28 May 2023

Sometimes it feels like the celebration of Pentecost has become an exercise in missing the point. What was a radical, communal, inclusive and world-shifting event has become, in much contemporary practice, and individualist, exclusive, status-quo sustaining experience with little more to commend it than a sense of euphoria. If only we could recapture some of the Church-birthing impact of this significant day, both the Church and the world around it would, like the Pentecost spectators, be amazed by what God is doing among us.

May the Spirit of Pentecost disturb, challenge and empower us as we worship.

Acts 2:1-21: The believers are filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and they start to praise God in various languages.
OR Numbers 11:24-30: Moses appoints 70 leaders and God fills them with “some of the spirit that was on Moses”. As this happens they prophesy including two in the camp. When Joshua hears about this he asks Moses to stop it, but Moses expresses his wish that all of God’s people would be filled with God’s Spirit and would prophesy.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b: The world and all its creatures depend on God for provision and breath – which leads the Psalmist to commit to praise God.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13: No one can acknowledge Jesus’ lordship without God’s Spirit, and God’s Spirit, given to all of God’s people, gives different gifts to each person for the good of all.
OR Acts 2:1-21 (As Above)

John 20:19-23: Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room and commissions them, breathing on them and giving them his Spirit, and instructing them that they are sent as he was sent.
Or John 7:37-39: Jesus invites the people to come to him and receive living water – God’s Spirit that would well up inside of them – from him.

The Day of Pentecost is a celebration that is rich and challenging for followers of Christ, but it is easy to miss the transformative call that it offers. The readings for this year bring together a number of different themes, that all combine to beckon us into a deeper encounter with God and God’s reign and into a life of Christ-like service. In Acts God’s Spirit is given as the empowerment for God’s people (sons and daughters) to become prophetic proclaimers of God’s goodness – as Peter indicates through the connection with the Joel prophecy. The Pentecost narrative also contains echoes of the experience of Moses and the leaders he appoints to serve God’s people, and Moses’ longing that all of God’s people should be filled with God’s Spirit and proclaim God’s message. The Psalmist recognises that it is God’s breath that sustains all creation and that the only appropriate response is to offer his life in praise of God. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul teaches that God’s Spirit is given to all and empowers all so that all of God’s people may serve one another. In John’s Gospel this calling is opened even further as Jesus, in his gift of the Spirit to the disciples, informs them that they are now sent as he was sent – and he was sent to bring living water to all who would come to him. Here, then, is the call of this Day – to open ourselves to God’s Spirit, to be empowered and gifted, in order that we may be sent to bring God’s life, God’s grace and forgiveness and God’s empowering Spirit to all others. Pentecost, then, is not a moment of personal bliss, or simply an experience that can be enjoyed in some sort of euphoria. Rather, it is a moment which changes everything, in which our lives are equipped and marked for God’s reign, and in which our quest to follow Christ is made possible through the gift of the Spirit. The evidence of a Pentecost Church, then, is not so much particular gifts or experiences, but the life, grace and service that the Church brings to the world. We are filled with the Spirit not for our own sakes, but for the sake of the world that God loves so dearly.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: It is deeply disturbing that people who call themselves by Christ’s name across the world have all too often embraced the divisions of the world, and have been known for their retreat from the world, their escapism from the world and its struggles, and their failure to serve sacrificially as Christ did. It is hard to understand what we mean by being “filled with God’s Spirit” when this remains the case. Rather, in every place where people are divided, Christ-followers, who are filled with the Spirit, are called to be at work bringing peace and reconciliation. In every place where there is grief, pain, hatred and conflict, God’s people are called to bring forgiveness, comfort, healing and compassion. In every place where people are weak and vulnerable God’s people are called to strengthen and empower. The gift of Pentecost is the inspiration and empowerment we need to become those who, like Christ, seek to empower others. It is the strength to stand against injustice, oppression and exploitation, and it is the strength to embrace the sacrifices we must make in order to serve the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The Pentecost Spirit drives us back into the world to engage it and serve it. As we are filled with the Spirit we may find ourselves called to work with government agencies, or to challenge them. We may be called to help big business serve and give to impoverished communities, or we may be called to oppose unfair business practices. We may be called to work with individuals and communities at “grass roots” levels, or we may be called to work for systemic change. But, in every call, we will find ourselves being empowered by God’s Spirit, we will find ourselves working to bring diverse people together and to reconcile and unify those who are separated, and we will find our selves drawn into communities of care, engagement and compassion. Thanks to the internet, this work can be more connected and more globally influential than ever. All it needs now is people who, by God’s Spirit, have the divine will to make it happen.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Pentecost has, all too often, been seen simply as a personal experience that moves the recipient into some sort of spiritual elite. The marks of Pentecost have all too often been seen as personal, supernatural experiences and the benefits of Pentecost have been understood as personal edification, personal euphoria and personal strengthening. Sometimes, the Pentecost experience has even been used as the basis for separation and division of one group from another, and as the justification for withdrawal from the world into a kind of spiritual wagon-circling. But, in every community, every neighbourhood and every church God’s Spirit seeks to enable people to “speak one another’s languages”, to welcome and serve one another, and to work together to serve and empower those who most need help and compassion. This is the opposite of what we have often understood as being “filled with the Spirit”. When God’s Spirit fills us we find ourselves being “sent” to serve others. We find ourselves seeking to bring peace and reconciliation between people – whether it’s a married couple in conflict, parents and children who cannot find each other, or church groups that are unable to break free of competitiveness and suspicion. We find ourselves seeking to understand those who are different from us, and we find ourselves reaching out in compassion and service to those who are marginalised, excluded, poor, diseased and rejected. Rather than “lifting us up” above others into a group that is somehow favoured by God, Pentecost “pulls us down” to connect with those that we would never naturally have the strength or inclination to relate to. Rather than leading us out of the world, Pentecost drives us back into it to proclaim and live the prophetic message of God’s reign, as Christ did. In what ways is your church community tempted to separate itself from the world around it? In what ways do you sense the Spirit driving you out to proclaim God’s grace and glory to those who are different from you? In what ways are you being equipped and called by the Spirit to bring people together and to serve those who need to experience God’s presence and activity through human hands?

A Pentecost Thanksgiving
A Pentecost Confession
Ordinary People
Building Blocks Of Your Reign

Hymn Suggestions:
Breathe On Me Breath Of God
O Thou Who Camest From Above
Spirit Divine Attend Our Prayers
O Spirit Of The Living God
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Breathe (Link to YouTube video)
All Who Are Thirsty (Link to YouTube video)
Spirit Of The Living God (Link to YouTube video)
Shine Jesus Shine (Link to YouTube video)
Spirit Song (O Let The Son Of God Enfold You) (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Spiritual Feast

Video Suggestions:
Pentecost – Acts 2
Pentecost Prayer