That dispute between the Labour party and some Jewish groups goes on. The accusation is that some people have crossed the line and their remarks have become anti-semite. The other side is that in a free society we should be able to look behind identities to people’s motivations and to be able to criticise agendas and actions. I have no competence in this area other than to say that post- Holocaust all words should be sifted and filtered and any words that potentially lead to attacks on groups of people should be weighed carefully. The roots of genocide are long and trailing, they can start off in innocuous comments but then can turn into something else.
The Christian Gospel at times could appear to be anti-semitic. Except for the fact that it contains a dispute between Jewish people on one side and Jewish people on the other, wrestling for the heart and mind of their faith. There are strong words said and heavy punches landed.
Today another dispute arises from this world. The claim is that we have hitched a lift on the Jewish feasts. We can easily see that from the different feasts – for instance, the feast of Passover. Jesus sits down to eat the Passover, a meal that has extraordinary significance for Jewish people. They are celebrating the action of God that sets them free and sends them out to find a new land. On the feast of Passover they present the first fruits of the land that they enter. We re-interpret the Passover, Jesus is the lamb who sheds his blood, the freedom is the freedom from our sins, the land that we are crossing into is a new land, the old covenant is left behind for a new one. We have indeed hitched a lift on their feast.
The feast of Shivout – the Pentecost – the Jewish people according to their ordinances are asked to celebrate 50 days after Passover. On that day (Pentecost day) they celebrate the last of the fruits, as opposed to the first fruits at Passover, and with the celebration they hope to say now everything has come to fruition. That God’s actions are fulfilled, his promises are realised – he gives them a new law, a new land. His purposes and plans are realised.
The early Christians say that at Pentecost, 50 days after the Resurrection, God fulfils and brings his plans to completion in the sending of the Spirit. Just as once there was swirling winds and fire from heaven when Moses got the 10 commandments so there is a raging wind that blows the roof off the house and fire comes down from heaven at the Pentecost.
Jewish people could justifiably be a bit irked that we have stepped onto their land without their permission. We would have to say that we are guilty as charged. St Luke on behalf of the early Christians and as their spokesman was convinced that with the coming of Christ that in every sense the Lord had fulfilled the scriptures and in order to show that they would say that he fulfils the Passover and he is the true sense of Pentecost – that God in his Spirit fulfils and confirms his words in that Pentecost day and to the end of the world.
Although we believe this to be true we have to be careful and supersensitive in the same way as political figures of our day have to be. We don’t have a monopoly of truth and we are certainly not in the business of trying to knock out our opponents.
That Jewish feast of Pentecost, coming 50 days after the Passover and being the time that they brought their first goods to fruition, the seeds that they had sown had now reached harvest – and this was a sign to them that God fulfilled his promises to them: gave them a land, saved them from their enemies, gave them a new covenant, gave them rules and laws to follow. In a similar sense the Christian feast of Pentecost has that sense of completion: Jesus work is done, his miracles are over, his teaching is over, his death is over, his resurrection is complete, he has ascended. It is over but there is a final piece and the final piece is put in place, the sending of the Spirit. The Spirit will enable the ages to remember his words, will give them the strength to do his will, will allow them to be empowered, the sacraments and governance and everything will be done in the spirit, they will preach in his name. Everything has been brought to completion; this is the moment that it has been heading too. This same spirit will lead us to the end of time.
It’s interesting how many times certain words are used in this passage. The word filled. The spirit fills the house. The spirit fills those in the house. The spirit fills Jerusalem. Then there is the word alongside it – he will pour out his spirit on you. This gives the impression of something empty or if not that then not full. And its as if its an irresistible force at work, a powerful wind a raging fire that cannot be stopped, that no door can be locked that keeps it out.
There has to be a spirit-filled Christianity. If it is simply done out of duty. If it is done out of obligation. If it is done because you are expected to do it, then it is not Christianity. Spirit filled Christianity is the experience that there is a force in you, that directs you, leads you, impels you - the power of God is at work. This power like the first Pentecost at some point has been poured into you, in your baptism and confirmation. It makes you think differently, act differently and have a different plan for your life.
Although Pentecost both for Jewish and Christians has come to mean something different it is still the same, we share that sense of of something begun buy God and now fulfilled, something completed.
For us there is another things at work too. There is a tension between something that is completed and something that is ongoing. Because we have come to recognise that the Spirit has been sent and has come in a special way at Pentecost, we recognise it also to be ongoing work. The spirit has come and is active and alive in the world.
Very few of us have had our roofs blown off by the Spirit or a raging fire that comes down on us, but that maybe means that we have got a wrong handle on it: it is not meant to be dull, lifeless, mundane, routine. Our Christian life is never meant to be insipid, watered down, lifeless, the feeling of being dragged to do something against our will, colourless. The spirit filled Christianity is meant to be exactly that – full of life, full of enthusiasm, generous, giving, falling over yourself to do more, breaking new ground, on fire.
We are the ongoing work. The ongoing work is going on in the world through us. The clock ticks by and it is the job of the Spirit to bring everything and everyone to completion.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity is much stronger than us on the mission of the Spirit. Everything is about the Spirit as it should be. He is still and should still be blowing the roof off this Church, people here should be proof that the spirit has been poured into our heart. They should know us as spirit filled, not empty vessels.