Reflection for Pentecost 23 May 2021

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below,

blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Acts 2

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. The arrival of the “Advocate” in the book of Acts tells of a powerful paradigm shift in the people of God, “God’s deeds of power,” the miraculous activities that heralded the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It’s no wonder Jesus spared the details when He foretold them, 12I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (John 15). We read of unfamiliar and new experiences like “divided tongues of fire” and speaking in a language that everyone from different regions could understand. The division of Babel is reversed to become the unity of God’s church. The entire book of Acts speaks of the infant Church, a bunch of ex-fishermen, tax collectors and a doctor growing by the paradigm-shifting miraculous ways of the Holy Spirit. I can imagine Peter, James, John and the rest sitting there at Pentecost pondering Jesus’ death, His resurrection, and ascension, yet still happily continuing in their old ways of Judaism, not wanting to move too fast. Then, in the midst of their comfort, comes a mighty wind. The Holy Spirit shakes them in ways they could never have imagined, powerfully and instantly, with no waiting and no waffling – no PCC meetings needed to agree this movement!

I must admit I’m not very fond of mighty winds. I can cope with thunder and lightning. I love a good old down-pour, or a deep coating of snow, but wind can be so powerful and so destructive. To me, the idea of the Holy Spirit being called a mighty wind suggests that experiencing God’s Spirit isn’t always going to be nice, orderly, or proper, and of course it’s not – not always anyway. It runs against what many define as today’s church culture, people see church as an anchor in an otherwise stormy and unpredictable world. They come for sanctuary – a safe and peaceful haven
where there are no nasty surprises, certainly not a place of scary paradigm shifting!

Most Christians in the church today have never witnessed such dramatic events. We’ve been brought to believe (or even hope) that miracles such as those which shook the early Christians could never happen in their church. I must admit that over the years, I too have come to treat certain “miracles” with a degree of caution or even scepticism. We make excuses: we say miracles were for ancient times and not for today, we say the things Luke called “miracles” are just things we understand now but were unexplained then – sadly, we don’t give much credit to doctor Luke’s intelligence! Some say the Holy Spirit works only in subtle ways. That may be true, but it’s not always the case. He can – and does – produce some awesome and amazing paradigm-shifts in individual lives as well as in the life of the Church. In other words, the Holy Spirit can and will renew us, both individually and collectively – if we let Him!

Many Christians of course, already know this, the more charismatic wing is where most churches are growing these days, churches who’ve embraced the miraculous expectation that the Holy Spirit does indeed enable divine life-transforming deeds of power to happen. This all leads me to my one and only question for us this Pentecost – how expectant are we? How much do we not just hope, or pray – but expect our prayers to be answered?

Too many Christians tend to sit back, taking little or no notice, almost dismissing the very existence of the Holy Spirit. They pay lip-service – but often deny God’s awesome power. Now I need to say here that His power is not limited to our faith. Joan and I were once shattered when a dear Christian friend of ours was told he hadn’t been healed of MS because he “didn’t have enough faith”. I thank God that His power cannot be contained or restricted just because we can’t get our little heads around it all. Let’s face it, if Jesus can heal a woman from years of bleeding just because she touched the hem of His cloak, imagine what He will do for you, when you pray in faith, believing that your prayers have already been answered. Nikki quoted Bishop Rachel last week, “Let us live with expectant hearts as we continue to watch, lament and hope”. How expectant are you when you pray?

We may sometimes scoff at claims of God’s healing. Joan and I have witnessed miraculous healings, including that of our own son when he was nine years old. I think many of us, had we lived back in those days, would have tried to blow out the flames of the Holy Spirit the minute they rested on us! I actually think many people secretly fear the Holy Spirit. Rather than a violent wind, we’d prefer a gentle breeze, something that doesn’t challenge us to move too far outside our comfort zone, something that doesn’t rock our little boat! We can’t lose the Holy Spirit once we’re born again in Christ, however, the Spirit can lie dormant within us. Just as Jesus fell asleep in the boat when the storm hit the disciples, so the Spirit will remain inactive – bored to tears – if we make no effort to release Him into our lives. Here is our challenge, to step out in faith and open ourselves up to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, to renewal, to invigoration, to new life for our churches. Pray that the mighty shaking wind will come upon us and renew us, and let’s welcome this powerful and renewing wind that is the Holy Spirit together, to stir our churches afresh with divine deeds of life-transforming power. Instead of scoffing or being sceptical of those being shaken by the violent wind, slanderously accusing them of being drunk, let’s live in an attitude of expectation of the miraculous filling of the Holy Spirit, to hear and to answer our prayers for renewal. In the words of 2 Chronicles 7 – “Lord send revival – start with me!”

Rev Geoff Eales

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