Saturday, June 11, 2022


This is the transcript of the podcast version of my sermon for Pentecost.

Pentecost 2022

Reading: John 14:8-27

We are celebrating the festival of Pentecost the time when we think of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and of what is also the official birthday of the Church. The birthday of the Church we understand, but we still have difficulties understanding what it means to receive the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, those who came to see what was going on with those gathered in ‘one place’ were, St Luke writes, ‘amazed and perplexed’ by what was happening (Acts 2:12). We may not be amazed, but most churchgoers are certainly perplexed when it comes to understanding the Holy Spirit. This despite the growth of the Pentecostal churches and of the charismatic movement.

The Pentecostal churches and the charismatic movement each stress the place and role of the Holy Spirit both in the life of the individual believer and of the Church.

Pentecostalism is normally seen as having emerged at the beginning of the 20th century out of the holiness movements of the previous century. The beginnings of the Pentecostal movement are normally traced back, firstly, to 1901 and events in a Bible school led by Charles Fox Parham in the city of Topeka in Kansas, and secondly, to a series of revival meetings that took place in Los Angeles beginning in April, 1906 led by William Joseph Seymour, an African-American preacher.

At first, these meetings were in a building at Bonnie Brae Street, but, because of the numbers wanting to attend, they soon moved to a larger meeting hall at 312 Azusa Street. At these meetings, people experienced the Holy Spirit in a dramatic and visible way. This experience was described as being ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit’, with ‘speaking in tongues’ being seen as the ‘initial evidence’ that a person had received the baptism of the Spirit.

Out of these meetings came the creation of new churches separate to the established mainline denominations. There is not one single Pentecostal denomination today, but several different groupings of Pentecostal churches. What each grouping has in common is their emphasis on the importance of being baptized in the Spirit. These groupings now take their place alongside the other older denominations.

The charismatic movement, which shares much in common with the Pentecostal churches, started as a movement within the mainline churches in the 1960s and 1970s. The charismatic movement also stressed the work of the Holy Spirit and emphasized the importance of experiencing the Holy Spirit, an experience which manifested itself in ‘spiritual gifts’ such as, but not confined to, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and supernatural healing.

After encountering resistance, and often outspoken opposition within the mainline churches, some in the new movement left the traditional churches, seeing them as blocking what the Holy Spirit was wanting to do. Those who left went on to form ‘house churches’. They became convinced that it was only outside the traditional structures of the Church that they were going to be able to be faithful to what the Holy Spirit was doing. Ironically, many of these house churches were to grow and become much like the mainline denominations they had left. It is a religious version of Orwell’s, Animal Farm!

Those who stayed hoped that they would bring renewal and new life to their churches, and they sought to make the Holy Spirit central to the life and worship of the Church and its members. As time went on, however, those who stayed found themselves dropping the more contentious aspects of the movement, so that charismatic today can mean little other than liking a more contemporary style of worship.

In the 1960s and 70s, the charismatic movement seemed to offer the hope of the revival of otherwise declining and moribund churches and of attracting people back to the church in what were seen as traditionally Christian nations. In the West, at least, neither has happened with church numbers continuing to drop and secularism continuing apace. While many people’s lives have undoubtedly been touched by the charismatic movement and while some churches have seen numerical growth and success, if it is to be judged by its fruits, the results are disappointing. I speak as a disappointed charismatic. [I have written about my own experience under ‘Personal Journey’ on my website.]

There are many reasons for the failure of the charismatic movement to produce what it seemed to promise, but a significant part of the blame lies with the charismatic movement itself. The movement was in part a reaction against the formality and lack of warmth and emotion in the established churches. It was, then, perhaps inevitable that the movement would end up focusing on experience and emotion. My own criticism of the movement, for what it is worth, is not that the charismatic movement focused too much on the Holy Spirit, but that it didn’t focus on the Holy Spirit enough. And so today, when the Holy Spirit is spoken of, people still remain perplexed, even if they don’t care enough to be amazed.

For the past few weeks since Easter, we have been building up to the festival of Pentecost. Our Gospel readings have come from what is known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’ in St John’s Gospel. This is Jesus’ final words to his disciples in the Upper Room before being arrested and crucified. Our Gospel reading is taken from it, and in our reading, Jesus has some important things to say about the Holy Spirit.

It has already been quite a night when Jesus speaks the words in our Gospel reading. The disciples have gathered in the Upper Room to eat the Passover meal, just a few days after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19). Everyone is expecting Jesus to lead a rebellion against the pagan power and to establish the Kingdom of God. You can feel the excitement in the air as the disciples gather. The disciples are even discussing who is going to be the greatest in the Kingdom when it comes (Luke 22:24-27).

