Summary: God calls us today to go out in the power of his Spirit and preach the Gospel
In 1926, a wealthy Toronto lawyer named Charles Vance Millar died, leaving behind him a will that amused and electrified the citizens of his Canadian province. Millar, a bachelor with a wicked sense of humour, stated clearly that he intended his last will and testament to be an “uncommon and capricious” document. Because he had no close heirs to inherit his fortune, he divided his money and properties in a way that amused him and aggravated his newly chosen heirs. Here are just a few examples of his strange bequests:
He left shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to two prominent men who were well known for their opposition to racetrack betting.
He bequeathed shares in the O’Keefe Brewery Company (a Catholic beer manufacturer) to every Protestant minister in Toronto.
But his most famous bequest was that he would leave the bulk of his fortune to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children in the ten years after his death.
This clause in his will caught the public imagination. The country was entering the Great Depression. As people struggled to meet even their most basic economic responsibilities, the prospect of an enormous windfall was naturally quite alluring. Newspaper reporters scoured the public records to find likely contenders for what became known as The Great Stork Derby. Nationwide excitement over the Stork Derby built quickly.
In 1936, four mothers, proud producers of nine children apiece in a ten year time span, divided up the Charles Millar’s bequest, each receiving what was a staggering sum in those days -$125,000. Charles Millar caused much mischief with his will. This was his final legacy to humanity.
When Jesus of Nazareth left this earth, he bequeathed a different kind of legacy to his followers. He left his Holy Spirit - to comfort, to guide, to empower them to be all that God had called them to be. Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the church.
After the crucifixion the disciples had been afraid for their lives and locked the door of the upper room when they met together. Now they were afraid no longer. The coming of the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from fear to confidence. The Holy Spirit gave them the courage to go out into Jerusalem and to declare the resurrection of Jesus to a city whose people had so recently called for his death.
The Peter we read about Acts seems very different from the Peter of the Gospels. The Holy Spirit has refined and honed his good qualities and pared away the bad. The courage to speak out, for example, remained, but the words spoken are no longer impetuous and without thought, but cogent, considered and wise.
But he was still Peter. The Holy Spirit had not destroyed his essential self and replaced it with something new and alien. His basic personality remained the same, but had been refined and strengthened, so that he became closer not only to what God wanted him to be, but closer also to what he himself wanted to be.
Peter’s undoubted courage was demonstrated on several occasions in the Gospels, but while Peter trusted in his own strength, it inevitably let him down at the crucial time and led him to deny Jesus. This same courage, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, became infinitely dependable and sure.
In this today’s reading we heard how Peter quoted the prophet Joel who said that God’s Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all who believe.
The Holy Spirit does not invade us unasked but, if we truly wish to receive it, it is there for each one of us for the asking. And if we truly want the Holy Spirit to enter our lives, it will be because we want to change and will welcome the changes that the Spirit will bring. It will also mean that we have recognised our inability to bring these changes about on our own and have realised our need for God’s grace.
If the Holy Spirit had not come upon the apostles at Pentecost, it is probable that Christianity would never have spread very far. Those who had known Jesus and followed him would have held on to their belief, certainly for a while, maybe to the end of their lives. At best Christianity would have lingered on as a sect of Judaism, which was itself a minority religion not actively seeking converts. Possibly in time Christianity would have merged back into mainstream Judaism.
Today we live in a country where religious observance is a minority activity. Many churches are experiencing falling congregations, and those who make up those congregations are growing older and are not being replaced with younger members. The population of this country is growing, but churches are closing. Unless we can reverse this trend, we may reach a situation when the faith will simply die out.