Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-11


St Barbara’s 19.05.2024

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Have you ever had one of those moments or experiences in life where you look back later and think: “Did that really happen?” Maybe it was seeing the most astonishing sunset, maybe it was stepping into a lift with a famous person, maybe it was a holiday that exceeded all expectations. But you look back and think: “That did happen, right? I’m not making it up.”

I wonder whether that was how it felt for those 120 people in that upper room when after ten days of waiting and praying and wondering what they would do next after Jesus had ascended, the Holy Spirit came upon them. The events are so extraordinary, I can imagine them asking each other later: “That did happen, didn’t it?” For the events of that first Christian Pentecost must have been extraordinary to behold.

First we have the sound of an almighty wind inside the house! Strange though that would have been in itself, for these believers, knowing their Scriptures, it would have astounded them even more. Something extraordinary is taking place. For the Scriptures spoke of how when God created the world he breathed it into being, and here was what felt very much like the breath of God breathing into the world again. And when Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet, foretold that God would renew the world he described it in the picture of God breathing his spirit onto a pile of bones which suddenly came back to human life again. So this wind, this breath, would have been a sign to those believers that God is doing something very special – he is bringing into being something new.

That something special, that something new, is the community of God’s people, the church. We don’t always act like it, we may not always feel like it, but we are the expression of God creating something new, vibrant, redemptive in our world. The church is the sign that God has not given up on the world. He is doing something new. And we are part of that sign.

And then there is fire, resting on the top of each person’s head. Not destructive fire that burns everything up and leaves only ashes, but holy fire.

It would have reminded them of that memorable story of Moses standing before the burning bush, another time when something was on fire and yet was not burned up. Back then, it was a sign to Moses that he was in God’s holy, awesome and sacred presence. He stood on holy ground. He took off his sandals and prostrated himself on the ground.

Well now fire is resting on each of the disciples’ heads. They are the place where God’s holy presence is resting. They themselves are not just standing on holy ground. They are holy ground!

Let’s put that in context. For Jews, the holy of holies in the temple was the place which represented the presence of God. It was such a holy place that only one person – the high priest – could go in there, and even then, only one day every year.

But now – rather than one holy place where you could encounter the presence of God, limited to one person once a year – there were millions of places accessible at any time – for each Christian becomes someone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Each one of them, each one of us, has become the holy of holies! Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” We are living temples. We are holy ground because God dwells within us. This is extraordinary, miraculous.

Look around you. This place is a special place, a holy place, not because of the building, but because of the people who are here. God by his spirit lives in each of us. When we look at one another we have the opportunity to see what God is like. Old or young, male of female, gay or straight, born round here or from somewhere else in the world, each one of us represents holy ground, a place where we can encounter the presence of God. How amazing!

God dwells in us. He also works through us.

If the wind and the flames were “that did happen, right?” moments, so was what happens next.

  • Peter preaches in a way he had never done before, with courage and boldness. This friend of Jesus, who had denied even knowing him the night before Jesus died, is now willing to stand up in front of a crowd of thousands and tell them about Jesus.
  • And the disciples speak in different languages. These uneducated fishermen from Galilee are able to communicate with people all over the world the life changing message of Christ.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, the disciples’  communication was transformed, from the equivalent of a paper cup and string to a mobile phone, or from carrier pigeon to email.

Suddenly barriers to communication were brought down. And what did they choose to communicate at this momentous moment? They chose to communicate about Jesus!

The Holy Spirit’s presence helped them, and can help us too, to point others to Jesus.

When we pray to God, the Holy Spirit can give us the opportunities to speak to others about Jesus, and give us the words to say. Maybe you have found that as you’ve been praying for people during Thy Kingdom Come. We don’t need to say much – it can be just the simple “I’ll pray for you” or as we share about the weekend to talk about church as well as about the other things we did. In a world that so rarely thinks about church or God, just dropping in the occasional reminder can make such a difference.

And the Holy Spirit’s presence also helps to create community.

For those 120 believers, steeped in the stories of the Jewish faith, alongside the echoes of creation, and Ezekiel, and Moses and the burning bush, the events of that remarkable day would have reminded them of another story too. A story in the Old Testament is told of how when people were building the Tower of Babel, they all began to speak different languages, leading to lots of confusion, misunderstanding and argument. They all fell out with each other. But now the believers could see that the story was being reversed. They are able to be understood by everyone, no matter their language, no matter what part of the world they come from. Divisions and misunderstandings are overcome. All are welcomed into the kingdom of God. The work of the Holy Spirit brings unity, it builds community.

That was certainly the experience of the early church. Within days of Pentecost, we read that the new Christians began living as one community – sharing with each other, giving generously. As the church grew, so did their compassion and their kindness. They gave away their possessions to care for the poor. They set up soup kitchens for the hungry. They supported those in difficult times.

Their world too wrestled with issues of racism, wrestled with welcoming in the outcast, the refugee. The issue of small boats and perilous journeys and people desperately seeking a better life in another land is not unique to 21st century Britain. The Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, took a radical stance: all are welcome into the community of God. That is our challenge too.

As those 120 believers looked back on that first Pentecost and wondered “Did that really happen?” they would have known “Yes it did!” because as they looked around they would have seen a community of people:

  • offering hope in the world
  • reflecting the extraordinary nature of God’s presence among them
  • speaking with confidence of his love
  • and welcoming all with grace. 

May God’s Spirit likewise fill us and be at work within us.