Jesus soon puts an end to such talk by getting up from the table during the meal and washing their feet (John 13:2-5). He tells them that they also must wash each other’s feet (John 13:14-15) and that anyone wanting to be great must become the least. As if this is not shocking enough, Jesus puts an end to any thought of triumph by telling the disciples that one of them will betray him (John 13:21) and that the one he himself has made their leader will deny him (John 13:37-38). We can understand why the disciples are troubled after this!

So, chapter 14 of St John’s Gospel begins with Jesus trying to comfort his disciples (John 14:1-4). He doesn’t tell them off for being troubled; St John has told us that Jesus is himself troubled (John 13:21). Jesus does, however, encourage them to trust him. Yes, he is going away. He has to leave them, but he will come again and take them to himself, so that where he is, there they may be also. Jesus also makes the famous statement about there being many rooms in his Father’s house (John 14:2).

These opening verses to chapter 14 are often read at funerals, and they are taken to refer to Jesus’ second coming or to us meeting Jesus when we die. Jesus is coming again, and if we die before he does, we will go to be with him at our death. Both are true, but this is not what Jesus is talking about in chapter 14. Jesus, in what he says to his disciples, is not concerned with what will happen at their death but with what will happen at his.

Jesus is concerned with how his disciples are going to get on in a world that will hate them as it has hated him (John 15:18-19). Jesus is sending the disciples into the world as his Father has sent him into the world (John 15:16; John 20:21) and Jesus knows it isn’t going to be easy for them (John 15:20; 16:1-2, 33). They are troubled now because of Jesus’ words that he is leaving them (John 16:6), but Jesus also leaves his peace with them, and he repeats that they should not be troubled (John 14:27; 16:33). Strangely, although Jesus tells the disciples he is going away, Jesus keeps repeating that he is coming to them. Jesus says this four times in chapter 14 alone (John 14:3, 18, 23, 28). But if Jesus is not talking about his second coming or coming to meet us when we die, what is Jesus talking about?

Jesus tells his troubled disciples that he will ask the Father, and the Father will give them another ‘paraclete’ to be with them forever (John 14:16). The Greek word ‘paraclete’ that St John uses is notoriously difficult to translate into English. It is sometimes translated ‘comforter’ and that is certainly an aspect of its meaning. This Comforter, Jesus explains is the Spirit of truth who abides with them, but who will be in them (John 14:17). Jesus will not leave them orphaned; he is coming to them (John 14:18). Jesus tells the disciples that he and the Father will both come to them and make their home with them (John 14:23). The way the Father and the Son will do this is through the Holy Spirit who will be in them. This must have been a lot for the disciples to take in, just as it is for us! Jesus reassures them that the same Spirit whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name will teach them everything and remind them of what he has said (John 14:26).

The way Jesus talks and the language he uses makes absolutely clear that what Jesus is talking about is not some theoretical idea, but a real and intimate relationship, so real and intimate that Jesus can describe it as the Spirit being in them and as he and the Father making their home with them and dwelling in them (John 14:20).

Jesus says, however, that this experience is not for everyone. Jesus tells them that the Spirit of truth whom he will give them cannot be received by the world (John 14:17). This is because the world neither sees him nor knows him. Judas (not Iscariot) asks Jesus why Jesus will reveal himself to them and not to the world (John 14:22). Jesus answers that those who love him keep his word and the Father loves them. As is often the case in St John’s Gospel, it is not immediately clear how Jesus’ answer answers the question! What Jesus is saying is he will reveal himself to those who love him and keep his word. Those who do not love him, do not keep his words (John 14:24). It is, then, because the world does not love Jesus and keep Jesus’ words that Jesus will not reveal himself to the world. In his life and ministry, Jesus has revealed the Father, so that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:9), by rejecting Jesus the world has rejected the Father (John 13:20). The world will no longer see Jesus, but the disciples will see him (John 14:19).

While what Jesus says can be hard to understand and, on their own admission, Jesus’ disciples certainly did find it hard to understand (John 16:17-18), the main point of what Jesus says is clear enough. He is going to come to them in the person of the Holy Spirit who will establish an intimate relationship between him and the Father and them. It is a relationship that the world cannot have. This relationship will enable the disciples to do the works that Jesus does and, indeed, to do even greater works because Jesus is going to the Father (John 14:12). They have only to ask for something in Jesus’ name and he will do it (John 14:13-14).

