Pentecost is celebrated on the 9th June.
Our calling as Christians and how we can hope to fulfil it could not be clearer. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” We tend to think that what got the church going was the work of great figures like the apostle Paul, St.Augustine, St. Columba and St. Aidan and other exceptional individuals. In fact much of was due to the commitment and work of ordinary church members empowered by the Spirit.
I have in my possession a picture of a piece of pottery that was unearthed at Castlefield at the bottom of Deansgate in what was a garrison of Roman soldiers almost 2000 years ago. It is a wordsquare ; it contains the Lord’s Prayer. It is believed to have been brought to Manchester about AD 185 by a Roman soldier. It is tangible evidence of what the Christian faith meant to this soldier. It shows us how the words of the book of Acts were fulfilled. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses not just in Jerusalem but in Manchester! This Roman soldier was a long way from home but thanks to the help of the Holy Spirit he was witnessing to his faith.
The Acts of the Apostles shows us how the Spirit guided the church. It was the Spirit who moved Philip to go and speak to the Ethiopian eunuch, and thus to make the first missionary outreach of the church (8.39). It was the Spirit who moved Peter, an orthodox Jew, to take the extraordinary step of welcoming Cornelius the Gentile (10.19-20; 11.12). It was the Spirit who was the prime mover in sending Paul and Barnabas from Antioch on the first missionary journey. It was he Spirit who guided the council of Jerusalem to put no obstacle to the entry of Gentiles into the church (15.28). It was the Spirit who guided Paul in events which took the gospel from Asia Minor to Europe, events which brought the gospel to Macedonia, to Greece and finally to Rome (16.6-7. In other words, it is directly through the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit that we are Christians today.
If our ideas of the Holy Spirit are vague and nebulous let us pray for a new awareness of the presence of the Spirit this Pentecost.
Throughout history it was the Spirit who led the church forward. Think how the Spirit breathed new life into the church at the Reformation. Think also of the remarkable way in which the churches eventfully engaged in overseas missionary work in Africa and in many other places. The Holy Spirit gave the Confessing Church in Germany the courage to stand up against Hitler. Many like Bonhoeffer died for their faith. In South Africa courageous souls defied the apartheid regime. The same is happening elsewhere today .
This Pentecost let us pray for a fresh experience of the Holy Spirit. Without this we cannot have the vision, hope and energy we need to serve God in these difficult and uncertain times. Too many of our churches spend their time and energy just managing to survive. Surely the situation in which we find ourselves is God’s way of telling us how much we need the Holy Spirit.