On Radio 4 there is a panel game called “The Unbelievable Truth”. Which is hosted by the comedian David Mitchell. The idea is simple, four panellists take it in turns to deliver a short lecture on a topic that they are given. The lecture has to be plausible nonsense (well lies really) but hidden within it are to be five pieces of truth. The other panellist have to try to spot the truths without mistaking lies for truth and when they think that they have spotted a truth they press their buzzers.
The next minute or two is going to take a similar form. In the absence of buzzers you’ll have to be content with putting your hand up or shouting out or something, if you detect a truth smuggled in amongst the other stuff.
So one day a group of Jesus’ disciples got together to form a committee with the intention of founding a new religion.
There was a need for secrecy at this early planning stage, so that no-one else would get wind of what they were up to and so they had to make sure that the door was locked to keep spies from other religions out. The first item on the agenda was to agree who was to occupy the role of convenor, secretary and treasurer and all the other positions on the vestry. Since their original treasurer was no longer with them they had a vacancy to fill and so Peter arranged an election to fill this important post.
The main item on the agenda, however, was to weigh the merits of the teaching of various prophets including John the Baptist and Jesus and decide which was likely to have the most popular appeal, given that none of the contenders was still alive. That done and the disciples having decided to put Jesus at the centre of the new religion, set about defining rules about what form worship should take and who should be allowed to conduct it, what days it should take place, whether or not singing was to be allowed, should they use smoke or not, how about candles, how many, what parts of what scripture should be read on each specific day and all the other rules and regulations that a thoroughly modern religion would need to appeal to a mass audience.
Then they had to look to the marketing strategy, who was to be in charge of publicity, set up the web site, Facebook, how about Twitter. Then of course there were the small matters of fund raising, acquiring suitable premises, with just the right type of furnishings. They were so absorbed in getting all this administrative bureaucracy sorted out that they didn’t notice where the incredible draught blowing through the whole house came from.
OK that’s enough of that. Today is the feast of Pentecost and Pentecost is more or less the opposite of what I have been telling you so far. Pentecost is when the Spirit of God came upon the disciples. The Spirit itself was as invisible as the wind, but its effects were anything but. The Disciples staggered about mouthing strange words. Words that were oddly intelligible to people from every nation. This was unfamiliar behaviour and so those around thought and said ‘these people must be drunk’. But Peter pointed out that it was only nine in the morning and so that wasn’t very likely.
It was out of this scene of exhilarating confusion, possibly even hysteria that Luke records the beginning of the Church in his ‘Acts of the Apostles’ . It wasn’t the disciples sitting down to soberly consider the merits of Jesus’ teaching or to ponder the meaning of His death. The disciples were just carried away on a high, out of which came preaching and prophesy and it is this that we in St Maelrubha’s today are heir to. It is out of that response to the spirit breathing life into the Church that started it, and it is this that has sustained the Church for over two thousand years.
It wasn’t the setting up of an organisation that led to preaching or the prophesy, it was the complete lack of organisation, The chaos of what happened at Pentecost. It was an emotional response to what the Spirit brought into their lives that led to the excitement. That’s what caused the disciples to want to tell everyone about what had happened. They proclaimed it to anyone and everyone who would stop to listen. It was through this prophetic preaching that the excitement became infectious and many were brought into the fellowship of the Church:
“Now when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”Acts 2:37-42
The message is simple:
“This Jesus God raised up, being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.”Acts 2:33
The first expression of Christian faith was this recognition. That this Spirit was from God – a Divine Spirit. At Pentecost, Mary and the other women and the disciples believed that the new life welling up within them was the life of God. This feeling that was overcoming them was the vitality, the joy, the sheer excitement of God.
They didn’t start by thinking that Jesus was divine, so therefore the spirit that he breathed upon them was divine; but the other way round. What happened to them at Pentecost was so unexpected, so unpremeditated, in such contrast to their fear in locking themselves away, that they just felt in their bones, they just knew, that it couldn’t be anything else but from God. From that it followed that is Jesus could breath the Spirit on them then that settled the matter, he must be of God.
Whilst many of us may not have such dramatic and overwhelming experience of the Spirit as is described in this morning’s readings, I suspect that most of us have had unexpected experiences that were just so difficult to account for in any other way that we simply have to attribute them the work of the Holy Spirit. They may be feelings that are fleeting, or that last a long time, but we know in our hearts that they are of God. God breathing life into our lives, at times when we are perhaps cast down. At times when we don’t know what to do and need guidance. At times when someone close to us needs more than we can give them.
In the beginning, the Spirit of God breathed over chaos and breathed life into creation. The Spirit of God breathed life into Adam. The Spirit of God breathed life into the dry bones spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel. Jesus breathes his life-creating Spirit into his fearful disciples huddled together for fear of the Jews. The Unbelievable Truth is that the same Spirit moves over the chaos of our lives as well, bringing form out of formlessness and fullness out of emptiness, resulting in a new creation today in us, if only we let it take hold.
Let us pray:
Spirit of Light, let the fire of your wisdom burn brightly within us.
Spirit of Silence, in the still moment may we be open to God’s presence.
Spirit of Courage, dispel the fear that lingers in our hearts.
Spirit of Fire, engulf us with the passion of Christ’s love.
Spirit of Peace, help us to be attentive to God’s word in the world.
Spirit of Joy, enthuse us to proclaim aloud the Good News.
Spirit of Love, compel us to open ourselves to the needs of others.
Spirit of Power, bestow the gifts of your strength upon us.
Spirit of Truth, guide us to walk in the way of Christ..