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Today's theme:  Being open to the Holy Spirit

 

Please click below for a welcome to today's worship from the Rev Mo Surrey. Today's Gospel reading is John 20: 19-23.

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(You could also read Acts 2: 1-11 in your own Bible)

 

TODAY'S MESSAGE 

from the Archdeacon of Manchester, the Ven. Karen Lund

My mum and dad were born and grew up in Grenada in the Caribbean. They were part of the population who came to Britain in the 50s, and they made their home in what was then Middlesex, West London, where, along with my brother and sisters, I grew up.  
Dad and mum worked hard, and while we were home owners, we were by no means wealthy. So I recall, on infrequent occasions, either mum or dad separately would travel back to Grenada, or a family member from the Caribbean would visit us: there were never enough funds for the whole family to travel. It might be where I found my love of spices - cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg - as suitcases were always filled with the aroma of them when they returned. (By the way, Grenada is nicknamed 'the Isle of Spice').
It was some years later, as an adult, that I was able to make my first visit to the Caribbean. Strong Memory Number One was the opening of the aeroplane door and experiencing the hit of the Grenadian sun after travelling for seven hours. Strong Memory Number Two (and particularly as a vegan) was the joy of being able to indulge in an abundance of organic fruit and vegetables, and especially mangoes, which at the time were available in the UK, but could only be found in specialist Caribbean shops and were very expensive.
And an abundance of mangoes is an understatement. Because we were the novel UK visitors, we were spoilt and everyone who came to see us, or those we visited, brought us mangoes. Family members supplied us with mangoes. While on a walk, we could pick mangoes freely from the trees. So we gorged on mangoes, as a novelty, all day every day. By week three of our stay, an uncle thought he would bring us even more mangoes, and to this day I feel the shame of experiencing mango fatigue! I look back at this event and I also find it funny that we actually became sick of mangoes. If I never saw another mango again, it would have been too soon. 
I am now healed, and mangoes have been restored to my diet as a lovely, healthy fruit to enjoy.
OK, a long story of my summer holiday some 22 years ago ... but there is a point.
How many of us have often bemoaned the busyness and frenetic pace of life and wished for some solace, some isolation, some shielding from the pressures of life and the demanding people in our lives? We have wanted to get away, and indeed some of us have done that with time away for holiday. 
We have desired to be alone. But my holiday story serves as metaphor of having 'too much of a good thing', as we have for many weeks experienced too much isolation and arrived at isolation fatigue, enforced loneliness. We have had to live under Government directives that tell us to keep away from each other and be cautious of each other, while each of us will have learnt, and we are still learning, from the pandemic situation.  
Perhaps one lesson is that our leanings to be tribal, to live in a them-and-us world, to be boundaried, are far from who we were created to be. To move away from our natural state of unity and oneness (the opposite of what Jesus prayed for his disciples), is not as much fun as we thought. We need each other. 
We have now had enough of being separated; we don’t wish for any more. We want it to stop. We have learnt something of the preciousness of delighting in our own space, but we also yearn for intimacy with each other – sharing in each other’s lives in a natural way, being there for each other in times of celebration, times of sickness, and the human need to come together at a time of death and to support each other in grief. None of this can be achieved in isolation.
All of these moments have been denied us, as the pandemic has treated us like visitors or holidaymakers in our own communities and overwhelmed us with enforced separation and fear.
And then, at Pentecost, we read that it was when the believers had gathered – ‘all together in one place’, and then, later in the evening, together behind a locked door, that Jesus came to them. It's highly significant that they were not 'all together' without distinction, but all together meaning of one mind, with one intention and one heart’s desire, as God intended.
It is in their natural state of unity, togetherness, corporateness, inclusiveness, openness, maybe even transparency, praying and working together, that the power of Pentecost comes. The power of the Spirit of God breaks in and causes holy chaos to pour out upon them and brings holy peace.  And, just like my Grenadian visit 22 years ago, when we could not move for an abundance of mangoes, so the experience for the disciples was relentless. The Spirit of God took over their lives for that moment.
