Slideshow image

Last Sunday, we talked about how the work of heaven is down—how God's kingdom is on earth as much as it is “up” in heaven. We talked about the disciples who were looking up after Jesus had ascended—how they got into trouble for standing still, waiting for Jesus to come back down from the sky when he had promised to come among them. This week’s story is about Jesus making good on that promise.

This time, though, there’s a catch: Jesus won’t be coming back in bodily form; he won't be coming back to grow old with the disciples. This time, Jesus will send the Holy Spirit: a kind of eternal companion, who will be with them and the generations to come. Just as God had been present to the generations that came before them, just as God had been faithful in sending Jesus as Messiah, so God would continue to be present through the Spirit poured out on all people.

And, just in case there was any question as to what “all” meant, we’re given a list of the regions and the nations and the cultures and the languages to whom this applied. Brianna read it brilliantly, here it is again: Parthians, and Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, people from Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, visitors from Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arab. Basically, the whole of the ancient world as they knew it!

In the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all people. I wonder what that looks like today?

Once, on a trip to the UK, Andi and I came up from the London underground to a street packed with people. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder, shuffling along. We had naively been making our way through the tube system, thinking we’d disembark anywhere along the line and walk to the show we had booked for that evening. I remember when we got off the train, it was as though we had been swept up in this river that was depositing people into various channels along the way (this one for southbound trains, this one for northbound routes). 

When we came to the top where the street level was, we may as well have been spit out into the ocean! We hadn’t a clue what was taking place to attract such a crowd. We certainly couldn’t see what was ahead of us, nevermind what was behind. We could really only look side to side and try to make sense of our surroundings based on what was going on around us. 

I remember thinking, what a different picture of England than the one bandied about in The Crown or Downton Abbey (both series I love, by the way)? Here was a London imbued with the power of all flesh (to use that phrase from the prophet Joel). I remember hearing many different languages—people moving with ease as they spoke in one sentence from their mother tongue and then in one of the local English dialects.

I found the whole scene thrilling! And, while I was quite happy, head above the crowd, making our way, Andi, a foot shorter than me, had a much different “view”, you could say! She suggested we try another stop in order to get to our show on time. She was right. We never did work out what was going on that day to draw such a crowd. A friend later said it was probably just rush-hour in London. Imagine! 

Karoline Lewis—a theologian and preacher—she says that Pentecost is the “assurance of the incarnation.” That, the coming of the Holy Spirit is God saying, “I really did become human and live among people; I really do desire to be alongside you—all of you.”

Speaking of which, there’s a funny thing that happens in churches sometimes: when asked to describe what our church community is like, we tend to describe the people who are with us in the underground—in our enclaves—as opposed to the people who might be among us in a crowd. To be sure, there are good things to be gleaned from our enclaves. Enclaves are where we form tight-knit communities, where we find people we can depend on, where we feel safest being ourselves. Sometimes, the idea of popping our heads above ground can feel overwhelming. Sometimes we just want to keep our heads down and get to where we’re going!

So, last month, when we did an exercise as a parish council and talked about how we would describe St Clement’s if we were talking to someone who was interested in checking out the church for the first time, I was anticipating that we’d have to first get through a degree of “underground talk”. Descriptions of our community that spoke to people’s enclaves—like, “St Clement’s is small.” Or, “St Clement’s is old.” Or, “St Clement’s doesn’t really have any children.”

Instead I heard: “St Clement’s is growing! There are 80 people in church most Sundays.”

I heard: “If you walked into St Clement’s, you could be welcomed in 16 different languages!”

I heard: “There are children here!”

We’ve got a long way to go, for sure. We are a ways off yet from the Pentecost crowds that were gathered when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh. I suspect that’s true of the communities we belong to outside of this place, too. That the expansive, inclusive Spirit of God is itching to reign as much out there as it is in here. 

And, what a gift to be part of a community that’s on its way. What a gift to be part of a community that pokes its head above ground to see who’s here when figuring out what stories to tell our neighbours. What a gift to be part of a place—to be among people—who are willing to stick around when the Spirit sweeps us up and spits us out into a vast ocean of unknown. Amen. 

Work referenced:

Karoline Lewis, “Commentary on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15” in Working Preacher (19 May 2024).