Today (May 31st) the church celebrates 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 and not only by the disciples. Elsewhere in the Bible, there are accounts of the disciples experiencing the gift of the Holy Spirit, behind closed doors, because 'they were afraid of the Jews'.
One of the challenges that we need to face up to of being people of faith in the 21st century is that balance between the private and the public. The private experience of the Spirit, those significant moments of prayer and devotion at home or in small groups that can provide deep nourishment for our souls, and the public expression of faith, kindled by the fire of the Spirit, which calls us "to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8)
The current circumstances in which we are living (and distressingly, in some cases, dying) offer a further challenge to us, as we seemingly have plenty of time and space to experience the Spirit in private and far less opportunity to respond publicly to the Spirit's call to be the necessary change in the world. However locked down, isolated or shielded we may be, we cannot ignore the demands of the gospel, set out by the prophet Micah, echoed by Jesus throughout his earthly ministry and entrusted to those who claim the name 'Christian' in every generation.
The weeks that have passed since March 23rd have offered (and produced) some outstanding acts of kindness (both random and organised). In some communities there has been a tangible sense of 'being in' something together; there have been acts of generosity and compassion, especially with and on behalf those who have been bereaved and there has been the sacrificial work of those on the many 'frontlines' that have enabled the majority of us to stay at home and stay safe. This is all cause for celebration and thanksgiving.
Sadly, these weeks have also produced some shocking examples of a lack of awareness of how our actions can impact on others; selfishness beyond belief and a disregard for instructions and laws that were brought in to keep the vulnerable safe; statistics and graphs have been manipulated and journalists have been silenced.
So, as I reflect on these past weeks at this point in the life of the church, I wonder what the Spirit is saying to us? How are we being called to be church in these days? Is a life of prayer and worship enough of a response to the coming of the Spirit? Or will there be a message like the one given to the church in Laodicea "'I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth."? (Revelation 3:15-16)
How is the Spirit empowering us to be church in the emerging 'new normal'? What is our faith about? What are we missing while we cannot meet together for worship? What is the Spirit of God asking us to be and do in the future? In Luke's account of the first Pentecost we are told that, although they gather inside, this time there is no mention of locked doors. 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!
How publicly are we willing "to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God"?
In the name of Christ? Amen.