Today we are to learn to breathe again. Pentecost is the great festival of renewal. Time for a spring clean and a clean sweep. The wind that has been bothering us for the last few days is seasonal in both the liturgical sense as well as the meteorological. Whit is about whipping out the old and replacing it with the new - new wine, new skins and new creation.
Years ago in Lancashire, where I come from there used to be a tradition of Whit Walks. People would dress in new ‘white’ clothes for Whit and parade through the streets with church banners, have a picnic and then have a good old hymn sing. LS Lowry has a few paintings of such scenes. The last vestiges of it can be found in ‘Songs of Praise’ which the BBC are desperately trying to marginalised by changing the scheduling so that it gets difficult to track down on a Sunday evening. New clothes for Whit was another reminder that this is the festival of renewal, revival and restoration.
So to have a Baptism today is very appropriate. To baptise Sarah and Dan’s baby is an added bonus. Here we see a young life being offered to God, dedicated to his love and made a member of his church. According to an ancient custom, we think of this day as the birthday of the Church. Why? - because the church community finally came to life when the disciples were baptised in the Holy Spirit. So exciting was all this that the little community who had been huddled together in that upper room for fear of being arrested suddenly found themselves empowered. The were drenched in the life giving Spirit of God which inspired them, enthused them into breaking out of the ghetto and proclaiming the wonderful works of God.
Let’s look at this a bit more closely. Wind and fire are the elements used to describe what happened to previously frightened followers. Wind because it is the same word in Hebrew as the breath of God. This life giving breath was breathed into Adam (Hebrew for ‘man’) at Creation. A fully ‘inspired’ human being becomes a living soul, fully alive to God and to each other. They may even become animated and enthused (animated full of ‘animos’ - Greek for ‘wind)’ . Enthused (‘Entheo’- Greek ‘for full of God’). So Pentecost was a big wake up call. It animated down beat disciples and it enflamed, illuminated and lit up dead material. The wind of God blew them inside out. It swept away some of the cobwebs which were inhibiting them and flung them out onto the streets ready to preach the gospel.
Then something else happened which was even more strange. Those inarticulate disciples became lucid. They communicated. They were understood. More amazingly, strangers and foreigners understood them. Each of them in their own language understood what was being proclaimed. The good news was out and about and being well received.
Well maybe Luke has idealised all this a little bit; maybe he is seeing the early church through rose tinted spectacles but something must have got them going. Something must have lit them up, because within a few years they were everywhere - little communities of men and women, ‘young men and maidens; sons and daughters prophesying and seeing visions’. The ancient prophecies were beginning to come into effect, ‘portents in heaven signs on earth below’. ‘Blood, fire and columns of smoke’. Even the ‘sun turned to darkness and the moon into blood’. Scary stuff. All meant to be a ‘wake up call’ to those who were being called out of darkness into a new marvellous light.
We shall light a candle today. We shall breathe words of life into little Katie. We shall all pledge ourselves to the renewing power of God as we stand around this font, this well bubbling up the water of life. Jesus still comes to us as he did in our gospel for today wounded by love to share with us words of peace and forgiveness. He commissions us all to proclaim the gospel unto all nations. He empowers us with his Holy Spirit to spread the good news of God’s love. How do we respond to that call more effectively? By taking a deep breath and sweeping away all that clutter that obscures our vision. When we are inspired and illuminated, we can see more clearly that vision he came to share. A vision of a world blazing with God’s Spirit of renewal. For God has declare ‘In those days I will pour out my Sprit on all flesh. That means you and I. Little Katie is a prime example of what God is looking for a trusting accepting openhearted response to the gift of love, which is the purest description of what the renewing power of God is for us.