It was here that they received the Holy Spirit, manifested by fire, wind and the speaking in tongues, and so came into being the Christian festival of Pentecost. Because the disciples now had the power to go out and preach, teach, heal and baptize people in the name of Jesus, this is regarded as the birthday of our Church.
In Chapel this past week we have been talking about the Holy Spirit and the two ‘ps’. The power of God – we are the agents of God’s love in the world and by opening ourselves to God’s power we have the ability to bring healing, restoration and love to the world.
The second ‘p’ is the presence of God. I believe God is part of me. He is my life force, my spiritual aspect, and he is my conscience. Someone once said, “Conscience is God’s presence in man.”
So what is conscience? Conscience provides an awareness, a sense of guilt when we transgress, when we fall short of the values we believe in. It is a sense that someone is watching us, and who is that someone? Is it ourselves or is it God? I don’t think it really matters. I think the two are very closely related. Let me tell you a story.
In the ancient world a wise teacher announced to his twelve students that he had two problems. The first was that he had to find a husband for his daughter, and according to the tradition of those days, it should be one of his twelve students. The difficulty was that he couldn’t decide which student would make the best husband.
The second problem was that he, as the father of the bride, would have to pay for a lavish wedding and also set up the couple in a new home with all the necessities. This was a great expense.
To solve both these problems, the teacher announced a contest. He asked his students to creep stealthily into the local village under the cover of night and steal whatever they could, as long as no one saw them. Then they would bring all the goods back to the teacher. Whichever student stole the most would win his daughter, and all the stolen valuables would go to the happy couple.
The students were shocked that their teacher was asking them to steal. He was usually such a moral man. In those days, though, so important was the vow of obedience to one’s teacher that they accepted the contest. Or perhaps they were just blinded by their desire for their teacher’s very attractive daughter.
Over the next seven days the students snuck into the village late at night, stole whatever they could, and brought it back to the teacher. Amazingly no student got caught in the act. At the end of the week, the teacher assembled the students to announce the results.
“You have stolen so much,” said the teacher, “enough for any couple to get a good start in life. Except for one of you, who has not brought back anything at all. Why not?”
The shy young student came forward and said, “Because I had to follow your instructions, sir.”
“What do you mean? Did I not instruct you to steal and bring the goods back to me?”
“Yes, sir,” said the student, with downcast eyes, “But you also said as long as no one sees you. I crept into many houses at 2.00am, when everyone was fast asleep. But every time I was about to steal something, I noticed someone was watching me. So I had to leave empty-handed, sir.”
“If everyone in the house was sleeping, then who was watching you?” asked the teacher.
“I was watching me, sir. I could see myself about to steal. That is why I took nothing.”
“Very good, very good,” exclaimed the teacher. “At least I have one wise student who has been listening to me all these years. All the rest of you nincompoops, take all the stolen goods back to their owners. They won’t punish you. I told them about this contest two weeks ago. They were expecting you. That is why none of you were caught. And remember, whatever immoral act you do, someone will always see you, and that someone is yourself. Because you see it, you will feel bad and suffer.”
Now that student had a conscience, and that’s what kept him honest. Who was watching him? Himself? God? I don’t think it matters. I would put it to you that one is part of the other. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in us, and part of that presence is our conscience. In our reading from John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that through him God will give us a counsellor. Another good word for counsellor is helper. That helper is God’s presence within us, the Holy Spirit, and that is what helps to keep us on the straight and narrow. He does that through our conscience.
Rev Warner Wilder