Holy Spirit, on this your day of Pentecost, speak through me, speak to us and move us all. Amen Picture it. It’s another church meeting. The people are worried about the future, the budget, attendance, givings, the low number of young people and families. They mutter about the world “out there”. Why don’t people believe anymore? Why don’t they care? And why doesn’t God do something about it? They don’t have answers. They don’t have a plan. So they just sit there and worry. Sound familiar? Let’s watch a short video. It’s 3:45 long.
That video makes me nervous. It makes me squirm. And I suspect it is because of how much truth is in it. And that truth is about us. I wonder how many of us would define the church’s problem as “having a story to tell.” Or maybe it is that we don’t feel all that equipped to tell it!
Think about those first disciples that we heard about in the reading from the book of Acts. They are locked in a room after the ascension and departure of the risen Jesus. They have no idea what is going to happen, no idea what to do next. They do not have a plan. But what they do have is a promise, a promise from Jesus that power would come to them for the work they have to do. They believe that promise, so they hang on and they wait. And they do some things right. They stay together as a community and they talk together and while they wait, they pray. But they also do some things wrong. They stay together and pray, but they do those things alone together. They stay behind closed doors, away from the rest of the world.
But the Spirit of God can handle that. It come to them, alone and behind their closed doors. When it comes like fire resting on every one of them, like cleansing wind blowing through the room, what does it do? It drives them out! Out into the city, out into the world, where all of those “other people” are. Perhaps it is not what those people hanging out in a room want, perhaps it was not what they feel they need. But it was what the Spirit does. And not only that, the Spirit gives them the ability to speak other languages than their own. Not so that they can look really clever and witty and sophisticated, but so that those “other people” can understand. Did you get that? Was this really not about the believers at all, but about those other people??? Those Cretans and Arabs, those people from Libya and Cyrene – they understand what the church is saying about Jesus and about God’s love and power and grace. They say, “They’re speaking a language we understand.” And that was the point of Pentecost. Still is. We’ve got a story to tell; to tell where people are and in a language they can understand.
That’s the reason we still tell this story about how the church began; it began speaking new languages; the languages of people outside its doors. The languages of the world at large; whether that’s Hindu or Arabic or the texting lingo of young people. Some people who first heard it went back to their communities transformed. They didn’t necessarily have to repeat the flames on the head, speaking in tongues experience of that day – they did their own things, in their own way. And the Spirit moved differently in different communities because it moved through different cultures, different languages, meeting different needs through different people. Sometimes the Spirit is a noisy force, like wind and fire and a babble of languages. Sometimes it is a quiet force, like the breath of Jesus breathed on his friends in this morning’s gospel. Pentecost happens in different ways because the Spirit of God is versatile and creative.
So what about us? Well, I think the secret of Pentecost, if there is one – is that the Holy Spirit is always acting on the local level. Having a story to tell is a great problem to have right here and now. And not feeling equipped is part and parcel of the experience. I think we only start to feel equipped when we stop worrying and start praying more. We only feel equipped when we trust the promise that the Spirit of God is with us. We only feel equipped when we let the Spirit chase us somewhere to start speaking a language people understand. The Spirit drives us toward our neighbour with the questions, “What do you need? How can we help? And how can you help us too?” It was that way when we first started talking about selling bottled water in order to dig wells and we are now up to over 30 wells. It was that way when we first started talking about feeding people lunch with no budget and just a story about making soup out of stones and sharing. Now people come to eat and they share their art and poetry and ask us, as friends, to pray for them. The Spirit has been faithful whenever someone has come forward with an idea for ministry. And it will be that way, I trust, with whatever future the Spirit is pushing us toward next.
And what does that have to do with budgets and attendance, you might ask? Well, I’d answer “everything and nothing”. Because if we are doing what the Spirit wants of us, those things should take care of themselves. And if they do not, then perhaps that is not what the Spirit wants. We will be church either way, though the church may look different from what we know. And anyway, it really isn’t about us believers, is it? It’s about the world out there, beyond these walls.
Let us pray: Spirit of God, may we breathe in and hold your love within us. May we breathe out and share that love with the world. Amen