sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and leading others to be there too.

And so may all we think, say, and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal:
Open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Parish Eucharist in Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries, Co Dublin, on the Day of Pentecost, 12 June 2011.

Waiting on the Holy Spirit in Rush

Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’ ... a peaceful scene at the cliffs and the sandy bay beyond the North Strand in Rush (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 12 June 2011: The Day of Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

Kenure Parish Church, Rush, Co Dublin:

9.30 a.m., Morning Prayer.

Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; I Corinthians 12: 3b-13; John 20: 19-23


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Quite often we think the gift of the Holy Spirit is something to consider only at ordination or at confirmation, or it’s just left as a gift for Charismatic Evangelicals to talk about. But the gift of the Holy Spirit does not stop being effective the day after confirmation, the day after ordination, or the day after hearing someone speaking in tongues.

The gift of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning, the birthday, of the Church. And this is a gift that does not cease to be effective after Pentecost Day. The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times.

Indeed, in the Orthodox Church they speak eloquently of the Church being the realised or lived Pentecost.

We celebrate the Feast of Pentecost 50 days after Easter and on the Sunday that falls 10 days after the Ascension. Pentecost recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. But it is also the Birthday of the Church, founded through the preaching of the Apostles and the baptism of the thousands who on that day believed in the Gospel of Christ.

This morning, we read the story of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. They were gathered together in an upper room, full of fear and hiding, when suddenly, a sound came from heaven like a rushing wind, filling the entire house. Tongues of fire appeared, one sat on each one of Apostles, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 1-4).

When the people in Jerusalem heard the sound, they came together and heard the Apostle speaking in their own languages (Acts 2: 5-6). Some even thought the Apostles were drunk (Acts 2: 7-13). But Peter, hearing these remarks, stood up and spoke about the Biblical prophecies about the coming of the Holy Spirit, about Christ, his death and his resurrection (Acts 2: 38-39).

On that day, about 3,000 people were baptised. The newly baptised continued daily to hear the Apostles’ teaching, joining the early Christians for fellowship, the breaking of bread, and for prayer, and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2: 42-47).

At Pentecost, we see the fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Spirit that the Risen Christ gives his disciples in our Gospel reading, the Holy Spirit sent down upon the Apostles who will teach the nations and baptise them in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Because of that gift at Pentecost, the Church is brought together and sustained in unity through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit that is to guide the Church in our missionary endeavours – not just throughout the world, but here in this diocese, in this parish, in Rush too.

This is the Holy Spirit that nurtures the Body of Christ, the Church, in truth and in love.

This morning, we should all be thankful for gift of Baptism, for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, received at Confirmation, for the gift of the Spirit that brought the Church into being, and for the creative diversity and unity of the Church, held together by that same Holy Spirit.

And so, may all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This sermon was preached at Morning Prayer in Kenure Church, Rush, Co Dublin, on the Day of Pentecost, 12 June 2011