Sunday Sermon 23rd May - Pentecost
The chosen hymns for this week, We seek your kingdom and Spirit of God can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Acts 2: 1-21 John
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 23rd May.
The day of Pentecost.
To non-Christians, and to many Christians, this is the celebration that is least understood.
I have a three year old granddaughter and she understands Christmas as a celebration of when Jesus was born.
She understands Easter as when Jesus was now not a baby and he died and then was not dead.
Actually for a three year old I am quite impressed she has got that far.
But Pentecost? Not a chance.
And for many Christians they struggle with the same lack of understanding.
Part of it is the name, Pentecost...not exactly catchy. Having a name that is in Greek is not helpful.
Part of it is the story.
Babies being born in difficult situations, we can relate to that.
Death by betrayal and overcoming that, we can relate to that.
Flames appearing above people’s heads, people suddenly speaking in strange languages...that is just weird.
And yet in many ways this celebration is the culmination of the other two.
Without Pentecost, Christmas and Easter have no fulfilment.
Pentecost answers the question, ‘What do we do with the rest of our lives?’
It is that important.
But we will reflect on that after John leads us in the reading itself and a time of prayer.
It means fifty days.
‘Fifty days after what?’ you may ask.
Fifty days after Easter.
Well actually that’s not quite right.
You see originally Pentecost was a Jewish celebration.
And it was fifty days after Passover. And as the events of Easter happened at Passover then this event happened at the same time as the Jewish celebration of Pentecost.
So let’s go back to the beginning.
Jesus’ birth is celebrated at Christmas. We know that it is a significant time in history, God is getting very personally involved in humanity.
You see the big problem God had was that people struggled to understand God.
If God had a plan for us then how do you understand the mind of someone so above us that he made us.
That would not quite be the same as one of my cross stitch trying to understand why I had made it, but it isn’t far off it.
Maybe a better analogy would be that a human being sees a fire move towards an ant hill. He has concern for the ant hill and wants to warn it that it is in danger. But how does he do that?
There is no way the ants can understand the human.
That was God’s problem with us.
His ways are just so much higher.
So God becomes man, so that he can talk to us in the language that we would understand.
And through Christ’s ministry God shows through word and deed what God has a plan for us.
Then there is Passover, or Easter.
Passover (and Easter) was the culmination of God’s plan.
And it revolved round freedom.
In the original Passover the Jews were slaves in Egypt. God was giving them freedom.
But freedom always has a price.
There is always a cost to freedom.
People have paid for the freedom for us to vote.
People have paid for the freedom for our children to be educated.
People have paid for the freedom of us to be able to have health care.
The Jews were slaves. The Egyptians wouldn’t just let them go.
There would be a price to pay.
And through Passover God shows that he is the one willing to pick up the price of that freedom.
The disciples of Jesus realise at that first Easter that Passover was a partial truth. We are still slaves.
We were created to be in harmony with others, with God, with the world.
We should have the freedom of having trust between all people, between God and ourselves. But we are not free to trust, to be in perfect relationship, even with those who are very close to us.
We would love to be free to be totally honest to others, especially those we love, but we have become slaves of our past, slaves of our guilt, slaves of our fear.
The shame of who we were holds us back, we are scared that if people knew our true selves then they would be repulsed, they would not have it in their heart to love us. We would be isolated and alone.
The freedom to be open to others has a cost.
And the disciples saw that through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ that God was willing to pay that price for us.
But the story doesn’t end there.
For the Jews they had their freedom, they escaped from their past, they were free from the Egyptians, but what were they to do with this freedom?
And at Pentecost they celebrated the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Just as God gave them freedom from the Egyptians, now God gave them purpose, guidelines, to live their life.
The disciples had the same dilemma.
At Easter Christ gives them peace, it is the first thing he says to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
A life of Shalom, a life of peace.
Freedom from guilt, freedom from shame, freedom to live any life we want.
But what do we do with that?
And the disciples go through all kinds of things in that first fifty days.
They stay in Jerusalem and try going to the temple every day.
They go home to Galilee and try going back to fishing.
And then on the day of Pentecost they realise suddenly that they are free to live the life God wants them to live.
A life where they share the hope and joy that God has given them.
They talk in the language of the people the message that the people need to hear.
There is hope.
Hope that our lives mean something.
Hope that we are not alone in this journey.
Hope that today is a gift and not a burden.
Hope that we can learn from our life and not be ashamed of our life.
Hope that the past can be a stepping stone to move forward rather than an anchor that holds us back.
But that hope comes from seeing that what we do with our freedom is dedicate that life to a God who cares.
That our life can be a life of trusting God, no matter what others may think of us, because we have assurance in our heart.
It is so easy to live a life of worry.
There is so much to worry about.
And when we worry we act out of fear.
Our hearts become more and more self centred, because we need to protect ourselves and what is close to us.
But what kind of life is that to live; a life were your first breath and your last breath is desperately trying to clutch onto what you have?
What about a life where you do not worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6: 32), for it will have its own burdens, but instead we live the life that God wants us to live today; a life where we are free to be in relationship with God, with others?
There is a famous scene at the borders of the Promised Land. Joshua is the leader and he is giving them the pep talk that they, the Jews, need to finally cross over from the wilderness into the land flowing with milk and honey.
And basically this is what he says, ‘What do you want to do? We have our freedom. We can do anything we want, we can be anything we want to be. As for me and my household,
I trust in the God who has brought us here,
I trust in the God who has walked the path with us,
I trust in the God who has stayed with us when we have wandered down the wrong path,
I trust in the God who paid whatever price was needed to give us this choice.’
As we come out of our pandemic, as we are given more and more freedoms, this Pentecost, this moment we have a choice to decide what are we going to do with the rest of our lives.
Are we going to continue to live in fear, trying protecting what we have?
Or are we going to follow the path that God would have us take, no matter where it may lead?
Let us pray
When the Spirit came on that first Pentecost, the disciples were all together, waiting.
On this Pentecost, we aren’t all together; we are still separated by time and place. Some at home watching, some at other services, but together or apart, we are still waiting and hoping.
And we still wait because we do not know what the Spirit may encourage us to do; in our living rooms, or between family members, or as we live our life.
The Spirit may help us quietly embrace our grief and confusion, our yearning for what may be and our loss at what has been.
The Spirit may wish us to seek out others and offer forgiveness for past hurts, or seek us to make amends for hurts we have caused.
The Spirit may seek us to be active in the life of another, reaching out with an offer of hope.
The Spirit may inspire us to make the sacrifices needed to help another cause.
The Spirit will wish us to use the God given talents and life-skills we have been give to further the Kingdom of heaven here on earth.
We give thanks that Your Spirit gets in among us, she sits until we are ready to pay attention and then she reminds us that in every place and every time You are present;
She announces that presence
in song, in whisper, in praise, in a cry for help, in a deep breath.
May we allow Your Spirit to weave herself into the very fabric of our life
until we know that nothing can ever separate us from your love.
And so, with confidence, may we pray for the healing of Creation, and for healing for our neighbour;
may we pray for hope and love and faith to be reborn in the life of the church,
in the life of the world,
and in our own life.
Remember, if you want to see our worship live then phone me up between 6-9pm Monday-Friday. Places are limited so they are given on a first come, first served basis.
But if you are unable to attend for whatever reason you can also watch them the way you are watching this service.
We are also open for anyone to come in for private prayer and reflection on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 1pm.
A closing blessing.