Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, 25-27
St Barbara’s 05.06.2022
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Over the last few days we have been reminded of some of the most significant historical events of the last 70 years whilst Queen Elizabeth has reigned. Her reign has seen remarkable happenings – the rise of independent nations and the growth of the commonwealth, the first landing on the moon, the invention of the internet, Britain entering the EU and then leaving it, England winning world cups in men’s football, rugby and cricket.
But none of these things, and I would imagine the Queen, given her strong Christian faith, would agree, come anywhere close to touching upon the seismic events that our reading from Acts touches on today. The coming of the Holy Spirit on God’s people is matched only by Christ’s birth, death and resurrection in terms of significance and importance for our world today.
What happened to those disciples on that Pentecost morning two thousand years ago has changed our world forever. The sound of the wind, the flames resting on their heads, the sudden ability to speak in different tongues, all point to the fact that something extraordinary is happening. God’s Spirit is coming to dwell within their lives. God’s Spirit, the Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God that filled Jesus, the Spirit who conveys the holiness, the power, the presence of God, has come to dwell in them, to make his home in them. There was the occasional, exceptional person in the Old Testament who received the Holy Spirit, but only temporarily. Here, now, the Spirit was coming to take up permanent home in their lives.
To put that more in context, just think about the Old Testament Temple, the place that represented the presence of God on earth. Only one person could enter into the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple, and only then once a year after the most rigorous of preparation. Now, God was making normal people’s lives his temple, his dwelling place. Pause to consider that. God’s Holy Spirit entering into our lives.
The wonder of Pentecost is that God’s Spirit comes and dwells within us. At different times, we may experience him in different ways. John describes him as the “Advocate”, the “Counsellor”, the guide into truth. He is the comforter, the Spirit of Love, the Breath of Life. In Acts, we see him as the enabler, the empowerer, helping us to do things beyond our own abilities. God comes and dwells within us – it is a staggering thought.
How does this happen? I think the context of Pentecost also has something to say to us. I’m struck when reading the account of Pentecost that it begins: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” Between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost Luke tells us “they all gathered together constantly in prayer.” They were a community of people that spent time together, and when they were together, they prayed. I wonder whether they would have been as open and ready to receive the Holy Spirit if they had all been scattered, disperate individuals, keeping to themselves and failing to pray.
We live in a world that is desperately in need of community, of relationships of trust that can only be built by spending time together. We only need to look around our world, to places of conflict and division – Israel and Palestine; Myanmar; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Syria and Yemen; to name but a few – to see how things will never be resolved until sides that are in conflict with one another begin to listen to each other, see each other as human, begin the painful task of healing and reconciliation. And that can only happen in community.
We may know the truth of that in our own lives too. Whether tensions in our families or at work or in our community, tensions that can only start to be resolved by coming together, spending time together, listening and where appropriate praying together.
When we do so, we may begin to experience the presence of God’s Spirit with us.
But let us not be slow to gather together as a church either. An essential part of our Sunday morning services is prayer, as we pray with one another for the needs of God’s world. Our mid-week communion services on a Wednesday morning, our home groups, our monthly prayer meetings, all provide opportunities to pray together. And at other times too – at PCC meetings, at choir practices, at committee meetings and work parties – even over teas and coffees on a Sunday morning – putting aside time to pray with one another is always a good thing.
The disciples experienced the extraordinary presence of God partly because they were ready, they were praying together. May we do likewise.
The wonder of Pentecost. The context of Pentecost. Finally, the impact of Pentecost.
On that extraordinary day of Pentecost the uneducated disciples were able to speak fluently in numerous languages they had never spoken before. And what did they choose to speak of? They declared the wonders of God. Peter declares that the Spirit of God is available to all, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, and that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The disciples are communicating a message of wonderful positivity. This is good news for everyone and to be shared with everyone. God’s love and grace are available to all.
I wonder, do we point people to the wonders of God in our conversations? Do we speak of answered prayers? Do we talk of the beauty of the created world around us? Do we encourage and speak well of all that is good? Do we mention the name of God when we speak with others? If we find this difficult, and I know I certainly do, then lets at least start with one another, over tea and coffee in the church hall. Lets season our conversation with the name and works of God.
The impact of the disciples declaring God’s wonders was that 3,000 people came to believe that day. We may not be able to quite fit in that number, but what a joy if we began to see more people coming to St Barbara’s because of the conversations we begin.
The wonder of Pentecost is that God comes and dwells in our lives. The context of Pentecost is that this happens when God’s people are committed to praying with one another. And the impact of Pentecost is that all people, of every different kind of background, are welcomed into God’s family.
So let us pray for God’s Spirit to fill us that we may be part of his work in our world today.