Sermon preached by
Bible Passage Acts Chapter 2 v 1 – 21
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
A Liverpudlian Joke
Two Scousers are riding along the M62 from Manchester to Liverpool on a
motorbike. They break down and start hitching a lift. A friendly trucker
stops to see if he can help and the scousers ask him for a lift. He tells
them he has no room in the wagon as he is carrying 20,000 bowling balls but
will take a look at the bike for them. He tries everything he knows but is
unable to repair it.
Time is getting on now and he's late for his delivery so he tells the scousers he has to leave.
"R 'ey lad" they say "gissa lift".
The trucker once again explains that he has no room as he is carrying 20,000 bowling balls. The scousers put it to the driver that if they can manage to fit in the back will he take them and he agrees. They manage to squeeze themselves and their motorbike into the back of the wagon so the driver shuts the doors and gets off on his way. By this time he is really late and so puts his foot down. Sure enough PC Plod of Greater Manchester Police pulls him up for speeding. The good officer asks the driver what he is carrying to which he replies Scouse Eggs. The policeman obviously doesn't believe this so wants to take a look. He opens the back door and quickly shuts it and locks it.
He gets onto his radio and calls for immediate backup from as many officers as possible. The dispatcher asks what emergency he has that requires so many officers.
"I've got a wagon with 20,000 Scouse eggs in it - 2 have already hatched
and they have managed to nick a motorbike already".
Such stereotypes of Liverpool are however about to be broken.
It’s official - Liverpool has been chosen as European Capital of Culture in 2008 !!
Secretary of State Tessa Jowell, MP, announced the decision at the
Department of Culture, Media and Sport in London. Liverpool pipped five
other cities for the title, which will create 14,000 jobs, generate £2bn
extra investment and bring 1.7million extra visitors to the city.
Sir Bob Scott, Liverpool’s 2008 Bid leader, said:
‘’The judges have given the green light to the most exciting Capital of Culture Europe has ever seen. This is a momentous day for the people of Liverpool, the North West of England and the whole of Britain. Liverpool is at the beginning of a thrilling renaissance. This honour is the rocket fuel to propel us to be one of Europe’s premier cities. We have work to do, but we have the vision, desire and the belief to deliver a year of culture Britain will never forget.’’
City Council leader Mike Storey said:
‘’This is a proud day for the new Liverpool. It’s like Liverpool winning the Champions League, Everton winning the Double and the Beatles re-forming all on the same day – and Steven Spielberg coming to the city to make a Hollywood blockbuster about it.’"
David Henshaw, Liverpool Culture Company secretary and city council Chief Executive added:
‘’Liverpudlians will look at June 4 as the moment our city finally began to realise its true potential as a world city. We have been away for far too long. Now we are ready to show the UK, Europe and the world what we are made of. We will make Britain proud.’’
Soon everything Liverpudlian will be cool and you will be proud to say
you have a Vicar from Liverpool, the European Capital of Culture. Indeed, it
has already started, even the BBC website now has a ‘How Scouse are you?’
On the BBC website you can you can look at live cameras giving views of the city. Yesterday I was treated to pictures of traffic going over the Runcorn Bridge. This camera is located on top of the Catalyst museum in Widnes and looks out across the Runcorn bridge.
But seriously. Two comments stuck out for me from what was said in Liverpool after the announcement
1. ‘Liverpudlians will look at June 4 as the moment our city finally began to realise its true potential as a world city.’
2. ‘This honour is the rocket fuel to propel us to be one of Europe’s premier cities.’
Obviously this is a great moment for Liverpool. It is the start of a new
beginning, and the city perhaps will feel as though it has been powered by a
dose of rocket fuel.
As I reflected on those words I thought that this was exactly what Pentecost was about. Today we remember the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church. When the Spirit came it was a new beginning, so much so that Pentecost has been called the ‘birthday of the church.’ Pentecost was the time when the Christian Church could realise her potential.
The Jewish festival of Pentecost was the festival of the giving of the law at Sinai, 50 days after the Exodus, marking out Israel as God’s peculiar people. Now the new Pentecost was 50 days after Easter and it represented a new beginning. But that potential could only be realised with new strength. So it was that at Pentecost the church was not just at the start of the new beginning, the church was given rocket fuel to propel it forward and enable it to achieve the goal which was set before it. The Holy Spirit gave the disciples new found power and the ability to leave the security of their upper room and head on down into the market place to share the Gospel message of Jesus.
Without the Holy Spirit they dared not move, in fact Jesus told them not to move, they were to be still and wait until the Holy Spirit came. But when the Spirit did come, then they were able to act not in their own strength, but in the power of God. The tasks which were set before them could not be achieved by human beings.
Only if God was
- inside them and around them,
- supporting them and equipping them,
- encouraging them and binding them together - as a loving church
Only then could they possibly fulfil the command of Jesus to go out and
make disciples of all nations.
