Acts 2:14-21 | Romans 8:14-17
The disciples had been told to go back to Jerusalem and wait; promised that they would receive power from heaven, that they would be Jesus’ witnesses throughout Israel, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
And so, seven weeks after Passover, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, they were all together, celebrating Shavu’ot, the festival of weeks. Because if they had only learned one thing in three years with Jesus it was this:
They weren’t going to achieve anything without him.
Experience with Jesus had shown them that when they
were with him, anything was possible. The blind could see and the lame walk,
those held captive by evil could be free, the thief, the terrorist, the
collaborator, the prostitute – all could change, all could find a new way of
life, a new purpose, a new sense of who they were. With Jesus they could face
down opposition, deal with criticism, speak the truth to weak and powerful
alike. With Jesus, they knew they were a force to be reckoned with.
But without him? Without him they were a rabble; confused, cowardly, jealous, competitive; about as dysfunctional as any group of people picked more or at random and thrown together. They wanted to do the work of God, the work of the Kingdom, but it just didn’t work.
It just didn’t work without God.
And Jesus had gone. Again. They thought they had lost him when he died, but the resurrection changed that. And then suddenly he was gone again. But this time he had left very clear, very specific instructions. Wait in Jerusalem. And so they waited. And on Shavu’ot, the Jewish festival of Pentecost, they were together.
And the Spirit came. And they were filled with confidence and eloquence and supernatural power; and they became Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem and beyond. Their message transcended language, it transcended social barriers, it transcended culture. Within a generation it had leapt the uncrossable gulf from Jew to Gentile and burned across the whole of the known world. It took root amongst the poorest, infected the wealthy and powerful, and spread right to the very top of the empire.
Without Jesus, they could do nothing. But with him,
this time in the person of the Holy Spirit, they turned the world upside down.
But how does this apply to us? We’re living in the time after Pentecost, when, in Paul’s words, the Spirit bears witness within each one of us that we are God’s adopted children. We are not left alone, like orphans, we do not have Jesus’ command to wait for the outpouring of God’s power.
And as a result our experience is less black and white
than the disciples found it. Nothing we do is done entirely without God, or
entirely with God, so we don’t have that clear-cut sense that without God
nothing is possible; or that with God, anything is. Sometimes we work at what
we are sure is God’s calling for months or years, seeking God’s help and
leading, but seeing little or no result; other times something seems a
spectacular success – sometimes with little sense that God has been involved at
And perhaps we ought to expect that, from Joel’s prophecy itself. For what Joel was writing of was a time when clear cut categories were to be broken down. Joel was a prophet – and for his time, his people, his culture, that meant that the word of God came to him. And not to everyone. The Spirit of God would rest on him. But not on everyone. The anointing of the Spirit of God, in the narrative of the Old Testament, is specific; on a particular person, for a particular purpose, at a particular time. You had it or you didn’t. Black or white.
But he spoke of a time when the people of God would experience the Spirit of God differently; when every one of the people of God would be a prophet. Men and women. Young and old. Slaves and free. Everyone would receive the gift of the Spirit, everyone would be inspired by God, everyone would be able to speak, everyone would need to be listened to.
Joel foresaw it, Pentecost saw it happen, and we are
living in it. So how are we to operate in this gloriously confusing age, in
which the Spirit of God is at work within each of us, and beyond all of us;
going before us, working beside us, continuing after us; at work where we might
least expect, and not always seeming to be there when we most want?
Are we to wait for God, to wait the Spirit to speak, for the power to come, or are we to press on, to make our best decisions, to work for the kingdom as we best understand it?
Is the Church built, is the kingdom advanced, when God moves in power, or when we put our shoulders to the wheel and give our energies, time, resources, to moving it on?
Which is it? Wait for God, or work for God?
I’m sure you know the answer. Both.
The psalmist wrote: ‘unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labour in vain’. Pentecost doesn’t change this fundamental truth
of the Kingdom: it doesn’t work without God. But there is a sense in which,
with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, we are freed from waiting for
the specific pronouncements of the ‘man of God’. We do not need to wait for
Moses to come down from the mountain, or for the minister, or Church Council,
to tell us what we need to know. Instead, according to Joel, the Spirit of God
will speak from everywhere, from everyone; from the places we don’t expect it.
From the young – the very young – and from the old – the very old. From men and
women, lay and ordained. From within the Church and from beyond it.
If you look around at the things we do here at Roseville (and we’ve been doing that a lot as we’ve been working through the review of our mission plan) then one thing you might notice is this – most of the very many different activities and events and celebrations that are part of this very active community, if you trace their history, exist not because it was decided from on high, but because someone, or more likely, some small group, had a sense of vision, a sense of excitement around an idea, and threw themselves into it (and, often, dragged others along with them).
That’s how things start in a Church. And some of those things we throw ourselves into take off and fly, some bump along as if waiting their moment, some burn for a while then fade away, some just fall in a heap. And the messy, confusing glory of it is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to which does what.
Because we are not a hierarchy, we don’t (in the words of Flanders and Swann) have Bishops to show us the way, we don’t have plans sent from Canberra to implement locally.
Because the Spirit of God has been poured out on all.
And so all, in their own place, their own context, with their own passions and
gifts, are called to listen and follow.
So we make our plans before God, seeking God’s help, listening for God’s guidance, waiting: but we make our plans.
So when there is inspiration for mission, however and from wherever it arises, we look for ways to make it possible, not reasons to make it stop.
So we listen to everyone, not just the loudest voices or the ones that we are used to hearing good ideas from.
And most of all we fill the life of our Church with prayer; and we also fill the life of our Church with things to pray about.
Not so much “let go, and let God”.
More “Give a go, and trust God”.