Last Sunday here in the 9 am service we read the story of Paul and the Philippian jailer. When I say read, in fact we acted out the story the children and help from adults. We marched into town, the girl cried out, the crowds were angry, there was beating and chains in jail, there was singing and release and baptism. We all got fired up by involvement in the story, perhaps thats happened for you sometime, even perhaps today hearing once again of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
How often have you had the experience when talking to someone and you hit on their favorite topic - their eyes light up, the face changes and there is interest and urgency in the tone of voice. All fired up. What gets you fired up?
What are the things that stir your passion, that get you engaged and draw you in? What are the things that absorb you totally, where you loose sense of time?
What gets you fired up? Energizes you, gives you real spark?
The story of Pentecost is of course the story of what energizes the Christian Church.
Before coming to Pentecost I though, I want to set the context with our Psalm for today.
Psalm 104 is a poem of creation. It reminds us that it is God the creator who has breathed life into everything that is;
"You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you make the clouds your chariots, you set the earth on its foundations so that it shall never be shaken, you cover it with the deep, as with a garment, you cause the grass to grow, the trees, the springs to water them, O Lord how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all."
"You ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers."
In Acts chapter 2 this image of creation is put to a new use;
the winds, the fire and flame minister to the frightened believers giving new energy, new hope, new boldness to share the good news about Jesus. Explaining the Holy Spirit and its effects is a little bit like trying to explain all of creation, not an easy task! A task helped by using images and metaphors.
Peter, the apostle in the story tried to explain the effect of the Spirit's presence to the crowds in Jerusalem. To do this he quotes the writing of the Old Testament prophet, Joel, "In the last days it will be, declares God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh" Now this is quite some statement to make ! Gods spirit to be given to all, uncontrolled, indiscriminate, unprecedented.
This is not to say that God has done everything for us now, but that God's presence, that spirit of Jesus, is at work in and around us, with us and often, despite us. The Spirit has been poured out, God is at work in and around us, it is the energy that fired up the early christians and made a small group into the church of an empire.
An image might help to explain what I mean.
I have had extensive sailing experience, having been in solo control of a wind powered boat on two occasions, so I know a thing or two about it. 3 things might be over stretching it though!
I do know that with all the wind in the world, having a boat on the water is not enough to make it go. Theres no key to turn, no pedals to push! You have to learn and prepare. You have to raise a sail to catch the wind and then you have to get the angle of the sail right - then if the whole thing doesnt fall over, of you go!
The power is there all the time - but to make use of it you have to have the gear and some knowledge. The Spirit is there, poured out, available like the wind, says the bible.
So how does it work with the power of the Holy Spirit?
how do we harness it and what for?
My hint for understanding is always to look at the known effects first, look at past results and learn the pattern.
So back to the story of Pentecost. The first effect of the Spirit in this text is that the disciples began to speak in other languages which people from other parts could understand and both the medium and the message bore witness to God's power.
Now have you ever wondered why was the ability to communicate with foreigners so significant?
Why not a great show of strength, miracles to make people believe in God ? The point is, that this effect is an illustration of the nature of the gospel. God's authentic Spirit opens up channels of communication between people who otherwise wouldnt understand each other. God's Spirit breaks down the walls that divide people.
The power of the Spirit never forces us to act or even to believe, just opens the way. Pentecost is known as the birthday of the Church because the coming of the Spirit is what brings us together, people from all ages, from different backgrounds, races and social standing in to the one fellowship of the church, breaking down the barriers and opening the way for us.
The Holy Spirit we celebrate today is the Spirit of Jesus who gave himself in love for us, the Spirit who makes us into a community of faith the spirit who is present to all and invites us to harness the wind of the Spirit, to get fired up in a new way.
As a church together, we are getting fired up by some new ventures - Uniting Arts Toorak, a partnership with the Suan Church in Korea, new ventures in faith development, youth ministry and fellowship; new sails being raised, and more to come. God will blow the life of the Spirit into us and our church to do those things that God wants to achieve.
May God give us grace to be open to receive his Spirit and the courage to go with where it leads us. Amen.