That first Pentecost must have been a very strange experience for all who experienced it. This Pentecost is also very strange for us, as we experience it. Experience, you see, sits at the very heart of Pentecost. And the experience we are talking about is that of the very presence of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit that breathed life into the church. Pentecost isn’t the result of theological thinking, human reasoning, doctrine and dogma, but is the action of an activist God who has charged his church to keep building the Kingdom of God, ‘here on earth as in heaven.’
So, the question for us simply becomes this: are we open to the living presence amongst us of the Activist God? The God who wants to shape not only our language but our behaviour - in fact, our entire orientation to the world? The health warning is this: if we want to keep our faith secure, quiet, passive and domesticated, Pentecost is not for us. If we believe in preserving the status quo at all costs, then again, Pentecost is not for us. If we prefer to stay quiet and render our faith a purely private matter, then again, Pentecost is simply not for us. And, whilst I am at it, if we believe that because we are not all gathered in one place at the same time, like those first Christians, then the Holy Spirit is not alive and desirous of working among us and through us, then Pentecost is not for us.
Pentecost is a day in the liturgical calendar, a great feast of the church, but it is so much more than this: it is God’s invitation to continually and literally be continuously inspired by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit who is ‘alive and active,’ and whose role is to make sure that we too remain ‘alive and active.’
An amusing anecdote. This week, as a response to Mark’s Little Acorns YouTube, one of the children was discovered by their mum drawing a collection of Holy doves. He drew a dove in a tree with a koala, a dove with a fire engine, a dove with a policeman arresting a baddy, a dove with a car mechanic. Why did he do this? The answer is fairly obvious: The Holy Spirit is everywhere, that is if we are open to God breathing His Spirit into us, both individually and collectively, as the Body of Christ.
But again, the health warning: to be open to the Holy Spirit means being open to the active and activist God, the God who wants us, his people, to be ever more lavish and hospitable, the God who wants to take us out of our every comfort zone; the God who wants us to learn to communicate His love for all in new ways, in diverse tongues; the God who wants us to become theologically bilingual; the God who wants us to speak in the vernacular as people, all sorts of people, will understand it, for you see Pentecost is the fulfilment of a very special prophecy, the Song of Simeon, where if you remember the earliest sage of the church makes the most astonishing of Spirit-filled declarations: ‘my eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared in the sight of all people, alight to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.’ Our job as Spirit-filled Christians is to offer the Christ-light to all people, in the vernacular that they will understand.
Two more health warnings: first to be inspired by the Holy Spirit also means to be a person who is demonstrably – for a Spirit-inspired faith will always be demonstrable – committed to the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the up front and activist message of the short gospel reading set for today: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ What a sobering thought: we, through our willingness to forgive or otherwise, have the power to either liberate others or to keep them imprisoned within the walls of their own failings.
My final health warning is this: if we are to be truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, the universal and activist Spirit, then we should, like Simon Peter on that first Pentecost, be prepared for some pretty difficult conversations for part of the role of the Spirit is to equip us to speak truth, Christian truth, to power. This is what it means to be prophetic, and as we know from Jesus’ own experience ‘a prophet is without honour in his own country.’
Pentecost is one of the great festivals of the Church but it is so much more than this. It is the invitation to be inspired by the indwelling of the Activist God, the God who desires nothing more than to reach out and speak to all people in all places, in tongues they can understand, offering the hand of forgiveness, reconciliation, liberation and friendship.
Pentecost is God’s invitation into a life of Holy Dishonour for the sake of the building of the kingdom here on earth as in heaven,