We are no doubt in barbeque season – not a season in the Church calendar but certainly a season lodged firmly in the psyche of those living on these islands.

Are you an eternal optimist that the barbeque will take light and cook your food to perfection or are you anxious that the flames will be feeble, tending to put the oven on just in case?

John V Taylor in his famous book The Go Between God (SCM Press, 1972) speaking about fire of the Spirit at Pentecost makes an important link with the Church and its mission (and a badly lit barbeque). “The true Church,” he says, “exists by being the inexhaustible fuel of the Holy Spirit’s mission in the world.”  If the Church is not so shaped, he says, it will be as frustrating as a badly laid fire!

John V Taylor sets the bar very high for the Church and rightly so.  He says:

“Our theology would improve if we thought more of the Church being given to the Spirit than of the Spirit being given to the Church.”

But what does he mean by this?

The danger with the second approach, which Taylor acknowledges is of the New Testament, is that we tend to view the Spirit as some kind of “superhuman power” like a “fairy sword or a magic mirror” to help us on our way.  But it is not that at all, he says.  Rather, the effect of Pentecost, Taylor argues, was to “fuse” those present “into a fellowship…caught up in the life of the risen Lord.” (Acts 2: 1-21)  And it showed!

Taylor writes:

“In a new awareness of [Jesus] and of one another they burst into praise, and the world came running for an explanation.”

I love that phrase “and the world came running for an explanation.”!

In my book Politics and Mission:  Rediscovering the Political Power of what Christians do (Sacristy Press 2023) I lament the times when the Church behaves in ways which leaves the world cold or prompts it just to shrug.  We truly do have treasure in clay jars and so should be confident.  If together we can be the ‘inexhaustible fuel’ of the Holy Spirit’s mission in the world, if we can be caught up in the life of the risen Lord, then the world really will come running for an explanation.

This Pentecost we could do worse than reflect on those things which stop us being caught up in the life of the risen Lord – individually and corporately.  Taylor puts a lot of emphasis on our unity (“Only in their togetherness can Christians remain alight with the fire of the Spirit”).  Pray, therefore, for the Church’s unity and what we might need to let go of in our own lives and in the life of our churches such that the world will come running for an explanation.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people
and kindle in them the fire of your love.