If I talk about the way the church house was prepared for our time with you it is because I’m still in a state of shock. I thought we might arrive to a camp table and chairs, a bed with soggy mattress, two chairs with creaky legs - those things have been known to happen. But I had made preparations: I’d looked on Trade Me to see if I could get a cheap TV in the Bay of Plenty - because I thought that whatever would be in the house there would be no TV. I was wrong. There was a TV in the house and it works well. About 20 years ago, when I had earned my three months long service leave for 20 years of ministry I went to a parish in Australia to help them out in a vacancy. They, as you did, furnished the house very comfortably. They even provided a TV set, but it was black and white. You have no idea how much I missed colour - I missed it especially in the football games which in those halcyon days were televised live on Saturday afternoons. Of course, once upon a time black and white would have been fine; it was all we had. I used to be spellbound by Wells Fargo in black and white; most of the episodes of Danger Man were in black and white; in Beverley Hillbillies granny was better in black and white. On Sunday I’d get home from church as fast as I could to watch the Black and White minstrels. But once you get colour you don’t want to go back to black and white; and if I tell you a pastoral secret I haven’t visited a church home that has black and white TV for over 20 years. Anyway I rang the hire places and scoured the 2nd hand shops, and eventually got a large colour TV by paying $50 and telling him I’d donate it back for nothing at the end of my time. I had colour and I was happy. TV was as it ought to be - the trees were green, the sky was blue, the faces were brown and the colours were true.
Today is Pentecost, the day on which we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the people of God, and, in particular, to the early Church. I have to say that whereas we celebrate the arrival of Jesus at Christmas with great joy and delight, the arrival of the Holy Spirit is in no way a moment of great celebration. You know as well as I do the reasons for that. The mushroom pentecostal churches tend to make us feel inferior and 2nd rate because we appear not to demonstrate what they would say are the outcomes of the Spirit’s presence - speaking in tongues, miracles of healing, dramatic conversions. Or our unease about Pentecost can be as simple as not being able to put a face and name to the Holy Spirit as we can to Jesus. Whatever the reasons Pentecost puts us on the back foot. The new Methodist hymn book has added one of the great hymns of the church: Hail thee, Festival Day! Blest day that art hallowed for ever - and we ought to be singing it today but it’s too much of a leap. In fact, there are not too many Pentecost hymns that come easily to our tongues. Pentecost is hard.
When you go back to the Pentecost story as Luke tells it in Acts you begin to realise that it’s a symbolic story - in other words a story very much like the story of the temptations where Jesus is urged to turn stones into bread, take a high dive off the top of the temple, pay homage to Satan. As one of the early church fathers observed, there is no mountain high enough to see all the kingdoms of the world. The temptation story is constructed from words and images of their religious history to show the truth that Jesus did not succumb to expediency, self-interest, greed or power, but kept his integrity despite all inducements to the contrary. The Pentecost story in Acts is exactly the same: it’s a symbolic story constructed from words and images of their religious history. The Hebrew word for spirit also means breath or wind, so it is proper for a mighty wind to be felt. The Holy Spirit comes as fire for the presence of God is felt as a burning coal upon the lips of the prophets. They recalled the tower of Babel with its divisiveness of many languages as they found in the fellowship of the Spirit that they could understand one another. They remembered the feast of weeks, 50 days after Passover, as the time when God’s law was given at Sinai as the basis for human life; now that the Spirit is given, the Spirit of love and patience and hope and compassion and mercy, life in the Spirit is the basis for human life. And you can go on: in a dozen different ways there are echoes of words and images from Jewish faith history in the story Luke tells of Pentecost. Just as with the temptations, Pentecost is a symbolic story - for when Christians gather wind doesn’t blow and fire doesn’t drop down and singe our hair; what does happen is that the Holy Spirit blows fresh energy, burns up the rubbish, brings people into fellowship, bestows new warmth and energy and purpose and activity. It was the Spirit that strangely warmed the heart of John Wesley - though not with a droplet of fire. It was the Spirit that turned William Booth into a Christian activist and a force to be reckoned with; though not with a rushing mighty wind.
What men and women have done in the past, and what they still do, is to interpret important religious truths through the categories of their experience. Suppose Pentecost had never happened, but it is happening to us now; we would not talk of the Holy Spirit in terms of wind and fire, or of the confusion of Babel or the giving of the law, for these are not the bread and butter of our thinking as they were for the little Jewish Christian community 2000 years ago. If I had to write an account of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the fledgling church I would express it in technological terms. That’s partly because of my interest, and my children who help me to keep technologically up-to-date. In the 20th and 21st centuries technology is our thought world, and it is with these images that we would shape our theology for that’s where the categories of our experience lie. This is how I would tell you about the Holy Spirit. Once upon a time there was a voice, a sound, and this sound spoke to men and women - to their ears, to their minds and hearts. In technological terms this is radio. Then came the picture, the actual image which matched the voice and we could not only hear but see what was going on. In technological terms this is B and W TV. At last came colour bringing a richness ands fullness and depth to that experience so that it becomes real. In technological terms this is colour TV. I can remember when it came: unforgettable, on TV sets made not far from here in Waihi - labelled in my mind as Pye Vidmatic. Colour. Colour, for me, is the Holy Spirit; that, for me, is Pentecost.
As it happens I can live happily with wind and fire. I understand that bygone Pentecost, its truth puts riches into my spiritual bank. But I can accept, I think, the notion of the Holy Spirit as colour even more readily because when you come to face it, so much of modern life is black and white, is drab and dreary. I went into the bar of the Te Puke hotel to pay for our Probus meal, and I thought, there is no colour here, how strange. I would make it bright, light, airy, fill it with colour, just as I would want church to be bright, light, airy, coloured. When I sit down to write my sermons sometimes the people from the churches I have known parade before me: all kinds of men and women from the sublime to the ridiculous, some miserable and mean-spirited, others patient and long-suffering, some anxious and searching, all of them colourful. I think of the people of the church I have known of different cultures: colour. And is there not colour in our gathering and in our worship; and when we take the bread and wine in our hands this is not love in black and white we are taking; it is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to make it real - here is colour so rich that it is almost like being there.
Today is Pentecost, the day of the Holy Spirit, and when I think of it like this I am glad and I want to celebrate for there is nothing so rich and wonderful as our faith and our church and our world in living colour.