It’s very easy to make three serious mistakes about Pentecost.
The first is to assume that it doesn’t really apply in churches like this. We’re a middle-of-the-road church, people say. We’re not extreme. We’re not what is derogatively referred to as happy-clappy. We don’t all have our hands in the air for every hymn, nor clap to each one. While we all have our own preferences about worship, and our own views about changes we’d like to make, the centre of gravity in the worship of both our churches is undeniably rather more traditional than some. Now the point of mentioning this is that it’s very easy to find oneself thinking that Pentecost and the Holy Spirit isn’t so very relevant. That’s for the Vineyard Church or the Jubilee Church or such like. But that is a very serious mistakes. Our worship, perhaps our personalities, may be more reserved than some churches. However, it is a very serious mistake to underestimate the importance of the Holy Spirit, and our need of the Holy Spirit. We may be quieter than some, but the Spirit is still as important.
The second mistake we can make is to realise that the Holy Spirit is important, but to think that we’ve somehow failed we because our worship is not livelier, or because all manner of exotic things don’t happen on a regular basis. The concerns of the 21st century, running buildings and managing an organisation are a world away from what the first disciples were living and doing in Jerusalem, because we are in a different time and place. We haven’t failed because we are not different from who we are.
And the third serious mistake is to ignore or forget the Holy Spirit. In the United Reformed Church, and it’s true of all churches although perhaps the URC makes it more explicit than some, in the United Reformed Church we are not a democracy. There is no place for democracy, because we a theocracy, seeking what is that God wants. Not what we want, but what we think that God wants. And the Holy Spirit is the very essence of this. If we ignore the Holy Spirit, we soon lose track of keeping in touch with God, and drift into our own personal views. If we ignore or forget the Holy Spirit, then everything goes wrong.
So, I thought that the best thing that I could do was to tell you a little story. The story doesn’t actually mention the Holy Spirit by name, but it’s there throughout the story on many levels.
A new family moved into an old house and they did a lot of work on it. Lots of trips to Homebase for all manner of bits and pieces. A new kitchen for Jack – who was a dedicated Bake Off fan. Updated central heating. Lots of decorating: bright colours for the children’s bedrooms. And a fabulous new bathroom with beautiful tiles from that posh shop opposite the William Cobbett that Karen loved. There was only one room left to tackle, the attic room, up a set of narrow stairs.
It was a rather nasty little room; dingy, with yellowy-green wallpaper and sloping ceilings. So far, they’d used it as a junk room; all sorts of stuff from the move had been dumped up there, and now it was time to sort it out. It was hot and stuffy up there. And it was getting hotter and stuffier as the afternoon wore on. It was hard work sorting through the boxes and Karen really felt the need for some fresh air, but the window was stuck. Someone had painted it shut, and no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get it open. By the end of the afternoon she’d made good progress, but she was in a foul mood. Hot, bothered and headachy.
‘What are we going to do with the room when it’s sorted?’ Jack asked, ‘Another spare bedroom?’
‘I’ve no idea,’ Karen said. ‘The more time I spend in it the more I dislike it. It’s a horrible poky place. I’m beginning to think I should have just left it as a junk room.’
But she’d started the job, so she was determined to finish it, although she was in no rush to do that. It was mid-summer and the sun on the roof made the attic room stifling. She really needed to get that window open. So the next time she went up there she went with a Stanley knife, some turps, a hammer, and a chisel.
‘Right then, window,’ she muttered, ‘resistance is futile.’ And she worked at it until at long last the blessed thing opened. And didn’t the summer air feel wonderful as it drifted in under the eaves. It smelled of the garden and it brought birdsong with it. Karen stood there and just breathed.
Then she turned back into the room and saw the breeze teasing a scrap of torn wallpaper. Underneath the nasty green stuff she could see other paper, something old fashioned with rosebuds on it, not her sort of thing, but a lovely colour. This room had been prettier once. And it could be again. Now that she could actually breathe properly up here and the mustiness was gone, she felt better about the whole project. And she liked the view from the little window. Maybe she’d put a table there. This could be a workroom, or a study for the children to do their homework. Maybe Jack and the children could use it for model-making…the ideas were coming thick and fast. She reached across, took hold of the torn wallpaper and pulled a great chunk of it off the wall. ‘Yes,’ she thought. ‘When I’ve sorted it out, this will be fabulous.’