Readings: Acts 2. 1-21; Psalm 104. 24-36; Romans 8. 22-27; John 15. 26-27; 16. 4b-15 (view all)
I wonder whether you managed to catch the Royal Wedding yesterday? It’s one of those events, depending on what kind of person you are, where you either have to catch it at all costs or you’ve been desperately trying to avoid it.
As I was watching the wedding, the thing that all the TV commentators kept saying was that it was a ‘game-changing’ moment for the Royal Family. Everything, from the breadth of music, to preaching, to the dress, to the general atmosphere of the ceremony, felt very different to any previous royal wedding.
We all love those moments, whether in real life, whether in film, where it feels like history is being made, something new is happening, and we are somehow part of it. And for the first disciples, the day of Pentecost was that moment.
As we reflect on our readings, what can we learn about that ‘game-changing’ Pentecost moment, which brought about the birth of the church, for our life as God’s church today?
At first, our readings from Acts and from John’s gospel seems to portray two contrasting pictures of the role of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts, Luke tells us that the disciples are gathered together privately in the upper room, scared, disillusioned, unsure of what to do next. In the context of their uncertainty, the Holy Spirit’s appearance could not be more dramatic — like a violent wind, and like tongues of fire resting on them. They are filled with the Spirit and are essentially forced out into the street, where Peter preaches to the crowd, and the Church is born.
The picture we see in John, though, is traditionally considered to be of a significantly more gentle nature. Jesus promises, in our translation, an ‘advocate’, but sometimes called the helper or comforter. In the Greek, the ‘paraclete’, described by one translater as ‘someone to stand by you.’
But, while yes this advocate will lift the disciples from their sadness, his role in their lives will still be deeply challenging. This is still the same ‘game-changing’ spirit of Acts, who John’s Jesus tells them will ‘prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.’, proving the unjust ‘ruler of this world’ to be condemned.
This advocate is no more and no less than the ‘Spirit of Truth’, who will bring to light the ways of the world, and guide the disciples into all the truth, drawing them deeper into the life of the Father and the Son.
So which is it? Is the Holy Spirit the powerful, violent wind and fire of Acts, or the gentle paraclete of John’s gospel?
The answer is, of course, both. The Spirit is a comfort and a companion to those who are at their lowest, but is also a powerful and revolutionary presence drawing the Church further into God’s mission.
The Spirit both disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. And in God’s Church today, we desperately need both.
I would dare to say that in many ways we have become a little too comfortable, but the Spirit is slowly drawing us out of our sleep to realise the size of the task ahead for us to continue God’s kingdom work in a rapidly-changing world.
But in many ways, we are also deeply disturbed: As we see the brokenness of our world and feel powerless to respond, as we encounter the increasing needs of our communities and, by contrast, the decreasing size of our church finances. And so the Spirit comes to bring comfort, to remind us that it is not our mission, but God’s, not our Church, but God’s, and therefore he is in control and will not leave us or forsake us, but will continue to draw us into his perfect plan for the Church and the world.
In wonder, this morning: In the distress of our lives, both our common life as a church, and the challenges we face as individuals, will we allow the Spirit to stand alongside us, bringing comfort and peace? But will we also allow him to lead us to pastures new, to renew our life together and to present to us as the powerful, ‘game-changing’ Spirit of Pentecost?
How can we embrace the work of the Spirit in our lives, a Spirit of courage but also compassion, in a world that so desperately needs a Spirit-filled Church?
God gifts us the Spirit of both courage and compassion, the ‘game-changer’ who also is the one who ‘stands alongside us’. May we know his powerful, uplifting presence with us as we journey to the Lord’s table this morning, and through the rest of our lives.
God, who at this time
taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgement in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.