This month we shall celebrate the feast of Pentecost: often called the birthday of the church, the day when the presence of the Holy Spirit was experienced and witnessed powerfully and, crucially, in public.
Elsewhere in the Bible, there are accounts of the apostles experiencing the gift of the Holy Spirit, behind closed doors, because 'they were afraid of the Jews'. On this occasion, Luke (the writer of the book of Acts) records that they are again gathered together in the same place. Although they gather inside, this time there is no mention of locked doors and indeed, following the powerful spiritual experience that touches all the disciples, a crowd gathers drawn to the place by the noise... What a contrast — from behind locked doors into the glare of the public square!
One of the challenges of being people of faith in the 21st century that we need to face up to is that balance between the private experience of our faith — those quieter moments of prayer and devotion at home or in small groups that can provide significant nourishment four our souls and the public expression of faith which can speak of all that we find sustaining and important to those we encounter in our daily lives.
To be a person of faith requires us to grapple with the political and economic issues that are staring us in the face every day. We can no longer seek refuge in our churches, holding on to the mantra that 'religion and politics don't mix'. The 18th century Irish statesman, Edmund Burke (who also served in the British Parliament) said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women!) to do nothing."
In the clamour of voices competing to attract our attention for votes; for participation in support for good causes; for stronger borders and ever rising economic growth, I believe we also need to hear the voices of those affected by monumental blunders by the Home Office; those waiting unbearably long to be seen within the NHS by committed staff who have every right to question whether they are valued by our current Government; those in work who are reliant on Universal Credit and/or foodbanks simply to survive.
The early church can offer us some important pointers about how we can create a God-centred culture that will encourage others to come and meet with the Christ who is at the heart of our being, both private and public. What is absolutely certain in my mind is the fact that the church is increasingly called to challenge the status quo and to call out injustice wherever and whenever we see it.
May the celebration of Pentecost remind us once again of the impact that the Holy Spirit had on the lives of the first Christians and may we be as courageous in seeking to live out the will of God in every part of our lives "on earth as it is in heaven."