Pentecost Sunday is this weekend. This year as I prepared for the feast I have reflected on the words of John the Baptist to the crowds at the Jordan river. “I baptise you with water, but there is one mightier than I. He will baptise you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 3:16-17)
John the Baptist’s greatness was in his perfect observance of the Law. But Jesus introduced the new dispensation of grace. God is offering a holiness that no level of obedience can merit. It is total gift.
John is a clear example of justice at work. But Jesus gives us the freedom that comes with God’s mercy.
Even though we are sinners, God befriends us and invites us to share in the divine life of love.
The Pharisees were continuously questioning Jesus. He was confronted by so-called experts in the law, who objected to the freedom he exercised in associating with sinners.
His ministry was to the broken-hearted, moral failures like the tax collectors and prostitutes. He sought out public sinners, shared their tables and told them that God still loved them unconditionally.
The self-righteous thought they could scare sinners into repentance, and they resented Jesus’ gracious ability to draw them back to God with mercy.
As we approach Pentecost this Sunday, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is not another task master with a programme of perfection, but pure love.
And if we think that spiritual freedom is easier than spiritual discipline, we have misunderstood the difference between water and fire. Water cleanses, fire transforms. The Holy Spirit will kindle in us the fire of God’s love.
Once love gets hold of your heart, you can’t drop out and get your money back. Divine love will break your heart because it is too small to hold what God wants to give. Friendship with God is a consuming, whirlwind romance that needs eternity to complete.
In Acts 19:1-7, when Paul was in Ephesus, he came across disciples who had not received the Spirit when they became believers. On questioning them Paul asked, “how were you baptised?”
“With John’s baptism,” they replied.
To which Paul said: “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.”
And he insisted that they should believe in the one who was to come after him – in other words Jesus and be baptised with the Spirit.
While all Christians today have been baptised in the Holy Spirit, we need to ask ourselves whether we who are baptised are living under the influence of the Spirit?
Too many of us continue as the disciples of John. We prefer the law to love. When someone gets up to preach here in Cook Islands, it does not take long to decide whether the preacher prefers law over love.
Our political leaders in these Covid-19 times are frequently mentioning that the world has now changed and we can’t expect to find, when we come out of lockdown, a world as we knew it before. That during lockdown we have been stripped of what we thought was essential and can now bring back what is important and leave on the scrap heap what we can do without.
In conclusion, I would like to share with you three areas where my reflections have taken me as I prepare for Pentecost. What I am looking for is transformation – an energy to start life again with a passion to place people above profit.
Last week in this column Pastor John Mateara of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints emphasised how everyone can help someone. I couldn’t agree more and take the Pastor’s point as most relevant for these Covid-19 times.
Many have lost their employment and income. In this article I take for granted the points the pastor made.
Secondly, a four-day week. I read that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked New Zealanders to reflect on the topic of reducing the working week to four days.
The trend in recent years has been that it is vitally important to have businesses open 24 hours a day, seven days a week even on sacred days like Good Friday.
For the last two months we have been told “to stay at home.”
Did we find this time at home beneficial to the family? Parents could appreciate their children by spending more time with them and not have to pay others to look after them while both parents worked. Schools were closed.
At the beginning of the year I would not have challenged the five-day working week. But now I find myself asking “is there value in the slower pace of life?”
Trade and money does not have to dictate. As Jesus had to remind the Jews, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
Perhaps now we want to apply this maxim to business! That businesses can give up huge profits that benefit a few in order to give quality of life to many!
Thirdly, last Sunday was communication Sunday in the Catholic Church, arising out of the fact that when Christ ascended into heaven he gave authority to the disciples “to go and make disciples of all nations; to baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.” (Matthew 28:18-19)
Our spiritual leader, Pope Francis made the statement that, “often on communication platforms, instead of constructive stories which serve to strengthen social ties and cultural fabric, we find destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society….In an age when falsification is increasingly sophisticated, we need wisdom to be able to welcome and create beautiful, true and good stories. We need courage to reject false and evil stories. We need patience and discernment to rediscover stories that help us not to lose the thread amid today's many troubles. We need stories that reveal who we truly are, also in the untold heroism of everyday life".
I do believe and see for myself good and wholesome stories being written as a result of Covid-19. There are people working to bind us together.
If we look hard enough we will see an untold heroism. People who are passionate in helping others. People who want to fully live.
The Holy Spirit is Lord and giver of life to anyone who believes that God is love. Jesus demonstrated that the way to find your life is to lose it for others. Why be just baptised in water when you can live your life filled with wind and fire?