More or Less?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Vigil Mass of Pentecost, 2013, using the first reading from Ezekiel (the valley of dry bones)A glass, half full of water, and a large jug, brimful of water, stand on a white cloth behind which is a red cloth embroidered with the white dove of the Holy Spirit descending.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-empty.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-full.

Never mind the glass! Look how much water is available in the jug!

Tonight, the beginning of the celebration of Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the Church’s birthday, for it was the coming of the Holy Spirit which united the Christians into a bold community of servants of Jesus Christ. I think it’s appropriate, therefore, to look around and see what we can see.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-empty. The bones are dry and dessicated. The whole of creation is subject to frustration. We see fewer children coming forward for the sacraments. We see our congregation shrinking, and not many younger adults getting involved in church. We wonder whether we can afford to pay the church gas bill, or carry out necessary repairs. At the national level, we’re painfully aware of the errors of judgment made by some of the leaders of our church. We are tempted to worry!

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-full. We have structures, just as Ezekiel’s dry bones managed to form themselves into structures. We have enough volunteers to run a First Holy Communion programme – just.  We have enough volunteers to run a Confirmation programme – just. We keep the essentials going. We have a few people enquiring about becoming full members of the Catholic Church. And every weekend, more than 200 people pass through the doors of St John Lloyd church to worship God. Yes, the glass is half-full. We have reason to be optimistic.

The trouble is, we keep looking at the glass.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”

Did you get that?

Our Lord did not say it in a whisper.

Our Lord did not slip it into the middle of a sermon so we could lose focus.

Our Lord stood in the heart of Jerusalem, raised his voice, and cried out: I’ve got what you’ve been looking for… but you have to come and get it! And taking hold of this requires both faith, and courage!

When the breath of God entered Ezekiel’s dry bones, they came to life. But they needed more than life – they needed hope. So Ezekiel proclaimed to them: The Lord will give you life and re-establish you!

St Paul knew that not even the coming of God’s Spirit will make this life perfect on earth. He acknowledged that yes, we must be patient until perfection comes in heaven. But St Paul also challenges us to hope – to take hold of a firm confidence that God will prevail in the end. In another place (Ephesians 3:19-20), Paul reminds us that we can be filled with the utter fullness of God, and that God’s power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine!

So what is Jesus saying to us and our church this evening? If you believe in me, come and drink deeply of the Holy Spirit! Don’t let your imagination be limited by the way you’ve experienced church in the past, or by the prospects of decline which seem to be all around. Expect that God can do so much more in you and through you.

Now there’s a challenge!

Will you let God’s Holy Spirit use you to invite others to be part of God’s church?

Will you let God’s Holy Spirit use you to be an active member of this parish, making God’s love present in this building and in the world around us?

Will you dare to ask God’s Spirit to make his home in you anew this night, so that you can move beyond what is comfortable, and allow God to do more than you can ask or imagine in your life?

Many Catholics have done this in ages past. They have founded religious orders, raised holy families, sheltered refugees, spoken out against oppression and refused to deny their faith, even until death. We call them saints. And many Catholics do this in own age. They do this by adopting children, volunteering as part of the SVP, knocking on the doors of lapsed Catholics, taking part in pro-life demonstrations, or sharing their faith around the watercooler at work. We call them, ordinary Christians, aware of the high standard of holiness to which all God’s children are called.

If the challenge I have just thrown out excites you, yet leaves you doubting that you have the means to respond, understand what Jesus is offering. You cannot do any of these mighty works on your own. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit, entrusted to you when you were confirmed, will enable you to do all the works which God is inviting you to undertake. So in this Year of Faith, focus on what will sustain your faith in the work of the Church.

Is the glass half-empty? Yes, it is, but if we focus on that we will be tempted to despair.

Is the glass half-full? Yes it is, but if we focus on that, we will be tempted to settle for being a mediocre church.

Is Jesus offering us as much living water as we can handle?

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” So ask the Lord for living water. Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of our Church!