Louis Armstrong is best remembered for how and what he played, rather than for anything that he said. By and large, he let his trumpet do the talking, as it were. But he did come out with a few memorable remarks. My favourite is: ‘If you haven’t got it in you, you can’t blow it out!’ It’s not, I grant you, a biblical text, but I would say that it’s not a million miles away from a biblical sentiment. The Bible provides numerous examples of people who felt sure that they didn’t have it in them, and therefore couldn’t blow it out.
Abraham is told by God to up-sticks from his retirement home in Harran, and to take a one- way ticket to Hebron, a desert trek of some two hundred miles. Once there, says God to Abraham, Sarah will conceive and you will become the father of a great nation. Given that Abraham is already well overdrawn on his biblical three score years and ten, he laughs and says, in effect, ‘I haven’t got it in me’. And you can imagine old Sarah chirping in with, ‘He really hasn’t, Lord!’
Similarly, both Moses and Jeremiah felt initially inadequate for the task to which they were summoned. So did Jesus’s disciples. ln Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’s final words to what had become his First Eleven, are, ‘Go forth and make all nations my disciples’. No pressure there, then.
Now, I know you shouldn’t read into scripture things that aren’t actually there, but even so it’s not hard to imagine the Eleven getting into a holy huddle and pushing Peter to the front with, ‘Go on, you tell him, we haven’t got it in us’. Jesus, of course, was well aware of that. When did this motley crew of so-called disciples ever have it in them? They were picked for their potential, not their track record. Between them they had proved to be fearful, faithless, and false. So, making disciples of all nations? No, of course they didn’t have it in them. Yet. So, of course they couldn’t blow it out. Yet.
So, how come this second rate First Eleven were soon to be accused of turning the world upside down? The explanation lies in that reading which we’ve just heard from the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples were given Whitsunday with its Spirit ‘like a rushing mighty wind’. That’s why Louis Armstrong’s ‘If you haven’t got it in you, you can’t blow it out’ is too good a remark to pass up at Pentecost. These disciples were given inspiration. They were inspired.
But they lived two thousand years ago. It’s dim, distant and, in parts, debatable. But the Pentecost story still resonates with our own stories. The feeling, ‘I haven’t got it in me’, is surely not just a past and peculiar one. It’s a contemporary and common one. It still surfaces sometimes in response to a personal vocation like that of Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and the Apostles. But more often, ‘I haven’t got it in me’, is the gut reaction to some of the messy things that life simply chucks our way. The death of your child. The breakdown of your marriage. Your own terminal illness. The collapse of your business. ‘I haven’t got it in me to cope with this.’
And what happens? From somewhere, well, let’s be up front about it. Sometimes that feeling of wretched inadequacy leads to anger, bitterness, and despair. Barry Manilow’s hit, ‘I made it through the rain’, isn’t true of everyone. Some drown. Life isn’t a fairy tale. Not everyone does live happily ever after. And some deeply troubled souls choose not to live anymore. But the vast majority soldier on, and not a few discover to their amazement some inner resources which they never imagined they had. So, they often come out with, ‘You seem to be given strength from somewhere’. That at least sounds like a tacit acknowledgement that sometimes when you feel that you haven’t got it in you, you receive an in-filling from an external source far greater than anything you could have conjured up for yourself.
Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and perhaps, above all, those Pentecostal Apostles would not be in the least surprised by that. Here were cowardly folk becoming courageous; inarticulate folk becoming spokespeople; fearful folk becoming faithful; reclusive folk becoming evangelists.
It’s a matter of historical fact that these twelve timid people became heroes, some even to the point of martyrdom. Explain it as you will. But there’s no doubt that they put their remarkable turnaround down to that Holy Spirit of Christ which in-filled them on the Day of Pentecost. And because they now had it in them, they were able to blow it out.
And us? We gather at Christ’s table to share his body, live his risen life, and drink his cup; to bring life to others. We are those whom the Spirit lights, so that we can give light to the world. Who me? No, l haven’t got it in me.
Whitsunday says, ‘Yes you have’. So get out there and blow.