“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:1-4.
For the past ten Thursday evenings at 8pm neighbours have gathered together across the country to “Clap For Our Carer’s and Key Workers” who have served us all so very valiantly during this time of global pandemic and Public Health emergency. In some streets neighbours who had never before exchanged a single word enjoyed their time together and they, appropriately socially-distanced, applauded, and banged pots and pans in a show of appreciation and support! Any barriers that had existed between them as neighbours melted away as they communicated through a stronger, more intuitive, fellowship of body language, signs, symbols, fireworks, bagpipes and even song.
There are some events in our lives which give an inkling into the eternal truths of the Kingdom of Heaven. Events which provide us with imperfect images of the perfection towards which God is slowly leading us; times when we get flashes of insight into what it really means to be living the abundant life which Christ promised His followers.
The event of Pentecost is one of the great, watershed moments in Christian history. On this, the birthday of the Church, we would do well to remember the stories our ancestors wove together about what it was like back in the beginning. There they were huddled together in fear. Afraid to go outside, in case the authorities might spot them; tormented by their grief. Afraid the dream might be over; some of them were even considering giving up and giving in.
The powers that be had done their very worst. But with the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost the followers of Jesus felt His presence and there was now no thought of giving up or giving in!
Suddenly they were alive with all that Jesus had taught them - because the very Spirit of God that lived and breathed in Jesus, was now living and breathing in them. They were, as they say, “on fire”; so much so that people gathered from far and wide just to try and figure out what had given them the courage to be who they were created to be. Gathering the scattered people together has long been a Pentecost theme. Gathering the scattered; At Pentecost people who normally would not commonly meet or communicate, gathered for a few moments in time - in understanding and celebration - just like those of us who gather to applaud on Thursday evenings.
Gathering the scattered; The story of Pentecost could be summed up as the moment that a loving and forgiving God gathered together His scattered people, once and for all, uniting them in love and understanding through the Holy Spirit. The apostle Luke used this very important image of gathering and scattering as a way of summing up the whole story of Jesus and His followers.
Luke records Jesus as saying, “Whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
If we didn’t know better about scripture then we could regard that as a throwaway phrase -but it comes into its own at Pentecost!
Luke wrote the Book of Acts, too, and, essentially, this is what his story of Pentecost is all about; gathering the scattered! At Pentecost those who are scattered are gathered - and we might say that this is the Number One effect of Jesus’ words of forgiveness from the cross.
The story of Pentecost could be seen as the reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel, which had been told by Israel about the time when a people who were attempting absolute power by building a tower together, were scattered over the face of the earth by a God who was in conflict with them; a God who had divided them by giving them different languages so that they would not understand each other.
Pentecost is Babel reversed; the resurrection has let this reversal loose on the world by the Spirit of Christ - a Holy Spirit who gathers the scattered peoples of the earth back together, with a new common language of understanding; based in the ultimate self-giving of Jesus on the cross: the language of forgiveness.
If you have ever searched for a simple way to describe what the Christian faith is all about, I think this may be it! Jesus died on the Cross, offering us forgiveness, so that we could have a new way to gather together and stay together, truly as one!
Gathering the scattered; think of it! Think of all the ways we are scattered; Think of all the ways we tear each other apart; Think of all the broken relationships, all the bitterness, all the terrible hurt.
Think of the wars and the killing and the terrible racism that scatters us as peoples across the earth... with so much unspeakable grief.
Think of the differences between peoples which are heightened at times of stress and uncertainty; the cruel stereotypes we apply to those who don’t look and speak like us; the way we blame others for wrongs of which, in truth, we are all guilty.
This is what Jesus came for, to gather us together again in loving forgiveness.
Luke’s story of Pentecost shows us that just fifty days after Easter, the powerful Holy Spirit began to blow and to gather God’s people from the corners of the earth.
The Spirit brought them together in a new oneness called the Church, which, though it has never been free from strife and division itself, nevertheless, has continued to grow and flourish for two thousand years now.
Achieving unity has always been a human desire; but any unity which peoples have achieved has been fragile, relatively short-lived and ultimately failed.
“Come Together”, sang the Beatles in 1969, a song John Lennon penned about the members of the group themselves, intended to rally them to unity when they were going through a difficult time. Six months after its release the Beatles had split!
On our own we find unity hard to achieve. On our own the unity which we reach for is founded on rivalry and opposition to others. We define ourselves as a group in terms of being different than another group.
Our unity is achieved only at the expense of others whom we think are not like us; and our gathering is founded on a deeply pervasive scattering. We are back to Babel again and the failure of all human attempts to build entirely together.
But we can return to the great Pentecostal party which God puts on for all who will receive Him. A party where unity can, at last, be achieved; not in our own power - but in the power of the Holy Spirit, which is based in absolute self-giving love.
Gathering the scattered - it’s what Pentecost is all about. The story shows us that when we are united in the Spirit of God we each don’t lose our own identity, but rather that God’s Spirit heightens and strengthens our appreciation and understanding of others. The “flames” of the Spirit are powerful and could indeed inflame the world, causing people to commit all sorts of outrageous acts of love. That same Spirit that breathed in Jesus longs to breathe in all of us. The breath of the Spirit will make us feel as if we are on fire - on fire, that is, with the love of God for the people of God!
Perhaps, the time has come to fan those flames with passion; the kind of passion that Jesus had - passion for life! Life that is bigger than ourselves!
Life that is full and abundant - not just for us but for our neighbours as well. Perhaps the time has come to once again express our faith with reckless acts of loving-kindness.
One of the enduring memories of the coronavirus period will be the extraordinary acts of kindness it evoked, from friends, neighbours, and strangers. Those who helped us, kept in touch with us, or simply smiled at us. When fate was cruel to us, we were kind to one another. Human goodness emerged when we needed it most - and the wonderful thing is that it doesn’t matter whether we are the giver or the recipient. In lifting others, we ourselves are lifted.
That kind of “fire” could change the world if we are prepared to fan those “flames”? Jesus calls us to follow Him out into the world; He calls us to “fan the flames” of the Spirit with faith and passion and commit outrageous acts of loving-kindness? When the Spirit comes and the scattered people of God are gathered - what a great party God puts on. So open your hearts - and accept the invitation!
Almighty and ever-living God, You fulfilled the promises of Easter by sending the Holy Spirit and opening the way of life eternal to every race and nation.
Keep us in the unity of Your Spirit, that every tongue may tell of Your glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit.