Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
St Barbara’s 20.05.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Who watched the Royal Wedding yesterday? Did it live up to your expectations? As a viewer of Suits, the TV legal drama in which Meghan Markle stars, I still found it slightly odd to see her marry Harry and not her long-time show boy-friend Mike Ross!
It was a cause of joy and celebration, and for the thousands of people who lined the streets, and for the many more watching on TV, it was clearly a special day. But the biggest celebration this weekend is in fact today, and we are part of the millions of Christians all over the world celebrating it – the gift of God’s Spirit, the birth of his church, at Pentecost.
I remember the day our oldest son, was born. As I held him in my arms I was filled with the most extraordinary love, tenderness, joy. I could not stop smiling. I could not stop singing. A love and joy I did not know I was capable of just bubbled to the surface. That day has only been matched a few times – the day a couple of years earlier when Sarah and I got married; the days when our other two children were born. But there is one time when, extraordinarily, those feelings were surpassed, when one day, standing on the Suffolk coast as a teenager, I experienced God’s Spirit filling me and giving me the joy and wonder of knowing deep in my heart that I was loved by God. Over the next few days I sang myself hoarse singing the only Christian songs I knew at the time. If you had told me that there was the sound of a gale, or that a flame was resting on my head, I would not have been surprised, so extraordinary, so real was the experience of God’s love on that day.
That experience is the only way I can begin to make sense of what happened to those disciples on that Pentecost morning two thousand years ago. 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.
God’s Spirit was seen to be so holy that previously only one person could enter into the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple, the place where God’s Spirit was seen to reside on earth,and only then once a year after the most rigorous of preparation. Now, God was making our lives his temple, his dwelling place. The place sanctified, the place filled with the most over-whelming sense of the presence of God, becomes our lives. 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 “Counsellor”, the guide into truth. In our prayers this week if you have been receiving the daily prayer email we have prayed to him as 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. So today is a good day to pray once more that God will fill us with his Holy Spirit, that we will experience his life-giving presence in our lives.
The context of Pentecost also has much to encourage 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.
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. The desperate situation in Israel and Palestine that has broken out once more this week in appalling acts of violence and brutality, one thinks will never be resolved until both sides 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.
So let us not be slow to gather together as a church either. These past ten days have been a wonderful opportunity to gather together to pray. The daily times of evening prayer have been very special, and have drawn those of us who have prayed regularly closer together. This week may be drawing to a close, but there are still lots of opportunities beyond Sunday mornings when we can gather together, to build friendships and to pray. Our mid-week communion services on a Wednesday morning, our fortnightly home groups, our monthly Soul Space service and Prayer Meeting, all provide those opportunities. 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 preparation for Pentecost. Finally, the impact of Pentecost.
The disciples, miraculously, are able to communicate in languages not their own to people who have come from all the corners of the world. And what do they choose to say? They declare the wonders of God and 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.
I was struck by the media coverage of the royal wedding. There was unanimous agreement that the star of the show was Bishop Michael Curry. His message of hope and joy and the power of love, and God’s love in particular, resonated with and inspired many.
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 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. So let us pray for God’s Spirit to fill us now.