Sermon preached at St Maryís Handsworth

What does the Holy Spirit look like? Thatís a problem we have today. With regard to the Holy Trinity, most of us probably think of the Father as a nice old man and the Son as Jesus of Nazareth but what image do we have of the Holy Spirit? A rushing, mighty wind? A wind blowing though we do not know where it comes from? A flame of fire? Or maybe even a dove? That makes it hard for us to relate to him. We can relate to a Father in heaven because we all have an idea of what a Father looks like. We can relate to the Son because the Gospels tell us what Jesus was like. How, though. do we pray to a wind, or a flame, or even a dove? I think that is why the Holy Spirit gets neglected in our churches. We simply donít know what to do with him.

So what does the Holy Spirit do? Well, everything that God does in the world is done through the Holy Spirit. Every Sacrament is the work of the Holy Spirit making Christ present to us. It is by the Holy Spirit that Christ takes bread and wine and makes it his body and blood. It is by the Holy Spirit that a baby is baptised into the body of Christ. It is by the Holy Spirit that our sins are taken away from us and we are restored in Godís love. Without the Holy Spirit nothing would happen in the church. God would not be active in the world. He is that important. You could say that the Holy Spirit is like the air we breathe. You canít see air. You canít usually feel it but if it were taken away we would die in minutes.

We canít see the Holy Spirit but we can think about him; or more usefully we can think about his effects. St Paul tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Wherever you see love, joy or peace you are seeing the Holy Spirit at work. Wherever you see kindness, goodness or gentleness you are seeing the Holy Spirit at work.

Another way of understanding the Holy Spirit is to think of beauty. We see beauty because God has put into us the ability to see beauty. As far as we know animals donít look at sunsets, or flowers, or other animals and think Ė how beautiful that is! We do and that is another gift of the Holy Spirit. Once you begin to think like this you will see the Holy Spirit present everywhere in your life. Life itself becomes much more exciting as we look around for things that are beautiful, for people who give us joy, or show us love. Each of these becomes a place where we meet God.

Last month I was in Zimbabwe. What beauty did I see there? Well, the sky was blue, the trees were green, the grass was a wonderful variety of greens, yellows, orange and white and there were some fabulous views of mountains and valleys. I love all that but probably the most beautiful thing I saw was a little boy called Liberty. I met Liberty for the first time last September. He was a miserable scrap of a boy who seemed terrified of me, wouldnít smile for the camera and looked very underfed. Six months later he is so different. With better food and support in school he is now an energetic, laughing, cheeky little boy. He is bursting with life and is constant fun. He was even delighted to spend holiday time doing mathematics and English Ė though not too much. Or I think of a little girl who lives in one room with her mother and four sisters and her mother is a sex worker. Since we took her on she has grown bigger and happier and is doing well in school. We have given her a life she would never have had without us. Or I think of Tatenda who is a 14 year old boy with a very cheeky smile. He is also very clever but was doing badly in school because his home life was so bad. It has cost us a lot but we put him in boarding school and he is thrilled now to have proper time to study, eat regular meals and have a bed to sleep in.

Do you see how lucky I am to have young people like these in whom I can see the Holy Spirit giving life and joy and hope? It is because of people like you that I can do this. You give me the money. The Holy Spirit inspires you to support children you never see. You change their lives. Thatís how the Holy Spirit works.

The Holy Spiritís work is not always as simple as that. We pray for Zimbabwe. That means we pray for the Spirit to change the minds of the people in control, to help everyone in the country to find small ways of making life better; we pray for justice and a thriving economy. We pray that the Church will see that it is not enough to fill church buildings with enthusiastic Christians but to keep showing them ways in which their Christianity can make a difference to other peopleís lives. There has been a bad drought in Zimbabwe and already people are going hungry. It will get worse as the months go by. It will be six months before the rains come and they can plant again. We need to find ways to feed the people, especially the children. We need to help them learn ways to grow food even in drought years. There are some really exciting projects helping people to live better, eat better and grow food better. This too is the work of the Holy Spirit Ė Ďthat they may have life and have it abundantlyí as Jesus himself said.

Christianity is about abundant life Ė abundant life in this world and even more abundant life in the next. Pentectost is one of the three great Feasts of the Churchís year: Christmas when the Father sent his Son into the world, Easter when his Son was raised from the dead and today when the Spirit began the work of changing the world and the people in it so that they would be fit to inherit the Kingdom of heaven. Today, you might say, we become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we think of the future we think of life beyond death. When I think of what we are doing for our children in Zimbabwe, I rejoice that we are giving them a new life which will bring them to God.


        Nicolas Stebbing CR