Sermon by Martin James 23.05.2021

Sermon by Martin James 23.05.2021

Acts 2:1-21

 

A Sunday School teacher was trying to explain to her class the difference between physical birth and the spiritual birth of a christian. She asked them the question "Are you born a christian? One little boy replied "No miss, you're born normal!"

The expression "born again" has acquired a bit of a bad name for itself in some circles. And that's a pity, because it's really very descriptive of what happens when a person becomes a christian. And actually Jesus himself first used it - Nicodemus who asked Jesus “What must I do to be born again” to which Jesus replied -  John 3:6 - What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

We all experience physical birth, we're all if you like born "normal". New birth, spiritual birth, becomes ours when we commit ourselves to Jesus.

Today we celebrate Pentecost. The birthday of the church. It was originally a Jewish festival known as the Festival of Weeks. It was a celebration of the beginning of the early wheat harvest. And it took place fifty days after the annual celebration of the Passover.

But now, as we have just read in Acts 2, the day suddenly took on a new meaning. There were crowds of people in Jerusalem for the feast - v5 - Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

And all the apostles were together in one place (v1). Then - vvs2-4 .... suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

And the crowd’s reaction was to mock/make fun - “they’ve had too much wine”. That was probably because they didn't understand. And maybe they felt threatened too. So, they looked for an easy explanation. But actually they didn't realise there was a touch of truth - the apostles were under the influence - of the Holy Spirit.

So, was this a sudden appearance of the Spirit out of the blue as it were? No, he wasn’t appearing for the first time when he came on that day of Pentecost. The Spirit had existed long before that. Long before time began. And at the beginning of time. Genesis 1:2 - at creation “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters...............”

And then, after that, we read in lots of the Old Testament that the Spirit was given from time to time to particular people for specific reasons or tasks that God had for them to do. There are so many instances of this that I can only quote a couple:-

Gideon - just before his battle with the Midianites  - Judges 6:34 - ..... the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet.

Samson - when a lion roared towards him - Judges 14:6 - The spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands.

However, important as those kind of specific times were when God gave his Holy Spirit, the Old Testament supremely points to what God was going to do in the future.

In particular how he was going to pour out his Spirit on all believers. One of these was the prophecy of Joel (chapter 2) that Peter quoted in his sermon - vvs17-18 of Acts 2 - Acts 2:17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit;

Now, that promise began to be fulfilled when Jesus was born several hundred years after it was first prophesied. The Bible tells us that the Spirit was given to Jesus:-

- at his baptism (Matthew 3:16)

- at his temptation - led by the Spirit into the desert (Matthew 4:1)

- during his ministry when he preached in his home town - Luke 4:18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

An echo there of Isaiah 61.

But then, as he went along in his ministry, Jesus held out the promise that had first been given by Old Testament prophets like Joel that the Spirit would be given to all believers. And that is why, in the words we heard in our Gospel reading, that is why Jesus had to, as he put it, go away. John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Jesus was promising that he would live in all believers after the coming of the Holy Spirit. And the time for the Spirit to be poured out would be after his crucifixion, resurrection and then ascension into heaven. Because the Spirit was to continue his work and ministry.

And that is relevant for us. The Holy Spirit enables us to continue Jesus’s work and ministry. And he gives us power to live for him.

He also said - John 16 again - v13a -  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.

And it all began on that day of Pentecost. The Spirit came.

And Luke in Acts 2 uses two analogies/symbols for him - wind and fire.

Wind - v2 - a sound like a violent wind blowing on the apostles.

 

This was a human or natural way to describe the supernatural energy and power of God's Spirit. The crowd heard the sound, but they couldn't understand where it came from or why. It's almost as if they didn't want to hear - disturbing. The Holy Spirit is disturbing, but he also brings a breath of fresh air into the lives of christians and church, if we will be open. He is also powerful. The power of God.

Jesus was crucified and buried. But God in his power sort of blew a hole in the tomb when he raised him from the dead.

People in the Shetlands say sometimes the wind is so strong it blows gravestones over.

However, God doesn't want to blow us over or away. He wants to fill us with his Spirit and blow us in the direction he wants us to go for him. And how particularly relevant that is for St Mark’s as you look forward to your future as a parish. Anticipation? Some uncertainty? Excitement? Through it all the importance of prayer. Prayer for Gareth and all of you as you look for God’s direction.

So, the wind of the Spirit.

Then, what of Luke's symbol of fire?

When we were on holiday years ago in the New Forest there was a fire. It was in the distance but quite scary. Fortunately it was put out and no one was hurt.

Fire can be both sudden and destructive.

But in the Bible it also stands for the holiness of God. Hebrews 12:29 “Our God is a consuming fire”.

Then there are other examples in the Bible.

Isaiah in his great vision of  God's glory (Chapter 6) had his mouth touched with burning coal vvs6&7 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’

And here we have the clue to the symbol of fire - the need to be purified.

On that day of Pentecost that house in Jerusalem must have looked as if it was on fire. But it wasn't gutted and neither were the apostles nor anyone else burned. At least, not in the physical “ouch” sense. But they did burn, with enthusiasm, energy and power. In that sense the Gospel is highly inflammable. And from that day on the New Testament testifies to the apostles' consuming passion to spread it.

Christians today should have that same passion for God and be filled with his Spirit. It has been said that the Kingdom of God will be advanced, not by churches full of people, great as that is, but by people filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit comes like wind to blow us into new directions for God.

The Holy Spirit comes like fire to refine and burn all that is impure in us.

The Holy Spirit’s power is limitless. And that power is available to each one of us. Power to live our lives for the Lord. Power to draw closer to him and to each other.

Artist on downs - beautiful view - he had a slate but no chalk - but then he realised what he was sitting on - chalk downs - he picked up a piece and drew.

However much we “draw on” the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in our christian lives, there’s always more for us.

 

Martin James 23.05.21