It is intriguing to discover what motivates people, and in particular, what motivates and unites groups of people. For example, what contributes to the success of a sports team, a political party or a company? A common vision perhaps? Or a shared determination to succeed? Or an inspiring and unifying leader maybe?
Today, we shall be thinking about what or – more precisely – who it is who unites Christian Churches. Who is it who brings us together and keeps us together? How are God’s people gathered together today?
In one sense the answer is, of course, Jesus. Christians all have a shared faith in him, and it’s because of his death and resurrection that we have a common hope of the world to come. By definition, without Christ there would be no Christians. But Christian faith and church membership are more than just a product of intellectual assent and a shared religious belief about Jesus. Church more than a club for people with a common interest in Christianity.
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, we should be reminded that it is God’s Spirit who actively draws people to faith in Christ, and it is God’s Spirit who grows and knits us together as God’s people, the Church. I hope we shall see today that the Church is:
- A Spirit-filled gathering that was promised in the Old Testament.
- A Spirit-filled gathering that began at Pentecost, and is
- A Spirit-filled gathering that goes on today.
- A Spirit-filled gathering promised in the Old Testament
If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you will know that as well as few famous highlights, like Creation, the Exodus and the conquest of the Promsed Land, it contains many disappointments and sadnesses too. The people of Israel were never able to enjoy perfect harmony with God or with their neighbours. This disharmony reached its climax with the exile to Babylon in around 590 BC, when many Jews were deported from the Promised Land, the monarchy was toppled, Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed. All hope seemed lost.
Yet the Old Testament did contain seeds of hope, promises of a better future. Prophets like Joel and Ezekiel predicted that God would one day pour out his Spirit on all his people. On everyone who knew and loved him, whether Jew or Gentile.
God’s Spirit would enable all God’s people to live in harmony with him and with each other.
- A Spirit-filled gathering which began at Pentecost
Jesus himself reiterated these Old Testament promises during his own ministry. He told his disciples that the Spirit would come on his disciples after his Ascension. A promise which reached its fulfilment on Pentecost Sunday, described in our Acts reading this morning.
Pentecost was the Jewish Harvest festival, when the people of Israel thanked God for the harvest of crops. It is appropriate that God chose this feast to begin his worldwide harvest of souls, gathering people from afar to be members of his church.
It is highly symbolic that at Pentecost the disciples were given the gift of speaking in foreign tongues. This gift enabled everyone present to hear the Gospel proclaimed in their own language. God was beginning to gather together a people for himself out of scattered humanity. God was forming a new people for himself from people of every tribe and tongue. He was beginning to form a Spirit-filled gathering, the church, that goes on today.
- A Spirit-filled gathering which goes on today
So how is the Spirit gathering people to God and to each other today?
Firstly, the Holy Spirit is gathering people to God by convincing them of their sin and their need for Christ for forgiveness. In John 16:8, Jesus himself told his disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will convict people of their sin and God’s coming judgement, and convince them of their need for salvation through him.
So today, we should pray that God’s Spirit will open the eyes of our friends and neighbours, and draw them to Jesus. Let’s pray too that the Spirit will help our friends and family understand when we talk to them about Christ.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit gathers us to God by giving us a remarkable intimacy with our Creator. In Romans 8 the apostle Paul tells us that every Christian, every believer indwelt by his Spirit, is able to call God “Abba”, “Father”. As Christians let’s rejoice in the intimacy we have with God by his Holy Spirit, and make the most of the privilege of prayer.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is bringing Christians closer to one another in the Church. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of unity, who pours love into our hearts for our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Holy Spirit also gives us all gifts. Gifts like leadership, hospitality, teaching, encouragement, administration, speaking in tongues, prophecy, caring and so on.
As Paul stresses in 1 Corinthians 12, these gifts are not primarily given for our own edification, but for the “common good” of the church. Different gifts are given to build up the one body of Christ. Very wisely, the Holy Spirit has not given all of us every gift. We are all blessed in different ways, so that we can be mutually dependent upon one another for our common good.
Glue, nails and screws bind together planks of wood until they become a building. In a similar way God’s Spirit today binds together and unites many different types of people to become the one body of Christ, the Church. Churches are equipped and united by the Holy Spirit – he is the glue that binds us together.
As I finish today, I hope we’ve been reminded that it is not simply friendship or philosophy that unites Christians together. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. A work that was long promised in the Old Testament, a work that began on Pentecost Sunday 30AD, and a work that the Spirit continues to do today.