My brother Michael used to live in Manchester in northern England. I went to stay with him one August during a heat wave. His apartment was hot and claustrophobic, and the city felt suffocating. So, one day we just took off. We got on the little pay train which wound its way slowly, out of the city and up, up into the glorious Peak District. The train stopped at a tiny station surrounded by magnificent hills. We got out and we climbed and climbed for several hours till we reached the top of the highest hill, Kinder Scout. We were exhausted, but wonderfully exhilarated. We drank in the cool air in great thirsty gulps, and as we breathed we felt quite intoxicated, and I remember we started leaping around, and shouting and laughing with sheer joy. Way below us a couple of hikers looked up, and I think they probably thought we were drunk!
Today is the Day of Pentecost. On this day the gift of divine power came to the disciples, and there was no mistaking it; for it was accompanied by an experience which pounded their senses. Divine power was invading them. An intense, ‘catastrophic’ experience. A rushing wind, tongues of fire, a power beyond human lives invading human lives. Perhaps the disciples started leaping around, as extraordinary words came out of their mouths. Certainly, others thought they must be drunk!
When Michael and I experienced the power and joy of hiking in the Peaks, the experience was more intense because we had just left the confines of his hot and suffocating apartment. And for those disciples and other believers in the upper room, the experience of the Holy Spirit must have been more intense and powerful because ever since the crucifixion they had been living inside, confined behind locked doors, only coming out with caution and anxiety. But now, the doors were flung open and, as we read in Acts, they addressed the huge crowds of ‘devout Jews from every nation under heaven’. Something had happened to them. They had received the Holy Spirit and come to life. They had come to life.
These past few years, like those disciples, we too have experienced confinement. The pandemic has kept us inside. We have and still do, feel a degree of caution and even anxiety when we come outside or when we are in crowded places. Our anxiety is compounded by daily reading about the terrible events in the Ukraine, the horrors of gun violence in Buffalo and Laguna Woods and Uvalde, the climate emergency and so much more. The challenges we face, the suffering of our broken world, our fragile earth, can deplete us, and our spirits can become low and sad. But today we celebrate the great gift which God poured out upon us all on the Day of Pentecost. When the Spirit came down to those disciples they were changed, transformed. Their spirits were recharged with life and power. They came back to life. And that same promise is made to us, today. Jesus said, ‘I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.’ On this day, that promise is fulfilled. God gave us the gift of abundant life. C S Lewis captured it in a phrase which I have always liked. He wrote, ‘God designed the human machine to run on Himself. It is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn.’ On the Day of Pentecost, God gave to those in the upper room the fuel which their spirits were designed to burn. And that fuel totally transformed them. They came to life. They came out into the world with new courage and strength.
God gives that same gift of the Holy Spirit to you and to me, as our daily nourishment, our daily fuel. It means that every morning as we awake, when our rumbling stomachs tell us that our body needs breakfast, we should pause and remember that our ‘rumbling’ spirits need refueling as well! If you feel right now that your life needs renewing, that you want to become more alive, that you’ve lost some of your old joie de vivre, a good question to ask yourself is, ‘How is my spirit being fed right now?’ ‘What am I consuming, what am I feeding on? Is it good for me? Does it build me up or does it bring me down? Am I spiritually undernourished?
Perhaps this Day of Pentecost could be a wake-up call. God is longing to give himself to us as fuel for our spirits. How might we respond? A good way is to start each new day with a time of refueling. Perhaps, think of how long it takes to have breakfast, give the same amount time to God, to allow God to nourish you with his very life! Find a place at home to be still and attentive. And then simply open yourself to the Holy Spirit. A good opening prayer might be, ‘Come Holy Spirit. Fill me with life anew.’ Repeat it several times slowly, and maybe breathing in deeply as you say it. As we spend this time with God, perhaps reading some Scripture, and talking very simply to God in prayer, the Spirit is quietly nourishing and replenishing us, and preparing us for the day ahead. Filled with the Holy Spirit we can feel more alive, and we have a new courage and strength to face the daily news, the challenges of this world, and to actually be more able, because nourished by God, to play our part in bringing justice, peace and hope into our broken and hurting world. I think that if we begin to feel overwhelmed by life, that is often a sign that we are running on empty, that we need refueling, that we need the power, strength and wisdom of the Spirit. For God ‘designed us to run on Himself’. So, invite the Spirit into your life.
But I have to say, this comes with a warning. We cannot control the Spirit of God. If you say in your heart, ‘Come Holy Spirit’ anything might happen! I remember the stories of those fifteenth century explorers who set sail from Europe, seeking the New World. They sailed due west into the unknown. As the days and weeks passed, the crew got more and more terrified. Not because of lack of food or sickness, but because of the wind. They had caught the Trade Winds, blowing always from east to west, and which were driving them ever further away from home. How will we ever get home again they cried, against these winds? Can we ever go back? If you invite God’s Spirit into your life, there may be no going back! No knowing where you may be blown. So, beware! But his I do know. God did not create us to fritter our lives away, to live life in the shallows. God created each one of us to be fully and passionately alive. And on the Day of Pentecost God gave us the fuel to empower us to live the abundant life which Jesus promised.
So, in a moment, when you come forward to take into your hands the Bread of Life, ask that on this special day, this great Day of Pentecost, you may be filled with God’s Spirit and fueled by God’s very Life, to live lives of power and grace, to God’s glory. Alleluia!
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