Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pentecost and Pilgrimage

The disciples having waited for 10 days in Jerusalem are now filed with the Holy Spirit. They are transformed and they will, in time, transform the Roman Empire. How did this happen? How did the disciples go from a bunch of people who constantly misunderstood what Jesus was speaking about, who fled in fear when Jesus was crucified to a group who were not afraid to make a stand for their faith in front of a crowd of thousands? Nothing less than the wind and fire of the Spirit.
Think about these symbols for a moment - wind and fire. Think about what happened to the disciples as a result of Pentecost. Wind is not stationary, fire is in constant movement. The Holy Spirit comes on these disciples and immediately they move - out from the room in which they have been holed up in for the last week and a bit. They are filled with the Spirit and they begin to move.
From that time on, whenever they begin to get settled, whenever they think that they can relax, persecution breaks out against them and they are moved. The Christian faith begins its pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Judea and then it begins to cross borders of creed and culture into Samaria. Later, via Peter's vision and Cornelius’ invitation, the Gospel goes to the Gentiles, provoking a crisis in the church: must the church insist that the Gentiles who wish to be Christians must first become Jews or is that not necessary? In a landmark decision the First Jerusalem Council came to the conclusion that the Gentile Christians should simply obey the stipulations of the Noahic covenant. So that Council took the brave step - in obedience to the Holy Spirit - to make sure that the Christian church was comprised of a pilgrim people throughout its history. In line with this, the centre of the Christian faith has moved constantly - from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Rome, from Rome to Constantinople, from Constantinople to various European centres, from Europe to North America and in the last century from North America to South America, Asia and Africa. This has been the legacy of the coming of the Spirit, the history of a church on a journey for the last twenty centuries: a pilgrim people journeying towards a new future.
On Sunday we will bless and pray for the pilgrims who will be walking the Compostela. They will stand before us to be blessed before they begin their journey. But we would be wrong to think that it is only these who are the pilgrims. Because of the Spirit of wind and fire that propelled the church out of their safe zone onto that Jerusalem street all those years ago, the Spirit comes today to remind us that we are, also a pilgrim people, meant to be constantly moving, crossing boundaries and following the Lord of the harvest into new fields.

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