Jesus will say to the disciples later in the Farewell Discourse:

‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ (John 16:16)

It is this reference to a ‘little while’ that the disciples find particularly hard to understand. Jesus asks them:

‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’?’ (John 16:19)

Jesus goes on to tell them that they will weep and mourn and have pain now, as he is about to leave them, but their pain will turn to joy when they see him again (John 16:20-22). Jesus repeats that if they ask anything of the Father in his name, the Father will give it to them. If they ask, they will receive that their joy may be complete (John 16:23-24).

Jesus’ reference to the disciples not seeing him in a ‘little while’ and then seeing him a ‘little while’ is a reference not simply to his resurrection, but also to the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name (John 14:26). In chapter 15, Jesus says he will send the ‘Paraclete’ to them from the Father. When the ‘Paraclete’ comes, he will testify on Jesus’ behalf (John 15:26). In St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples before he ascends to heaven that they are to wait in Jerusalem for the ‘promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4; see also: Luke 24:49).

The Day of Pentecost is when all that Jesus has spoken about a ‘little while’ earlier takes place, and they receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus baptizes the believers in the Holy Spirit, as he promised he would (Acts 1:4-5). St Peter tells those who gather outside to find out what is going on:

‘Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.’ (Acts 2:33)

The language St Peter uses is important: ‘poured out’, ‘that you both see and hear’. St Paul writes in our second reading from his letter to believers in the Church at Rome:

‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God …’ (Romans 8:15-16)

In other words, the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit is definite and tangible. It is something we know about and which can be seen and heard. It is the Holy Spirit who makes real our relationship as children of God with the Father through Jesus, the Son. The language St John and St Paul use is the language of experience. Unfortunately, our own experience does not match the language of the New Testament.

Jesus, in the Farewell Discourse, describes a relationship between the believer and his Father and himself made possible by the Holy Spirit that the believer knows to be real. It is not something based on a doctrinal or sacramental deduction. It is not a theological calculation. What do I mean by that?

Church doctrine teaches that all believers are given the Holy Spirit, so in asking whether a person has received the Spirit, we make the following deduction:

        All Christians receive the Holy Spirit

        Jane is a Christian

        Therefore, Jane has received the Holy Spirit

In sacramental churches, where baptism and confirmation are an essential part of Christian initiation, it can be expressed in a similar way:

        All those who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit in baptism

        Jane is baptized

        Therefore, Jane has received the Holy Spirit

In other words, for Jane, receiving the Holy Spirit is a theological calculation rather than an experiential reality. It is something that Jane needs to take on trust. She must believe it has happened rather than experience it happening. The truth is that our receiving of the Holy Spirit needs to be both: theology and experience belong together. Our theology of the Holy Spirit should not be separated from our experience of the Spirit. The problem is: it is.

When St Paul came across some believers in Ephesus, he knew that something was wrong. He asked them:

‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ (Acts 19:2)

St Paul’s theology told him that they should have received the Holy Spirit; his instinct, based on his observation, told him that they had not. His instinct was right; they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit.

For believers in our churches today, the situation is more complicated. We have all heard that there is a Holy Spirit. We even say we believe in him when we say the Creed together. Next week, on Trinity Sunday, we will celebrate the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Holy Trinity, alongside the Father and the Son. Our belief in him, however, is often not reflected in our lives and experience and in the life and experience of our churches. St Peter on the Day of Pentecost describes the giving of the Holy Spirit as that which Jesus has ‘poured out’, which people can ‘see and hear’. On Pentecost Sunday, we need ask ourselves, ‘Do we see and hear’ the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of our churches?’

This immediately brings us up against a problem. What it means to ‘see and hear’ the Holy Spirit has been somewhat hi-jacked by certain groups within the Church.

Many Pentecostals, for example, have claimed that ‘speaking in tongues’ is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and unless a person speaks in tongues they have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit. This has led to much confusion, especially for those whose own experience tells them they have received the Holy Spirit, even though they do not speak in tongues. It is as if the Holy Spirit is limited to just one of his gifts, with one of his gifts being evidence of his presence more than another.

Many charismatics have thought that for worship to be ‘Spirit led’ liturgical and traditional forms of worship have to be rejected. The result has been that, in many churches, church services are no different from a secular rock concert. It is as if a service with a worship leader and a band are intrinsically more likely to be ‘Spirit led’ than a service with a Choir master and organ, and raising your hands during the service more spiritual that falling on your knees.

