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notre dame montreal

 

Pentecost Sermon 2017

Sermon for Pentecost Year A

A mission which starts with God not ourselves

It’s rare I receive a round of applause when I say something in church.  The last time I did it was when I was asked to make an introduction to a service in Portuguese, because there was a Brazilian dimension to the service which was central to it.

It often seems very strange when someone we think we know starts speaking in a different language, especially if we don’t know they can speak it.  So it’s not surprising that when the disciples started speaking in different languages people were surprised.  So much so that it caused quite a stir.

But what’s the lead up to these dramatic events and why did they happen.

The disciples are meeting together at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost.  There were 3 significant feasts for the Jews when they would traditionally travel to Jerusalem.

  1. Passover, when they remembered their deliverance from Egypt

 

  1. Pentecost, the feast of weeks, the first harvest festival, the feast of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, traditionally 7 weeks after the Barley harvest but also the fest when they commemorated the giving of the law and the renewal of their covenant with God
  1. Tabernacles, when they remembered their wandering in the wilderness and entry into the Promised Land

 

So it’s not surprising that at Pentecost there were lots of Jews in Jerusalem, both those who lived there and those who had travelled for the Feast of Pentecost.

As we read the book of Acts we see that it’s full of dramatic episodes and significant speeches.  In the bible reading today we have both!  The clue is probably in the name, the Acts of the Apostles (not the systematic theology…)

If we read back in Luke’s gospel we see Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at the start of His mission and ministry. (Lk 3 v 22)

Here the disciples are being anointed with the Holy Spirit.  Luke wants us to understand that the mission and ministry that the disciples would have was a continuity of the mission and ministry of Jesus, not something separate from it.  Just as Jesus had proclaimed the Kingdom of God was here, so would the disciples.

It’s a continuation of God’s incarnation and intervention in His world, an incarnation and intervention we continue to this day.  And we see this if we look at what actually happens. 

The Spirit falls on the disciples and they all began speaking in different languages.  This then attracts a crowd.

The key point seems to be that the early church, which is generally seen as beginning from this point, didn’t start with a mission (action) plan but a divinely inspired event which drew a curious audience.

When the people heard the disciples speaking on other tongues they were attracted to them.  What began as a private and personal experience became a public an corporate proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Even if the disciples had tried to keep this to themselves they couldn’t…   …what was happening to them just spilled into the outside world.

And the curious audience then has two key questions.

‘What does this mean?’ And ‘Who is Jesus?’  It’s the first question to which Peter responds in today’s reading. 
(Peter responds to the second by making it plain that Jesus was a person through which god was working)

Peter actually responds in the form of a Jewish targum or sermon where Old Testament texts were taken and explained.  Peter does this with three passages from Joel 3 v 1- 5, Psalm 16 and Psalm 110

What does this mean?  Peter explains by using Joel that we are in the last days.  The time before the Messiah returns in glory.  God’s spirit is being poured out on everyone.  The new age that started with Jesus is breaking out across the whole earth.  And it was from this time that the embryonic church began its separation from Judaism.

Because the early church saw themselves as primarily a movement of the Spirit of God, a fulfilment of the ancient prophetic hope of a people filled and renewed by the Holy Spirit.  They also understood that such an infilling of the Spirit inspired praise, prophecy, witness and influenced their personal lives and conduct.

No wonder they had such an impact. 

The prayer that Simeon (who is described as having the Holy Spirit rest on Him) had prayed at Jesus’ presentation at the temple recorded in Luke’s gospel that all nations, Jews and Gentiles, would see salvation was being fulfilled.

What might this mean for us?

Firstly we see an early church and body of believers who were united in their faith and whose proclamation, worship and lifestyle were attractive to those with whom they lived.

One of the challenges that Pentecost brings to the modern church concerns not just our unity, but our lifestyle, our difference and our attractiveness.  How different are we to those of no faith?  Do people look at us or hear what we say and become attracted to what they see and hear.  So often this is not the case and they see division, a lack of understanding and tolerance and a body of people who have little to attract them. 

Perhaps we need to change to be more Spirit led.

We see a church that was not overly concerned with structures and buildings, but of living out the power of the gospel.  And as Christians, we are concerned with the Kingdom, not just our buildings and structures.  But sometimes we do allow structures and buildings to get in the way rather than help us as we proclaim the Kingdom.

And sometimes we get caught up in our theology and being able to describe what we believe rather than just living out the Kingdom.   One of the striking features of Acts is that we read much about an embryonic church who are concerned to live out what they believe.  We don’t read deep theological discourses (as we do with Paul) but with a people who cannot help themselves live out a life empowered by the Spirit.

Perhaps we need to change to be more Spirit led.

And we see a body of believers who spoke out in terms that others could understand, but for some it must have seemed as if they were in a foreign land as they spoke in foreign tongues.  They were more concerned with proclamation than with apologetics.

Whilst we may not be called to speak out in a foreign language, perhaps we need to be more prepared to speak out in a way which proclaims the Kingdom in ways that others understand.  Perhaps speak out for others who are less able to communicate in our language.

Perhaps we need to change to be more Spirit led.

Perhaps reconnect with the Spirit.  Like an external disk on a PC when connected asks what you want to do, it might be when we connect again with the Spirit God asks what shall we do together now?

Given today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, one way we might want to start or continue on this journey of reconnection might be to re-read the Book of Acts!