I was asked the other day by a parishioner “what is Pentecost exactly?” It’s a great question with some very big answers. I’ll do my best to shed some light on it.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today, we learn that when the day of Pentecost came, the apostles were all together in one place.  They had been told by Jesus to wait until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit before setting out  on the mission that Jesus had assigned to them and wait they did. And the Spirit came with power and a mighty wind and we read that they were amazed and perplexed and bewildered and that although people were speaking in many languages, they understood each other……….

The liturgical cycle has taken us through the birth, baptism and public ministry of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and last week, his ascension, or to state it clearly, his final leave taking as a physical, human presence on earth. As I’ve spoken about before, Jesus as a human being on earth was only present to a small group of people in a particular time and place. When he ascended to heaven, he told his disciples that it was necessary for him to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come and empower them. Before this could happen, they had to let go of Jesus as they had known him, the Jesus that they could see and relate to in human skin. They had to do this to receive the Spirit for what they were to do next, because they were going to be doing it without the presence of the human Jesus as they had known him.

Now let’s think about God for a minute. The deity that we call God goes by many names and those of us who believe in God all have our own understanding and belief of what God is like: understandings formed through our own culture, upbringing, and experience. Names for God are ways of describing the attributes and character of the Divine being. The Bible uses many names for God but the two personal names are YHWH which is the name by which God called the self, and Yeshhua (Jesus). Other names are titles that reflect God’s power, authority and action, such as Elohim,  the strong one,  Adonai,  the Lord, and Jehovah Rapha,  the healer. Some names are derived from Hebrew, others from Greek. Other traditions besides Christianity have other names for the Divine.  A google search led me to a list of no less than 114 names for God in world religions, some of which are Allah, Absolute Consciousness, Anima Mundi, Cosmic Christ, Divine Mother, Jehovah,  Krishna, OM, The Great Unified Field, and of course in Indigenous traditions, Creator and Great Spirit.

It is always a mystery to me why Jesus is so often portrayed as a blue-eyed white guy when he was clearly a Palestinian, but in truth different cultures create images of Jesus that reflect their own culture and that is perfectly understandable. And then of course, not everyone believes in God or has experienced Jesus through the Gospels. Not everyone has grown up with an experience of church that has given them a context in which to know God or Jesus. In other words, when it comes to God, we only have glimpses and many varied concepts and beliefs.

Enter Jesus. Jesus came to show us what God is like and to tell us how God wants us to live, but as I have already said, Jesus’s physical presence was limited to a particular time in history, and today we know him through the Gospels which are also open to all kinds of interpretations.

But the Holy Spirit? Now that’s universal. Why? Because as we heard in today's reading, God has poured out God’s own Spirit on all creation. The Spirit of God is not contained by the church or by official believers, it has been poured out on all of creation. We know it in the crashing of the waves on the shore, in the early morning dawn chorus of birds, in the amazing display of aurora borealis that we witnessed in the skies last week. We experience it in our bodies through dance and music, in the intimacy and connectedness of our relationships with one another. It is not the exclusive domain of Christians! and this is the good news that we celebrate today. The Holy Spirit is not limited to the religious. She is not bound by time and space, not limited by gender, culture or geographical location. She speaks all languages and all can recognise and understand her. She is universal, transcendent, imminent, and to quote from an old tv ad for Heineken beer, she “refreshes the parts others cannot reach." She is with us when our hearts soar with joy, with us in our struggles, and she is especially present in the hearts and hurts of those who are hurting in any way.

I believe this is what people mean when they say, “I’m spiritual but not religious”, or “I feel close to God when I’m working in my garden”. There is an energy that flows through us, connects us, awakens, disturbs and challenges us, and ultimately calls us to serve more than our own interests. It is the impetus to serve, the longing for connection, the ache that exists in all of us for wholeness. We Christians call this impetus the Holy Spirit, and as we often say in the creed, we know we are not alone, we are connected to one another and we are empowered by an energy, a purpose, that is beyond us and at the same time within us.

As I said at the beginning of today’s service, Pentecost is often described as the birthday of the church, hence the festive balloons today: it’s a birthday party! But it’s important to remember that the first Pentecost didn’t take place within a church building and the outpouring of the Spirit wasn’t limited to the apostles who were waiting in the upper room as instructed by Jesus. The Spirit was poured out on all  flesh, in all its diversity. It wasn’t restricted. Everyone was able to understand each other although they spoke different languages and had different faith traditions, or no faith tradition.

The important thing that we celebrate today is that the Spirit of God is poured out on everyone: all ages, genders and cultures, people of every religion or no religion, the artists and the intellectuals and all those who through their had work and service make the world go round, and most especially, the marginalized, those who are fighting addictions, prisoners, the homeless, refugees, the sick and dying.

What is our role in this as Christians? To reflect the light and energy of the Spirit. To hold space for all who are struggling, To make our churches, our homes, our very lives, places of welcome, healing and hope, and to witness by our lives to this powerful Spirit that has been poured out on all flesh.  Amen.