The Feast Of Pentecost
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
Corinne and I were driving along in the car yesterday and the whole car suddenly smelled of Freesias. It was a sweet smell and we looked around to try and see where it was coming from, to no avail. Pentecost is the great Christian festival celebrated when scents and colours really start to make an impact in our world. It is a time when we can begin to feel good about the possibilities around us.
Remember, Ascension day left the disciples as a corpse. Jesus had left the disciples, but he had told them that they were to be still until the day when they were given the power of the Holy Spirit, when God breathed power and life into his church. Pentecost was the day when the dead corpse was given mouth to mouth resuscitation by Jesus. That is why this is the birthday of the church, because on this day the church was born. In an instant they have the life which they need to live and grow. The Holy Spirit is Gods empowering of his people to live Christian lives. We are given God's gifts to enable us to live. We are not given gifts to have a good time, or to enable us to enjoy ourselves, we are given gifts to live out our Christian lives.
The colour of Pentecost could have been white. In English Pentecost is Whitsunday, the word coming from the baptisms which were once held around this time at which they wore white, and so it was called White Sunday. Actually the colour is RED. The church choose red to make a bold statement about the power of God, the presence of Christ Himself in its midst. The red symbolised the tongues of fire which came down upon the Apostles. In many parts of Europe it is called the 'Red Feast.' I was walking down Mersey Way this week and I saw a whole pile of red Peonies, and I am told that because the Peony flowers around this time it is know as the 'Rose of Pentecost'. Next week is a special day it is Trinity Sunday and for that one off special event the colour will be white or gold. But from Monday the colour for the feast of Pentecost changes ...... (what to you may ask?). The feast of Pentecost marks the beginning of the long season of 'Ordinary Time', which lasts for 23 weeks between Pentecost and the end of the Christian Year. The two great cycles of Christmas and Easter are complete. We now settle down to ordinary time without any special events. The colour for this long period of normal life is a natural colour a colour to live with, not dramatic and not depressing, it is GREEN. For the next 20 or so weeks we get on with life in the gentle green of ordinary time. The events of the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection are fulfilled, we have been challenged by them and rewarded by them, there have been hard truths and great joys but we have to realise that normal life is quite ordinary and mundane. Even for the Christian.
This is a time to settle down and live our lives in the context of what we know and believe. This is the time when we have to work out the consequences of our faith without any hype, this is when our faith is put into practice in daily living. This is a time when we are challenged morally and socially to see whether we can live with one another, whether our faith can work without the props of special occasions. We now need to discover holiness in our everyday lives. Many of the readings over the next months will speak of our attitudes towards family, our neighbours, and those in authority over us. They prompt us to think about serving the community, forgiving others, loving our enemies and not being materialistic. They challenge us to think about simple things like the choice between right and wrong. This is the acid test time for our faith, what kind of people are we in the 'Ordinary Time'.
How does the Spirit make a difference to us in 'Ordinary Time'
The Holy Spirit gives life to the people of God. This is challenging for us. The life to animate us as Christians and as churches is a power which is beyond our controlling. The picture of the tongues of fire, leaping around, is a good way of stressing that the Spirit is uncontrollable. The fire was not constrained within a grate, it was a fire which rendered the disciples powerless to control it. We do not like loosing control, we like to manage and legislate but the Holy Spirit is not to be controlled but to fill us and take us over. There are perhaps three things that I would like to mention about the difference the Spirit should make to us
1. Spirit filled in what we say
Those first spirit filled Christians seated in a room terrified, not knowing what to expect, the Spirit of God gave them power to go and to speak. Are you prepared to speak in the market place, your place of work, the retirement club, the bowls club, the toddler group. Are you prepared to be recognised as a Christian.? I always remember the words of 1 Peter 3:15
'always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.'
Note it does not say 'go around making verbal statement of what you believe.' It says specifically that if somebody asks you, then you must be prepared to speak. There is a mass of difference. One scenario is of a person who annoys people and makes everybody feel uncomfortable because they keeping forcing religion down other people's throats. They are sometimes called 'God botherers' and this has been advocated by some who tell us to 'gossip Jesus.' This is a way to lose friends, and more importantly we might put them off Christianity for life. 1 Peter 3:16 goes on to say
'do this with gentleness and respect'
I am afraid that much of what passes for evangelism is lacking in respect. People are put in boxes, they are called names like 'the unchurched' or one I heard last week 'the de-churched.' It is not speaking about vicious campaigns to make people believe exactly what we believe. However when we are invited, when somebody gives us permission to say why we have a Christian hope, then we must not be afraid, we must speak up on behalf of Jesus, just as surely as he speaks up for us. One of my tutors at college used to say that Christians were too often like the St Lawrence River in Winter, 'frozen at the mouth.'
