20 May 2018 – Pentecost – 10.00am – Parish Eucharist – Revd Jonny Scott
So there they all are. The twelve of them (because now Matthais has joined the gang and taken Judas’ empty seat). And once again they’re in their cramped upper room. Waiting. And what do they get? Not a knock on the door. Not a message slipped underneath it. Oh No. They get a colossal wind, a violent tempest from heaven, and then the wind divides and tongues of fire rest upon the head of each of them and they can speak every language and they are filled by the Holy Spirit.
Wow. What a shock. Ten days of nothing since the Risen Lord ascended – and now this! This is Pentecost. This is the birth of the church of Christ. From this moment comes the energy and dynamism of the church that has cascaded down the generations. What a phenomenal moment it must have been for those gathered in that upper room.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes I just wonder. Was it really like that, for all of them. Was that the experience for each and every one of them? Do you ever wonder if perhaps just one of those disciples didn’t get it? Or didn’t feel it quite like all the others seemed to do? I see this lone disciple, sheepishly looking around at the faces of the others, unsure of what they’d just witnessed, and not entirely convinced by this Holy Spirit malarkey. Maybe they went along with it, went through the motions, not wanting to be the odd one out.
I say this not because I am a terrible cynic. But because that would be something that I could really relate to. And I don’t doubt that some of you could as well.
When I was a child in the early 90s there was a craze for Magic Eye puzzles. You looked at an image, all a jumble of colours, but if you looked at it for long enough and in a certain way, apparently the chaos was meant to give way, and hidden 3D images were meant to appear. I never got it. My brother and sister were all over it, but for me it remained just a blur of colours, and I remember how left out I felt, how frustrated. I remember sometimes I even pretended I could see the images, just to fit in and not feel like a looser. But I never got it.
Do you ever have that feeling?
OK, well here’s the bigger confession. Do you ever get that feeling in church? I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands, but have you ever felt like something’s meant to be happening but it’s not? At the words of absolution after the confession…. But boy do I still feel guilty! We’re shaking hands at the peace… but boy do I just feel a lot of anger right now. I take the body and blood of Christ, but I’ve got to tell you, this is feeling very much like just a wafer for me today.
Well, here’s my confession. I know that feeling too. There was even a moment at my ordination, as the bishop laid his hands upon my head – I noticed a loose thread on his cloak, and I thought, he really needs to snip that off before it gets snagged because then he’ll have a real problem to deal with. And then he was gone. That was it. The ‘moment’ of my ordination, the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon my whole ministry, and I totally missed the boat.
You get the idea. Sometimes those moments – even though they’re charged with electricity – they just completely fail to spark.
Well, here’s what I want to say: it’s OK. It’s more than OK, it is beautiful, it is honest, it authentic, it is real. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and I won’t beat myself up either.
God works in our lives, he really does, but it is our lives he is working in, and lives are never straight-forward. Our lives are not scripted and finely orchestrated, they are messy and they are confusing and they are real.
At least 90% of life must be waiting. Must be the time between things. At least 90%. No one’s life is a series of peak mountain top experiences; moment after moment of clarion divine revelation and encounter with God.
And when those moments of encounter with God do come – they very rarely come at a convenient time, or when we’ve scripted them to do so. Just take this service as an example. We will end our worship today with a call to go out into the world to proclaim the good news of God in all that we say and do. I imagine some of us - most of us - will head home (maybe alone) to newspapers and a long standing list of jobs around the house.
We are not actors in a play, happy to take whatever lines and direction we are given – we are human beings living real lives. God made us for that. Of course he made us so that we might know him and love him and worship him and be filled by the Holy Spirit, and believe in his Son – but he also made us for messy relationships, he made us for weeping as well us for joy, he made us for the moments of unbridled love, but also for those many many moments in between.
Let’s think back to that upper room. The disciples and followers of Jesus. It had been 10 days since Jesus ascended and left them. How do you think they spent that time? In silent contemplation and holy reverence? I doubt it. 10 days is a long time. They were waiting, watching, preparing, making ready, staying alive. That is the kind of time we live in.
We live in the in-between times. And sometimes those moments are tough. Sometimes those in-between times are times of doubt and frustration, and of just not getting it.
If the Holy Spirit can be likened to a wind – then there are plenty of times when we find ourselves in the Doldrums. Sailors call them the Horse Latitudes, vast swathes of the equatorial ocean where the wind almost disappears and you make painfully slow progress. So slow that in olden times sailors would even throw their horses over board to lighten the ship in the hope of making a little more progress.
They can be desperate times. But instead of throwing things overboard, what a good sailor does is make ready. Trim every sail. Tighten every knot. Tidy every rope. Clean the boat up and make it ready. Because when that first infinitesimal gust of wind creeps over the bow, you want to be absolutely sure you catch it. Because the first gust will take you somewhere, and maybe that somewhere has a bit more wind, and little by little, inch by inch, the boat builds momentum, until the sails are full and the boat is cruising again.
When the Holy Spirit comes – it may not be a hurricane. But nevertheless we can be ready. And so we gather together. We build relationships. We rehearse our faith. We keep talking to God and listening out. We feed the poor and we visit the sick and we look for the lost.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases,” Jesus said. “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”
So it is with us. Amen.