Pentecost

June 4, 2017

 

 

 

 

Pentecost

Acts 2: 1-21

4/6/17

Pentecost is always a bit of a tricky week to talk about.

Christmas is easy...Christmas is about God getting involved in the world. Immanuel, God with us. And gifts.

Easter is easy...Easter is about hope. Of life created from death, of new beginnings. Of fear being turned to joy. Of God changing us. And Chocolate eggs.

But Pentecost...Pentecost we don’t understand. It’s flames and talking in tongues.

 

The problem of Pentecost is the problem of illusionists.

We know something is going on, but we are not too sure what it is. So we get caught up in the side stuff; the flash and bang, the waving arms, the glamorous assistant... and then when the illusion is finished and the magician takes a bow we all gape in wonder and think, ‘How does he do that?’  And deep down we think it must be some kind of con, because it can’t be real.

But we never try to work it out, and so it stays a mystery.

In Pentecost we look at people speaking in strange tongues and thousands of people coming to faith. And we look at all that stuff and say to ourselves, ‘How did that happen?’  And deep down we think it must be some kind of con, because it can’t be real.

But we never try to work it out, and so it stays a mystery.

 

So let us go back to the beginning and see what is really happening

All the Jews are in Jerusalem for Passover. The time when they celebrate Moses leading people from slavery in Egypt and start their journey to the Promised Land. The Passover celebrated the moment when the angel of death literally ‘passed over’ the Jewish slave houses. The angel of death passed over the Jewish slave houses because instead of the Jewish people suffering the death of their first born, God gave them a way of saving their first born by allowing a lamb to take that death for them. And the blood of that lamb on the doorposts was the sign for the angel of death to pass over that house and not enter.

Now let’s get this very clear.

It was the Jewish people themselves that had gotten themselves in this mess. It was their ancestors that had travelled to Egypt. It was their people that had gone down a path that was leading to the death of their nation as slaves.

But even though the people had brought this on themselves by generation after generation of mistakes, God did what he had to do to save them.

Their actions would still lead to death, but God chose what would die so they wouldn't need to.

 

The Passover was a celebration of God’s work. Only God could have the grace and power to free the people from Egypt.

God did all the work, the people just had to accept God’s grace and follow Moses.

 

While the people are celebrating Passover, Jesus enters Jerusalem and becomes the Passover lamb for everyone. Like the Jewish people, we have made so many mistakes that lead us to a path that doesn't end well. Our path leads to spiritual, physical, emotional death.

 

But even though we bring this on ourselves by our own mistakes, God showed through the sacrifice of Jesus, that he would do what he had to do to save us.

Our actions would still lead to death, but God chose that he would die himself, so we wouldn't need to.

That’s what the original disciples realised that first Easter.

 

Back to Passover.

Once the original Jews were free from Egypt things didn't stop there.

Now they were free...but free to be what?

To be honest the big debate in the wilderness was whether to go back to Egypt or not. The number of times the Jews would say to themselves, ‘Don’t really like this freedom stuff. It’s hard work. Maybe we should go back to being slaves.’

 

Sometimes the problem we have is that we have too much choice.

Most of you are old enough to remember when there were only three TV channels.

Did we complain about what was on TV?

No. We had little choice. So we just got on with it.

Now we go through hundreds of channels and say that their nothing worth watching.

Remember when there were just the wee corner shops.

We had the choice of Corn Flakes, Sugar Puffs or Weetabix.

It took us seconds to tell the shop assistant what cereal we want.

Now we go into a supermarket and there are 60 different types of cereal, 15 different types of porridge. And we can’t decide what we want.

 

The Jewish people were in the wilderness. They were no longer slaves. They could be anything they wanted to be. And they just did nothing.

What they needed was a purpose, a vision, a direction.

And that came at Mount Sinai when Moses went up the mountain and brought back with him the Ten Commandments, the rules of being a people of God.

That moment was as monumental to the Jewish people as when they were freed from Egypt.

So they celebrated that event as well.

It was called Pentecost as it happened 50 days after Passover. Pentecost literally means ‘fiftieth’.

Passover celebrated God giving them freedom.

Pentecost celebrated God giving them what they needed to have purpose.

 

Thousands of years later.

The disciples, the followers of Jesus, have realised that through the crucifixion and resurrection, God has given them freedom. Not just for the Jewish people, for all people.

