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Pentecost: The Spirit and Fire


FIRST READING:

Acts 2:1-21 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and 4 Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 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. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘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. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’


GOSPEL READING: John 20:19-23 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


Sermon


I am constantly amazed about how every time I read a Bible lesson again I learn something new. That is the wonder of the Scriptures, isn’t it? There is always something new to learn, and some of the things we learn help us to see other things more clearly. They give us those “ah-ha!” moments.

For example we know Pentecost as the birth of the Christian Church but did you know that Pentecost was actually a Jewish festival?

It did have a different name: Pentecost is from the decimal calendar and means 50, denoting 50 days after Easter.

But the Jewish festival is called Shavuot which is the Hebrew word for seven. It denotes seven weeks from the festival of Passover.

It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals of Israel, and it required people to go to the temple to make offerings. Because it was also their wheat harvest festival.


So this explains why, in our acts reading, that there were God fearing Jews in Jerusalem from all over the Jewish world. They were gathered there for Shavuot: the other name that you may have heard it called by is the feast of weeks.

We say over and over again that there is no coincidence in the plans of God. This again was not luck that the Spirit happened to come at this time. It was not chance, it was part of the plan of God to reach the most people possible and to take this message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, driven by the new power of the Holy Spirit to as many Jewish converts as possible. The miraculous tongues proclaiming the gospel would take the message to the ends of the known earth.


The other important thing about the festival of Shavuot or the feast of weeks was that it was also seen as a commemoration of when Yahweh gave the Law, the Torah to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

Can you see the similarities here? The presence of God on Mount Sinai appeared to the people like a consuming fire. Here again was the fire, but like the appearance of God to Moses in the burning bush, it did not consume. It was an elemental sign of the presence of the Holy One, coming not as Yahweh but in the person of the Holy Spirit.


So what does the Spirit do?

The Spirit drives us. It is like the explosion in the internal combustion engine, it is the fire in the belly that sends us out into the world. It propels us.

For those of you who have ever had a child sit on the couch after one or two days of holidays and tell you how bored they are, the Holy Spirit is like the Parent who says: Go outside and play! Make new friends! It drove the disciples out from being huddled together out of fear of the Jews behind locked doors to change the course of world, history, to go to the ends of the known world and tell people about Jesus.

The spirit after his Baptism drove Jesus out into the wilderness, into the proving period, the trying time before his ministry began.


What does the Holy Spirit do?

The Spirit is about relationships, and enables us to build relationships with other people, many of whom we would NEVER otherwise befriend.

The confusion God caused among the builders of the tower of Babel who were trying to make a name for themselves was undone in the miraculous ability to speak to all people on the day of Pentecost: each in their own language. The Spirit working in them enabled relationships to begin across cultural divides, across racial divides, all gathered around the primary message of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.


How does the Spirit work to make it possible for us to build relationships, and to gather in Christian Community?

Well, there are certain things that would be helpful for us to have if we want to be in this sort of community with others, isn’t there?

Things like Love, that helps build relationships. Joy: No-one wants to be around a dismal person all the time. Peace? What a great thing to bring. People who have a deep sense of peace are comforting to be around. Patience? Who thinks that patience might be a needed skill in relationships? Patience, kindness, gentleness and self control.

These of course are the fruits of the Spirit. Mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: chapter 5, verses 22 and 23.


So the fruits of the Spirit: What shines forth out of someone when the Holy Spirit of God is in them, are all things that are not there for their own good, but are there for a purpose: to build up the body of Christ! To bring people into a community where their faith may be built, where the Spirit can again point them to Jesus in the preaching of the word, and when they experience his real presence, his body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine in the eucharist.


This is how the Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens, as Luther said in his explanation of the third article of the Apostle’s Creed.


So our commemoration of the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is not a wheat harvest but rather the celebration of a fruit harvest!

Galatians 5:23, when speaking of these fruits, this harvest that the Spirit brings, goes on to say: against these things there is no law.

So today brings together the harvest festival, and the commemoration of the giving of the law, the Torah. Almost like it was made for this day.


In a very special way, when we are baptised, every one of us, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, at work in us, building our faith, building relationships, building community. (this is why we like to baptise people in worship services, as this is the community among which the fruits of the Spirit in each of us, and in Maxwell (who was baptised on Sunday), will be at work)


This meets an ancient and primal need in the lives of many people. We are by nature gregarious. That’s a big word that basically just means that we are herd animals. We are made to be in community, and with other people.


These days people will not join our church community if they feel that we have the best doctrine, the purest teaching, or the most orthodox practice. They will gravitate to where there is a real sense of community: to where they are loved, accepted, where people are kind, gentle, peaceful, joyful, and patient.

The mark of the work of the Spirit of God is not just faith that a theology textbook would tell you is correct.

It is faith that is lived out in the everyday messy business of being the church: where hurting people come, where feuding people forgive and are reconciled. The Spirit works in the dirt and the tears and the mess, and the church council meetings and cry rooms and morning teas of the church which is the body of Jesus. Because these are our lives. This is where God has placed us to live, and work, and love, and struggle sometimes.


In our baptism, in a very special way, the Holy Spirit comes to us. That is why we lay hands on the newly baptised: an ancient action associated with the passing on of the Holy Spirit and its gifts.

We live in the forgiveness of sins every day that we receive through our baptism, where God places us in a right relationship with him, and gives us his righteousness. As he has done for Maxwell today.

The Spirit is the power of God in the church. It is why we are here. It is why the church goes on, and will continue to do so.


Praise be to God for his wonderful gift to us. May it bear much fruit here, where we have been planted, and watered to grow.

Amen.

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