Have you ever been to an event, perhaps a party or major celebration, where something totally unanticipated has taken place, or where a surprise guest has turned up seemingly out of the blue? Of course the so called unanticipated event, or the surprise guest, is mostly entirely planned; part of the grand design.
Pentecost is a bit like this in many ways. Those who were gathered for worship almost certainly thought that they knew how their worship was going to pan out and they knew that they were there to worship God. They also knew something of the Jesus story and had already come to a strong belief that Jesus was the Messiah. They also knew that worshipping Jesus was a huge risk. The early church was not a place for the fainthearted. But despite the risk they were prepared to carry on meeting, singing spiritual songs and praying. The early church was a deeply courageous church. It was also an obedient church, for if you remember, the believers had been told to gather together and wait.
But, what they hadn’t anticipated was that their host, God, had other plans. They hadn’t anticipated that God wanted to refashion this motley bunch of believers into something solid and concrete; the Church. Nor had they anticipated, as they gathered on the day of Pentecost, that God’s plan was that salvation’s song was to be proclaimed to all people, in all places, and for all time. It is probably fair to say that as yet they hadn’t come to a real and full appreciation of the universality of the gospel; God’s plan, that through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit all people should hear for themselves the good news of Jesus Christ.
What must it have been like for that first group of believers to find themselves bound together as the church, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and speaking spontaneously in foreign tongues? It must have been truly shocking and not a little bit frightening. It must have taken them way out of their comfort zones. It must also have utterly reinforced the notion that the Jesus story is and should be everyone’s story. One of the most important messages of Pentecost is that we should never seek to domesticate our faith, hoarding it and protecting it. We must never seek to put boundaries around God. As we listen afresh to the story of Pentecost we might like to also reflect on the familiar words of the Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimitus, an anthem that appears right at the beginning of Luke’s gospel where Simeon proclaimed that his eyes had seen the ‘salvation’ which God had ‘prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.’ Pentecost is in some ways the fulfilment of Simeon’s vision.
We must seek always to remain open to God and to his ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal experience is open to us. We mustn’t leave Pentecost stuck in the pages of the bible. Remaining open to the Holy Spirit is, in fact, essential if we are serious about growing in both holiness and in number. In fact I would go further and say that, in the words of the gospel, devoid from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, all we can aspire to be is an ‘orphaned’ church; a church devoid of either inspiration or direction; a church which speaks only in local, domesticated and self-serving terms. On the day of Pentecost, God through the agency of the Holy Spirit, made it clear that He has a far grander, more expansive design, plan and ambition for the Church. The only real question, therefore, is do we?
If we truly desire to see the church growing in holiness and in number, reaching out to all people, in all places, we, like the early Church, will be blessed by the life-giving, life-changing, presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still alive and active challenging, stretching, unsettling, affirming and glorifying the Church.
Come Holy Spirit, come, Amen.