Sunday, May 19, 2013

the power of Pentecost

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

For the last several Sundays our readings, as well as those for our mid-week services, have referenced the Holy Spirit either directly or indirectly. This has been, of course, in preparation for Pentecost, the day when we remember that first dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church as promised by Christ. Today we arrive at our destination; Pentecost is here … and perhaps, like anything to which there is a big build up, there is a bit of a sense of an anti-climax, a bit of a wondering what all the fuss has been about …

Maybe because that's because it's a little bit hard to get our heads around the idea of what it meant for the early Church to have the Holy Spirit descend at Pentecost. Christ promised it; it came. What's the big deal? Christ always keeps his promises. But any lack of wonder we may have comes from looking at the event down a 2000 year long microscope, so to speak; and from our end, with all the results of what flowed from the coming of the Holy Spirit not only in place, but long, long established, it can all seem a touch inevitable, static even … so perhaps we should do a bit of 'compare and contrast' as the dreaded phrase had it on exam papers … which were, for some of us at least, long, long ago!

The thing to do, I think, is to look at what was happening with the disciples before Pentecost and then after.

Well, before, there wasn't all that much going on, was there? As far as we can make out they spent most of their time hiding out in that upper room in Jerusalem. They did, obedient to Christ's command, travel to Galilee to witness the Ascension, but other than that, timidity seems to have ruled. They certainly seem to have been filled with joy at the news of Christ's resurrection, and at having witnessed the Risen Lord, but that joy doesn't seem to have translated itself into any kind of confidence. They were still afraid of what the Jews might do to them, that they might be arrested, tortured, and executed just as Christ was. The fact that Christ rose from the dead doesn't seem to have taken that fear away … 

Perhaps they felt that it was one thing for the Son of God to come back from the dead, but they were ordinary people and once they were dead they were dead, especially once Jesus had returned to heaven and there was no chance of his doing a 'Lazarus' on them! Look at how the disciples decided to chose a successor to Judas – they didn't even have the confidence to make a decision themselves; but instead made their choice by casting lots.

What was the future for such a Church? Well I doubt we would be sitting here today in one of the world's literally hundreds of thousands of churches that provides sacred spaces for over two billion Christians. At best they might have struggled on for a few years, perhaps earning themselves a foot-note in the history books that none but the most dedicated scholars would have heard of. Sitting behind locked doors shivering doesn't often translate itself into a force that changes the world.

But see how things changed after Pentecost. Peter – who had been ready to hang up the 'gone fishing' sign and head back to Galilee and stay there only a few days earlier - is now bursting out onto the streets like a roaring lion. All the disciples who had been cowering behind closed doors come running out with him. The people who had been making themselves as small and quiet as possible 'for fear of the Jews' are now boldly proclaiming the message of Christ crucified for our sins to all those passing on the street … people from every corner of the world!

All timidity was gone. Scared peasants were now courageous soldiers of Christ, willing to die for the faith. In fact, we know that many of them did die … of the 12 apostles, all bar John was to die a martyrs death. But even being picked off one by one didn't discourage them … the transformation that took place in that room was a permanent one … and its permanency was not limited to those inside the room that day of Pentecost … with leaps and bounds Christianity grew and grew … within a few decades the Church was bigger than Judaism … within a couple of centuries it was the biggest single religion in the Roman Empire … and a couple of centuries after that it was pretty much the only religion in the Roman Empire … from there it has spread out throughout all the world, reaching places unheard of and un-imagined on the day of Pentecost so that today there are, as I said, over two billion Christians world wide …

And it achieved that because the power of Pentecost was not limited to that room on that day … it continues to pour out into the world and into the Church and into our lives … and it is a power that we should welcome into our lives daily … because the work of Pentecost, fueled by the never ending power of the Holy Spirit, is not over … two billion down leaves four billion more to go in terms of evangelisation … and of that two billion, how many need to be re-evangelised? But we need not fear … just as those in the upper room that day discovered they need not fear … the power Pentecost continues … and I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit into your lives, this day and into the future, so that you may do your share of God's work, just as those disciples did so long ago on the first feast of Pentecost. Amen.

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