Sermon for Whitsunday
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
June 12, 2011
For the most part, everyone loves a birthday party. Even those who will turn 40 in just over a month! Why do we love birthdays even if we try and tell ourselves that we can’t believe we are getting a year older, or everything is downhill from whatever contrived age we have set for ourselves?
I think one of the reasons that we like birthdays is because it usually means being surrounded by people who love us, care for us, are glad that we are in their lives. Birthdays in some way make us think that we are special.
When kept in its proper sense, birthdays do make us special because it is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the gift of another year of life to be lived to His honour and glory. We can look back on the year past and call to remembrance those things that have happened to us, both good and bad, and know that all things work together for good for those who love God.
Believe it or not, in our church there are only two people who share the same birthday – Matt Paine and Gerry Webb. However, as members of Christ’s church we all share the same birthday as His body, and that day is today. On this the Feast of Pentecost or Whitsunday, we traditionally celebrate the church’s birthday, and it’s appropriate to do so in a special manner.
After all, the church, Christ’s Body, was the very thing He died for, redeemed, sent His spirit to empower, and prepares as a bride for her wedding day. Thus, it is very meet and right that we should celebrate this day with every fiber of our being.
Our Epistle lesson tells the traditional Pentecost story where the Holy Ghost, the Comforter who was promised to the Apostles, came to them in a most extraordinary manner. The Gospel lessons that we heard over the past few weeks alluded to the event that we just heard a few minutes ago – that first Pentecost Sunday.
The Apostles had already taken care of a bit of business after Jesus’ ascension, and that was in the selection of Matthias to take the place of Judas in the number of the twelve. Following this event we hear that the Apostles were “all with one accord in one place.” They were together, they were in fellowship with one another. They were praying, worshipping God, and recalling the events that they had witnessed over the past 50 days since Jesus’ resurrection. They were obedient to the command when Jesus departed from them on Ascension Day. As recorded in the final chapter of Luke’s Gospel, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.”
Melville Scott summarizes so beautifully the events of that first Pentecost:
The birth of the church can be pinpointed by both its time and its place.
These were both definite, thus marking the reality of the gift. The time when the Church came into being was a Sunday – that every Sunday for ever might be both an Easter-day and a Whit Sunday, the living commemoration of a living Saviour. The time was at a festival – that “these things should not be done in a corner,” and that it should be seen from the first that the Church was not for one nation only.
The time was at the Festival of Pentecost, in which the remembrance was made every year of the writing of the Law on tablets of stone, and thus was fitly designed for His coming Who should write upon the heart the new law of liberty (Jer. 31:33). As the festival of harvest (Lev. 23:17) Pentecost fitly witnessed the first ingathering of souls, the first swathe cut by the Saviour’s sickle and made into the bread of God. The place was significant also, for “they were all with one accord in one place,” and the Holy Spirit was thus given to the whole Church, and to individuals as members of the Church.
Its manner was most striking and impressive. The gift came from above, and came as wind – mysterious, invisible, mighty, as described by our Saviour (in S. John 3:8), and as the very breath of life. The gift as fire which should warm the cold and chilly heart, should lighten men’s darkness, soften men’s hardness, burn away men’s dross, and kindle the dead matter of the world into Heavenly flame.
He came one fire for all, for there is one Spirit and one body; but He came as fire distributing itself so that “it sat upon each one of them,” for, though given to the whole body, He is given to every member of the same for his vocation and ministry, “dividing to each man severally as He will.” There is one Fire but many tongues, many tongues but one Fire. He came as tongues, to persuade, not to force; as tongues of fire, for he persuades not by human eloquence, but by Divine inspiration.
The first result of His coming was the miraculous gift of tongues, a striking symbol of the nature of the Church of Christ. As the languages of men are the result and perpetuation of division, so the one message made plain to all was the proclamation that divisions should pass away, and that in the Catholic Church there should be neither Jew nor Greek. The Gospel addresses man as man: tells of a universal need, a universal grace, and of the perpetual expansion and adaptation of the one body for all races, times, and needs.
Mr. Scott hits on something that I’ve never heard before, and yet brings such clarity to that miraculous event – One fire, many tongues. Even though this seems completely intuitive, I’ve never thought of it that way before. St. Augustine at the very beginning of his Confessions wrestled with this notion of the indivisibility of God. He asked some very fascinating questions that speak about what the Apostles received when the Holy Ghost was come upon them that first Pentecost morn.
Do the heaven and earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them? or dost Thou fill them and yet overflow, since they do not contain Thee? And whither, when the heaven and the earth are filled, pourest Thou forth the remainder of Thyself? or hast Thou no need that aught contain Thee, who containest all things, since what Thou fillest Thou fillest by containing it? for the vessels which Thou fillest uphold Thee not, since, though they were broken, Thou wert not poured out. And when Thou art poured out on us, Thou art not cast down, but Thou upliftest us; Thou art not dissipated, but Thou gatherest us. But Thou who fillest all things, fillest Thou them with Thy whole self? or, since all things cannot contain Thee wholly, do they contain part of Thee? and all at once the same part? or each its own part, the greater more, the smaller less? And is, then one part of Thee greater, another less? or, art Thou wholly every where, while nothing contains Thee wholly?
Augustine was asking truly practical questions that should resonate with us as well. When we receive God’s Holy Spirit do we just receive a small portion of God, or do we receive Him wholly? When God comes into our life, we receive all of Him, not just some portion. It is not like some get more of God than others; all who call upon Him receive Him completely.
The Feast of Pentecost is one of those significant days on the Kalendar in which there are two collects, two Epistles, and two Gospel lessons appointed. The alternative Epistle lesson from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks to this question as well:
NOW there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.
What a glorious revelation that when we become part of Christ’s church, and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Saviour, our Redeemer, and His Spirit rests upon us we receive Him in totality. We don’t have to look around and wonder if someone else is getting more of God, or a better part of God, and that we are in some way being left out or missing something. When we come to this table in a few moments, as we “offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”
Everyone who calls upon the Lord Jesus will receive him, all of him. We don’t just get some miniscule piece of God, but Him in all of His totality. What a wonderful gift to receive. The only question for us to ponder is whether or not God will get all of us in return. Will we give Him our selves, our souls and bodies, or just some portion? He gives us His all, should we not do the same?