Pentecost is one of the major festivals in the church’s year. Unfortunately, it’s often the least celebrated of the festivals, so this is my exploration of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, and the difference that he can make to us.
I think that this is particularly the case for churches which don’t particularly have a charismatic theology or practice. I was preaching at a more traditional church in the deanery this year, so thought that this was a good opportunity to explore how the Holy Spirit is at work.
Easter was 50 days ago. We followed the disciples through their pain and loss as Jesus was crucified, and on to their confusion and joy as he appeared, alive, to them once more.
So, what happened next? Over the next 40 days Jesus appeared to the apostles, teaching and encouraging them. After 40 days, he gathered all the apostles together one last time and before he ascended to heaven, as we hear at the end of Luke’s gospel, he told them:
This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
But, Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to go out straight away and start this! Instead, he said:
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
Stay in Jerusalem, wait! So, the apostles waited, worshipping God, and waited and waited for 10 days. Waiting for the next major festival. Because, Jesus’ death and resurrection had taken place around Passover. Passover, the celebration of the freedom that God had given to his chosen people. Freedom by leading them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. And Jesus had taken that Passover meal and used it to show his disciples the freedom that his death and resurrection were going to give. And that’s what we still celebrate when we take Communion.
But, after Passover came Pentecost. Pentecost was a harvest festival. It was a festival of the first fruits. It was a celebration of all that God had given his chosen people, and all that he would give them. So, the disciples were waiting.
This year, around the country people have been prayerfully waiting as well. The Archbishops encouraged Christians across the country to pray for God’s kingdom to come, to pray for more and more people to encounter God for themselves. In our deanery some churches have been able to put on different events and services and as a deanery we have been praying for each benefice, each group of parishes. One way we have been doing this is through the Deanery News which we started in the last couple of months. I’ve brought along a couple of copies if you haven’t seen it. And, if you’re interested then do please sign up to receive it by email. I’m afraid that we can’t distribute it any other way, but perhaps you can encourage someone to print out some copies as well.
So, people have been praying, watching waiting, in the same way that the disciples were. And after 10 days something incredible happened. Jesus had promised his disciples his Spirit, the Counsellor, would be with them for ever. And now that promise had come true, as we heard in our reading from Acts. Look what a difference that made! The disciples went from being scared and unsure what to do, to people who were confident to tell others the Good News about Jesus. And as a result of Peter’s sermon 3,000 people became believers and were baptised. That we don’t see the same sort of thing today is possibly a sign of how far downhill preaching has gone, but we’ll gloss over that…
In our reading from John’s gospel, we heard Jesus promise the Spirit of Truth, the advocate, to be with us, to help us. The word that Jesus uses to describe God’s Spirit here means helper, comforter, counsellor, advocate. The Spirit is someone who. Actually, let’s stop there for a minute. The Spirit is someone. Not an impersonal force, but a living personal being, part of God, active and at work. A person with whom we can have a relationship, a friendship. I’m not sure that we always quite get that!
And what is this person like? The Spirit will help us, give us the strength and energy to help us with what we need to do. The Spirit will comfort us, be with us in our pain and weakness and struggles. The Spirit will counsel us, give us the wisdom and help and words that we need. The Spirit will advocate for us, pray for us and through to God the Father.
And as we heard, Jesus says
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
We’re not meant to do this on our own! “We will come to them and make our home with them”. God didn’t expect the apostles to preach the good news on their own. As we heard, only after God had sent his Spirit to them did the apostles go out and talk to people about Jesus.
And God doesn’t expect us to do it on our own either. He still gives us the same Holy Spirit that he gave to the apostles. And above all, the Spirit unites the disciples and sends them out. They are brought together in the love of God and sent out with the purpose of showing and sharing that love. And to do that they are given different all sort of different gifts. Gifts of knowledge and power, gifts of helping and administration, gifts of teaching and working.
Different sorts of gifts, which only work properly if people work together. The Holy Spirit doesn’t make any one person capable of everything, but gives us all different things that we can do, to serve God and help one another.
But these gifts are only actually useful if we actually use them, and use them in the right way! We need to use the gifts God has given us to serve him, whether that’s outside the church or inside it. If you’re gifted at sport, then use your gift to God’s glory, and perhaps you’ll be able to tell and to show people about God’s love as you do so. You’ll certainly meet people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. And if you’re a gifted artist, then you can show God’s glory through your art. And if you’re gifted in administration, then there’s loads of ways that you can serve God, on the PCC, in other groups that seek to care for others and God’s creation. And if you don’t have any gifts that you think could be useful, then ask God to give you one that is! Or, perhaps even better, ask God to show you what gifts he’s already given you and ask for opportunities to use them.
And the Spirit doesn’t just give us gifts, he also gives us fruit. In one of his letters to the early Christians, Paul wrote:
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
That’s what God wants us to be like. That’s quite a challenge isn’t it? That’s quite a list. But, here’s the thing: more people become Christians through knowing other Christians, through seeing their lives, through the fruit of the Spirit, than by any other way. And if you’re thinking, well I could never be like that! Then you’re right- on your own, we can’t be. We need God’s Holy Spirit to make us like that. And we need to be asking God to let this fruit grow in our lives.
That takes a while. Fruit takes time to grow and ripen. So, this Pentecost week, let us pray for God to send us his Spirit, to know his love changing our lives. And let us pray for God to show us the gifts he has given us and ask him to help us to use them. And above all, let us pray that the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives so that God’s love is revealed. Amen.