John 7:37-39 Acts 2:1-21
When were you ever a balloon? (There are yellow balloons with faces in the background) Pentecost or Whit Sunday 2020: we are celebrating the Church’s birthday in lockdown. It’s ironic if you think about it: that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out onto a group of people gathering in one place, now we are celebrating as a dispersed Church, each in our own homes. Separated in space, yet close in community, how does that work in terms of church as gathering, as being together and sharing and celebrating God’s gifts? There are a few words that trigger something in my mind: WHIT Sunday – DISPERSED – SPIRIT – they all offer a sparkling facet to what it means to be the Body of Christ. Going back, then, to that day when all who gathered together were filled with the Holy Spirit. After the sound of a strong wind and the appearance of tongues as of fire resting on each person, the first manifestation was their speaking in other languages, as the SPIRIT enabled them. This was certainly extraordinary and it drew a crowd. And because the crowd was made up of people from all parts of the world and who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, the spring barley harvest, they were bewildered: first of all at hearing their own native languages spoken, but secondly, hearing some wonderful news! It was both the message AND the way in which it was proclaimed, that was so significant. It means that the message of Christ is a personal one, and yet it is for everybody. Yes, some were sneering, and accused the disciples of being drunk. But as Peter then addressed the crowd, they weren’t drunk that early in the morning, but rather a prophecy was being fulfilled; that God would speak to his people. And who are his people? All who hear and listen and accept Jesus Christ. The disciples, the first to know the redemption that God worked through Jesus, were never meant to keep this life-giving information to themselves. But they were not equipped at first to spread it – they had to be taught how to do it. They were to be witnesses to Christ’s love, as he himself had instructed them. WHIT Sunday, if you hear it like that, would be the day on which people were enabled to become witnesses for Christ, because they had their WITS sharpened by the Holy Spirit. I like plays on words anyway, but I also find it helpful to remember what it’s all about. And that takes me to DISPERSED. Because just as people from different nations and backgrounds had gathered for the Jewish festival, so they would now go out, taking their newly-found faith in God with them. Their dispersion would be like sowing seeds; they would scatter the seeds of faith and the Holy Spirit would make them grow. Not just in Jerusalem, but all over the world, and that is where, ultimately, the Church was going to be.
The Church was never meant to be a secluded group of people in one building – it was always to be ‘out’, in homes and in workplaces, in hospitals and in places of leisure and sport. We gather in church services and study the Bible to be further equipped for life in God’s love; not only for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of others. That’s what the Church is called to do and what we are celebrating today, on her birthday. ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’, says Jesus. Believers become channels of life to others, through Jesus’ SPIRIT given at Pentecost.
So, finally, a question: when is a balloon not a balloon? Answer: when the wind has gone out. A balloon is only properly a balloon when it’s filled with air. Otherwise it’s just a piece of latex, and, in the case of balloons with faces, like the ones that are around me today, those faces would not have the right shape without the breath of air that’s in them now. Please forgive the analogy when I compare people to balloons: without the Spirit they won’t be fully who they are called to be. Being filled with the Spirit is what puts a smile on God’s face. And he is the Giver. Enjoy your gift today. Happy birthday!