By now, I am probably in danger of offending just about everyone. I don’t mean to – or perhaps I do if it helps make the point that an emphasis on experiencing the Spirit should not lead to an emphasis on one type of experience. Experiencing the Spirit is about the Father and the Son coming to make their home in the life of the believer. As the Father and the Son, who come to us in the person of the Spirit are always the same, our experience of the Holy Spirit will have much in common with each other. However, because we are all different, there will be significant differences too. For some, their experience of the Holy Spirit will be highly emotional; for others, it will be quieter but no less real. But whatever form the experience takes what should always be the case is its reality.

So how do we explain the fact that many people in our churches, by their own admission, do not have a direct and conscious experience of the Holy Spirit in a way that enables them to answer with confidence St Paul’s question, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? There is a serious issue here. Many who are unable to answer this question positively are otherwise regular committed churchgoers with a sincere faith.

The way that Pentecostals and charismatics traditionally have tackled this problem is, as I have described, theologically, by arguing that there are two stages in becoming a Christian. Firstly, by a person believing in Jesus and making a personal commitment to him, and then secondly, by that person receiving the Holy Spirit. While, they claim, believing in Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit may both happen at the same time, they are different and can, therefore happen at different times. Sometimes the two stages can be a long time apart. For some people, the second stage never happens at all.

This second stage itself is described using various terminology. Pentecostals have usually called it the baptism in or with the Spirit. Others use terms such ‘second blessing’, ‘renewed by the Spirit’, or ‘filled with the Spirit’. The reason for the terminological confusion is that the New Testament simply does not support such a two-stage process. Receiving the Spirit, being baptized by, with, or in the Spirit, and gaining new life in the Spirit are all used to describe what happens when a person first becomes Jesus’ disciple.

Recognizing this, some have argued that a person indeed receives the Holy Spirit when they believe, but they don’t necessarily know about it. They need a subsequent experience for the Holy Spirit to become real to them. Often this is described using the phrase ‘filled with the Spirit’. On this understanding, then, a person receives the Holy Spirit when they believe in Jesus, but they are filled with - some would say baptized with - the Spirit as a separate experience. But again, this is not how the New Testament describes receiving the Spirit. And ‘being filled with the Spirit’ is something which needs to be a continual experience throughout the life of the believer from the very beginning of their life as a believer (Ephesians 5:18).

Quite simply, if a person has not received the Holy Spirit, they are not one of Jesus’ disciples. As St Paul writes:

‘Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.’ (Romans 8:9)

The problem, then, is that theologically anyone who is a committed believer has received the Holy Spirit, but the experience of many believers is that they haven’t.

The approach I have been describing seeks to tackle the problem theologically by separating becoming a believer from a full experience of the Spirit (whatever language is used to describe it) creating a two-stage process and, it could be argued, two classes of believers. Instead, I would argue, the problem is not primarily a theological but a pastoral one. As a pastoral problem, it has many different causes.

1. Not having made a commitment to Jesus

Firstly, the reason many in our churches have not directly experienced the Holy Spirit for themselves is because they have not yet received the Holy Spirit. The reason they have not received the Holy Spirit is because they have not yet made a commitment to Jesus.

They may be very regular churchgoers, but people have many different reasons for coming to church. Some come, for example, for social reasons because they are looking for community and friendship. Others enjoy the style of worship on offer or come because of the church’s stance on social and political issues. Others simply because their family has always attended a particular church. It is right that churches welcome everyone who comes, and we should try to create a safe place for people to explore faith and find answers to their spiritual questions. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is given to those believe in Jesus and make a commitment to him. He is not given to those who are just interested in Jesus or admire him. At the Feast of Tabernacles, when Jesus invites anyone who is thirsty to come to him to drink, St John writes:

‘Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.’ (John 7:39)

The first question, then, to ask if someone who comes to church says they have not experienced the Holy Spirit is whether they believe in Jesus in the sense of having made a personal commitment to him. It is all too easy for someone to come to church, and even to be active in a church, without having made a personal commitment of faith. Until they do, they remain like those on the Day of Pentecost who can see and hear without knowing what it is. After Peter explains to the crowd what it is all about, they ask him what they should do. Peter replies:

‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:38)

In preaching the Gospel and telling people what being a follower of Jesus means, we need to preach the full Gospel, and this will always include teaching about the Holy Spirit and God’s promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe in Jesus. In bringing people to faith, we should also bring them to expect to experience the Holy Spirit in their life. We also need to encourage those who have experienced the Holy Spirit to share their experience with the body of Christ. It is important to teach people that the gift of the Spirit is given, as St Paul teaches, for the common good and not just for our own benefit (1 Corinthians 12:7).

