Sermon for Whitsunday
St. John’s Church
May 23, 2010
I don’t know if anyone here has ever been through a hurricane, or tornado, or earthquake, but I’ve seen enough footage on The Weather Channel to know that any of those above mentioned events aren’t places I want to find myself anytime soon. It’s bad enough when you have some head’s up warning that an event such as one of these is possibly coming so that you can somewhat prepare yourself what might lie ahead. I think it’s impossible for any of us to comprehend what that first Pentecost must have been like for the group in that upper room – much like another the other times that God appeared to the apostles in an upper room.
The small group of Apostles and disciples, most likely the 120 mentioned in the first chapter of Acts, were gathered together, probably in prayer and worship, when all of a sudden a sound like a mighty rushing wind came down from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. This was no still small voice as Elijah experienced God as recorded in the First Book of the Kings, but rather, it was more like the way Moses experienced God in the burning bush, or how the people of Israel experienced God in the pillar of fire in the wilderness, or how they experienced God at the foot of Mt. Sinai when Moses was receiving the Law from God. It was an experience in power and majesty and awe and wonder. How appropriate that those are the words that the church uses when she speaks about how we are to worship and presume to come into the presence of a Holy God in His sanctuary.
Those who were in that room on the first Pentecost morn appeared to have tongues of fire resting above their heads. As I mentioned in an adult forum some months back, that is the reason that a bishop wears a pointed hat known as a miter to symbolize the tongues of fire and the anointing of the Holy Spirit to be an overseer and shepherd of the flock who is to go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Apostolic Teaching and ministry that we hold fast to proceeds from this very event. There is a special degree of authority that comes from accepting the mantle and call to be a bishop, and that is one of the principle reasons that we are as concerned as we are about the state of our church and its most recent developments.
At any ordination whether it be that of a deacon, priest, or bishop, the hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus is sung, where we invoke and seek the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon the ordinand and another Pentecost moment. For all believers that same invocation comes at our confirmation when we receive the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit when we come to make a mature affirmation of the Faith, seeking the power and grace to help us embody and live out the vows and promises that were made on our behalf at our baptism. At this most important moment, the bishop places his miter on his head before he lays hands on the candidates. For most of the service, the bishop is bareheaded, but at this moment that tongues of fire area visible once again.
The text then makes a shift and we really don’t know what transpired next other than all that were in Jerusalem, no matter what their native tongue, began to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ with no language barrier whatsoever. As inadequate is this illustration is, I can only think of it being like the pictures we’ve all seen of the General Assembly of the United Nations where everyone is hearing the speaker through a translator in his native tongue all at the same time. The only difference here is that the translator isn’t another human fluent in two languages, but rather the Holy Ghost Himself who has now linked speaker and hearer in a wonderfully mysterious new way. There is then somewhat of a dig when some in the crowd declares that they can’t believe that this bunch of Galileans could do such wonderful things – like declare the mighty works of God in several different languages.
One of the most wonderful things about Salvation history is the fact that in God’s economy, everything seems to come full circle. The incredible thing about the Pentecost event is the fact that the Gospel transcends all human barriers. It breaks down all walls of separation. As the line from the hymn declares, “God is working His purpose out.”
If we think back to Genesis there is another event like the one we heard this morning but from an opposite perspective. Hear the words from the eleventh chapter of Genesis:
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
These people did not do what the Lord commanded at the Creation to be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth. They were content to congregate in one place and do the very same thing that people continue to do today – build a world in which Man is the center of his own universe and the measure of his own existence. This world that he builds is one that that has no time or place for God, and is destined for death and failure. The people who attempted to build a tower into the heavens had one thing in mind, and that was to attempt to make a name for themselves and exult in their own greatness.
God’s plan for Mankind is quite different. He intends for us to go as he commanded his followers at the end of Matthew’s Gospel to go unto all nations, and share with them the Good News of the Gospel. For that which was dispersed across the face of the earth back in Genesis is now reunified in the person of Jesus Christ and the salvation of mankind. We have a common language once again – not one whose end is our glory, but is for God’s glory. We have common hope, a common destiny, a final destination.
Those Apostles were changed from that very moment – they were truly slain in the Spirit, and we are the beneficiaries of that change. They were given the boldness, the courage, the strength to proclaim the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and they did so knowing that they would meet death for doing so. With the exception of St. John, all of the Apostles were martyred for their faith, and yet, they never backed down from preaching and teaching Jesus’ message of repentance, amendment of life, and reconciliation. Theirs is the witness and record that we have to follow today.
What we have received, we are called to give away to others. We have received the free gift of eternal life through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and it isn’t our gift to hoard. It is something that we are called to share, and to share freely with those we encounter throughout our lives. Throughout the Bible, whenever someone is empowered to do God’s work and His will on Earth, he is given the abilities needed for service.
Think of the prophets during the Old Testament. They weren’t empowered for a life of asceticism. They were given the gifts for service. That is why our lives as Christians cannot be lived out in isolation. A Christian in isolation, apart from the Church, is an oxymoron. If people tell you that they are Christians, but they really don’t get the Church thing, I’m sorry, those people haven’t truly embraced the Christian message. If you or I encounter such a person, we have work to do.
Just like the Apostles, we have received the Holy Spirit, and He is working in us to do more than we can ever imagine. Isn’t it remarkable that God would entrust us to do His work here on Earth?
When I sit back and ponder that thought, it drives me to my knees, because I know my shortcomings, my faults, my SINS!
And yet, God has chosen a person like me, He has chosen people like us, sinful, broken, seemingly unworthy, to share His Good News to all mankind. We have an awesome responsibility, but we have been given a more awesome gift. We have been given God.
We have received the One who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and He is the one who empowers us for this work. The work is not going to be easy. There are going to be times of struggle, and pain.
We may never see a time when we are actually confronted with physical persecution for our faith, but we are certainly seeing persecution in other areas. Society cannot fathom the concept of Universal Truth. Instead, we are told that truth is individualistic, and no one has a corner on truth.
However, our Lord Jesus told His disciples quite clearly that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that our only path to the Father was through Him. This is the message that our pluralistic world needs to hear. The world needs to hear that there is something to live for beyond our selves, and that what is to come so far exceeds anything that we can comprehend or fathom.
We have received the gifts to proclaim that message.
Will we have the courage to boldly proclaim that message to a world that so desperately needs to hear it?