The disciples were open and receptive to the Holy Spirit, they waited and wanted to be filled. The Holy Spirit didn’t take them over, they didn’t become Stepford Christians, they choose to co-operate with God and be used by him. Now remember, these disciples were the same useless individuals who had run away at the arrest of Jesus and doubted at his resurrection. But, at Pentecost there was an opportunity for a new beginning and the availability of a new rocket fuel to enable mission to take place.
Without Pentecost, without the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus would have been a historically interesting person and people would have enjoyed telling stories about him, he might have even become famous, as a dead person. But after Pentecost Jesus was alive again and the disciples were able to experience his risen power when they gathered together for worship and when they went out to their homes and jobs afterwards.
So what of Pentecost today ?
There is a church called The Elim Pentecostal Church it was founded in
Ireland 1915 by a Welshman called George Jeffreys, he was introduced to
Pentecost by an Anglican vicar, Rev Alexander Boddy of Sunderland.
The name 'Elim' was taken from the book of Exodus where the Israelites exhausted and dispirited en route from Egypt's cruel bondage to the freedom of Canaan came to Elim an oasis in the desert where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees. Exodus 15.27.
But Pentecost is for all Christians, you and I are all called to be Pentecostal Christians too. It is all about seeking to open our lives to the work of God’s Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who came to the first disciples.
What will the Holy Spirit do ?
Essentially the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit
and we can expect much of the same stuff today. Before the Holy Spirit came
at Pentecost the disciples were frightened, but with the presence of the
Holy Spirit they were supercharged.
We are told to expect that the Holy Spirit will work with us to enable us to mould our lives into the shape that God would have us be.
I was speaking to somebody the other day who is a life coach. I was interested and so I thought I would find out what these life coaches do. Here is a glimpse from the publicity blurb:
- Are you putting up with people and things that are not encouraging your best life?
- Do you have what you most want? I’m a life coach and my job is to help you identify the actions you can take that will help you solve your challenges and problems, move forward on your goals, and work towards your dream, whatever your heart desires!
- Are you ready to find out what's really standing in your way? Are you ready to be part of something new and fresh -- going forward -- instead of clinging to the past?
- You are a special and unique individual, with your own individual goals, values, talents, interests and personality. Come dance with me. I want to be your coach.
I reflected upon the similarities and the differences. God wants us to
get the best out of our lives and that is why he sends us his Holy Spirit.
But God wants to help us to identify actions and which we can take to move
forward towards his goal for our lives. Nobody knows us better than the God
who created us and he has possibilities for our lives which are beyond our
It is not that God does not love us as sinners, he does, but he wants us to better people, to live more holy lives. So the Holy Spirit is like our own personal life coach, to work with us and encourage us and give us the energy to achieve God’s goals.
The Holy Spirit by these sorts of ways will encourage us to bring out the best of our spiritual nature. Our lives under the control of the Holy Spirit will not be perfect, but they jolly well should be more like the list of the fruits of the Spirit given to us in Galatians. This passage from Galatians tells us how Pentecostal Christians live
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Is it possible for us to deny the work of the Holy Spirit ?
Of course the question must arise, what of the Christian who spends their
time habitually being horrible. The answer must be that the Holy Spirit is
sent to co-operate with us, not to overpower us. We Christians are not
Zombies, we have not released our free will and self-control, we choose to
follow Christ we have not been taken over, we are not Stepford Christians
any more than the first disciples.
When we make the decision to follow Christ it is an act of free will. We respond to God’s love for us in Christ Jesus and by faith we receive his promised forgiveness.
Of course that is one step in our pilgrimage journey of faith. From then on we seek to make our lives open to the work of God, by his Holy Spirit. We can choose to follow or we can turn back. We have never surrendered our own free will, you and I have choice. The result of this is that there are many naughty Christians. Christians sin. This can take the form of sins of negligence and weakness as well as ones which are our own deliberate fault. Thank God we can come to church and recognise our own personal and corporate sin and share in God’s forgiveness.
But there is always the possibility of individual Christians, as well as whole churches and denominations, refusing to be obedient and going bad. Committing our lives to Jesus is the beginning, of a daily walk with God in which each day we seek God’s Spirit to be at work in us to work that moulding process.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit
- Churches can be backward looking wanting to recapture a glorious past
- Churches can deny the work of the Spirit when they make new people feel uncomfortable and give them a poor welcome.
- Individuals can consciously decide that what God is asking of them is too much
- Individuals can deny the Spirit when they cease to meet with other Christians
- Ministers can deny the Spirit when their preaching lacks prayer or when they refuse to let go of power and deny the gifts of the laity
- Congregations can deny the Spirit when they do not heed the words of
The Holy Spirit the Wild Goose
The images of Pentecost confirm that God is a mystery, but the images representing God's presence among the disciples are
"a strong driving wind" and
Both images suggest vitality, power and elements outside complete human control. We can harness wind power; but not a "driving wind." It can move heavy things around or even tear them down.
