The Acts of the Apostles were Acts not chats!
It’s easy to feel defeated, like the disciples before the Resurrection, hiding in a room for fear of the Jews. Its easy to stay inactive, like the disciples after the Ascension, staying in a room praying and holding a committee meeting to appoint a new apostle to replace Judas.
I wonder sometimes what would have happened if the Holy Spirit had not come at Pentecost; if the Apostles had remained there, in that room, praying, holding committee meetings….
The modern church can be a bit like that: a post-Ascension but pre-Pentecost church; a church without the Holy Spirit.
We worship in our church buildings; we pray with our friends and we hold committee meetings but maybe we don’t all want to go out and change the world!
You see the thing about the Acts of the Apostles is that they were ACTS, not chats..
The apostles didn’t just talk. They went out and did things and the results of what they did resonated round the entire world and cascaded down the generations.
But would any of that have happened if the Holy Spirit had not come at Pentecost?
If they, like us, prayed and worshipped together, had committee meetings, but never had the confidence to go outside their church community and change the world?
After Ascension, but before Pentecost, you see, the apostles at least had the excuse of being told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem until clothed with authority from on high (Luke 24:49). We, on the other hand, are a post-pentecost church but sometimes I think we act or fail to act as if we were still in that upper room.
Why is that? Why are we not all out there transforming the world?
We may say….‘oh I couldn’t possibly do that’, but, you see, it isn’t about what we can do, but what the Holy Spirit enables us to do that matters.
Think of Peter, the inept fisherman who says silly things when faced with the Transfiguration; who denies Christ three times, even when warned he will do so and yet is enabled (as we have just read) by the Holy Spirit to preach a sermon which is so theologically sound that you would think he had spent years, not fishing, but at Rabbi school, in terms of its grasp of Old Testament prophesy and its relevance for the day; a sermon which was so compelling that 3000 people were cut to the heart….and become Christians on the spot
Think of the disciples, who, with their strange Galileean accent, were regarded as hill-billies by the Jerusalem Jews and yet, at Pentecost enabled to speak in the most sophisticated tongues of the Ancient World, languages that they had not learned; who were enabled to heal people in Jesus name and emboldened to travel around the world spreading the good news.
If we are a post-Pentecost church and we have all been given the blessing of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, why is all that not happening here? Why are we closeted in our church buildings, forming committees?
Of course, some of us are out there, getting their hands dirty, transforming lives: in prisons; n the streets at night, in Homeless shelters, in food banks, looking after the lonely, leading others to faith. But why do we not all want to be out there, like the apostles, confidently transforming the world, little by little, one person at a time: Healing people, Looking after the poor, the lonely and the prisoner, making disciples?
A church hich does do these sorts of things is, as explained, at our APCM, the sort of dynamic church which will survive and indeed flourish Into the next few decades..
Well, we get a clue as to why a church has not achieved this dynamism; why it remains closeted in the upper room from the letters of St Paul: He talks about the Holy Spirit being:
The pilot light of the Holy Spirit (which we are all given at baptism) which could be fired up and be blasting away like a gas boiler…..both in our lives and in our worship; can also be quenched; can also be greived.
And if we quench or grieve the Holy Spirit, then although He won’t entirely leave us to our own devices….we will no longer have in us what the Holy Spirit could have brought to that situation
Or the Holy Spirit could have done through us
The Holy Spirit, in this way, is rather like a dove. Of course, you will recall when Jesus was baptised, the Holy Spirit descended upon him ‘like a dove’.
When we lived in Kilmeston, we had a dovecote inherited from the previous owners. One year I decided to restock it and ordered some fan tail doves. They arrived in the post in two cardboard boxes. We put the doves in the dovecote and built a cage around them with wooden posts and wire netting. They had to stay there for eight weeks to get used to their new home. We fed them every day and eventually the day came to release them. This turned out to be a bit of a performance and there was a lot of crashing and banging to open up the cage we had built. Eventually the doves were released. They flew round the garden twice and then off into the distance never to be seen again.
As doves are sensitive to actual noise, so the Holy Spirit is very sensitive to emotional noise. But what sort of emotional noise grieves or quenches the Holy Spirit?
In Ephesians 4:30-31, Paul says that the sorts of thing which grieve the Holy Spirit; that send the dove away are, either in our church community or between us and our neighbours and work colleagues:
a lack of forgiveness,
This is why it is so important not to have tension between people just before a service. There needs to be peace. That’s why those of us leading the service pray before we start.
Just before the beginning of the service is not the time to tell the rector what you don’t like about the way he runs the church….! And for anyone leading or attending the service, the journey to the church is not the time to have a row with a loved one!
When I invite the Holy Spirit to come at the beginning of the service as I always do, there should be no sense of tension, let alone bitterness or rage in any or between members of the congregation.
Equally in 1 Thessalonians 19 Paul says we are not to quench the Holy Spirit by:
in short, pride.
We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to do what he can for us with his presence if we indulge ourselves in these emotions. Perhaps we should have a sign written at the door, for those looking for hope: ’Abandon pride, All ye who enter here’!
As we put our conflicts to one side. As we put our pride and our fear to one side, then we leave space for the Holy Spirit to act; to fill our hearts…
There may be tears, but as he draws near He is changing our hearts, our wills; he is changing
our own limited view of our own capabilities, so that we can do Incredible things like those disciples after Pentecost, things which will have an impact across the generations and into eternity.
With the presence of the Holy Spirit, we can transform the world
For a more in-depth discussion of the Sensitivity of the Spirit please read this book by RT Kendall
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ac 2:1–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.