"Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004
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IPentecost C 2004 JoeI2:28--32;Acts2:1-11; 1Cor12:4-13;Jn20:19-23
In the alternate lesson for today, a passage from Joel, we hear an early promise of the day of Pentecost, couched in Old
Testament terms of understanding the Day of the Lord:
The Lord said to his people, "It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons
and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male
and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and
fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of
the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall
be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls."
In the second act of the gift of the Holy Spirit off the Lord, the frightened disciples were hiding, cowering, in a room
in Jerusalem. They must have felt that Joel's prophecy might be coming true. Their Lord had just been crucified and despite
his resurrection appearances to them, he had left them again. Suddenly there was a fierce wind buffeting them about and fire
all among them. But it was not the end of time - the day of the Lord was a day of a new creation, a time of a new heaven and
a new earth. And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Most books of church history are written the way secular academic historians would write them. I know all about that for
I was trained in that secular academic historical discipline and have from time to time taught in it oh, now for a total of
fifteen years off and on. Such a discipline puts little or no obvious emphasis on the action of the Holy Spirit in the life
and history of the Church over the centuries, even though it might be there as a subtext for the careful reader and listener.
So today I want to let go of academic historical objectivity and talk about the Holy Spirit moving and stirring, guarding,
guiding, and inspiring at critical and great moment
sin the past and present. This will mean hop, skip, and jumping across the centuries, stopping briefly through time only
several times to tell the story.
Following that day of Pentecost, the fine transportation and communications systems of the Roman Empire helped the Good
News of Jesus Christ spread like wildfire. The roads were good and safe and the sea lanes hastened travel from on end of the
Mediterranean to another. Paul's missionary journeys recorded the Acts of the Apostles were possible because the Pax Romana
made it safe for Paul and one or two assistants - Silas and. Barnabas - for example - to travel on foot or by ship without
bodyguards or escort.
And spread it did, despite the occasional persecution. It is a phenomena of religion that a persecuted religion grows
and thrives - witness the Sudan Christians of today, despite horrible and inhuman circumstances and treatment, including enslavement
by their Islamic persecutors.
Wherever the Church is persecuted, there the Holy Spirit seems most present in Christian lives.
By the Fourth Century the Early Church had won recognition and acceptance in the Greco-Roman World. In the words of church
historian Powell Mills Dawley, "But events moved swiftly toward more than mere recognition of Christianity as just another
licensed religion. The Emperor Constantine... had a clear vision of the task that confronted him. The crumbling imperial world
needed, above all, to recover a basic spiritual unity. With acute perception, Constantine recognized that Christianity alone
could provide this bond of faith. Already the Church had penetrated the fabric of the empire that it was fast becoming the
single universal allegiance of the last years of the ancient world. Constantine became the official patron of Christianity."
"And if the spectacle of a Christian protector, arrayed in the crown and purple of imperial splendor, was the symbol
of the Church's external strength, the sight of the same protector on his death bed, laying aside the royal robes to don the
simple white g_rments of baptism, was the symbol of Christianity's spiritual triumph. The Gospel of Jesus Christ had finally
turned the ancient world upside down." (1)
Over the centuries the Church was torn by major schisms. The western Church, centered in Rome and the Papacy, and the
Eastern Orthodox Churches, centered in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and its Metropolitan, had mutually excommunicated
each other over significant questions of theology as well as politics. By the year 1,000. this hinted at more diversity to
come. The trouble with one big church in the West was that it tended to put the Holy Spirit in a box with its rigid scholastic
theological system. It's always a mistake to do that - the Holy Spirit breaks out. And so the Reformation began.
Our interest lies mainly in the Reformation in England, and especially in the reign of Elizabeth I, who was the true founder
of Anglicanism as we have known it - and not her father, Henry VIII. By the time Elizabeth came to the English Throne, Europe
was in fierce religious turmoil, caught between the radical Protestantism of John Calvin's Geneva and the resurgence of Counter-Reformation
Roman Catholicism. I think we can see the Holy Spirit at work in England and ultimately in the establishment of the new, vigorous,
and diverse Protestant Churches of the West and in the emergence of a reformed and vigorous Roman Catholicism
As one commentator noted, "The nations had practically to choose between two theocracies: the one, venerable with
the unbroken tradition of ages; the other, full of the vigour of youth, the inspiration of genius and the confidence that
the future of humanity lay in its hands. Elizabeth and her advisers deliberately refused to put England under either. . .
To choose Rome meant Spain and the inquisition; to choose Geneva meant the repetition of the miseries and disorders of
the reign of Edward VI; and England dreaded both. England had not yet made up its mind between the old religion and the new
and so Elizabeth compromised; and the arrangement she made in ecclesiastical matters was what we know as the Elizabethan Settlement.
It was of such genius the Holy Spirit must have inspired it.
In its essence the Settlement sought a comprehensiveness that would include almost all of the English people except the
most extreme Protestants and the most extreme Roman Catholics. In terms of churchmanship, a temperate and hopeful Reformation
theology based on Scripture, tradition, and reason was wedded to the forms and organization of the traditional Church in England.
Holy Communion was restored. The Book of Common Prayer in vernacular English established by Elizabeth as the modality of worship
combined the catholic and protestant principles of the 1549 and 1552 books, shaping the forms of our liturgies even now. Bishops
and such ancient ceremonies as were not incompatible with Reformation theology were retained. The familiar and customary were
wedded to the new in a way that made the Church of England unique among the churches that continued after the Reformation.
Elizabeth I and her government and her bishops were determined that the Church of England would retain the essential elements
of faith as set forth in the six centuries of the early and undivided Church of Jesus Christ while accepting as part of its
faith, life, and practice the truths evolved from the Christian Renaissance and the evangelical
, insights of the Reformation. The faith set forth in the ancient Creeds, the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism
established by Jesus himself, the traditional orders of ministry, the centrality of the Scriptures - these were the foundations
of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England. (3)
The Church of England in its Elizabethan form came to America beginning at Jamestown in 1607. During the colonial period,
the independent habit of American parishes continued to strengthen. After the American Revolution and the disestablishment
of the Church, the American parishes demonstrated their vigor and vitality as it had developed under the particular conditions
of the New World. American parishes in 1789 formed themselves as the free and independent Protestant Episcopal Church in the
United States of America in what became the Anglican Communion. The American Church was the first of its kind outside the
British Isles. And this became the model for new churches in the Communion itself. (4)
A brief reading of the Prayer Book established by the first General Convention in 1789 - the Preface that is still in
our current Prayer Book - shows that there was little doubt
that the delegates were acting as a result of the Holy Spirit moving and stirring in the process leading up to the new
nation and this new church. They also acknowledged their debt to the work to which the Spirit had led Elizabeth I two hundred
years earlier and to the English Prayer Book of 1662 on which our own remains modeled today.
About this new creation brought forth on the shores of North America in 1789, more on Sunday the 4th of July, the 5th
Sunday after Pentecost.
1. Powell Mills Dawley, Chapters in Church History, Seabury, 1963, pp 48-49
2. "The Elizabethan Settlement", The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907-21),
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation. Chapter XVIII. "Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity". at http://www.bartleby.com/213/1801.htmJ
3. George Hodges, A Short History of the Episcopal
Church, Forward Movement, 1967, pp 6-7.
4. Dawley, p 220