Another week, another round of lessons in Australian life. This week it was the birds. They’re so LOUD! Huge magpies, Stunning pink galahs, and the kookaburras. Well, I don’t know that I’ll ever get accustomed to the sound of them – they’re incredible. But, on our dog walk yesterday, along with the bird song, I saw a large bird cage sat on the verge, waiting for its next owner to claim it and it reminded me of a wonderful thing that started – with birds – just before I left the UK.
I had a friend, Ronnie, who was a prison chaplain, and he was setting up a project for prisoners. He was offering those in treatment for addiction the opportunity to own a budgie, and he was on the lookout for donations of bird cages. And yesterday, with that cage on the roadside, it came back to me again. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought this sounded a bit like Pentecost…
Birds are the freest of all animals. You can’t pin them down. You can’t catch them. They leap off buildings and migrate to other countries and swoop and dive…and even their very design – those wings and feathers – speak of freedom and flight. So, it’s no wonder that a bird is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Birds don’t live in cages, not ordinarily. But for these budgies to fulfil their purpose in this project, they need a cage. They need a cage so that they can go to these prisoners, who are in cages of their own. The cages of addiction as well as the physical cage of their prison cell. And I wonder if that is a useful image for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, and since the dawn of time, and every day since.
Pentecost was a kind of hijacked Jewish festival that then became a significant way-marker on an unstoppable process beginning at the dawn of Creation when God spoke Light into being. The outpouring of something incredible and unmovable. The continuation of one long, eternal, act of grace; a gift literally OF God, part of God’s self, given to us, for always. The freest, flightiest, most free-flowing part of God came down to earth to live within the cages of humanity – to dwell fully in the cage of our hearts, to fulfil God’s ministry of love.
She inspires us to acts of holy mischief; invites us and accompanies us on it. She is subversive and cunning, in all the best ways. She should be taken seriously because She is dangerous as fire, and essential as air. But the Holy Spirit is not simply to be described or pinned down or explained. She is one to be encountered, experienced, from the inside out, and to know and be known by.
It is by the Holy Spirit that our gifts of bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ at every mass.
It is the Holy Spirit of Pentecost who descends on you at every blessing and absolution and dismissal.
She baptises and confirms and ordains and consecrates.
It is by the Holy Spirit that new people wander into our church and stay.
It is the draw of the Holy Spirit that brought you to church this morning, even if you think it’s just what you do on a Sunday morning.
God chose a day and date and time in history to do something significant – the event we heard in our Acts reading. But it wasn’t the first time – She was brooding over the waters even before God said ‘let there be light’ – Pentecost wasn’t her first outing and it is certainly not her last. Pentecost is breaking out here, there, and all over the place and is utterly unstoppable. You can’t resist Her, and you can’t avoid Her. You can only choose to spot what she is up to, and decide whether you want to join in.
And just as my friend Ronnie was asking for more birdcages to house his budgies in prisons, so our Lord is asking for more hearts to house God’s Spirit, to take love and light, holy mischief, and freedom, to the darkest places of this world.
BUT, the significant difference between the prison story and the Pentecost story, is that Ronnie hoped his birds would stay in their cages whereas God hopes our caged hearts might just burst open and let the Spirit out!
Every day, but perhaps more notably on a day like today, God asks for places where God’s spirit might live, and for people through whom God’s work might be done. And today God is asking us.
I am excited by whatever it is God might have in store for our church and community in this next chapter. I believe it when the gospel reading says we will do even greater things than our Lord. And I also know we can’t do it alone, but only through the fire and breath of the Spirit.
So, right now, in a tangible and active way, you are invited to commit, once again, to join with the Spirit in whatever it is she wants to do here next. To say yes to this next holy invitation, and be refilled by that same spirit of creation, incarnation, resurrection and Pentecost. And John and I will symbolise that by anointing you with the oil of God’s spirit, on your foreheads and your hands – if you want to. And we don’t need to know what we are saying yes to, just that we are saying yes. And we are here for it. So john will come and join me and if you would like to be prayed for and anointed, please come and join us at this altar rail too.
Let us pray:
Pour out your spirit upon us Great God, as we say yes, again, to your holy invitation. Amen.