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Haunted Churches?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sermon for the first Sunday after Epiphany

It has been said that the British Isles are the most haunted place on Earth. Whether or not that’s true, people find that some of the creepiest places are ancient churches and the ruins of abbeys. There’s almost an expectation to see some apparition wandering about through the ancient stones. Why are churches so creepy, especially at night? Surely a church is supposed to be a holy place?


Christians are required to believe in ghosts – no, not the sheet-waving, chain-clanking spectres of classic fiction. We believe in the Holy Ghost which means that we are meant to believe in at least one spirit. What does this mean?

Our Lord says, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The image that we have to dispel is that God is like the ghosts that appear in stories. God is a spirit. He does not have a body; He cannot be seen; He is like the wind which blows and we feel its effects. Clearly, Jesus is talking of the Holy Ghost here, after all, Jesus is not a spirit. He has a body; He can be seen and we can touch Him.

In saying this, Jesus is challenging an error that has persisted throughout human history: that God has a place on earth in which He dwells. The Jews and Samaritans have been arguing about where to worship God for a long time and the question has divided the people of God. In calling God a spirit, Jesus is saying that God is like the air we breathe which is always here but noticeable when it moves. You can’t say that the air is over here but not over there.

Jesus is also saying that there is more to our life than just physical matter and this is where we are now. So many people say that there is nothing beyond what we can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. They will say that when you’re dead, you’re dead and that’s it. They don’t believe in ghosts. Others believe that their gods are physical objects. This is why some people worship idols: they are the gods that can be seen. Yet, we are not to worship a god made of matter. We are to worship God in spirit and we are to worship Him in truth. Spirits truly exist.

But Jesus is saying something more.


Jesus always refers to God as His Father and that He is to be worshipped, so we worship God the Father. Jesus says that we must worship God in spirit, so the Holy Spirit is indeed God. Jesus says that we must worship God in truth, and Jesus calls Himself the Truth, so Jesus must also be God. Here, in this time of Epiphany, the Holy Trinity is seen again in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ even as the Holy Trinity was revealed at His Baptism in the river Jordan. There are three Persons but One God. This cannot happen with things that are made of matter. God is a spirit and we must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Does this mean we have to worship Him in His spirit or with our spirits?


The answer is both. We are beings with a spirit, too, because we live and breathe, and we are conscious. We are not mere matter, but an inseparable mix of body and spirit. Take one away and we cease to be human. We are not to see ourselves as biological machines but as beings that reflect God Himself in our spirit and in our body, just as Our Lord Jesus Christ is both human and divine. Because we have a spirit, we must respect our bodies and keep them fit for the service of God. Because we have a body, we must curb its appetites so that we take care of our spirits.


Why are churches so creepy? Are they haunted? It is more likely that in an old church building, we become aware of the presence of the spirit of God moving just as the cold draughts move around the building. God is everywhere, but we feel His presence more keenly in holy places, none more so than in the Sacrament of the altar. In a holy church, we have nothing to fear for it is the presence of the spirit of God who challenges our pre-occupation with being physical things. It is when we are unnerved by things beyond our understanding that we remember our duty and kneel before the Spirit of God in worship.

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