2. Not having been told about the Holy Spirit

Secondly, there are those who will say that they do believe in Jesus and have made a commitment to him. What is more, they seek to live faithfully for Jesus in their lives and are active in the Church. Nevertheless, their experience of the Holy Spirit is not what I have been describing. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, they too have not directly experienced the Holy Spirit.

There can be many reasons for this and the best next step for them is to talk to a priest or pastor who believes in the Holy Spirit. The reason, however, for many in our churches not experiencing the Holy Spirit lies not with them personally, but with their church. St Paul tells the Church at Thessalonica not to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). A major reason many people in our churches have no direct personal experience of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is effectively quenched in the church they are attending. In their answer to St Paul’s question about whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed, the believers in Ephesus replied:

‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 19:2)

Churches, and clergy in particular, have to take a large share of the blame for people not having experienced the Holy Spirit. We have failed to tell people about the Holy Spirit in a way that leads them to discover him for themselves. Clergy can be guilty of talking about the Holy Spirit in such away that people don’t realize that a person can experience the Holy Spirit for themselves or else think that such experiences are only for the saints or for those who are that way inclined! St Peter says:

‘For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ (Acts 2:39)

People need to be introduced to the Holy Spirit and be made aware that the promise is specifically to them too and not just to the select few. We need, however, to make sure that it is the Holy Spirit we introduce people to and not our own ideas of who he is and what it means to know him. Jesus says that the wind blows where it chooses (John 3:8). We often understand Jesus’ words to refer to the Holy Spirit, but what Jesus actually says they refer to is anyone ‘born of the Spirit’.

A person’s experience of the Spirit is up to the Spirit to determine. The Holy Spirit will not be confined by the limits we seek to place upon him. The Father and the Son want to make their home in the life of all who believe in Jesus and keep his commandments. They come to do this by the Spirit, but the home the Father and the Son make in a believer’s life is for them to decide, not us.

3. Being afraid of the Holy Spirit

Finally, many in our churches have not directly experienced the Holy Spirit for themselves quite simply because they are afraid to. On the one hand, this may be a perfectly reasonable fear. It may be a fear of the unknown, and the Holy Spirit, as I have been saying, is still the unknown person of the Holy Trinity for many in our churches. It may also be because of what they have seen and heard in some churches or in the behaviour of some people who claim to have experienced the Holy Spirit.

Tragically, many who claim to have had experiences of the Holy Spirit have been given to excess and to behaviour which has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit and everything to do with their own emotional desires. Jesus, however, says that the Holy Spirit is given to those who love him. The Holy Spirit is a gift of God given out of love. St John writes in his first letter:

‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear …’ (1 John 4:18)

We need to reassure people that there is nothing about experiencing the Holy Spirit for those who love Jesus to fear. The Holy Spirit’s role is to be another ‘paraclete’. The original paraclete is, of course, Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit is given to enable us to stay close to Jesus and to do his work in the world, so that the world may know that the Father sent him. If we are not frightened of Jesus, we should not be frightened of the Holy Spirit. Again, as St Paul writes in our second reading:

‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God …’ (Romans 8:15-16)

On the other hand, however, our fear may be to do with losing control and, in a sense, we are right to feel this way. This is not because the Holy Spirit is going to take us over and possess us like a demon or make us do things we don’t want to do, but because being a follower of Jesus is about giving up control. To be a follower of Jesus is to submit our will to his, and if we are unwilling to submit our wills to his, then our fear is justified. The Holy Spirit won’t make us submit our will to Jesus, but he will help us and encourage us to do so as he draws us closer to Jesus and reveals him to us, as Jesus said he would. As St Paul tells us, submission to Christ is not the reluctant submission of a slave, but the willing obedience of a child to their Father, a Father who only gives good gifts to his children (Luke 11:9-13).


The Nicene Creed that we say together each week describes the Holy Spirit as the Lord and giver of life, and each week we say together that this is what we believe. Rather than changing our theology, we need to change people. As both churches and individuals we need the life-giving Holy Spirit.

Being a follower of Jesus in a hostile world is not easy. We can feel very isolated and alone. But we don’t have to do this on our own. What is more, we can’t do this on our own. Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them orphaned. St Peter told the crowd that the promise was for them, for their children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. That includes everyone listening to this podcast. God wants you to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Son want to make their home in your life. The only thing that’s stopping them is you.

The distance between theory and reality, however, can seem very great. Again, it doesn’t have to be. Jesus said

‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11:13)

If we want to receive the Holy Spirit, all we have to do is ask. This promise is for you.

May we each receive the promise of the Father and experience our own personal Pentecost.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Come, Holy Spirit.


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