I recently was involved in a television programme and some folks said it was good to have a Vicar being seen being on the TV, in the cut and thrust of ordinary life. Actually it was far more important to have John (the church treasurer), and Laura (the Sunday school teacher) on the television. Who makes more impact a paid professional or Laura the Sunday School teacher and John the Engineer?
2. Spirit filled in what we do
Recognising that when we look at the gifts which we have and the possibilities which are available to us as children of the spirit the most unbelievable resources are open to us. This is true for us as individuals and it is true for us as churches. We need constantly to question the horizons which we put upon Gods work. God is not contained within this world which he has created and our vision must allow for the fact that we must not curtail God's work within our own human powers. As 'Spirit filled' Christians, there are a whole load of things which we must do differently. The choices we make, the way in which we reach moral decisions, these will be different for you. The Christian marches to the beat of a different drum than the rest of society. Our lives our choices are not our own, they have to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit.
I think that sometime in the next month or so we are going to have a look at church finances and we will have to ask for an increase in church giving. I went to Synod yesterday and I was told that in 2001 a church must pay £30,900 if it wants to cover the cost of a paid minister. Now I am not paid that much but that is how much it costs
- The cost of a stipend £17,300
- N Insurance £1,180
- Pension £3,789
- House £3,974
- Training of ministers £4, 657 (you have to pay for that otherwise you won't get another one when I am gone!)
We are not as a church raising that much money from our offerings and we are going to have to try and get closer to doing so, we are being subsidised. The fact is that as church if we give more we can see much more achieved. If you are not giving to the church by standing order please do think of doing so, if you are not covenanting what you do give then please do so. More on that another week. How terrible if one day God shows us all the wonderful things which he wanted for us but which we were unprepared to give of our time, our energy, our money, our prayers.
We must not be too busy, too tired, too poor, too spiritually apathetic —to face up to the task which God has called us to do. We must open ourselves to the Spirit of God to move us.
- What gifts do I have?
- With whom do I share them?
- What are the gifts that I don't share as freely as I could or should?
- Why am I reluctant to get involved in sharing those gifts?
- How can God help take away any fear that might hold me back?
3. Spirit filled in our churches
I have said that the Holy Spirit is not to be controlled but to take us over. If we wonder at how the church might be more energetic in its mission, then the answer is for the church to submit to the Holy Spirit. As an example Spirit filled churches will be churches of unity. How can we expect the church of God to be fit and effective possessed by the power of God, when it is a broken church, a divided church? When we are Spirit filled we will realise that the presence of the Spirit demands unity. Read the scriptures and see how emphatic the New Testament is in using the words 'one', 'unity', 'one body', 'one Spirit.' No wonder that our mission is compromised. I do not mean just getting our churches together for putting on special events. I mean being so filled with the Spirit that we learn to respect one another and welcome people who are different to us and share our worship with them. Not occasional services purged of controversial elements, but churches which in the generosity of the Spirit learn to be as inclusive and tolerant as God himself.
I leave you with these three thoughts for Pentecost and I hope that you will pray with me for God's Spirit throughout 'Ordinary Time' as we try to live out all the wonderful things which God has prepared for us.
Almighty God, we your children pray: let your glory come
Let the Fire fall as on that first Day of Pentecost.
Revive our spirits, fill us with new excitement,
with joy unspeakable and faith for a dying world.
Empower us to speak your Word; to utter the words of Life;
using a variety of languages to bring the good news to the poor.
LORD, let your fire fall once again on this church, on this community,
on this country, and to the ends of the earth.
In Jesus name and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
We gather to celebrate the continuation of the Christian community, after the risen Jesus had left his apostles behind, and ascended to the Father. Like that early Christian community we are fearful, anxious, bewildered, and hold little power or influence; yet we believe power will be given - and that our world is strangely open to God's new reigning: For fifty days we have reflected on the events of the first Easter Day. Like the disciples we seek to be filled with your power, the Holy Spirit. Spirit of the risen Jesus.