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Happy Birthday, now open your present!

May 19, 2018

What really makes you want to cheer and shout? Does the wedding of Harry and Meghan? What about the FA Cup final between Manchester United or Chelsea? When have you been really excited? A school sports day? Exam results day?

I’m not an overexcited sort of person, but I have been excited by many things. I wanted to cheer and shout when my daughter graduated – a proud Dad moment! I was excited the first time I flew; even more so because it was a small light aircraft so you felt far more. I was excited and terrified when I was confirmed and then again when I was ordained. I used to get really excited about my birthdays, but not so much now the numbers are getting bigger.

I remember the excitement with which I first read my Bible. I had just become a Christian and I just couldn’t get enough of this amazing story of God loving people. I had almost forgotten about that. I had forgotten until I listened to a talk by the Bishop of Norwich. He asked the question, “Why don’t we cheer when we hear the Gospel read?” Why? Why indeed?

As he pointed out, the things being said are truly amazing and wonderful. Just think about that account of the first coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were so overcome with joy and excitement some people thought that they must be drunk! (see Acts 2.13)

This Sunday I celebrate the Church’s birthday. I celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus’ friends. But the Spirit came in power 2,000 years ago and I am still too like those disciples hiding in a locked room. I’m sure I’m not alone when I too often keep my faith in Jesus to myself; locked up inside me for fear, for fear of ridicule or of simply being thought of as a bit odd. But then I’m English and for us religion is a private matter. Religion has caused too many divisions and wars in my country for us to want to make it anything other than a private matter. Put like this, even asking the question, “How do I bring myself to leave our locked room?” or “How do I manage to share my faith?” feels threatening, it makes me uncomfortable. It’s as though the Church has received an amazing birthday present but has decided to put it back in the box!

I remember growing up that my Dad would never make a fuss. He would rather eat a cold meal at a restaurant that make a scene. My Mam was the opposite. Some things were worth making a fuss about; being short-changed in a shop, poor food or rude service would not be allowed to pass. I can see my Dad cringing even now. I can also see my Church cringing in the same way, every time it is called upon to speak confidently about Jesus.

The Church doesn’t want to offend anyone – so we say nothing. We say nothing offensive. We say nothing of any great note either:

Nothing exciting.

Nothing life changing.

Nothing challenging.

People say, “Good old Church of England”, they perhaps feel a warm sense of national nostalgia but that is all.

When the Holy Spirit first touched and filled me with power, it was like all the lights went on at once. The world was suddenly a different place. It was a little like that first Pentecost. Christianity may have been many things to me then but it certainly wasn’t warm and cosy! I suddenly realised that I was indeed worshipping the God who created heaven and earth. I felt alive with that divine power. I was filled with the one who gives life or death – The source of love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control and so much more – The one who made sense of my pretty mixed up life.

In that moment I realised that Christianity is not a faith of half measures. Christ demands everything and in a miracle gives even more back.

I know that I don’t have the luxury of pretending that Jesus isn’t lord of my life. Jesus is lord, so I need to follow where he commands or stop calling him lord. I must trust everything to him and obey. Or at least I try to. The amazing thing is that even when I fail, I’m not court-martialled as I deserve. When I fall my lord becomes my loving brother, he helps me up and cares for me. Each time I fall I learn again that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The problem is that I am too often ready to fall when the Spirit has given me the strength to stand. I trust the loving safety net when I should be bold. I’m learning now to strive more for Jesus and use that safety net as it was meant to be – as a last resort.

I am learning that if I am not committed to Christ, how can I expect to invite anyone else to commitment. I have learned too that in trusting the Spirit in me I find meaning and contentment – I find healing and strength – I find love and joy too. In short I am finding the more I give, the more I receive. The more I receive the more I can live a godly life. The more I live a godly life the more I find myself sharing and giving. Then the more I give… and round I go again.

There are plenty of other creeds and faiths shouting to be heard. This year I need to open my birthday present, not leave it in it’s box. I need to remember the power of God; stand up, be counted and let the love and power of the Spirit flow.

Happy Birthday, now open your present!

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