It disrupted their speaking and their understanding – St Luke, in the book of Acts, describes a very physical experience of their bodies being filled with God. There was no time for a crash course in a foreign language: all were able to hear their own language, a powerful witness to what we often describe as unity in diversity. Different, but the same. God turning up on the gathered community was a powerfully unique experience. 
Often, when we have unique spiritual experiences, our tendency is to explain them away, make them ordinary and intellectualise them, so that they make sense. Whenever God breaks into our lives, it will be extraordinary, and beyond intellect and sense and reason. It will be beyond capture.
There is a genre of films, such as Happy Feet (where a little penguin is rescued and confined by humans) or E.T. (where an alien is marooned and helped by children) when someone or some creature enters into the normality of human life. Something different and powerful appears, and the response is to capture and tame, to tone down and squeeze out its uniqueness and fail to hear its own story. Instead we insist on making it mundane, or attempt to make it fit our story.
Pentecost is about letting go of our little story and letting God just flow in us. Pentecost is entering into God’s story and fitting in with that, rather than the other way round.
It will feel scary, and, like the disciples, we may want some evidence and proof that our eyes and our ears are not playing tricks on us.
While Pentecost is holy chaos, it is also holy peace. It is not just a one-off, but a gift, for every one of us, for every moment of our lives. I would suggest that, like my mangoes, if we lived Pentecost every day we might become overwhelmed and we probably couldn’t function – we would just be too happy ... and we might be accused of having hit the bottle, as the first disciples were.
In my story, after Grenada and a return to the UK, the humble mango was restored, and I continued and still continue to enjoy them once in a while and gain the nutritional benefits of the fruit.
And for our combined story, we shall move back slowly, incrementally, into a post-lockdown church and world. We will still want moments of isolation and being by ourselves – just to be, and to be with God, and just because it is necessary and healthy. We will want to restore some moments of isolation.
But we will also know, and we will also have learnt through the experience of loss, that we need one another so much. That the prayer of Jesus for us is to be one: to be united, to love one another, to cherish and value each other – the poor and the rich, the lost and the found. All of us are the children of God.
And my prayer for each of you is that when the power of God comes again, individually and corporately (and it will), to overwhelm and cause us to surrender, that we will be open to receive the Holy Spirit fully, through the visible and invisible work that goes on in our hearts. To look out for God in the nitty-gritty of real, tangible life, the fleshly bits of life; and, perhaps the most challenging, to know God through the supernatural, where we have less control, where God blows away our preconceptions and simply loves us. Read the many stories and experiences of the spiritual giants in our Christian tradition – experiences that often fitted the ‘weird’ category. God cannot be captured or tamed.
At Pentecost, here in Manchester and throughout the world, God says: 'I have never left you – I will never leave you. For the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of the world, for the sake of all life. Jesus says: 'Each of you, and together, receive the Holy Spirit.' 
A HAPPY PENTECOST TO YOU ALL AT ST JOHN’S, FLIXTON!
Karen
 

 

A PRAYER POEM SENT TO US BY ARCHDEACON KAREN 

Click below to listen to this, read by the Rev Mo Surrey:

 

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Lord, how shall we recognise your coming?
How shall we know that it is your power at work in us
When we are weary and afraid?
 
'You will know that it is I
When you hear me say,
"Peace be with you."
 
'The door of your heart will be opened
And you must let Christ in.
You will see my wounds, just as I see yours;
Know that the wounds you carry will heal and will be a witness to my love at work within you.
I will heal your hands to do the work,
I will heal your sides – those places in your life that are often hidden to the world, but entirely known by God.
I will bring you healing of heart and mind,
I will breathe upon you, the very breath of God.
 
'Pray that you will be strong enough;
Pray to remain open to receive it. 
 
'You are part of the body with many members,
And yet one.
Again I say: "Peace be with you."
Go – and do not be afraid.
Drink. Believe. Forgive. Be united.
And love.'

 

Here's a song for meditation and prayer today:
 

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And here's one that Archdeacon Karen specially asked us to use:

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PRAYERS

Please click below for today's prayers, led by Joyce Gardner, reader emeritus:

 

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THE LORD'S PRAYER 

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen

 

Please click below for a blessing from the Rev Mo Surrey:

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