“Bearing the Message”
Sunday 20 May 2018
Today we celebrate one of the major events in the life of the Christian Church. The event was so critical for the Church that Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the Church.I wonder what took your attention as you listened to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Was it the rushing of the wind? Or maybe you were fascinated by the image of the tongues of fire? Or it could have been the fact that people understood the apostles in their own native tongues?
For me, it was the fact that everyone understood what was being attested to by the apostles. In some ways I think of it as the great act of the Holy Spirit – empowering the apostles to make Jesus’ message understandable to others.
If you stop and think about it, how great is the need of the Church today of that very gift of the Holy Spirit of making the Gospel understandable to the people of our time and place? It can sometimes seem that we are speaking the gospel into a vacuum. Of course, there is no sound in a vacuum as there is no gas to vibrate to make the sound waves.
We only need to look at the opposition ranged up against us. For starters, we live in one of the most materialistic cultures in the most materialistic era in the world’s history. Militarism is rife around the world as the way that regimes conduct their business. Might is certainly seen to be right regardless of the consequences for the people who are victimised in conflicts that they have little or no control over. And researchers tell us that the chasm between the extremely rich and the very, very poor has never been greater.
This is most certainly a world in need of the Gospel of Jesus, but how do we make that message heard in that world?
Can I suggest that it is helpful to break that message bearing process down into three components: the message, the carrier and the reception?
How do we prepare ourselves to know the message of the gospel? This is an important question because we are expected by God to know the message well. And not just the message as it was taught to us when we made our first Holy Communion. Our understanding of the message needs to have matured just as we have matured. In all aspects of our lives we grow in knowledge as we have grown in years but that is not necessarily the case in relation to the level of sophistication of our knowledge of the gospel message.
If we have not made specific efforts to continue to develop our understanding of the Gospel, it is highly unlikely that we will have experienced a maturation in our thinking. What are the specific strategies for bringing about his development? Can I suggest Bible study with fellow Christians, followed by prayerful reflection upon that study, followed by living what we have learned?
As we develop our understanding of the Gospel message, how can we develop our skills as carriers of the message? I think that the first thing that we need to do is to be good listeners. Be attentive to others in our interactions. Listen for the clues that they give as to where in their lives they are desperate to hear Jesus’ message. And here too we need to be prayerful. We need to persevere in asking God to help us to be always conscious of the other. And we need to pray for the right words to use when the opportunities present themselves to share the Gospel with others. And of course, if we are going to be carriers of the Gospel, we have to be seen to be living the Gospel authentically ourselves. How often have I heard people say that they won’t buy Christianity because of the things that they have experienced and seen and heard professing Christians do?
And finally, how do we assist people to receive the Gospel? Yes, we can assist the reception of the Gospel. It’s not just a case of witnessing and walking away with a self-satisfied attitude of “I’ve don e all I can. It’s up to them now.” One of the really important ways that we can assist people in the reception of the Gospel is by choosing our occasion carefully. Again, this is going to be fruit of frequent, intentional prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us in our timing of proclamation. And of course, it is critical to offer them support at this time. Don’t leave seekers to fend for themselves.
You will possibly have noticed that I have emphasised prayer at every stage. Why so?
There is a very simple reason for it. This evangelisation is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the more we put ourselves in God’s presence in prayer, the more we are likely to be responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, rather than our own way. The more we will be on message if you like.
We turn back to today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles and realise that the Holy Spirit graced the disciples on the first Pentecost to empower them to make Jesus’ message known to people of diverse backgrounds. They did not do it of their own power. We remember how they had previously deserted Jesus at his passion and gone into hiding. These frail individuals could not have done this under their own steam.
The marvellous thing is that we enjoy the promise that the same Spirit will work through us, provided we dispose ourselves to the promptings of that Spirit. We will not be left to our own devices. But in order to engage with the power of the Spirit, we need to turn humbly to God in prayer, acknowledging our need. That requires us to be open to the Spirit in prayer, to be willing to change if necessary, to be courageous in inviting others to share the great gift that we have in Jesus Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful ones and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.
Father Allan Paulsen
St Matthew’s, Holland Park