St Francis, Terriers - Pentecost  (04.06.2017)

Tony Dickinson

This time last Sunday I was in a coach on my way from Berlin to Wittenberg. Hugh and I were travelling with the congregation of the Protestant church in Zehlendorf to join around 100,000 worshippers (that’s about the total population of High Wycombe) at the festal service which ended this year’s Kirchentag and launched the “Reformation Summer” in the place where it all started five hundred years ago.

The late Phyllis Tickle, a wise observer of the Christian scene, not just in her native USA but worldwide, had a theory that every five hundred years or so the Holy Spirit starts leading the people of God deeper into truth, not just “bringing things to [our] remembrance”, as Jesus tells his disciples in this morning’s Gospel, but pushing the Church out of the places where it has become a bit too cosy and comfortable. She used to compare it to a massive “garage sale”, where lots of stuff that was useful once, or fashionable once, but which has outgrown its usefulness, is got rid of.

Now, there’s a lot in what she says. Five centuries ago the Reformation began. Five hundred years before that there were the upheavals of the Viking Age and the expansion of Islam, both of which posed critical questions for the Church, and the split, the great schism, between the Christians of the Eastern and Western Churches. Five hundred years before that there were the great movements of peoples which helped bring about the end of the Western Roman Empire and which gave rise to some of the greatest of St Augustine’s writings. And five hundred years before that, we have what scholars used to call “the Christ event”, culminating, in Luke’s version of the story, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate today.

Five hundred years on from Martin Luther there are strong signs that we’re going through another “garage sale” conducted by the Holy Spirit. Some parts of it will be fun, and others very difficult. How it will end, none of us knows, but we trust that the Holy Spirit will, as Jesus promised, continue to abide with us and in us. “Let your light...”