Sermon for Pentecost
The Reverend Canon Charles Royden
So here we are seven weeks after Easter celebrating Pentecost. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for 50, pente. This Christian celebration is big, it sits as the third major festival after Easter and Christmas. The roots of this special time lie in the Jewish Harvest festival, the Festival of Weeks; Shavuot. It celebrated the completion of the Spring or wheat harvest and it commemorated the giving of the law to Moses on Mt Sinai.
This is hugely significant.
- The Old Testament Covenant, established in the Exodus, which the Passover commemorated was completed at Mt Sinai with the giving of the law.
- The New Covenant, established in the cross and resurrection was completed in Jerusalem with the giving of the Holy Spirit
What this means is that
- Under the Old Covenant Moses gave the Law
- Under the New Covenant Jesus gives the Spirit
This is the fulfilment of what was promised,
‘I will write their laws on the their hearts’ Jeremiah 31
This is why Pentecost is called the birthday of the church - it is a new beginning, it marks the transition from old to new.
The Apostle Paul made great play of this move from law to spirit.
So what happened ?
Well according to the Gospel reading from John 14 today, Jesus breathed on his disciples on Easter Day when they were in the Upper Room ! According to Luke however there was another event and this took place these 50 days later. As the disciples met together suddenly things started happening
- There was noise LIKE the sound of wind
- There was something LIKE tongues of fire
Now remember that Luke is positioning this as a new Mt Sinai event. What happened at Sinai ?
God descended upon Sinai accompanied by fire and sound, it was likened to the sound of a trumpet Exodus 19
So now we read that there is a new beginning and there is more fire and there is more noise - this time described like wind.
Remember Luke uses words such as ‘as’ and ‘like.’ This is poetic speech to use words to point beyond their real meaning to a deeper significance.
What happened next was that the disciples were able to speak real other languages. Jerusalem was a cosmopolitan place anyway but we know that there were lots of people in Jerusalem because of the harvest feast. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring nations together. When somebody is talking nonsense we often say that they are ‘babbling’. It refers back to the episode in the Bible in Genesis 11 where the Tower of Babel was built and we are told God broke up the nations and gave them different languages. Well now the opposite is happening, God is uniting people. Babel tells of the world being divided, Pentecost of a world being brought together.
The disciples all were speaking different languages and people thought they were drunk. The Apostle Peter, seized the opportunity and he reminded the gathered devout Jews about what the prophet Joel had said. He realises that this is a huge moment in Gods history of dealing with humankind and he quotes Joel to describe what new thing God is doing. This is the New Covenant time. God is working with people like they have never understood before and the new community is described.
What is this new community like ?
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh
This is an inclusive message - all flesh, not just the chosen few who belonged to a special nation - The Christian message is multi-cultural. Acts names 15 different peoples who can hear about Jesus in the language their mothers taught them.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,………..and your young men shall see visions.
This is a message where age was no barrier, young people were included. In the new community young people won’t just walk around with headphones on, they would wake up and speak God’s truth !
Your old men shall dream dreams
Yes and old people too. No longer would they live in the past telling people how good it used to be, now they would by the Spirit dream dreams, they would be visionary about the future !
Even on the male and female
There is no gender barrier to God’s spirit
slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Even slaves, poor people and people in chains are included
So with God’s new creation, God new covenant people, it is going to be different. It has all nations, young people - sons and daughters, old people it is not restricted by gender and there is no social barrier it includes even slaves
We can see what happened as a result of this Pentecost experience. The disciples were dramatically changed and it is this change which speaks so powerfully about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. This was a transformation of those disciples. The Twelve go from a defeated, sorry lot of losers to those who tilted the world on its axis. Chuck Colson, who was disgraced in the Watergate scandal, said he knows the disciples’ story of Easter has to be true. Because he knows how hard it is to get 12 people to stick to the same lie.
This was a very special day - but of course it doesn’t end there. Pentecost isn’t something which we remind ourselves about, which happened long ago, Pentecost is an ongoing blessing on God’s church today. We are a apart of this, we are privileged to be people of the new order of things, Pentecost is something which we are called to a part of too. Pentecost is the time when we celebrate that we too can receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to enable us to trust and believe and live more like Jesus.
I was reading about the family of an Army chaplain, who died in World Ware One trying to save a wounded soldier, who have paid tribute to an "extraordinary" man. Rev Maurice Peel, a vicar at St Editha's Church in Tamworth, served in the trenches, going over the top on more than one occasion carrying nothing more than a walking stick. He was the grandson of prime minister Sir Robert Peel, who helped create the modern police force. After being shot once, Maurice chose to return to the front and in May 1917 was killed by a sniper while trying to reach a soldier in no man's land. His great grandson, Rev David Longe, said he must have felt an "overwhelming calling" to return to the Western Front a second time.
Now there we might think is a man who showed the presence of the Holy Spirit. What a tremendous example he was of Christian living. But the Holy Spirit isn’t just for the spiritual giants, the Mother Theresas of this world. It is the Holy Spirit which inspires us in the ordinary day to day and sometimes very mundane parts of our lives. It si the Holy Spirit which leads some people to give of themselves to move chairs after the service, to visit the sick… all signs of God’s grace.
Jesus promises through the Holy Spirit to be within us as we seek to order our lives to the new covenant, the new way of doing things. The disciples are given the Holy Spirit so that they can live changed lives.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the writer puts it like this
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Like those first disciples we should be empowered to think and act differently. The followers of Jesus should be characterised by being a forgiving, healing reconciling community. If we want to know what this should look like then we look at the life of Jesus. That is what he is saying to us.
‘I want you to live like me in the world.’
That is why we will go on through the summer months in the ‘Ordinary Sundays’ learning the teachings of Jesus taking them to heart and asking how we can behave like that. Some of this is very reassuring, comforting, life giving. But of course the Holy Spirit is also challenging, and disruptive. What if God’s through the Holy Spirit wants you to be moved out of the security of the locked room onto the pavement outside, to a place outside of your comfort zone. The Holy Spirit moved the disciples physically around the world as missionaries, The Holy Spirit moved the disciples from being Jewish to a very different expression of their faith. The Holy Spirit challenges us in all kinds of ways and this can be something we resist. It was hard for those first disciples to accept new ideas, such as who could become a follower of Jesus, what religious practices were acceptable etc. They struggled over issues which some churches are still struggling over today. Describing the Holy Spirit like a wind is very revealing because the wind can be quite destructive.
In the Narnia tales by C. S. Lewis. You may remember that in the magical land of Narnia, God appears in the form of a great and mysterious lion named Aslan. One of the children who had stumbled into Narnia and encountered the lion wondered, "Is Aslan safe?" "Safe?" a resident of Narnia replied. "No, my dear, Aslan is not safe. But he is good."
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to rearrange us, to shake and unsettle us, but always to bring us closer to God.
Leviticus 23:15-22 reads: “And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation-offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation-offering, each made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord. You shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt-offering to the Lord, along with their grain-offering and their drink-offerings, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. You shall also offer one male goat for a sin-offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of well-being. The priest shall raise them with the bread of the first fruits as an elevation-offering before the Lord, together with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. On that same day you shall make proclamation; you shall hold a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a statute for ever in all your settlements throughout your generations. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.”