Pentecost Sunday 2017
When I was looking at the Readings last night, I noticed something new. A prayer we say a lot was actually a psalm. Psalm 103. And the prayer is to the Holy Spirit: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth’. Not that it makes much difference to learn this but it’s just interesting to know where it comes from. The actual psalm says: ‘You send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth’.
The cynical person can say that the world has not been renewed very much. They will ask the question: ‘what has the Holy Spirit done’? It’s two thousand years after the sending of the Spirit, and yet the world is not a good place to live in. Two thirds of the world do not believe in Jesus Christ; many have never heard of him. More people have heard of Mohammed Ali than Jesus Christ.
One can challenge this and say that there is much good in our world; that peace has broken out in places where there was injustice and war: in South Africa and in Northern Ireland to name but two. These are signs that the Spirit is working to renew the face of the earth. There are other signs too. But this doesn’t convince. The work of the Spirit will not make headlines. Usually it is not earth shattering. Instead the Spirit touches ordinary peoples’ lives in ordinary ways. So ordinary that many people don’t notice.
The question we have to ask is: how has the Spirit touched our lives. The cynic in us might suggest: that not a lot has changed: that we are still difficult and impatient; that we are far from being models of Christianity. He might go on to say: that we’re not going to change the face of the earth: change a lightbulb is about all we’re capable of. Our cynic isn’t very nice. He hasn’t much good to say about us. And yet we listen to him or her. Sometimes the cynic in us stops us from doing good things: the cynic suggests that you’re not worthy, that you’re a sinner, that you’re a coward; that you’ll never really do anything that’s of any consequence. Notice this is our own cynic telling us these things: not other people. Some of them can be worse.
No doubt this is how the Apostles felt before Pentecost. We have read that they we frightened people: so much so that they locked themselves into a room. Any knock at the door they would have been petrified: this is why Jesus didn’t come through the door: had he knocked, they wouldn’t have let him in! They would have felt guilty for letting their friend down. After all their promises: that they would stand by him; that they would rather die than let him see him taken; hadn’t they said let’s go up to Jerusalem to die with him….? So much for friendship, so much for loyalty. Peter wasn’t the only one who felt as low as you can get.
Did they believe at that time that they could renew the face of the earth? I doubt it. You can imagine what their cynic would be saying to them: ‘you change the earth?!’ You couldn’t change a nappy. Why you haven’t even got the guts to step outside the room; you’re frightened of your own shadow. Do me a favour, and do yourself one too and stick to fishing! That’s the only thing you’re good at: and even then you’re not so hot.
But then, what happens: the Holy Spirit comes upon this groups of frightened men and women and they are transformed. They unlock the door and go out into the streets. They forget about their fear of the Jews and start preaching to them. They are the same people as before, only now, the Holy Spirit has transformed their lives. No longer do they rely on themselves: from now on they will depend upon the Spirit to help and guide and enthuse.
As for the Apostles, so also for us. The Holy Spirit wants to renew us too. The Spirit has a job for us to do: to renew the face of the earth. And, yes, our cynic tells us we can’t, we’re dreaming, we’re deluded. But the Spirit can convince us that all things are possible if we believe; if we trust the Spirit; if we allow the Spirit to enter our lives and help, guide and enthuse us as he did the Apostles.
Inevitably the cynic in us will not just take this lying down; but we can overcome the cynic by not listening to him or her. But rather we should listen to the word of God who touches the depths of our being, and makes us believe that with faith and love we can, in our own little way, ‘renew the face of the earth’.