Pentecost: Acts 2: 1-21
I have read and preached from these texts for years, and it doesn’t get any easier. It is a story that we are very familiar with but do we really stop to think about what happened?
What must it have felt like? To be sitting in a room, ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, waiting for who knows what? But waiting, because that’s what Jesus had told you to do. Ten days is a long time and you are getting tired, and irritable and you have things to do and if Jesus were sending someone he would have done it by now. Just as you’re about to start packing up your bag, you notice the noise, at first you have no idea what it is, then you realise it is wind and it is moving from person to person. Then you look around and see flames of fire on everyone else’s head. How terrifying must the experience of Pentecost been? And then there is silence – until people from all around gather to see what is going on; Jews from all over the world, every nation under heaven, were gathered together, to celebrate Pentecost and to top it all you find you are speaking unfamiliar words you didn’t know you had in you but they could understand you. That is how extraordinary the event was.
Wind and fire, two of the most essential and powerful elements usher in the Holy Spirit of God.
Wind – the very breath of God himself blowing in the room, wind that cannot be controlled or contained and that blows where it will – and try as we may, we will never be able to control the Will of God. Then there was the fire – why did God send fire? God had appeared in fire before. To Moses in the burning bush, to the people wandering in the wilderness as a pillar of fire, and when Elijah called on God he came as fire and consumed the sacrifice on the altar, before the prophets of Baal.
Fire is essential to life. Making a fire was one of the earliest skills man learned. The Romans always had a fire burning at every hamlet, village, town and garrison. There was a soldier responsible for keeping the fire burning and if he let it out would have to forfeit his life. People would come to take some of the fire back to their homes, or cook and warm themselves in the eternal fire. Fire also burns everything that it comes into contact with. It consumes things in its path until new life springs from the ashes. It was of course a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit in us – and sometimes we need to let the Spirit set fire to the things that should not be in our lives.
The one Jesus promised would be our comforter and sometimes it doesn’t feel very comfortable.
The Holy Spirit is mostly referred to as ‘He’ but in both the Hebrew and the Greek it is a feminine prefix that is used. Of course we know that God is spirit and is neither male or female, but somehow the comforter, the advocate, the one who is alongside to guide feels more feminine to me and I have no problem with calling the Holy Spirit she.
How important was Pentecost to the future of the Church? - The disciples might well have tried to spread the good news of salvation, but in their own strength probably would not have got very far. The church would not have been born and you wouldn’t be reading this today!
God has sent us his Holy Spirit to be channels of his love and grace to people in every circumstance we come to ~
~ when we feel the life in the church is at a standstill during lockdown,
~ when reaching out to others with the comfort of God's word and love is difficult,
~ when telling others about Jesus loses its urgency,
~ when our own lives face hardship, anxiety and disappointment.
In these and many other circumstances we need to be reminded that it is the Holy Spirit who enables us, and that our efforts on our own are worthless.
How can we understand the Holy Spirit?
She is the breath that blows away the dust and makes everything clean,
~ a refreshing cool water to a parched throat,
~ a cleansing fire that burns away all the thick undergrowth so that something new can rise out of the ashes,
~ a potter who starts with an odd-shaped lump of clay and moulds and shapes it into something beautiful,
~ a parent guiding and helping a child.
The Holy Spirit is our tour guide in life who points us in the right direction to see things that we would otherwise have missed. That gentle tap on the shoulder that wakes us up and reminds us that there is more to life than relentlessly pushing ourselves until we are tired, stressed and depressed.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us the truth about God and shows us the love of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit tells us who we are - God's children, we are spirit-filled people.
That what the Holy Spirit does – she revitalises, renews, refreshes, empowers, creates, guides and comforts the church, and those we reach out to in his name.
Pentecost was never intended to be a once only event. Today we are celebrating coming of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. Today we are celebrating the fact that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a continuous event in the life of the Christian or it should be. We don’t get a lifetime supply of the Holy Spirit. Paul instructed the early church to ‘Be filled with the spirit’ – the correct translation would be ‘Be Being Filled’ in other words go on doing it. Go on asking and go on receiving.
And so we pray: Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your people and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen