Are we an Easter People or a Pentecost People?
That’s the question I’ve been pondering over a lot recently. Are we an Easter People or a Pentecost People?
I would imagine that church attendance figures would probably actually say we are a Christmas people, followed by being an Easter People and that Pentecost comes a rather poor third. A Christmas people as even people who have no faith are happy to flock to church for that warm fuzzy traditional feel at Christmas and sing a few carols. But what about those of us who come every week? Are we an Easter People or a Pentecost People?
What do I mean by an Easter People?
Think about the disciples after Easter. They are excited that Jesus has come back to life. They feel relief and happiness that he is no longer dead. But they are still a scared people. They are still hidden away in a room when Jesus meets them, or run back to their previous lives as fishermen. They have a personal belief and knowledge that Jesus has risen from the dead, but it hasn’t made an impact on their lives. Except that we know that they are a prayerful people, and they are constantly found in prayer after Jesus has ascended to the Father in heaven.
But at Pentecost everything changes. The Holy Spirit changed everything. Filled with the Holy Spirit the disciples became like a different people. A bold people. A people whose belief in Christ makes a difference. A people who want to tell others about Christ.
So are we an Easter People or a Pentecost People?
Well, in the past, long before I was an Anglican I would have looked at the Anglican church and laughed if they were described as a Pentecost People. Let’s be honest, Anglicans aren’t really known for doing evangelism. The standing on street corners like Peter and the disciples on that first Pentecost and proclaiming the gospel. An Easter People maybe. A Prayerful people maybe. But not a spirit filled Pentecost People.
But. And I’m sure you are glad there’s a but. Because this isn’t a sermon to try and persuade you all to be standing on street corners and proclaiming the gospel in Welsh, Polish, Romanian or any of the other languages you might hear in Wrexham. But, over time I started to realise that there is more to being a spirit filled church than just doing evangelism like Peter and the disciples on that first Spirit filled Pentecost.
Last week a curate asked on Twitter how people would describe the Holy Spirit. And there was a wide range of answers. There were people who saw evidence of the Holy Spirit as Peter and the disciples witnessed her presence at Pentecost.
A bit like accidentally sticking your finger in a plug. An unexpected surge of power that shocks you to the core and makes you suddenly value what you’ve been given a lot more. (May also result in smoke coming out of your ears and steaming eyebrows!)
Surprising. Active. Full of possibilities.
Gut-churning, life-breaching, tempering, smouldering, silently-sheering bringer of peace.
But there were people who had a gentler experience.
The one who steps in unnoticed until you suddenly realise great things are happening all around you though you can not recall exactly when or how they started.
The clear quiet voice that tells me when to pay attention because something important is about to happen.
The Holy nudger, who nudges you along saying ‘Go on. I’ll hold your coat’
The moment a Christian draws breath and says ‘Ah… now I see.’
And some descriptions are even less active on a the Christian’s part
The closest thing to a tangible hug from God this side of the eschaton.
She helps us to become prayer.
Life-giver, love-giver, hope-giver, help-giver, speech-giver, peace-giver, breath-giver, nourishment-giver, prayer-giver, God-giver…
But the person who summed the Spirit up best for me was an Australian who said
A weather-related observation: maybe the descriptors that resonant with us for the Spirit’s presence depend on our experience of the bleakness of life. So here in drought-ridden Australia right now? The Spirit comes like rain, loud and gusting and soaking deep into dust.
And the reason that particular description resonates with me is that it talks about how the Spirit meets our deepest needs whatever they might be. The Holy Spirit is God’s spirit and she draws us into the presence of the father and son so we can share fellowship together with them. Just as God was at work in Jesus on the cross to save us, now God is at work in us through the power of his Spirit to transform us. God is on our side. He is at work renewing us and loving us, saving us and transforming us. This is the gospel.
We are not all called to be evangelists standing at street corners. When we are filled with the Spirit it will be to fulfil the role that God has for us. To make us more fully the person God wants us to be. That may be like Mary sitting at Jesus feet and listening and learning. Or it may be serving others in a practical way, or it may be you ARE called to be an evangelist. And of course, that role may change over time.
But if you are open to the Spirit drawing you into the presence of God, you will be transformed, as God meets your deepest need. Your need for salvation. The 12 apostles have been in Jesus presence 3 years before they are sent out as full time evangelists. Not all the people who have followed Jesus and are there after his resurrection are sent out as evangelists and leaders of the local church. But their experience of Jesus and the power of his spirit drew them into a closer community that supported each other and welcomed new believers into their midst.
In the past, under the old covenant, God resided with Israel as a single corporate entity. He was there in a burning bush. Then he was there in the pillar of fire by night leading the Israelites through the wilderness. But at Pentecost the flames separated and dwelt with individuals. The corporate response to God through the church now arises out of a personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. As was prophesied by Jeremiah in the time of the new covenant, I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbour or say to one another, “know the lord” because they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more. So Pentecost made religion into much more of a personal experience of Christ through the Holy Spirit than before. Personal yet corporate as we serve together as the body of Christ, as all believers are given a new power for ministry.
So I have no doubt that our church is a church of Pentecost People. We may not all be standing on street corners proclaiming the gospel in different local languages but the church is full of many different spirit filled acts of service.
Between St Margaret’s and St Mark’s the gospel is proclaimed in the schools as we act out bible stories with Open the Book, it is shared in the service of preparing and serving meals at lunch club, in the hospitality of the night shelter, in the fellowship of craft group, as we prepare the food at holiday hunger, provide food and hospitality at the foodbank, in the time spent with the youth in the Tin Can, and the way is prepared in prayer by the Caia Friars.
And yet, at Pentecost ALL who were in Jerusalem heard the gospel proclaimed in their own language. I wonder how many people feel excluded from hearing the gospel in our community today? Are we sharing the gospel by speaking the language of people who are lonely or depressed, the bereaved, those whose language speaks out in their actions of addictions to drugs or alcohol or gambling. Do we speak the language of people struggling with mental health issues? Do we speak the language of those who live in fear, in fear of an abusive partner, or fear of debt, or fear of failure? Do we speak the language of the young? The text language of the teenager or their languages of self harm or eating disorders? Do we speak the language of those who fly the gay pride flag?
We all need to be ready to listen and learn the new languages that the Holy Spirit is teaching us so that we can better meet the needs of our community, to prophecy into each of these situations, and to bless them with our encounters.
This is the blessing we cannot speak by ourselves
This is the blessing we cannot summon by our own devices
Cannot shape to our own purpose
Cannot bend to our own will
This is the blessing that comes
When we leave behind our aloneness
When we gather together
When we turn toward one another
This is the blessing that blazes among us
When we speak the words strange to our ears
When we finally listen into the chaos
When we breathe together at last.
With thanks to Jules for her twitter feed and blessing from various internet sites!