The Gospel reading this week is the story of the healing of the demon-possessed man, Legion. Three things strike me about this story. Firstly, is the incredible bravery of Jesus. Here was a man that everyone else was afraid to approach. Even when shackled with chains he was able to break them and run wild. Yet Jesus doesn’t hesitate in going straight up to him and rebuking the demons in him. Secondly, the response to the healing was that the whole region was disrupted. The local pig farming community was distraught and begged Jesus to leave them all alone. Finally, there is Jesus’ command to the healed man to go back to his family and tell them, and everyone, what God had done for him. There was no call to be an itinerant evangelist or foreign missionary but simply a witness in his local community. For all these reasons this story is as much a model for evangelism as it is a healing miracle. As evangelists and witnesses for Christ we are called to be brave in confronting evil; we are called to acknowledge that there will be disruption with the truth of the Gospel and, finally, we are called to mainly witness, not on the other side of the planet, but rather right where we are.
This week starts with Trinity Sunday when the church reflects more explicitly on God as Father, Son and Spirit. One God in three persons. The Gospel passage is the account of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit – the one person of the Trinity that the disciples would have most difficulty in understanding. Jesus identified the Spirit as the Spirit that brings truth and reveals God to people. This revelation of truth has three facets. Firstly, we can only understand God’s ways in bite-sized chunks. In mathematics, before we teach partial fractions we need to teach simple algebra. In the same way much of the teaching in the Old Testament is simple and crude because that is all the people could understand at the time. Jesus says, “I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now!” Secondly, truth is from God and truth is of God. God is both the explainer of truth and the source of all truth. Finally, truth is to reveal the significance of Jesus’ words and actions to us. To plumb the inexhaustible depth of love and grace found in them. The revelation of truth comes not from any book or any object or any created artefact. The revelation of truth comes from the person of Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate truth that the Holy Spirit reveals to us.
Is God moving in our nation in our time? The Bible passage this week records the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Two things strike me about this passage from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Firstly, the Holy Spirit came to the believers when they were together. God not only comes in power to individuals but also to us corporately, the Church. In the New Testament the Greek word ‘you’ is mainly used in the plural. This is similar to ‘vous’ in French as opposed to ‘tu’. God’s relationship is not only with us as individuals but mainly with us as a church together. Secondly, the Holy Spirit is like a mighty wind. A strong wind will move things around and change the scenery. As a church we need to be prepared for God to shake us up sometimes. Yes, we celebrate the wisdom of the ages and the traditions of the past but sometimes God wants to over-turn all of this and start something new. Something that changes the whole landscape. Is God moving in our nation at this time? The biggest provider of youth work, food banks and non-State education in the United Kingdom is the church. Atheism is said to be declining. Yes, God is moving but there is so much more He wants to do through us if only we work together and are prepared to be shaken up.
When we spend a lot of time praying for others, have you ever wondered how other people pray for us? Have you ever wondered how Jesus prays for us? Fortunately, the Bible records very clearly one prayer that Jesus prays for all believers. It is found in this week’s Bible reading from John’s Gospel. In the space of four verses, Jesus prays five times for the same thing. He prays that all Christians will be united. This is his over-riding desire for His church in this passage. Unity does not mean uniformity. It does not mean that we must organise worship and church in the same way, so what does it mean? The clue comes when Jesus likens unity to the Godhead itself. Just as the Godhead is united in an unbreakable and perfect harmony of love, so should the church be. There should be no criticism of other sincere and authentic Christians. Rather, we should love, support and respect them in the name of Jesus Christ. What is the rationale for this unity? Again, Jesus addresses this in the passage: “May the church be one so that the world might believe.” Few things are as much of a turn-off to non-Christians as disunity in the church. If the church can’t agree on its fundamental message, why should people outside the church take the message seriously? It is a sobering thought. Therefore, let us be united in love as we move towards the day of Pentecost next week.