We can build a fire in the hearth; but that control is illusionary. Don't
let a spark escape lest it burn the place down!
The term `Celtic Church’ is used to describe almost the earliest native form of Christianity in the islands of Britain and Ireland, it dates from around 400. The Celtic Church established itself as the most successful evangelistic movement Britain has ever seen with people like Ninian, the first known evangelist in Scotland, David, who had such an influence on Wales, Patrick, a Scot who evangelised Ireland, Columba, an Irishman who led many in Scotland to Christ, (see note below)
In the Celtic tradition the Holy Spirit is represented as a bird, but not the peaceful and serene dove landing on Jesus at his baptism. For their symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Celtic church people chose the Wild Gose, ( An Geadh-Glas) This has become, the logo and name for the worship branch of the Iona Community.
Why did the Wild Goose speak to those ancient Celtic Christians?
To begin with, wild geese aren’t controllable. You can’t restrain a wild goose and bend it to your will. They’re raucous and loud. Unlike the sweet and calming cooing of a dove, a goose’s honk is strong, challenging, strident and unnerving – and just a bit scary.
In much the same way the Spirit of God can be, demanding and unsettling. Think about the story of Pentecost, and the impression the disciples made on the crowd. People thought they were drunk and disorderly!
Its one thing for a gentle dove to descend peacefully on Jesus – it’s something all together different when the Spirit descends like a wild, noisy goose!
There are times when the Spirit is like a dove – or like a still, small voice, a gentle whisper – but at Pentecost we remember the Spirit strange and unexpected, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Today we gather on this feast of driving wind and fire. We don't like things to change too much in our lives. So, today we are presented with a question:
- Are we bold enough to ask for God’s Holy Spirit to continue that work of renewal in us?
- Are we bold enough to pray, with as much courage as we can muster, "Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts ?
- Are we bold enough to discover what new path we will be invited to strike out on?
- Are we prepared to find renewed energy and dedication which will be given us to walk with greater integrity the path we are already on?
- Do we dare invite the God of Pentecostal power and heat to take another step closer to us?
We don't have to fear the Spirit's coming, it is a good thing
The Holy Spirit has moved demonstrably in great Christians throughout time.
- Augustine and
- Mother Theresa,
- Martin Luther and
- Christians like Wesley whom we remember especially in his third century this year.
The Holy Spirit has enabled men and women like this to bring about amazing changes.
But for us the Holy Spirit may seek to make changes too. We might not be called upon to care for the dying in India. Or fight to end racial injustice, but the same Spirit might call upon us collectively or as individuals to be brave and imaginative. As a church God’s great achievements are often realised when we consider really difficult things which we can see no human way of ever achieving.
But small changes can sometimes be the hardest and these can start today
- To be nice to our wife or husband when we go home from church. There might be life changing consequences in terms of our home lives.
- The Holy Spirit calls us to be loving and faithful partners, kind parents and respectful children.
- The Holy Spirit will speak within us and question whether we really need to say those hurtful words about a person.
- The Holy Spirit will perhaps open our eyes to enable us to have the perception to recognise unhelpful people whom we should avoid
- The Holy Spirit will show us the wisdom of Bambi, that if we haven’t got something nice to say we should say nothing at all.
- The Holy Spirit will convict us of the importance of giving our wives flowers, our children hugs.
- The Holy Spirit will convict us of the importance of quietly moving somewhere else, when we see that somebody is sitting in ‘our’ chair in the church.
These might seem small in comparison but let me reassure you that in these small ways some of our greatest Christians leaders have failed miserably, it is harder to be Spirit filled Christian at home than anywhere else. It is perhaps in the little things that we must seek to be especially pious and it is in these that the Spirit of Pentecost can bring about change today.
Creation as Sacrament
Because the Celtic Church had not been infected with a dualistic outlook
on creation, they did not see matter as evil, nor the spiritual world as
divorced from the material. Thus, they looked on Creation around them as one
great hymn of praise to its Creator, reflecting His nature and character,
whilst not actually being God itself.
Because the Celtic believers lived in a rural world, life was lived in rhythm with creation and was made up of work, worship and rest, with everything cloaked in prayer. Thus, many Celtic prayers are associated with simple events such as rising in the morning, lying down at night, cleaning a hearth or baking bread.
They saw the creatures around them as fellow servants of God. So, on one occasion, Cuthbert chided a young companion for not sharing a fish with an eagle who had just miraculously presented it to them for food.
On another, Columba instructed a brother on Iona to give shelter to an injured bird which had fallen on the shore on its flight across the water, as an expression of God’s love for His creatures.
And there is the famous story of Cuthbert being warmed at Coldingham by sea-otters after he had come out of the cold North Sea where he had been singing psalms during the night.
Creation is therefore seen as an outward expression of God’s nature and character, sustained by His upholding Word, and declaring His visible glory. It is not seen as a decaying, disposable utility to be exploited by man, which came with the later dualistic thinking.