Acts 2:1-13, 42-47
St Barbara’s; 15.06.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Two years ago, shortly after arriving in Earlsdon, I remember being struck by the close juxtaposition between the Earlsdon Festival and the events of Pentecost. I wondered what it must have been like if those events had taken place outside Millsy’s or the Albany Club at the height of the festival, a group of people who had been cowering in some back room, timid and afraid, bursting out onto the high street to tell everyone about the good news of Jesus Christ, speaking in the languages of all the different mother-tongues of people passing by – whether Urdu, French, German, Mandarin, Russian. It struck me that the reaction would have been not dissimilar to the reaction that the disciples received those two thousand years ago in Jerusalem – mockery from some, bafflement from others, and a sudden dawning of the awareness of God’s love amongst others.
That first Pentecost almost two thousand years ago heralds the coming of God’s Spirit amongst his people and celebrates the beginning, the birth, of the church. It is a day that the church has celebrated ever since, a day when churches all over the world pause to pray that God will once more fill us with his Holy Spirit.
We are going to do that today, using a prayer that has been used throughout these last ten days of prayer across the diocese. Some of you, who have been receiving the daily prayer emails, may well have been praying it each day this week. Others of you who have come on the evening prayer meetings will have prayed it too. You’ll find it on the yellow cards.
Its a prayer that begins with the words, “Come, Holy Spirit”. Our God is a God of grace, of freedom. He does not force himself on us; he does not coerce us to do his will. He responds to our invitation. We invite him to come.
We pray, “Come among us; come upon us.” Sometimes the touch of the Holy Spirit can be seen as quite individualistic – we seek the Holy Spirit’s touch for a particular spiritual experience, whether that is, according to our disposition, profoundly silent and contemplative, or exuberant and charismatic. But we pray for the Holy Spirit to come among us. The disciples were all together in one place when the Holy Spirit touched them, and the Holy Spirit led them to living as an exceptional community, as we’ve heard.
And we pray for the Holy Spirit “to come upon us”. The Holy Spirit is not some inner human force that bubbles up from within. We are seeking the power of God. Without God’s Spirit we are like rattling bones – those of you who have been using our 9 Days of Prayer booklet will remember Monday’s passage on the valley of dry bones – but when God breathes his Spirit on us we become alive. The Holy Spirit is a gift from above.
We pray “Come Spirit of Truth – enlighten our minds”. I don’t know about you, but sometimes making sense of our faith can be difficult. Sometimes it may be the mental challenge – “what does the Bible really mean when it says that…” Sometimes it may be the heart challenge: “how can a God of love allow this to happen…” We need the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to enlighten our minds, to help us wrestle with and find his truth in the midst of these challenges. As the Holy Spirit fell upon those disciples, it was as if scales fell from their eyes – finally they understood. Now they could tell others about Jesus, for they themselves now had begun to understand.
We pray “Come Spirit of Love, enlarge our hearts.” Those of you who have had the privilege to have children will know how you discover a depth of love that you didn’t think you were capable of. If you’ve been privileged to have more than one child, you may have wondered before number two arrived how it would be possible to have any more love to give – hadn’t it all be given to the first child. But you then discover that remarkable truth – our love expands, it is not finite. Like a flame, it does not diminish when it is shared. It grows.
Well, we pray for the Holy Spirit to enlarge our hearts, to expand our love:
Our love for God – just like those early disciples who devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread and to prayer
Our love for one another – just like those early disciples who ate together in each other’s homes and met together daily.
And our love for those in need – just as the early disciples sold their belongings to give to anyone in need.
The Holy Spirit can enlarge our hearts.
We pray, “Come Holy Comforter, strengthen and heal us”. I know that for a number of people in our congregation life is not easy at the moment. Whether it is illness, loneliness, bereavement, anxiety over loved ones, strained or broken relationships, challenges at work, We are in need of God’s comfort, his healing presence, his enabling strength. As the Holy Spirit brought those gifts of God to those timid, scared, unsure disciples in that upper room, so he brings them to us too.
“Come Holy Fire, enflame and purify us.” Those flames on the disciples’ heads – alight and yet not causing any harm – would have been a reminder of the flame before Moses in the burning bush. Moses took off his sandals, realising he stood on holy ground, in the presence of a holy God. The Holy Spirit rests on us, reminding us that we too stand in the presence of a God who is pure and holy. As one of the great prayers of the Orthodox church reminds us, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” We pray for the Holy Spirit to cleanse us, to purify us.
And we pray, “Come Breath of Life, inspire us in our witness: that all may be drawn to you and to praise you.” The disciples, inspired by the Spirit, were emboldened to share their faith and to live out such lives of love, that day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. If you, like me, sometimes find it difficult to share your faith, to witness to God’s love, then this prayer is a good one for us to pray.
It seems fitting that during this week of prayer, we should finish the sermon with prayer, so let’s pray. I will pray the prayer through first, pausing to provide space after each line. And then we will pray it again, all together. And can I encourage you that though this week of prayer is drawing to an end, our lifetime of prayer and walking with God continues, so can I encourage you to use this prayer each day over this coming week.
Come, Holy Spirit:
Come among us, come upon us.
Come, Spirit of Truth – enlighten our minds;
Come, Spirit of Love – enlarge our hearts;
Come, Holy Comforter – strengthen and heal us;
Come Holy Fire – enflame and purify us;
Come, Breath of Life – inspire us in our witness:
that all may be drawn to know you and to praise you
One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.