The story of Pentecost we hear from the writing of Luke both in his Gospel and in the Book of Acts carries some very powerful messages for us in the Church today.
Perhaps the first message is about the value of ‘small’. Our western culture seems to value ‘big’ so much. I have always been interested in architecture and so I love watching ‘Grand Designs by Kevin McLeod’. I am interested in the human stories behind the design and building of these homes, but am generally put off by the opulence and huge amount of money spent on such ‘grand’ five-star dwellings. Whenever he shows a small well designed house that is eco-friendly I am delighted.
The story of Pentecost is about the church starting from very small beginnings. I find that encouraging in a time when we see the numbers of people coming to church shrinking. Sometimes we can get lost in a big crowd, whereas research shows that people growing up in small church where they have to take on responsibility for worship and pastoral care are far more likely to grow in their faith than those who go to large mega churches.
The second message that Luke’s accounts hold for us is that the disciples of Jesus were very tentative – even fearful. They had a lot to adjust to without Jesus’ physical presence among them. The one who had called them and taught them and mentored them was no longer physically there, and they had to adjust to his absence. What they did however was to meet together regularly and to pray both in the Temple in Jerusalem (as a group) and in the privacy of their homes.
When I was a student I enjoyed the Afro-American Gospel singer Andrae Crouch, and especially recall his song, ‘Take me back’
‘Take me back, take me back dear Lord
To the place where I first received you
Take me back, take me back dear Lord where I first believed’
It’s a song about feeling spiritually dry, as though God is a long way off, or we are a long way from God, out of touch and disconnected. The good thing is that he is able to recognise that and give voice to his disengagement. Luke’s account of this time of transition for the disciples is very instructive for they too felt Jesus’ absence but their remedy was to engage rather than disengage. We know that in every relationship we have, we have to work at it, make time to talk and spend time together. The disciples consciously took the time to meet together to pray and study the scriptures, and that’s a clue for the church today. The church is not dead but it is in need of being taken back to the place where we first believed, as Andrae Crouch’s song says. We need to go back to the basics – to meet together to study the Bible, to worship and to foster a healthy devotional life. Some people seem to think that Bible Study is boring, which I find puzzling because the Bible is so rich and deep in wisdom and insight about God and about how we can grow into the fullness of life and maturity of love.
Pentecost – which we celebrate this Sunday is about a reversal and an empowering. It is about the Holy Spirit empowering the early church to be people of reconciling love, turning their lives around and leading them out into their community to give voice to the hope of God, the hope and love that had been poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit. If you feel that God is distant, if you feel disempowered and despondent about the future of the Church, take a leaf out of Andrae Crouch’s song and go back to the basics of our faith and talk with Jesus about this. I can assure you, he’s a good listener.