Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Pentecost



We have to rewind a little. We have been looking at the books of Acts and what happened to some of the disciples after the day of Pentecost, which was a Jewish festival that happened 50 days after Passover. The day of Pentecost resulted in Peter preaching to the crowd that resulted in numerous people following Jesus and living as a new community. Eventually this community catches the attention of the leadership that had Jesus killed and Stephen is stoned. One of those approving of Stephen’s stoning was Paul and after encountering the risen Jesus he starts preaching about Jesus to anyone who will listen. All this starts with the day of Pentecost.
            The preacher John Stott said, “As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead”. The Spirit is the life of the church. The goal of the Christian life is to love and serve God and through this we enter a shared life with God. God becomes an everyday reality for us and there is a mysterious peace and joy that exists and grows as our life becomes unified with Christ. This doesn't mean we don't have bad things happen in our life. It just means we have a joy and peace that flows under those difficult experiences. The Spirit’s desire is to develop this process in each of us and to have this process spread to as many people as possible. The Spirit is ultimately about joining people. St. Augustine described the Holy Spirit as the love that exists between God the Father and God the Son.  From all eternity God the Holy Spirit exists as the unity and love between two persons, and that is what He continues to do. We could say He exists as the love between you and God. When you are minding your own business and your heart starts to burn within you and you have an overwhelming desire to pray, that is the Holy Spirit present in you joining you in love to God. This warmth might build in you when you sing a hymn, or it might happen while you are already praying, or when you look at the sunset, and a profound gratitude builds up in you and tears fill your eyes.  That is the Holy Spirit joining you to God. 
            After the Ascension of Jesus, he is present to us through the Holy Spirit, and he is at work making us the body of Christ. So just as we are joined to God by the Holy Spirit, so we are also drawn into a mysterious unity with one another by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit exists as the love between us and others. You may have had the overwhelming desire to call someone and then find out that they really needed someone to talk to. Or just being together on Sunday you feel a connection that goes beyond the social factor, it goes beyond mere friendship, you feel a connection that runs deeper.
The Holy Spirit is a master of overcoming barriers through love. You might feel a pressure inside yourself to forgive someone who has wronged you, or to say “sorry” when you have wronged someone else. The Holy Spirit wants to destroy divisions and draw us into unity. If we look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 we see that they are all really about our relationship with another person- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. We often think of the Holy Spirit in terms of miraculous powers. We might think of healing miracles, or we might think of some of the other stories we might know from the Charismatic movement. In teaching confirmation classes in the past we sat around a fire and told Holy Ghost stories about times we have felt the presence of God or experienced the mysterious or supernatural. The Holy Spirit will use these miraculous means if it means drawing people closer to God and closer to each other. (These miracles can also be a source of division, especially among immature Christians).  Usually what is needed is not a miracle. Rather, what is often needed is the grace to be patient, and kind, when we would really rather not. If that is what will help us grow in love then that is what the Holy Spirit will empower us to do.
            This also means the Holy Spirit is active outside these church walls. The Holy Spirit is active in our neighborhoods and where we work. The Holy Spirit wants to draw everyone into deeper relationship with God and with other people. So wherever barriers as being broken and people are being brought closer together, you will find the Holy Spirit there. It might not look particularly religious, but The Holy Spirit is interested in drawing people together in love and overcoming differences that divide. When you find division and bitterness you will likely see the absence of the Holy Spirit, or a resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit. (You can resist the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit respects your freedom, but the danger is that you can stop being able to hear the Spirit’s voice).

On Pentecost the believers encountered God and the Holy Spirit filled them. There was an amazing intimacy and unity between them and God.  This experience also unified the believers gathered in the upper room because they all had the one spirit filling them all. So the Holy Spirit grants unity with God, and unity among the community of the church, but the Holy Spirit doesn't leave them there in some kind of prayerful ecstatic unity. The Holy Spirit draws others to them through the sound of the languages being spoken and the mysterious sound of the rushing wind, but the Holy Spirit also drew them out of the house to encounter the crowd. This was an overcoming of the Tower of Babel story where languages divided the people of the world as they arrogantly used their technologies to reach heaven without God. Pentecost is the overcoming of this event where nationality and language are no longer a barrier.  John Stott said “at Babel earth proudly tried to ascend to heaven, whereas in Jerusalem heaven humbly descended to earth.” The Holy Spirit is still about this, though perhaps at a slower pace. God desires to draw all people to Himself and the Holy Spirit is the force within us empowering us and drawing us to this unity.  

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