Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost – 19th May 2024

Christine Housel – AI Ethics Adviser

The disciples were all together in one place, we learn that it was early in the morning. Unlike several weeks earlier, in the Upper Room, where they were mourning, grieving, disappointed, fearful, and discombobulated, today they are full of anticipation for what’s next. Why? Because they have seen the risen Lord. They have seen the marks on his hands and feet of his new risen body. He has shared a meal and broken the bread of the Eucharistic feast with them in this new form. He has come and gone through walls. He has re-enforced his teaching from before the crucifixion and has taught them new mysteries. He has reminded them that he cannot stay with them indefinitely, as we hear in today’s Gospel passage from John because he must leave for the Advocate, of the Holy Spirit to come- and he tells them that though they (those who knew him while on the earth) will miss him, it is better for them and for all those who will believe in Him because the Holy Spirit will be equally present with and available to all those who follow Jesus, all the time.

They have seen him ascend to Heaven, and are now back Jerusalem to wait for they hardly know what- what Jesus promised, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Together are the disciples, Jesus brothers, several of the women, and other followers numbering about a hundred and twenty and they are constantly praying.

Then, on that morning. the dramatic scene unfolds. We who have heard it often may allow it to pass without being awed but let us take a moment to picture it. Luke, the writer of Acts, does not, I believe, mean to be figurative. The Holy Spirit came and they were filled with the Holy Spirit in a way never before experienced. A tangible proof of it was that these humble Galileans and others began speaking in languages they did not know, speaking of God’s deed of power. The reason we know what they were speaking about is that Jews and other God-fearers from all the known world were in Jerusalem for a High Holy Festival and they heard the testimony in their own languages.

How appropriate that today we highlight and celebrate the international community that we are a part of as Jesus-followers and in a very special way here locally in Geneva and at Holy Trinity Church. The Bible takes the time to list many of the nations that heard their own language spoken to reiterate the point that each one of these is known, loved, and included by God. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. Swiss and French. Germans and Italians, Kenyans and Ugandans and Rwandese and South Africans, those from the UK and US and Canada, Chinese and Singaporean and Indonesian, Colombian and Brazilian. Please list aloud any countries, regions or tribes that you represent or know this community touches. Each one of these, and any we missed speaking out loud, is known, loved, and included by God in the redeeming life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Where the Spirit of God, the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity as later theologians would articulate it, has always been present and can be seen in the actions of creation and interactions with humans through the Scriptures, now the Spirit is sent to indwell the very bodies of the followers of Jesus as a temple due to the reconciliation Jesus made possible between human beings and God.

Imagine hearing the ancient tales of the God of Hebrew scripture and the new revelation of Jesus in your own language by common workers at 9 a.m. in the morning as you are passing by. When some scoffed that this could only be drunkenness, Peter stood up and gave his first authoritative sermon, post death and resurrection. This is a different Peter than the one who denied Jesus under pressure and was depressed after his death. Peter now and for the rest of his life had no doubts that though God’s ways and actions are not what he thought they would be, God was at work in the way necessary to bring life and love to all with ears to hear.

Peter spoke with authority about Jesus as fulfillment of prophecy and 3000 were added to their number that day we learn later in the chapter.

Peter quoted a prophecy from Joel about the Spirit being poured out upon all flesh and understood that this was beginning now.

I love all of the rich references to the Spirit throughout this service, which highlight the role of the Spirit each and every Sunday and each and every day of our lives.

I wonder how seriously we take this Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s role and potential in our lives.

Can you imagine Jesus’ disciples surprise when their room was flooded with a sound like the rush of a violent wind and divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue actually rested on each of them, physical manifestations of the presence of the Spirit. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. All of the followers of Jesus. And then they began to show something new in their capacities, not of their own making but of the Spirit’s. In this moment, the speaking of other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.

The manifestation of the Spirit’s power was not for show, it had a purpose. But it was certainly a dramatic moment, signifying and demonstrating a new relationship with the Spirit and new possibilities because of that.

The prayers we will pray in just a few moments beautifully get at some of these promises and possibilities of life in and with the Spirit.

  • Power
  • Wisdom
  • Peace
  • Healing
  • Gifts
  • Fruit
  • Breath

Listen to them carefully as we pray later.

Now is a good time to deepen our relationship with and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

I was listening to a Gospel song last night by Walter Hawkins called “Agree”. It says, “You try your best. But it’s never good enough. Always failing the test. It seems to be too much….”

I resonate. Do you?

It goes on “… But remember He cares about it. He knows what troubles you. And He’ll be faithful to what He promised. He’s gonna see you through. So get out of His way, he wants to do it. For he knows His plan for you. He doesn’t need you to try and do it. Only needs you to agree.”

Jesus didn’t chastise Peter when he met him on the beach after the resurrection. He said Peace. God is more patient with us than we sometimes are with ourselves.. Because we don’t know how, the Spirit even helps us pray, sometimes in sighs too deep for words. But I dare say God is disappointed at our slow-going in learning to “agree”. Learning to rely. Learning to trust. Learning to expect… more.. This is what the Spirit needs from us.

