Acts 2.1-13, Psalm 104.26-37 & John 7.37-39
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At certain points in Christian history, a small number of believers have given to all Christians a rather rotten reputation. I’m talking about the impression that some people have received of us as killjoys, miserable dour-faced, grumble-baggages.
Think of the Puritans, who banned Christmas.
Or if you like the old black and white films, think of ‘Whisky Galore’ and Mrs Campbell, who refused to meet her son’s fiancée. And when the Home Guard captain rang the house to speak to him Mrs Campbell told the captain sternly “The telephone was not given to man for him to mock the sabbath with it.”
How far this is from the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit flowed out upon the first Christians, and created such a wonderful, bubbling up of new languages and gifts.
No wonder that some who knew this group of people, and knew that they had been hiding away behind locked doors, mourning the loss of their friend and teacher, sneered that they were drunk.
For how else could they explain this huge change in mood and behaviour?
But there it is – Pentecost shows us what the Holy Spirit can do. It fills us up, enlivens, equips and empowers us. Fear is cast out, and in its place, real joy.
On this day we are invited to not only imagine, but to partake in, God’s joyful mission to the world. Recall the moment in Luke’s gospel when Jesus tells the people in his synagogue that he has fulfilled scripture:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
He has sent me to announce good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to let the broken victims go free,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4.18-19)
My goodness, think how powerful those words are!
And think what good news that brings to us here today: to the people worried about their future in the face of an economic recession, to those shielding and quarantined, to those who feel broken by the events of the last six months.
Jesus doesn’t bring bland platitudes, but real hope. He speaks of eternal life, but that is not enough if the life lived here is oppressed and broken. Christianity is not opium for the masses. God does so much more.
To get a handle on this, the Church of England has outlined what are known as the 5 Marks of Mission:
To TELL the Good News of the Kingdom.
To TEACH, baptise and nurture new believers.
To TEND to human need by loving service.
To TRANSFORM unjust structures of society, challenging violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.
To TREASURE and safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
At Pentecost every believer is reminded that the flame of the Holy Spirit rests on them. You are the Church. We may not be able to gather together physically at the moment, but you have already been sent out to take up your part in God’s mission – to tell, teach, tend, transform and treasure.
Being a Christian is not a hobby, and this is not a social club. We are part of something so much bigger than that. For God sends forth his spirit and renews the face of the earth, and so too are we renewed.
The unending joy which led those men and women to be accused of drunkenness on the day of Pentecost comes from a life lived in the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus explained when preaching at the festival of Booths, the Holy Spirit would flow from him and the Father. Anyone who comes to Jesus will receive this gift, which he called living water. Water is the key to all life, and living water the key to the life of the soul.
When we drink in Christ, the Spirit fills us and then flows out of our hearts to nourish all around us.
This is the gift of Pentecost.
(Artwork: ‘Pentecost’ by Estelle Canziani)