When the day of Pentecost had come the people of St Matthew's/All Saints were all gathered together in one place and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire church where they were gathered and……
How did you feel as you heard those words?
What would that sort of dramatic outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit actually mean for us here?
Do you honestly believe it could happen?
Every year as we approach Pentecost, I’m conscious that I’m being pulled in two directions.
On the one hand, I feel safe within the familiarity of Anglican liturgy here. I come expecting to find God (in this community) amid the blend of Word and Sacrament, and I am seldom disappointed. I’m Anglican by choice as well as by chance, and I do value worship which is conducted “decently and in order”…so imagining the sort of radical transformation that the Holy Spirit might bring to us is, on one level, more than a little alarming.
But on the other hand what Christian, confronted with the diverse challenges that face both church and world today could fail to pray for the transforming power that enabled a group of fearful uneducated men to take on the world for Christ?
I value what we have, but I know that we so often settle for less than our primary calling – to BE the church – a sign of God's kingdom, a powerful agent of transformation in a broken world...And I know that we will continue to fail, without a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit – in these communities, at this time.
I guess the struggle that I experience is simply par for the course. We all know that encounters with God are unlikely to leave us untouched – and sometimes the changes and challenges ahead seem too huge to contemplate.
The good news is - I rather suspect the disciples felt the same. When the Acts reading begins, they are gathered together, waiting. Though Luke doesn’t say so, it’s quite possible that they are actually gathered together in the upper room, their unofficial Jerusalem HQ. This is holy ground for them, the place where they’d celebrated the Passover with Jesus, and hidden in fear when the Lord was arrested and crucified. It was the place where they had huddled together in the fear and grief of Holy Saturday and the place where they heard the first rumours of resurrection. There they had encountered the risen one who came among them despite barred doors, there they had regrouped when he went from them, there they had watched and prayed for his promise to be fulfilled. Holy ground indeed,the place where they felt themselves to be a community, still united despite the departure of their Lord.
Yes, they were a community in waiting, uncertain about their next step, but a community gathered in faith and hope nonetheless.
Does that sound at all familiar? I do hope that it does
Of course, they were also a community under threat.
Outside the house, the streets were thronged with people once again – just as they had been at Passover…Perhaps the disciples defined themselves as if set against the crowd outside. They were the ones with the special knowledge and experience of God, though the crowds were the ones with the courage and freedom to move about the city.
We don't really know, but we DO know that with the coming of the Spirit, everything changed.
Hiding no longer, they went gladly out from their place of safety, out to speak to the crowds, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for a message that just had to be delivered. They were caught up in the excited turmoil, which was so pervasive that it seemed to onlookers that this was a scene of drunken revelry.
Rather alarming, I think?
But alarming or not, it worked. This wasn’t simply a particularly raucous worship service from which everyone went home scratching their heads, thankful to get back to normal.
Lives were changed.
People heard the Gospel and responded to it. They were baptized and “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers"
Happy Birthday, Church!
For the disciples, the coming of the Spirit meant that they had to let go of the securities of their holy place and go out into the streets, among the crowds that could so easily turn nasty.
The Spirit made that venture possible…and in doing so, opened up Salvation to the whole world.
Wonderful, inspirational....but perhaps a bit too far away from our expectations here this morning.
But, you know, Pentecost was not a once only event...The Spirit has been active throughout history, moving over the face of the waters at creation, transforming Ezekiel's dry bones, descending like a dove upon Jesus at his baptism.
And the Holy Spirit has not vanished from the world, not even from the Church!
At that first Pentecost, God reached out to communicate directly with everyone.
And God still does.
But not always, of course, in the mighty rushing wind, the multilingual gifts and high excitement of the day of Pentecost.
While Luke presents the coming of the Spirit with fanfares and celebrations, John offers us only a gentle whisper, so quiet that we might even miss it.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus looks at his exhausted, disappointed disciples, wrung out by all the dramas of holy week, of death and resurrection – and offers them nothing less than artificial respiration.He breathes HIS life into them...literally INSPIRES them....That weary, fearful group is given the very life of God, and a new calling, to reconcile and bless If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
We have to do the same.
Filled with God's life-breath, Inspired as God's church, this is our calling.
Knowing that God so loved not church alone but the whole world, we are to reach out to her in all her pain and brokenness and speak God's words of healing and forgiveness.
Knowing that our language may not be adequate, we are to listen to God and allow the Holy Spirit to translate so that we may more fully communicate God's love.
We speak so many different languages – of mind and heart and spirit – culture and community – yet all must hear the Gospel.
There is no official language for God rather God comes down and speaks our language, whatever it may be.
God's one supreme message of love is translated so that nobody can fail to understand.
Today, the Church's birthday, we should not celebrate a monochrome church, full of people who see the world exactly as we do.
Rather, let us rejoice in the diversity of God’s people, within and beyond our churches, and reach out to share good news with them.
If we will only let him, God can speak through us to all in their own tongue, and God can and will reconcile them all.
We may not experience the drama of that first Pentecost, -but we can and must pray to be open to the Holy Spirit, as strong as the wind, gentle as is the dove.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, And You shall renew the face of the earth.