Waking early and witnessing the dawning of a new day, the heralding of birds summoning songs of praise and the warmth of the sun emerging and beckoning new life and the blossoming of fruit and flowers in the garden.
Our Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer’s Invocation of the Holy Spirit providing the liturgy of the day.
‘Most powerful Holy Spirit,
and subdue us.
is made glorious,
and glory seems
with the brilliance
of your light
Celebrating the birth of the church, a movement born of the Holy Spirit, an empowering of ordinary men and women, who had come to know, love and follow Christ to be his witnesses, to bring his Good news to the hearts and minds of lands and people throughout the earth. The birth of the church and a world revolution, a movement that brought life, liberty and freedom to the oppressed, good news to the poor and a way for living that was heralded on that Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection.
And how the world means that revolution today. A world scared by its brutality, abused and polluted by its greed and exploitation, divided by its conflict and attrition, poisoned by its toxic politics and dangerous dictators, a world divided by poverty and wealth, injustice and polluting consumerism, arrogance and deceit. A beautiful world being ruined by our failure to respect God and neighbour, lives and land. In the words of the 60’s song, ‘what the world needs now is love sweet love….oh, not just for some, but for everyone”.
The advantages of social media enabled us to be reminded of the church worshipping God, witnessing and engaging in mission across the world. Messages to friends in Germany, Belgium, Nagaland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Canada and the States. Oh, the States! – hearing further reports of the riots there, I logged onto to see how friends and fellow Companions of our Northumbria Community were in Minneapolis. Margene wrote of waking up to more pain and destruction in her city following the murder of George Floyd and the domino effects of racial injustice. “There are different layers of protest. Those from the black community and their allies are trying to grieve and call to account the injustice of George Floyd’s death. It is for the most part been peaceful. But there is another sinister layer of protesters. They are anarchists and are using this event as a way to destroy. Their pyro supplies are so sophisticated they are burning down banks and post offices. They are using George Floyd’s death as a cover to create anarchy. Pray for our city”.
The presence of white supremacists, including members of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) in the city and other cities where there are riots is deeply disturbing. I watch another Companion, Ben Tucker singing and praying to God for his city, read about Peter Wohler and Source Ministries holding a Prayer Vigil and an outdoor Pentecost service in the troubled city.
I reflect on the Easter, Ascension and Pentecost stories and reflect that the words of Jesus and the tongues of fire that fell upon those first disciples is such a stark contrast to the incendiary political rhetoric and fires burning in the streets of America today.
I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s words in 1968: “But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
I pray for peace on the streets of America but pray also for the States and for us here in Britain to wake up to the reality of racism in our society and the injustice, evil and oppression it creates that leads to anger and outrage which malevolent groups can exploit to fuel further unrest and deepen racial hatred.
Here in the calm of our home in North Yorkshire the internet enables us to log in and say hello to the church at Portrack, (where I was the first minister back in the 1980s), greet friends old and new and then join with New Life Baptist church that we are a part of here in Northallerton. A relaxed, creatively curated service was beautifully led and included uplifting worship by gifted musicians, myriad voices, praying, reading, sharing , including an artist talking about the painting he had been commissioned by the church to do for Pentecost. An inspiring sermon by a Jane, a very gifted woman preacher that was insightful, challenging and encouraging. There were crafts and activities for all ages to do at home and Trevor and his puppet made an appearance. At which point, and not because of, we returned to Portrack in time to be part of the link up with Pattaya in Thailand, an orphanage of up to 200 children and a deaf school that the church is actively supportive of. Run by a Catholic Order a very spritely 84 year old Thai priest shared and prayed for us and we were taken on a live video tour of the orphanage where the smiling, happy faces of children and adults touched the hearts of all who of us who were privileged to watch and brought a tear to many.
The DNA of Portrack evident throughout; a Church made up of a very diverse group of people; young and old, single, married, families, asylum seekers and refugees, barristers and pastors, civil servants, lorry drivers, retired folk, medics and educational workers, unemployed and self-employed. The DNA seen today, as in its founding years, in the church’s heart for the poor and the marginalised, near and far, The generosity of spirit and sacrificial giving way beyond the expectation of a relatively small, urban, housing estate church. Small church, big heart. Like New Life, it’s well led and develops leaders and both fellowships, move out beyond the walls of the church, to share the love of God with believer and unbeliever alike.
Church buildings remain closed but the church is out of the building and alive and at work in the world.
It’s interesting that it took persecution in the first century to turf the church out of its domesticity. Jesus in commissioning his followers to ‘Go into all the world’ promised that at Pentecost they would receive the Holy Spirit and the power to become his witnesses in the world. However, then as now, it’s easy for churches to have a tendency to create a religious huddle into which the world is invited, where the church acts as host and invites guests to join. This is contrary to the way in which Jesus shared the Good news and intended his church to be. We are called to where people are, where we are more the guest than the host, where instead of doing things for people, we do things with people and discover the kingdom of God is to be found in the world.
As my friend Glen Marshall discovered in his preparation to preach today these powerful words; “The Spirit blows the disciples out of the house, out beyond the confines of their own language, out into the world. The wind of the Spirit is no whirlwind sucking up everything in its path into some irresistible vortex, never to be seen again. Instead the Spirit is more like a whirlwind in reverse, a centrifugal hurricane, flinging all it touches ever outward. This is not religion for us – a keep it to yourself, consenting adults behind closed doors kind of religion – this is on the streets, in yer face religion. This is the Spirit of prophecy enabling disciples to open their traps, not to become Trappists.”
The Spirit of God is not contained within the walls of any building but at work bringing an antidote of transforming love, healing and reconciliation, light and life to the darkness and disease we are experiencing in the world today.
The Lord be with you… and with your Spirit.