Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.
Today is the Feast of Pentecost, called Whitsunday in the English tradition, a name that is said to derive from the white robes worn by the newly baptized on that day. So it is most appropriate that on this great Feast we have baptized Maximillian Christian and we believe he has been born from above and made a child of God, a member of Christ, an inheritor of the Kingdom of heaven! We believe he’s received the remission of sins and that the Spirit is poured out on him, as he has on all of us who have been baptized, all of us who live after that first pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost almost 2000 years ago.
The apostles were told by Jesus, before he ascended that they should wait for the promise of the Father, a promise spoken of by the prophets through the ages, a promise confirmed by the Son, a promise Jesus says in Acts [1:5], which you have heard from me, for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
And that promise was spoken of in great detail by Jesus in his farewell discourse, some of which we heard in our Gospel today [St John 14:15-31]. God longs for intimacy with His people, a marriage union, and it is now possible.
The Spirit was poured out on that great Feast, without water, on the Apostles, but the response of the Apostles was very clear – the Spirit moved them out of the room, where they were waiting, and into the public square. Instead of hiding away, they knew precisely their next step – Peter preached to the large crowds gathered for the Jewish feast. Hearts were moved, when they heard about the promise of the Father, and that it was now possible because of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The fulfilling of the demands of divine justice have be met by the Cross, it is all a prelude to the marriage union of our souls with God. And the disciples knew precisely what to do next when asked by the crowds.
When the crowds heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter, and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him”…So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [Acts 2:37-41] [This last sentence is the heart of how we become disciples of Jesus.]
So we see here the uniting of the baptism of repentance with water, the Baptism of John, with the baptism of the Spirit from above. And we saw this in the threefold promises made this morning by the godparents on behalf of the child – to turn away from evil, to turn toward God, and to follow him, and then a mysterious hidden response of God through water and the Word.
As Christians we live with the experience of a deep union with God, by His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, and if we don’t experience that personally, we have by the Scriptures this certain expectation that we should know this Gift of God better. In the reading from Acts of the Apostles, we are told that there were people from countries all around the Mediterranean world, and that they “[heard] them telling in [their] own tongues the mighty works of God.” It is an expression of the promise of a very individual way that God will speak to each one of us – even more specifically than our own language, also, the way each one of us will hear – whether that be a dream, a vision, an unexpected word from a stranger, the Words of Scripture suddenly taking on great significance to us – each one of us in a different way, because God knows what we need. It is also for the undoing of the confusions of Babel! When God unites us individually to Himself, He at the same time unites us with one another, and to accomplish, in humility, great things together.
I’ve been reading a book called “Epiphanies of the Ordinary: Encounters that change lives”, by Charlie Cleverly, an Anglican priest in Oxford, who is part of the New Wine movement – a movement for renewal in the Church – some of you go to the conferences (there is one this July in the Netherlands and one in August in Belgium).
Cleverly writes about the powerful encounters described in the Bible that people have with God, and how they are foundational for their whole lives and their work. We can think of Abraham who hears from an unknown God, and picks up and leaves everything for a new land. We can think of Moses, stunned by God’s epiphany at the burning bush. We can think of Judges or the prophets called in unique ways. We can think this morning of the fiery urge that drove the Apostles out into the ends of the world to bring the Good News to others. True, they were witnesses of Jesus and so it surely was easier – but St Paul never knew Jesus on earth, yet was struck off his horse by a vision of Jesus, and became the greatest evangelist ever – he continues to evangelize through his letters! And through the ages, the great bringers of renewal and reform in the Church began and were sustained with personal and profound encounters with the living God.
Perhaps this is what has driven you into the Church? Are you full of the Spirit of joy! Blessed are you! Or are you feeling unsure of the way? Do you have this expectation? Or have we forgotten the zeal we had earlier? And we can think of the promised spiritual gifts, some more specular, some more hidden, but when expressed, changing the world – do we know our spiritual gifts? Are we using them?
We praise God today, as we are reminded on this great Feast of Pentecost of what we can expect from the living God – the pouring out of His Spirit into our hearts.
For the renewal of that Gift, Jesus tells us plainly that we can cooperate with His grace to know Him more fully. In today’s Gospel, Jesus connects several time love and obedience:
- if you love me, you will keep my commandments (that’s obedience). And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper…the Spirit of Truth…he dwells with you and will be in you.
- Whoever has my commandments and keeps them (i.e. is obedient), he it is who loves me…and I will love him and manifest myself to him.
- If anyone loves me, he will keep my word (i.e. will obey), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Notice it is about loving and obeying, and in this loving obedience, we find ourselves being visited by God, being taken up in God who is love. But it’s not a kind of works righteousness, if I do this I get this, it’s the kind of natural obedience that stems from the inpouring of his love – they go hand in hand. If your beloved asks you to do something for her or him or for your family it is happily done – sure, I’ll go get some milk! If the Lord asks you directly to go to the ends of the world, certainly! and it is happily done!
This morning a question we might ask ourselves is, are we in love with God?
If you are in love with someone on earth, you spend time with that person – to know them. Are we spending time, quality time, in secret with God?
Strangely, Low Church charismatic Charlie Cleverly, in his book, is saying the very same thing that the great mystics are calling us to through the ages, the very same thing that High Church Rowan Williams is calling us to – to contemplation, to being less busy, allowing the space in our lives for God to get a word in edgewise! to rest in God, to rekindle that first love if we’ve lost it…so that it makes perfect sense that prayer and worship take priority and all else, all other activities in our lives, flow from it.
And as that love is rekindled in us, the Spirit makes clear what we’re to do next and moves us to share that love with others, and even which words to use, if necessary. In the weeks leading up to our Away Day at Holy Trinity, let’s take some time out for a closer walk with our Lord, to attune our ears for what He is calling us to here in Utrecht.
This morning we have opportunity to be refreshed and renewed in grace, we have the opportunity to be rekindled in our first love with God as we repent of our sins and offer ourselves in response to His love. And Jesus promises to fill us with the Bread of Heaven and to be partakers of the Cup of everlasting Salvation.
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty… rushing… wind!