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 Acts 2
MY COLLEAGUE David Stoter and I chatted for ten minutes after yesterday’s three consecutive celebrations of the Eucharist here. “The whole place is buzzing” today, David said. And it was. Bramhall Parish Church is never exactly a sleepy-sort-of-a-church but yesterday, indeed throughout the weekend, the place was “buzzing”.
A lot of good things have been happening and more are converging. David and I both articulated that we “don’t quite really know why”. And I’ve been pondering that thought since, delighted about the “not knowing” … and in the early hours of this morning something “clicked”. It’s Pentecost next Sunday, I thought, half asleep, and was jolted awake. It’s Pentecost next week … and we’re not in control. The outpouring of the very life and breath of God is what’s continually changing us here, “from glory into glory, till in Heaven we take our place”.
I remember smiling, twenty years or more ago, when I heard a friend speaking about her church family
“Oh! we do get ourselves in a pickle. We pray “Lord, renew us, set our hearts on fire” even whilst we’re anxiously trying to channel the Holy Spirit through the control centre – you know, the Church Council. And She will insist on listing where She wills! The Holy Spirit’s constantly dishing out gifts to every Tom, Dick and Harriet – and each in their own language! The Holy Spirit’s absolutely no better behaved than Jesus was when it comes to our rules …”
But churches come alive when we loosen our grip a bit. Green shoots are appearing all over the place in and around St Michael & All Angels Bramhall. The fullness of the Life of God has been engaging with growth action planning since before Adam was a lad – and without a great deal of help from us whole new worlds are constantly springing into being. We’re caught up in the act of co-creating with God, of course, but we do well to remember that it takes us a while to catch up with the sheer energy of God; it takes us a while to reckon with the fact that the Holy Spirit’s gift is patently intended for EVERYBODY – inside and outside churches and other religious bodies; it takes us a while to reckon with the Spirit’s gifts in people we think decidedly unqualified. And therein lies the Source of my greatest comfort and consolation as a Christian disciple and a parish priest. The universe is buzzing anyway. And I’m not controlling it. As the late, great Welsh priest and poet R S Thomas put it so well in his Pilgrimages, God is
… such a fast
God, always before us and
leaving as we arrive.
We’d exhaust our little energies if we tried to keep running after God. And there’s no need. Pentecost illustrates for us that the gifts are generously dispersed anyway. God “keeps up with” us. So I can rest a little easier. I can encourage my fellow pilgrims to rest a little easier too. For all the evidence before my eyes is that the fire of God’s love draws no distinction between divers peoples. To each is given their own language and life “as the Spirit [gives] them ability”. The saving work has been done. It’s ours to celebrate that fact. All we need to do is open the doors of our hearts, homes and churches as widely as possible, eyes wide open to the beauty, grace and potential in human persons, making sure that everyone knows that all people are invited to the Feast of Life – in precisely those hearts, homes and churches, always.
From time to time, of course, we become irritated. Overwhelmed. Anxious to get a grip on the reigns again, to take control. I’m too easily irritated by those (especially so called “Christian”) people who are apparently quite certain that if only all humanity would follow their particular religious traditions then the world’s ills would disappear. But Pentecostal fire is ever intent on warming such irritations out of our systems. The more irritated we become the more persistent the “calling in the night” that suggests (have you noticed?) that we
enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for you Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him – Matthew 6, v 6-8