Vicar's Sermon - Pentecost 2016

For the last few months this book has been sat on my shelf daring me to read it.

It’s called ‘The Diffusion of Innovations’ and is by chap called Everett Rogers. It was recommended to me on a course I attended towards the end of last year and its full details appeared on the course ‘booklist’, so, being very dutiful and feeling rather virtuous I hunted it out (2nd hand) on Amazon and waited for it to arrive in the post.

The person who recommended this book clearly has a differently wired brain to mine. There is nothing in this book that inspires me to actually want to read it. It has a fair few graphs and charts to break up the text but the chapter headings are nightmarish:

How about these...? Attributes of innovations and their rate of adoption; Process versus variance research; Innovativeness and adopter categories?

But the theme of the book is, of itself, interesting, even if the content appears to be as dry us dust:  ‘The diffusion of innovation’  – this is asking ‘how does change happen?’ How do new ideas, new products (if you are a business) , new ways of acting and being...how do these things actually spread? The course I was on, or rather, the course I was helping to facilitate, was for churches – for congregations- and I suppose the relevance of this bit of organisational theory was to help church leaders understand how change happens or can be enabled in their congregations.

I haven’t read the book. Maybe I’ll have to own up to my friend that it just wasn’t for me...or perhaps I’ll have to wait for, or find, a nice summer’s afternoon to devote to skim reading it to allay my bad conscience. But here, on Pentecost Sunday, it seems to me that we as God’s people are invited to become agents of change in His world and we are called to be those who spread the word about the new thing Jesus has enabled to come about – a direct and open relationship with God as our Father that is not driven by guilt or hedged about by power or status, but is rather based on His love and grace towards us.  Isn’t that what we see in the famous reading about the coming of God’s Spirit upon the disciples? Isn’t that what we have just heard in the Gospel reading.

This day marks a shift in gear for Jesus’ ministry. We should remember that He is still active, He is still at work amongst us. He it is who pours out His Spirit upon his disciples so that His ministry can continue, can reach beyond Israel and spread out into the known world and continue down the ages. At His baptism Jesus had been anointed by the Spirit of God, set apart for a particular task, and empowered by God to fulfil it. But now His disciples are to pick up the baton. The Holy Spirit, who had only ever previously been given to select individuals throughout the scriptures is set free to be available to all who seek to follow Jesus’ way. There are to be no barriers to who can receive the spirit, the only qualification (if that is what it is) is to be a follower of Christ.

The gospel reading gives us some pointers about the Spirit. How do we receive Him? How does this come about? The language that John uses in the gospel is of God ‘dwelling’ within us. The spirit, we are told, will come and ‘abide in us.’ This shape of his service has tried to model our being open to the Spirit’s presence. One thing we know about God’s dealings with us is that he gives us ‘free will’. Our God does not force Himself upon us... ever. So I wonder whether one important lesson for us to remember today is to make sure we keep open that place within us where God might be ‘at home’ within us.  The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the spirit. They were all gathered together in one place when the spirit came to them. We, however ‘work, work, work, work, work’, bouncing from one thing to another in busy lives that (for all their busy-ness) need to make space and take time, to be open to what the spirit might want of us. There is no special prayer, there are no magic words, to say to invoke the spirit – more an attitude of heart and soul that says to God, ‘I am here. You are welcome in my life. Come Holy Spirit.’

And what does the Spirit do? At the confirmation service the other week Bishop David Stancliffe reminded the candidates that through their baptism and the oil of anointing God was ‘Christening’ them. Each one of us is called to reflect the presence of God in our lives. You’ll recall that John’s Gospel begins with the affirmation that the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us’ – well now, God reveals Himself not just through Jesus (in one time way back then) but through us. He dwells, He abides, He lives in us.

This is huge. God, who revealed Himself perfectly through Jesus now wishes to show Himself to the world through Jesus’ followers: ‘we are his witnesses’, our lives as much as our words. Our witness can be for good or ill: we can bring honour to God through what we do, or dishonour – but witnesses we are: that doesn’t change.

Everett Rogers would be delighted with this thought.  The incarnation – the presence of the life of God in one human life, is now being made possible in more and more human lives. This is the ‘diffusion of innovation’ – some ‘early adopter’ (the apostles) following the way of Christ but now charged with persuading and encouraging others to follow Him too. One shall tell another and He shall tell His friend...until? Well, until what? Until the earth is filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. Until God’s kingdom is seen on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus’ ministry was necessarily confined to one time and place. Now, through spirit His people will do greater works than even He. They will feed the hungry across many continents. They will protect the weak and seek the good of all.  They will educate children and visit prisoners. They will heal the sick and comfort the dying. They will bring renewal to communities and strength to families. They will guide the young and encourage the infirm and they will do it all in Jesus’ name and in His strength and in doing so they will find that Jesus is working alongside with them.

So we pray that our hearts will ever be open to the spirit of God. We pray that we will be guided by Him in this church and our prayer is ‘Come Holy Spirit, Come dwell with us renew the face of the earth, renew our lives today.’