Last week we heard and thought about one man’s personal experience of the Holy Spirit on Aldersgate Sunday. In 1738 John Wesley wrote in his journal that his heart had been ‘strangely warmed’ . He said “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This experience with the Holy Spirit profoundly changed John Wesley’s life from then on. A spark was lit that led to John travelling around the country taking the inclusive message of the availability of salvation for all to the world.
But at Pentecost, we celebrate the very first time that it is recorded that the Holy Spirit came upon a great number of people in an event that has been described as the birth of the Christian church.
Pentecost means 50 – it is 50 days since Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. It is also 10 days since Ascension Day when he ascended into Heaven. Pentecost was the day when Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit was fulfilled. Jesus has said that after he had left them the Holy Spirit would come to be their helper and guide. And when it happened their lives were profoundly changed just as John Wesley’s would be 1738 years later.
We can read the story today in Acts 2: 1-21. The disciples are gathered together in one place, no doubt the same place where they had been hiding fearfully and wondering what was going to happen now that Jesus was no longer with them in person. They had been in their own lockdown situation since the crucifixion. They knew that Jesus had been resurrected, but now he had left them- so what were that to do now except watch and wait?
Then, suddenly, there was a sound like a strong wind which came and filled the house. What it must have been like to experience that? Last week I stepped outside the back door and the wind was pretty strong. I could feel it nearly take the door out of my hand and I could see the trees and bushes swaying back and forth. I could feel the wind on my face. But I think this must have been a bit different – although this sounded like a strong wind, there is no description of actual wind blowing everything in the house away. Instead there is a description of something that looked like flames and tongues of fire that divided and came to rest on each of them. Again not actually fire – no one is described as being burned or damaged. But it looked like fire and it sounded like wind.
And at that moment they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. They could see the effects in each other as they were filled with a power that enabled them to do strange
things like speaking in a foreign languages which others were able to understand without an interpreter. There were people there who had come from all over the region, who all spoke different languages but now all able now to understand each other. It was like the opposite of the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel.
And in this moment of the coming of the Holy Spirit they are transformed. This fledgling Christian community is filled with a new energy and confidence. Now they are empowered to move out from that locked room, to put aside their fears to take their story and the teaching of Jesus into a hostile and confused world.
Maybe we can see this crowd of people from different places with different languages representing the four corners of the world to which Jesus has told them to take the Good News, and now they have the ability to overcome any barriers to communication they might encounter.
So Peter gets up and addresses the crowd telling them the story of what God has done for the world through Jesus. And after he has done this 3000 people were baptised and became followers of Jesus that day. From that moment, the disciples moved out from Jerusalem taking the word with them and quickly many thousands of people heard it and joined them and were baptised, taking the Holy Spirit with them.
The Holy Spirit offers us the opportunity to be born again in the Spirit so that we can see and participate in God’s new kingdom. The Holy Spirit brings transformation to our lives and to the world through us. But it isn’t always easy. We yearn for the safety and security of what we know. We are inclined to cling to the modern day idols of our church buildings our rituals, our financial security whereas in following the Holy Spirit we have to be prepared to lose control of ourselves, our lives and our destiny, and put it all in the hands of God, and that can be quite a scary thing to do.
But it was what the disciples were called to do when they left their boats and their nets to follow Jesus. It was what the early Christian community was called to do as Jesus left them and sent the Holy Spirit to transform them and their work, and it is what Christians today are called to do – to enable us to transform our communities with the love of Christ.
Jesus said (Jn 15:16) “You did not choose me: I chose you. I appointed you to go on and bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that the Father may give you whatever you ask in his name”, In order to truly follow Jesus’ commands and fulfil His words we have to embrace the ways of the Holy Spirit.
At this time, the church has been forced to embrace new ways of being, new ways of worshipping, new ways of communicating. What will we learn and take back with us when we are free to return to our church buildings? Will we discover that those ‘idols’ are not as essential as we thought? And I just leave you with the though – where is the `holy Spoirit leading, and where will the Holy Spirit lead us to go next?