Part of a banner at St Mike's Aberystwyth
Pentecost marks a spiritual anniversary for me – which won’t surprise anyone who has ever worshipped at St. Michael’s Aberystwyth, or experienced the excellent preaching of Revd Stuart Bell. Something clicked open inside me in May 1988. Though I may frequently doubt myself, I hope that I allow God’s Pentecost gift to remain the powerful force of direction in my life.
For the 2nd time in three years I will be waiting on the Holy Spirit in our Chapel at our 8am Morning Prayer on Sunday – waiting expectantly to hear Gods’ still, small voice as he moves among us. I already know that what I will be preaching this year, will differ greatly from what I preached in 2008, although the Celtic liturgy of the service that I will lead will be the same (something I’ve adapted from Iona material).
For the sake of comparison, and completeness (since I wasn’t blogging in 2008) here is what I preached then (I will publish this years sometime next week). It is a short reflection written around Acts2:1-21 which should be read in the middle of it:
Peter had been waiting…
For a gift, some sort of spiritual present, that Jesus had called the Holy Spirit. It was to be some sort of power that would enable the disciples to take the stories of what Jesus had done, all over the world. Jesus had told them all, to stay in Jerusalem, and to wait…
It had been 50 days since Jesus had returned to them after his crucifixion and burial. After the resurrection, he had been almost more real than before; so real the walls and doors that hid them from the authorities, had appeared completely insubstantial when he’d suddenly returned. And then, last week he had left them again. The manner of this going suggested it really was the last they would see of him. But before he’d left, he’d been most insistent that they stayed together and waited…
Peter was scared, again. There was no longer any denying of what he’d seen and what he now believed, but he was scared; he felt out of his depth. There were about 120 of them, folk who had been with Jesus during most of his teaching journeys round the region, all crammed into a house together during the day. It was safer to discuss things that way, than send messages between different groups. The authorities were still twitchy, especially as word had started to spread about Jesus’ resurrection appearances. And there had been things which needed sorting out, if they were to remain together as a group: the gap in their fellowship caused by Judas’s betrayal for a start. People had seen Peter’s point when he suggested it, and Matthias was a good choice. At least it had given them something to do, as they tried to be patient and wait…
What was going to happen? What was Jesus going to do next? The anticipation was more acute than that experienced when they watched someone with a disability approach Jesus. On those occasions Peter had known that through the peace and the calm with which Jesus did everything, something quite amazing would happen. That was, after all, why the people came, because they anticipated that somehow through this teacher, they could be healed. Now, Jesus was gone, and there couldn’t be any more miracles, could there. What were Jesus’s disciples going to say to people, when their hopes were dashed? The disciples and their friends worried about what they should do and say, and they wondered just what was going to happen, but they did as Jesus had asked them; they waited.
Whatever he’d expected or imagined, Peter hadn’t foreseen such an extra-ordinary experience. That wind, and those flames had been totally unlike anything they had experienced whilst Jesus had been with them.
Jesus had been a physical presence with them, a powerful presence, but tangible and touchable, even after his resurrection. Peter knew that it was only this that had proved to Thomas that Jesus really was alive, so that he’d declared what they had all been gradually trying to understand, that Jesus was, their Lord and their God. This wind had held something of the same power and presence as Jesus, but more so; suddenly with that wind Peter had become aware of the sovereignty of God, the reality of the power given in the Lord’s name. It was this which had enabled him to suddenly make the connection between what Jesus had done, and the old prophets teachings, and spoken through him to those who’d had been attracted to the house by the noise the wind had made.
Those tongues of flame, had been pretty spectacular. Jumping and dividing, reaching out, with a very personal touch for everyone present. It was being touched by those flames which had inspired the urgency and purpose with which Peter had spoken, teaching from the old scriptures with a similar sort of authority he couldn’t have imagined having. Peter hadn’t felt brave, and most of his friends knew he normally wasn’t, but the explanation had to be made; this was a sign to the whole world that God had inaugurated His Kingdom on earth in Jesus, and that he, Peter, and the rest of these disciples, were being given the responsibility for proclaiming that message.
Peter knew now, what it was he had to do, but he also knew that the message had started out ahead of him and his friends. Those flames had been so personal, that everyone attracted by the noise of the wind had heard the disciples proclaiming their faith in the resurrected Lord in language they could understand, even though they came from all over the world. Of course there had been a few scoffers present, but Peter had been able to disabuse them of the idea that what they were witnessing was the result of a party. Instead, this Spirit was a demonstration of the power of God in action; the same God of the old scriptures, but now manifest in a new and powerful way, just as had been prophesied.
There must have been three thousand people who had responded there and then to the touch of the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus. People that now believed that God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, had been his victory at his resurrection. They understood now, what they hadn’t understood before. Peter too, understood. He knew this Pentecost wasn’t a remembrance of the Law being given to Moses at Sinai as they had celebrated in the past. Now it marked the arrival of a new law, one which would insist on a new way of life, a new purpose, a new way of living with God.
Now the crowd had dispersed. Peter was drained, but he was also full up, bursting with emotions and connections, an energy and faith that he had never had before. He knew now that his life had been changed, again. Perhaps even more dramatically than it had been when Jesus was alive. Peter knew now, that for all of them, this was only the start. They would need to take a fresh look at all the old scriptures, to really understand what it was they were saying with new understanding; to remember as accurately as possible what it was that Jesus had taught them, so that they could share its importance with others.
Peter knew now that this Holy Spirit, this gift Jesus had asked them to wait for, was the power by which Jesus expected them to share these ideas and teachings together.
But that fellowship would be vital in other ways too. They would need to find new ways of living in fellowship with each other, not just as 12 men, or a group of 120, but as a multi-cultural fellowship around the world. They were fast becoming a really unusual group of people, from lots of different backgrounds, with different skills and experiences. Sticking together, keeping a core understanding between all these people as to what was most important would be really important. But that fellowship would need to give freedom too; freedom to go out into the world and tell the story of Jesus, and show the power of God, in ways that would be relevant to everyone; not just those they knew but everyone else as well.
And they would need to pray. When they met together, they would need to pray with faith for the power of this Holy Spirit to give them wisdom and discernment they needed, to show them how they should meet each others needs and even more importantly what actions would enable this good news to be shared as widely as possible.
The question in Peter’s mind was: would those who had heard and responded to the Spirit of the Lord as it touched them today, respond in faith with actions that others would see in the days and weeks to come?