Pentecost… what’s that all about anyway?

So gave this talk yesterday, as we celebrated Pentecost in our two churches, and then this morning I bumped into a friend who doesn’t go to church and we got talking about what Pentecost is, what it means to people in different churches and how its this secret, hidden celebration in the middle of the church year… (if you’re reading this and you know who you are, I hope you’ll forgive me for writing a blog post in response to our conversation!).  Anyway, the weird bit for me was that i’d deliberately not spent much of yesterday talking about what Pentecost is (the ancient Jewish harvest festival 50 days after passover) and spent more of my time talking about the Holy Spirit (who came and filled the believers on the festival of Pentecost following after Jesus’ death and resurrection)…

The thing I’m puzzling over is whether its more important to give people an understanding of the event (Pentecost) or the person that we celebrate (the Holy Spirit)… anyway, this is, mostly, what I said yesterday… Oh, and if you’re waiting for the first E100 blog, it’ll come later this evening…

The Holy Spirit- described previously as the counsellor and the comforter (NB ref DGJ’s mention of William the conqueror comforting his troops!)… what do we make of the Holy Spirit?

Because I’ve had to try and explain Pentecost and the Holy Spirit to primary school children, I’ve had to make sure that my understanding of the Holy Spirit isn’t too complicated, but at the same time I’ve always understood that the Holy Spirit is complicated. One of the images that I’ve found helpful is electricity- we all know what it is, and how to use it, we can all tell if something is electrically powered- battery slots, wires etc and we can all recognise electricity in action- though interestingly it does have some similarities with other forms of power… BUT at the same time, actually, very few of us really understand how electricity works- the movement of electrons within a sea of metal atoms… or is it about the alignment of electrons within the shells? As soon as we try to get to grips with it, actually our level of understanding slips away…  we understand what it does, not necessarily how it works.  At other times people use the image of the wind to help understand the Holy Spirit- partly because that’s an image we can find within the Bible- the breath of God, the pneuma or ruach… or still we might think of the Spirit as fire- partly because that’s mentioned in the passage we heard today. The problem with all of these is that they can make us forget we’re talking about a person here- not a person with arms or legs, but a person nonetheless- part of God rather than just God’s Duracell batteries.  Just as we often find it easier to talk about the characteristics of God- loving, holy, creative rather, so one of the ways that we can go a bit deeper in our understanding of the Holy Spirit of God is to consider what the Holy Spirit does- the work of the Spirit…

Alongside the Father and the Word in creation, in empowering God’s servants, in inspiring the prophets and the teachers- the role in both the Old and New Testaments seems to be that of an enabler, helping others to flourish and guiding them…

So how do we relate to the Holy Spirit? Many of us will feel more comfortable praying to God as father, Lord or creator, we might think of thanking Jesus for his sacrifice- and especially in our songs and hymns, but we often bypass the Holy Spirit… just as we might speak over the heads of children or the elderly (does she take sugar?- I’m deaf not dead!)… we might ask God to send his Holy Spirit, when we can also ask the Holy Spirit to come- we can pray, speak, and sing directly to the Holy Spirit.

In us- like an electrical device has wires running through it

Filling us- like water in a jug, or a sail that is tugging, like air fills a balloon and gives it shape

Powering us- like a battery, water wheel, wind in the sails or heat

Leading us- like an inspirational coach or guide

And what about Pentecost? It’s the point at which the Holy Spirit no longer limited those things, and particularly those last two, to just one person at a time- so Saul was filled with the Spirit, and then David was, but not both at the same time… on the day of Pentecost and ever since, the Holy Spirit has filled people left right and centre, spreading in, through and beyond the activity of God’s church in the world…

What does the Holy Spirit do when it comes and fills, leads and empowers?

NT stuff- gifts, fruit… 9 listed in Galatians, the gifts described in Romans, Corinthians, Acts… but all that comes later, the first thing is that people respond and receive the Holy Spirit- God in us…

And so that’s what we spent the next while doing- waiting, praying, listening, receiving.


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