The Solemnity of Pentecost

William Blake, the great English poet, painter and print maker was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons a few years ago.

He was a visionary who looked beneath the appearance of things to explore the spirit that lay beyond.  Some of you may know this extract from his poem ‘Pentecost’:

Unless the eye catch fire,
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
The God will not be known.

The key, the prime requisite for authentic life and for knowing God, is to catch something of that flame of life, the Spirit itself.

On the first Pentecost the Spirit descended in tongues of fire. Elsewhere the Spirit is described as a dove, a breath or wind. Each description catches a particular sense of that Spirit of God which underlies everything and awaits its birth in the lives and actions of human beings.

It is the Spirit deep within the heart of humanity made in God’s image, that enables us to pray and to engage with God himself.

At times it is like a fire, a burning passion that enflames us with a sense of God’s loving presence, a fire that purifies us from the dross of self-absorption. At times it is like a wind that blows where it will – we know its power and presence even though it can’t be seen. At times it is like breath, something so very natural and almost unnoticed – yet essential for life. At times we picture it as a dove – a sign of hope and promise landing in our midst as it did in the story of Noah when it brought an olive branch in its beak showing the flood was ended.

Today we celebrate the gift of that Spirit of God, promised by the Risen and Ascended Lord. Here the Eastertide season ends as we move into the life of discipleship lived in the power of that Spirit.

But we shouldn’t see the Spirit just as simply an extra boost, something we call upon to help us do what we want. It is rather the very presence of God deep within his creation and therefore deep within our communities and indeed deep within each one of us. The invitation of Pentecost is to open ourselves to that presence.

Yet if we do this, let us be aware of what it is we are letting ourselves in for. This is a Spirit that will not just support our ambitions for the Church or for our world or for ourselves. This is the Spirit of God which will lead us in his ways (or even her ways…the spirit is in the feminine form in the NT,  as we often sing in the wonderful hymn, ‘Enemy of Apathy’), to fulfil the Spirits’s will for his church, his world and us his people.

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
and she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove. 
(John L. Bell & Graham Maule)

We are opening ourselves not just to an extra support, but to a radical change. We are handing over ourselves to the one who created us, and who invites us to choose to live our lives in his way rather than ours. It may, it will be full of surprises – for God’s Spirit is renowned for blowing where it wills, not where we or parts of the Church thinks it ought.

So today we are invited to live in God’s grace, and that is something many have embarked upon – though often we wrestle back control at moments when we lose faith or become selfish in our desires.

Today we recall that gathering of nationalities on the first Pentecost: Parthians, Medes, Elamites and all the rest who heard the first disciples speaking of God’s love in Jesus Christ.They were surprised that each heard in their own language – but what they heard was that Spirit of God deep within all humanity, and they were united in responding to God’s love.

The challenge of today is one for our world, our society and one for each of us here. It is to allow that love to become real in the lives of this broken and virus ridden world. It is to enable those imprisoned by violence, oppression, need or greed, to find that Spirit of God’s love deep within themselves bringing freedom from their captivity. It is to enable those who are blinded by their power, their success and their comfort in this world, to have their eyes open to the needs of all around, to change and be changed, to live differently.

It is to find the Spirit of the living God breathing new life into the dry bones of our society and our world, that all may have life, and have it abundantly; life that is both here and now, and lasts into eternity.

Unless the eye catch fire,
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire,
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire,
The God will not be known.

May this Pentecost enflame our eyes, ears, tongues, hearts and minds, that God and his love may be seen and heard, named and loved, and known by all his children in every part of his world.