Pentecost left the apostles reeling. The Gift of the Spirit, beyond easy description, was not beyond their capacity to receive. But it was overwhelming: it enabled them to sound different, to look different - and to see and hear differently. When we discover God's Gift at work within us, we are changed. It happened to them. It can happen to us.
We believe in a God who gives of himself to us in extraordinary ways. He gives his very Self, enabling us to be in a relationship with him that is so close, so intimate, that his Breath becomes our breath. His Love takes hold of us and, when we are fully attuned to his grace, the mutuality of the experience is all-encompassing. As the theatre director Peter Brook once said of a great conductor
He is not really making the music, it is making him – if he is relaxed, open and attuned, then the invisible will take possession of him; through him, it will reach us.
If we are to be truly a people of Pentecost, we should be likewise relaxed, open and attuned, so that we can receive the Gift, and respond to the Giver.
Pentecost is a good time to think about giving and receiving. Normally my writing and preaching at this time of year focuses wholly - and obviously - on the spiritual. But it is never wise (nor is it good theology!) for the Christian to divorce the things of earth from the things of heaven.
Great St Mary's faces a significant financial crisis. The greatest financial hit of the coronavirus is the reduction in income from the tower and the shop income. We are forecast an income deficit in excess of £200,000 for 2020. Two hundred thousand pounds. A generous donor was early to recognize the difficulties we would face, and has made an astonishing gift for which we very thankful.
We have been able to make reductions in expenditure as a result of the church being closed, and the Government's support via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Even so - and in the very best case scenario - we are still forecasting that it could leave us with a cash deficit for the year of at least £55,000. Possibly more.
This is no time for a stewardship campaign, and everyone is stretched in all sorts of ways at present. But if you are able to help in any way, by increasing your giving, or by making a one-off gift, it would make a real difference.
It's important to pray about these things first and foremost - to reflect on what we have received from the Giver, and how we might Give in return. For many, a financial response will be impossible at present: I know some reading this have lost jobs, income, security - and I assure you, your prayers are worth their weight in gold. But if you are one of those who can help us by increasing your giving, or a one-off gift, then thank you for your generosity. There are details of how you can help here.
Even in these difficult times, we can be thankful - as a former colleague of mine loved to say, life is better lived with an attitude of gratitude. This Pentecost let us be thankful for the Gift - and give in return.