This is our life’s work. The 7 categories from the prayers could perhaps be a helpful study guide on what to expect from and how to relate to and open up to the Spirit, how the Spirit wants to be more active and more visible in our lives, both to our personal benefit and to the benefit of all those around us who see something different going on. Beyond our own capacities.

One of the key points here in the sending of the Spirit is that God equips God’s people and church with the power of the Spirit to bear witness to Jesus Christ. In our Gospel, the Spirit is called an Advocate, signaling that the Spirit in us testifies to the reality of Jesus Christ, so that Jesus will be glorified among all the nations.

We see Peter and the disciples going forth with authority and their testimony never again shaken because their experience of the risen Christ was undeniable and unexpected and shocking.

We may think that this level of confidence is simply not possible for us.

Our Scriptures today are here to tell us that the Advocate will testify to the truth of Jesus within and among us so that we can function with as much confidence. It is an audacious claim.

Have we experienced this? Do we believe it?

We need this confidence more than ever. We can all see that our world is in, as they say, a polycrisis. Any one of the problems at our door is big and problematic and all together it is simply overwhelming. We may be trying to ignore or escape. We may be exhausted from striving to contribute. We may be depressed as studies show many of your young people are or are becoming. Add to this the fast-moving changes happening due to emerging technologies such as AI or artificial intelligence.

Have you seen the new release of the new ChatGPT4o? It’s just come out in the last few days with all kinds of new potentials. Have you heard that the Turing test has been passed with music? That means that the best musicians can’t tell that certain pieces of music in certain genres have been created by Ai. Have you heard that the anticipation of Artificial General Intelligence or Super-Intelligence is much closer than we thought, just a few years ago. And so much more.

My basic proposal is that now really is a good time for us all to take the Holy Spirit more seriously. God wants us to play a role in our world, we know this. And God wants us to play a role in this particular moment here and now, as beyond us as it can seem. And we need God to discover in each step what this may be, what this might look like, what our role as individuals and as communities might be. We need the Holy Spirit to play the roles promised because we cannot do it on our own. We need guidance. We need solace and peace in the overwhelm or when external peace is scarce. Etc.

My proposal is also that the church has a calling and unique and essential role to play with Ai and all the tech changes that are here and that are coming. I have gone through a change in the past year. I am a recovering technophobe who though and I’m sure because my father was one of the first PhDs in Computer Science and always stayed in the tech- we could say he was a technologist- I was not very interested in the tech developments and was a bit fearful, or overwhelmed. However, I am interested in the ethical, human, and spiritual implications of it all. I have gone through a personal revolution of confronting my own responsibility to play a better role as things develop. Through being around leading technologists, policy makers, and educators, through paying attention and devoting some time to study, and through prayer, I have realized that the changes ahead of us and indeed even now are much more profound that I imagined. And I realized that very few in the field, let alone the rest of us, are thinking about the implications- the nuanced implications- of all that’s happening as a regular feature of our common life or individual life. As with all technological advance, there are advantages and it is cool. I thought about putting about putting the Scriptures through ChatGPT to help create this sermon – or a part of it – just to think together about what’s happening and what’s going to happen. I didn’t do it this time. At the same time, my conviction is that there most of us, me being the first, have not been playing the role we need to in preserving our human values and our Christian values and preparing ourselves, our children, our churches, and our societies for the forthcoming changes. I am thus now turning my personal and professional focus to this topic. And I’m sure all of us can do something, starting now, beginning by simply putting it in the room and talking to our children. I’d like to open up opportunities for all of us to learn and to discover how we may contribute. A first serious opportunity will be the Wednesday after next 29 May at On The Way. My colleague Grant Lenaarts and I will lead an evening presentation and discussion provocatively titled “Artificial Intelligence for God” and you are all invited. We will begin as usual with worship and delicious dinner, so please sign up if you’d like to join for planning purposes.

When Peter preached those listening were convicted by the supernatural quality of the moment and asked what they should do. He said repent and be baptized. Follow Jesus. Receive the Spirit and go forth. Our Gospel promises that the Advocate will “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement.” This is a very interesting passage I had not much noticed in the past, that we should all study. In short, it takes the Spirit to help us see sin in light of the righteousness of Jesus and thus to see that sin does not have the last word and to know what to do about it.

We can have confidence that the Holy Spirit will supernaturally convict of sin and the need for Jesus though it is foreign to many in our world. And we can have confidence that no technology can take the place of that. Not only that, we are promised that the Spirit of truth will guide us into all truth as we go. Jesus is speaking: “for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, says Jesus, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, says Jesus, he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

We are not alone and the Spirit will lead the way.

This incredible promise is ours to agree with.

The Holy Spirit will see us through.

Now is a good time to recognize that the Holy Spirit in us could not be any closer and to draw nearer to this third person of God who transmits love between the Father and Son and to us –  to help us travel with confidence, purpose, direction, and peace through all the steps God has prepared for us to walk in.