It’s Pentecost Sunday, and here in the UK celebrations continue for the Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, it makes a strange mix, many churches trying to combine the two with varying degrees of success. Some ignoring one and elevating the other, as I sit writing this looking out of my window onto a cold grey day, the rain running down the panes, and both cats having tucked themselves under my duvet even though I have made the bed, they found a way in! Friends are posting photos of jubilee trifles they have made, some resplendent with chocolate shard crowns, others more simple affairs, while other friends are asking questions of the Paddington Bear video, will he be being sent to Rwanda? As with many things Christians and others find themselves holding different views and this Jubilee weekend, maybe it is truly fitting that it falls on Pentecost.
On the day of Pentecost, as recorded in the Book of Acts, we find the disciples waiting, watching and praying, just as Jesus had instructed them to do, they have stayed in Jerusalem, again as instructed, drawing together being prepared. I wonder what those 10 days of prayer and waiting were like for them, still reeling from the astonishing resurrection of Jesus following his crucifixion, death has been overcome and they have seen it, then memories of him being taken up into the heavens before their eyes, they gather, waiting, what on earth can come next? Three extraordinary years of following Jesus of seeing the impossible made possible, of having their assumptions and expectations turned upside down they wait.
Then we are told a wind blows through the room where they are gathered, and a great flame separates itself into tongues of fire , these hove above the disciples heads, and yet they are not burned, instead, filled with a fresh power they tumble from the room and begin to speak and preach in languages they are suddenly able to speak, and the cosmopolitan crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover is able to understand them, all of them hearing the Good News shared in their own languages. We aren’t told how many languages were shared that day, I like to think they weren’t confined to the twelve, that the Spirit was more inclusive than that, maybe the Mary’s, Martha, Suzannah, and Lazarus were among the throng crying out God’s message!
We aren’t told how many languages were spoken, just that the crowd understood, and that the message was spoken to them in languages they understand, they are of course astonished. It would, as many commentators have suggested, been very different if instead of multiple tongues being shared, if suddenly the crowd all spoke the same language, and that only one expression of the Good News was necessary, but that is not how God chose to work, it echoes the glorious diversity of creation, with the wonderful poem declaring each part to be good. All who were gathered were included for who they were, a homogeneous whole was not created, rather a diverse coming together, they were one in hearing, joined in hearing, but diverse in expression.
As Peter rises to preach, I guess we have to assume that somehow the crowd were enabled to understand, I wonder what they heard? Maybe they were visited with a sort of divine babel fish enabling them to miraculously understand! As I ponder the story this morning I think it is all about unity in diversity, something that humankind struggles with on an ongoing basis, be it differences in faith, values, morality, justice political affiliation and more, and of course all of these differences are apparent in the church as well as the wider culture.
The message of Pentecost then is perhaps more important than ever, as the Spirit comes she sweeps into a room of pretty inconsequential people by the standards of the day, they didn’t hold important jobs or roles in the grand scheme of things, though I wouldn’t call them ignorant as some do, the fishermen were most likely business men, and certainly some of the gathered women had means and the desire to support the group. It is though to these, and not to the religious elite that the Spirit comes, it is this group that spills out into the streets of Jerusalem, and this group that draws a crowd, and quite a crowd, as three thousand of them responded to the message and were baptised. Interestingly we don’t really hear much about many of those three thousand again, but we can surmise that they carried the message they heard home with them and that many communities were perhaps challenged and changed by the changed people who returned from Jerusalem. They had changed, but that wasn’t the end to it, a life of faith is not static, we grow and change in it and with it, life takes us down unexpected pathways sometimes, some easy, others difficult, what remains is the presence of God, the divine creator, who longs to hold, guide and sustain us, showing themselves in multifaceted and creative ways as each follower needs to receive them. As Archbishop Stephen Cottrell said in his Jubilee Sermon;
“….there are many occasions in the gospels where we see Jesus himself, faithful to his vocation, seeking out places of replenishing so that he can learn God’s way.
‘I only do what I see the Father doing’, says Jesus (see John 5. 19).
‘He is close to God’s heart’, says St John (see John 1.18).
Sometimes I wonder whether the whole Christian faith is best understood as an invitation to dwell there ourselves. “
Sometimes I wonder whether the whole Christian faith is best understood as an invitation to dwell there ourselves. An invitation to be close to the heart of the divine, the divine who knows us through and through and loves us, the divine who understands our quirks and our idiosyncrasies, who know when we sit and when we rise and can discern our thoughts from afar. Perhaps most especially our doubts and the thoughts that plagues us with a sense of guilt, shame and inadequacy, and through it all invites us to come, to follow.
When the Spirit came at Pentecost, an invitation was made, a divine hand held out to us, to welcome us into their lives, Creator, Spirit, and Jesus the Son, inviting us into a life of mutuality, love, and service, giving and receiving, allowing life and love to flow from one to another, in all of the wonder and diversity that the creation contains.
As we in the UK celebrate, or don’t celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, we are reminded of our diversity, and of past glories and mistakes, we should not aim to gloss over one and elevate the other, goodness, mercy and justice demand that we own our whole selves, and together and personally it is only our whole selves that we can offer to God, and to one another; I am not advocating we wash our dirty laundry in public, rather that there be a sense of real integrity in our offering. I rather suspect that Jesus would be among the crowds, enjoying the party, but always with an eye to lift the bruised and the broken, the trampled and the neglected. We must not forget that the purpose of Jubilee in the Old Testament, was all about, rest, restoration and restitution, a release from debt, a time of atonement.
We are invited to share in the divine life, when we are weary Jesus calls us to himself, to allow him to take the burden and to rest in the unforced rhythms of grace, when we are rested, we are reminded that we are here to bring out the God colours and God flavours of this world, we are show unique colours and contain unique flavours, yet all flow from the love, mercy, grace and inclusive justice that characterise the living God. They are not an angry man on a throne who is distant, rather they are present within each one of us, calling out our gifts, and graces, calling us to love and to serve.
I finish with a prayer:
Spirit of Pentecost, bringer of unique diverse gifts unite us by the power of your love. Not that we might become the same, but that we might share in your ever expansive vision; all included. Let mercy and justice flow.