It has been a while, so apologies in advance…
Three men were walking along a beach when they came upon a lamp buried in the sand.
They picked it up and rubbed it, and wouldn’t you know it, out popped a genie, straight from the set of the latest Disney film.
Now this particular genie had been around a while and so he had his lines down pat. “I will grant you each one wish,” he said.
The first man wrinkled his brow in deep thought and then spoke his wish, “I wish I was ten times smarter.”
The genie tapped him on the forehead and announced, “You are now ten times smarter.”
The second man thought more deeply before naming his wish. “I wish I was a hundred times smarter.”
The genie once more tapped him on the forehead and intoned, “You are now a hundred times smarter.”
The third man, who really liked to think big, spoke his wish with gusto, “I wish I was a thousand times smarter!”
The genie then tapped him on the forehead and announced in the most solemn tone, “You are now a woman!”…
But jokes aside, for most of the time before Pentecost I am quite sure that the apostles had been wishing that they were a lot smarter themselves.
Especially after the crucifixion, when their own inadequacies were painfully clear to them and even the miracle of the resurrection didn’t really change that.
And Jesus’ final disappearance when he ascended into heaven only made the matter worse.
In those months if anyone wanted to find the apostles, they knew where to look – in the upper room, where the door was always locked and the windows shut, and the conversations were all hushed variations of “if only...,” “I can’t....,” and “He never taught us how to....”
Then suddenly on Pentecost, all that changed.
That ragtag band of frightened men and women became heroes and fearless liberators who would carry the Good News of God’s liberation to the ends of the earth.
What made the difference?
The traditional answer, as we heard depicted vividly in our reading from Acts, is that the Holy Spirit descended upon them, with a great rush of wind and appearing like tongues of fire.
But I suspect that this is really only half right. It is a great place to start but it is not quite the full picture.
It absolutely was the Holy Spirit that made the difference, but I have doubts that the Spirit “descended” or “arrived” on Pentecost, as if it were a train or bus getting in on schedule.
If we take a moment to consider it, the Spirit of God had, in fact, always been there, inside each and every one of them, from the moment they each drew their first breath.
In fact, if we consider carefully what we profess in our Creed, that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and the Giver of Life, then it is hard not to accept its presence with the disciples, indeed with all of life and creation, from the beginning of time.
So, then what did happen at Pentecost?
If the Spirit was already with the disciples, then where and what was the change?
Well, I suggest to you that the change was within them.
At long last they stopped holding back, they had stopped measuring out their commitment to the Lord in small doses, stopped the doubts and the fears that were imprisoning them.
They stopped counting cost and calculating risk and just gave the Lord their whole selves.
They lowered their guard and let themselves be touched in the deepest, most secret spaces of their hearts.
And so finally, the Spirit that dwelt inside them could fill them up and transform them – and so the Church was born among those men and women.
Not as an institution with priests and bishops, parish councils and synods, but as a group of people who sought to live their lives based on the dictates of love, mercy, and justice, imparted to them by their friend and teacher, Jesus, who they came to understand as the revelation of God’s very self!
To some degree, we are all in the same spot as those apostles and the first followers of Jesus were before Pentecost.
The Spirit of God is within us – and has been within us since we drew our first breath, but in many ways, we haven’t let ourselves be truly touched by that Spirit.
We have perhaps entrusted just fragments of our hearts and lives to the Spirit.
And so, many of the great works and great loves God has in mind for us have not happened.
The Feast of Pentecost is an invitation to us all to rouse ourselves, to catch fire in our hearts and to choose something more than an anaemic little life.
It is an invitation to invest and entrust our whole selves into the hands of the Creator Spirit.
The payoff will be huge and surprising, but the payoff will come only to those who invest all, without hesitation, once and for all.
There is an old saying: you cannot cross a great chasm in two steps! Only a single great leap will do.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, let us pray for one another:
May God grant us the heart to leap across the great chasm of our fears and to let ourselves be set on fire in our love for you and for all your creation.
May we entrust our all to the Holy Spirit who has dwelt with us since we drew our first breath, to guide, to strengthen, to comfort and support us, as we seek to continue to the work of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen