Another offering that leans heavily on the shoulders of others - this time the helpful resources that Christian Aid themselves provide, which are always a joy to use (though I really have tried to make them my own).
When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of St Matthew’s were all gathered together in one place when suddenly………..
How would you carry on with the story?
After all, those words from Joel draw each one of us into the dreaming of dreams and the seeing of visions.
What would your dream, your vision be for this church family on this day of Pentecost?
Does it feel to you as if the coming of the Holy Spirit might surprise us all at any moment, or do the events we’ve been hearing about have a flavour of unreality, of long ago and far away that can have little impact on Cainscross in 2008?
Sometimes it’s easy to be trapped by our own weariness, - perhaps a long vacancy has meant that the tasks of ministry have been shared among fewer people, people already fitting things in in their limited “spare time”.
At that stage it’s very easy to simply focus on keeping going without daring to lift our eyes to see God’s bigger picture, to allow sheer exhaustion to divorce you from the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit….
If you’ve ever felt like that, imagine how it must have been for the disciples…They had lived through the emotional upheaval of the first Holy Week and Easter…the grief and despair of Good Friday, the confused excitement of the Resurrection, the joyful reunions with a Jesus who was both the same and also unutterably different.
They had heard him promise to be with them always – but seen him vanish from their sight.
Now they were faced with getting on with things by themselves– and perhaps his promise to send them a comforter seemed less than helpful. They didn’t want comfort. They wanted Jesus, with them at every stage…Without him they had no sense of the big picture, no inkling of where God might be leading them, certainly no courage to dream.
Does that sound at all familiar?
I’m pretty certain that the disciples, waiting obediently because they had no idea what else they could do, had no inkling of what was about to happen.So the impact of the Spirit’s coming upon them is the more amazing.
Suddenly, there is courage and conviction.
Suddenly there is complete understanding of just what God has been doing (would Peter the fisherman of old have launched into this sort of sermon? Clearly not)
Where there was weariness and despair, suddenly everything becomes new and exciting.
History has reached a turning point. Through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence became real once again for the disciples.
Through God’s gift of the Spirit, God’s presence is real for us - with us, in us and even working through us. The word for Spirit in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) also means ‘breath’ – and breath, of course, is synonymous with life.
It INSPIRES us…bringing new life to the world, to each individual and each community, near and far, past, present and future.
New life…for weary churches, for battered communities, for a hurting world.
As today we begin Christian Aid Week, we recall their commitment to “life before death” and their co-operation with the Spirit in all that leads to human flourishing, among those whose lives have been diminished by poverty and injustice for too long.
We recognise that God’s big picture includes the obliteration of poverty, the overcoming of human greed.
Perhaps that’s how we should carry on with the story…
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of St Matthew’s were all gathered together in one place when suddenly everyone realised that they could make a difference…that they were not too small or too insignificant to change the world. So they began to pray.. and to work together to affirm life in all its fullness”
I think that might be one happy ending that would make God smile…but there are others too, for the Holy Spirit does not just bring new life…the Holy Spirit empowers people so that they can empower others...
Those confused and defeated men found themselves transformed into radical preachers of a dynamic message, full of confidence, longing to share their gospel in all directions. They knew at first hand what a difference God could make in the lives of the most ordinary, unexceptional people…and they wanted their friends, their neighbours, and the strangers from across the world to experience that same transformation.
Might that be the end of the story?
“the people of St Matthew’s were so thrilled by the reality of God’s presence that they, that WE, could no longer keep quiet but simply had to go out and tell the world, - better yet, show the world, that things had changed.
We’re not just a church of nice people but a new creation!
These actions of the Spirit show the changes God wants to bring about in the world. And the message of Pentecost is that God calls and equips us, as transformed people, to play our part in this mission. We are called to live in a new way.
Through the Holy Spirit we can see things differently, recognise the truths that lie beneath the surface of our own lives, the comfortable excuses we make to ourselves about our own lifestyles, and see the injustices around us.
Through the Holy Spirit we can have courage to, as the Quakers put it “speak truth to power”. From the upper room, the disciples went out to prophesy and testify on the streets of Jerusalem. They told the truth about what had happened in recent weeks, and about where it would lead the world. Many joined their number as a result. As followers of Christ, we are also called to proclaim God’s love, and the justice he requires. We are challenged to speak and to act where there is injustice and abuse in our world, and of our world…to be a voice for the poor and the marginalised…and a voice for the planet itself, the fragile earth whose balance human greed has threatened.
So, another ending to the story
“The people of St Matthew’s pledged themselves to respond to the needs of the world around them by living lives based on God’s justice…by working to make trade fair…by befriending the planet….”
Big words, big concepts – but we are all small people, people living insignificant lives in unimportant places…and yet, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit united people in purpose and mission. We, too, are called to work together to serve God’s people and purpose. We are reminded in the epistle that we each bring different gifts to this task, but they come together for the common good, we all have different roles to play, but for a single cause: to transform the world.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of St Matthew’s knew themselves important in God’s great plan. They recognised that the Holy Spirit is already with them, giving them the gifts they need to bring about God’s dream for this place…and they dared to look ahead, to see God’s bigger picture, and to weave their own dreams to collaborate in the coming of the Kingdom”
So - will you pray with me?
God of the rushing wind,
sweep through our indifference.
God of the fiery flames,
ignite our compassion.
God of the many voices,
open our mouths to speak out against injustice.
That through your Spirit
and our actions
this world may be transformed.