I have a vivid memory of my mother grabbing my brother by his collar at a Billy Graham rally in the early 1960s to ‘save’ him from being ‘saved’ again.  It wasn’t that my mother was in anyway against any of her children finding faith.  It was she, after all, who instigated the visits to various cathedrals, chapels and Salvation Army halls and this rally.  It was that my brother, in his early teens, a warm and emotional person, always responded to the call to ‘come forward.’  He had been saved so many times that it was becoming farcical and the saving didn’t really appear to stick.   On top of that, I think my mother was afraid she would never find him again in the crowds of Wembley Stadium.

In the season of Pentecost we start to look at the saving mission of the Church.  On the Day of Pentecost we are always instructed that we must read Acts 2: 1 – 21.  It is a story we all know well if we are long term Christians: that of the Holy Spirit coming in power on the disciples; an experience so powerful that they were thrust out into the streets of Jerusalem where every passer by heard them speaking in their own language.  It is easy to hear the story and miss it because we think we know it so well.  But this year I was brought up short by verses 12 and 13, which describe the reactions of the onlookers.

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

I thought, a few years ago I would have been in the latter group, the ones who sneered.  My reaction to the revivalist meetings my mother took us to as children was always that of feeling like an outsider, like an observer looking on at something I didn’t feel part of and didn’t really understand.  As an adult I felt uncomfortable with ‘born again’ language even after I became a Christian.  I felt hostile because I didn’t understand.

Very often many of us in western Christianity have talked of the Holy Spirit either as a distant maiden aunt whom we don’t really know but who sends us a cheque each Christmas (and we respond with a formal thank you.)  Or we have thought that receiving the Holy Spirit had to be an experience almost as dramatic as  that of the first Pentecost.  This has meant that many British people have held the Holy Spirit at a safe arm’s length.

That is not the way I feel now.  I have never had flames on my head or been ‘slain in the Spirit’, but slowly, slowly I have become aware of the Holy Spirit working deeply and persistently in my life and, as I have observed it, in the lives of many other quite ordinary people.  The Acts reading goes on to say that many different nationalities, all in Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Booths (the original Pentecost), heard the disciples proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in their own language.  If we look around the world today and see the many languages in which the same good news is being spoken we can see Pentecost as a prophetic moment, pointing forward to what the Spirit would do and the power with which he would do it.

But for me more poignant is the fact that the message of Jesus Christ is discovered by every human being who turns to him, spoken to them in their own unique language.  We all have an exclusive language which comes from our own unique histories, burdens, joys, longings and desires.  And Jesus Christ speaks uniquely to each of us as we need to hear.  Jesus gives us the freedom to be ourselves – this is the sign of genuine saving – and to know ourselves, with all our weaknesses to be very precious to the God who created us, irreplaceable in his sight.