I love reading a good book. When I’m on holidays I read novel after novel, and really thrive on a good story line. I love getting so engrossed that I don’t want to put it down, that I want to find out what happens next. I love that sense of actually identifying with the characters so much that you can actually picture the scene in your mind as you read.
Less often I will read a biography. I find it really fascinating, particularly if I know something of a person, to read about their life and experiences, what shaped them to be the people they are, what were those keys moments which set them on a particular path in life.
More than any, I would love to read the biographies of the 12 disciples. But I can’t, because they have never been written and now can never be written. Scripture gives us an opening, a window into a sliver of their lives, but no more. As the Church’s Year rolls around and we make our annual journey with them, I often find myself wondering about them and reflecting on the little we know of them. Fishermen, revolutionaries, country bumpkins, tax collectors, certainly not the great and the good, the educated or the wealthy. They accompanied Jesus throughout his public ministry, yet never quite grasped all that he was trying to teach and explain. They are at times confused, at times get it wrong, at times are overcome with misplaced zeal, at times they seem so helpless. At the last they desert Jesus, abandon him, deny him.
On Easter Day they are locked away in the upper room, for fear of the Jews. Over the 40 days of Easter Jesus meets with them, opens their minds to the scriptures, and explains all that he has taught them over the previous 3 years. They witness his ascension and receive his commission. They return to the upper room, and seem to have the stirrings of a new confidence and a new vision. They choose Matthias to replace Judas. They devoted themselves to prayer and scripture, always waiting on God.
The Pentecost moment is still an extraordinary shock. They burst into the streets of Jerusalem and proclaim the gospel with boldness. What a transformation. Go back to the courtyard of the high priests house just a few weeks earlier, when Peter approaches under the cover of darkness and denies Jesus three times. Go to the cross, where only John remains with Mary. It was left to the women to visit the tomb to complete the ceremonial anointing. Now those men who got it so wrong are shouting from the rooftops that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The difference is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Back in the upper room, on the night before he died, Jesus gave his final words of exhortation and encouragement to the disciples. In that farewell discourse he promised them that when he returned to the Father, that God would send them another comforter, another advocate, one who would lead and guide and direct them in all that they were doing, who would continue to teach them as he had taught them, and who would empower them to fulfil their mission and ministry in the world. And that is exactly what happens.
The Holy Spirit comes upon those disciples, and takes everything that they knew, all they had heard, and learned and been taught, and makes it come alive. It is no longer head knowledge, it is heart living. The burning fire of the Holy Spirit took all they knew, all they had seen, all they had experienced, all they had heard and listened to, and made it come alive with fresh meaning and excitement.
Friends, that is what Pentecost is all about, that is what the Holy Spirit does for you and I. We need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to take all that we know about Jesus, and turn it into the knowledge of Jesus. Knowledge about Jesus is just information, knowledge of Jesus is a relationship, and that relationship transforms every facet of our lives.
We should begin every day by asking the Holy Spirit to come into our lives, to take us as we are and transform us into what God would have us be. Without the Holy Spirit all we have is head knowledge, intellectual knowledge. That is why Paul talks to the Galatians about the fruit of the spirit. It is not the fruit of the knowledge of God, it is not the fruit of reading the scriptures or of prayer, it is not the fruit of living a good life. The truth is that, without the Spirit, we can grow no fruit, but with the Spirit we can produce an abundant harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Every day we open our hearts and lives to the Holy Spirit, those fruit grow more and more. And the more that fruit grows in our lives, the more the love of God dwells in our hearts, the more we feel the compulsion to share that with the world, like those first disciples to go out and tell the world about Jesus, about faith, about the power of God. We have found the greatest treasure in the world when we have found the fruit of the spirit growing in our lives. Ask the people around you what they want, what the deepest desire of their heart is, or if they had one single wish, what would it be. The way they answer you might be different, the words they use might all be different, but in truth basically all their answers could be summed up in love, joy, peace. The answer to all the world’s deepest needs, longings and desires is not found in some esoteric experience or hallucinogenic substance, it is found in God, in a relationship with the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But it’s not a magic formula, it’s not a simple quick fix, growing fruit is slow hard work. Seeds are planted, cultivated, shoots appear, slowly they turn into a sampling, then a tree, and after years of work the fruit begins to appear, small at first, but growing more abundant with every passing year.
As we look at the first disciples, we can see that extraordinary chance brought about in them at Pentecost. That change continued right through to their lives’ end. All, except St John, we martyred for their faith, rather than deny or desert Jesus again. The presence of the Holy Spirit gave them the confidence to choose death rather than denial.
As we look at Christians all around us, people we have known, people who have influenced our lives, we can see the amazing transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
What do we see in our own lives as we look into the mirror? Is the Spirit brining a good harvest to fruition? Is the sapling starting to bud? Or are the seeds just being sown? Wherever we are at, we should make it our prayer every day that the Holy Spirit will live in us and grow in us.
Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing.
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.