But what do you do with that freedom?

And as they met together for Pentecost they realised that just as God gave those original Jews in the wilderness a purpose. So God would give them what they needed so that they would have a new purpose and meaning.

Just as the Jews in the wilderness were given direction through the Ten Commandments, so the new people of God would be given direction through the Holy Spirit.

And their new direction was to tell all people, in a language that they understood, of the hope of God through the life of Christ.

 

That’s it.

Nothing has changed.

And I know that doesn't sound all that exciting.

It’s a bit like I show you how to do that magic trick and you go...’Oh is that it.’

Which is a shame because I think that purpose is as monumental as it was that original Sunday.

To tell all people, in a language that they understand, of the hope of God through the life of Jesus Christ.

 

Too often we have children that are trying to find hope in the world. And they are not getting hope, they are getting destroyed.

We tell our children, ‘Get a good education, get a good job, and you will have the life that you wanted.’

And every week that Zones (our youth group) is on I see children that already feel that they will not get the education that they need, so they won’t be able to get that good job.

Their hope is crushed.

I see teachers in primary schools that have lost hope for the children. They truly believe that what they do in the school is systematically undermined by what happens at home and in society.

And things are even worse for those that beat the system. For those children that are already gifted, that believe the lie that if they get a good education and a good job then all will be well. For they get the good education, they get the good job, and then everything doesn't work out well.

Their relationships are a mess,

they are working all the hours that God has given them and they feel empty inside, they feel they have no future, or the future isn’t worth having.

 

We have a message.

To tell all people, in a language that they understand, of the hope of God through the life of Jesus Christ.

Our problem is that we have gone a bit off message.

We have seen our purpose as getting the building to survive.

We had a thing called a Presbytery Plan. And the Presbytery Plan was all about how we allocate ministers, and what churches should get a minister or even part of a minister. And maybe even which church buildings should close.

That became a very serious thing.

It got all the churches to look very seriously at what we needed to do to keep our church building open...and have a paid minister in charge as a bonus.

That is not our purpose.

 

If we want our purpose to make sure the building survives with a minister then I would suggest our best bet is to make the church partly a betting shop, maybe partly a bingo hall, maybe partly a legal drug emporium when cannabis becomes a legal substance to take.

That way we would more than enough money to keep the building going and be able to afford a minister as a full time manager.

The more we look at the church as a building the more we look at the survival of the building as our priority.

 

The more time we waste trying to make that our purpose the more we are distracted from our real purpose. To tell all people, in a language that they understand, of the hope of God through the life of Jesus Christ.

 

Don’t get me wrong.

I understand the temptation.

Keeping a building open is easy.

Telling people of hope is hard.

But God gives us what we need.

 

God gives us the purpose, God gives us the gifts to fulfil that purpose.

In those days it was language.

To the people of those days it was a miracle that people of such poor education could speak to them in their own language of the hope of God.

 

I think God is doing the same thing today.

In such a divided world.

In such a world where trust is so low.

I think people would find it a miracle if people reached out in friendship.

I think friendship is a language that people need to hear.

That in this world where everyone is scared of everyone else. In a world where people are suspicious of others and their motives. That if someone would actually want to be their friend, just to be their friend...then that would get them wondering, thinking, in the same way as those hearers so long ago were stunned into thinking.

 

And I think we can do that because we know we are church. Not a building that sits fixed on one place. But church, a community of people of faith. A people supported and encouraged by each other. A people that know what friendship truly is because they live it, experience it, are refreshed by it every day.

And because they have been given it, they can share it out, expand it.

 

One of the biggest churches in the western world, Willow Creek, over 20,000 attendees every week, has a policy of evangelism, reaching out...it is this.

Do what you enjoy doing, but do it with God and with those that don't go to church.

That’s it.

I play squash with people who don’t go to church. They are my friends. They are my friends because they are my friends. If they never come to church they will still be my friends. They trust me. And they know I am trustworthy because I trust God to guide me. That gives me hope...and maybe one day they will catch that hope themselves.

So if you enjoy meals, eat with friends. If you enjoy travelling, travel with friends. Play bingo with friends, have tea with friends.

Tell all people, in a language that they understand, of the hope of God through the life of Jesus Christ. That is our purpose. That is Pentecost.

 

 

 

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