Rev’d Andrea Bussell at St Luke’s preached on Pentecost 19th May 2013
"God's Dream Catcher".
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the Church's great celebration of the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the followers of Jesus. The prophet Joel, around two and a half centuries ago or even earlier, had promised that such a day would come. He had promised that the Spirit would come upon many people, not just on a few prophets and craftspeople. He looked forward to the day when the Spirit of God would fill the earth and pour upon every human heart. Joel 3:1-2,
We are so accustomed to thinking of Pentecost as a Christian feast that we forget that it was originally a Jewish feast. It is the second of the three great Jewish feasts, celebrated fifty days after Passover. Pentecost, Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks, commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and is also known as the Harvest Festival. Unlike Passover, this was not to be a quiet family commemoration, but a celebration that brought Jewish people from all over the then-known world to renew their connection to God and to one another, to “recall the ties of both liberty and law that bound them as one”.
The community was to give life and hope to outsiders as well, by leaving behind some of the gleanings from their harvest
for the poor to be able to collect for their own sustenance.
Acts 2.1-21 tells us it is on this festival day that the followers of Jesus are “all together in one place” when the Spirit appears. It arrives as flames and a rushing wind, filling them, inspiring them, causing them to draw breath and speak. In Greek, as in Hebrew, the word for Spirit, wind, and breath, is the same: pneuma – Greek, ruach – Hebrew.
This is what happened early that morning in Jerusalem, fifty days after the Jewish Passover.
"Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where the disciples were sitting. And divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them." These images bring to mind the wind of God that "swept over the face of the waters" in creation, the breath of God that gave life to the first human being.
With rushing wind and tongues of fire, the apostles experienced the presence of God the Holy Spirit, the Ruach ha Kodesh. In power they were filled with the Holy Spirit just as Jesus had said. In power they were sent out to proclaim the good news of God in Christ and to bear witness to the compassionate love of God.
People responded...thousands of people responded. And that Pentecost day ended quite differently than it had begun.
Luke names for us in Acts, fifteen different cultural and language groups that were present when the disciples burst out onto the streets on the Day of Pentecost. As a result of the miracle of tongues on that day, everybody heard the gospel in their own language.
From that point on, Peter preached strongly about Jesus.
Peter who had once been the "loud mouth", speaking before thinking, now spoke with purpose and conviction.
He who once was afraid to own up to knowing Jesus, spoke convincingly about him. With unusual power Peter preached about Jesus. So filled with the Spirit was he, that before this amazing day was over, 3,000 devout Jews were baptized as followers of Jesus, the Christ.
The Spirit had come. The fearful had found power. A new community was born.
On that first Pentecost morning, there was a new sense of mission. These men and women sensed a new purpose, a new goal, and a new destiny. Their destiny was to go into the entire world and proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Their purpose was absolutely clear to them: to boldly proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. They didn’t have to ask what their mission was.
There was also a new power within. There was a new energy and urgency to carry out their mission. These people had new courage to face persecutions. They had a new boldness to be more outspoken for their faith. They had a new powerful passion within, to stand before family, friends, neighbours and fellow workers and boldly tell the good news of Jesus Christ and his impact on their daily lives.
There was also a new sense of community. These first Christians took their possessions and sold their material goods to help those in need. They loved each other so much they sold their possessions in order to help each other. Yes, there was a new sense of loving within this community: sharing problems, sharing each other’s tragedies, sharing resources. They experienced community love and sharing of resources like they had never experienced it before.
On the day that Jesus left this earth to return to His Father, He had reminded the disciples that they were to stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them; and He had commissioned them to, “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.
So what were these disciples and friends of Jesus doing as they waited – and I believe that what they were doing while they waited had great impact on what happened.
Well, Luke in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts says that the disciples were continually at the temple praising God, and also in the upstairs room where they were staying, constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Those two things are the key to the in-filling of the Holy Spirit in power. They were constant in prayer, worshipping God and studying the Torah – that’s what is needed from us if God’s Spirit is to come upon us in power. The lack of reading God’s word, the lack of prayer and the paucity of our worship of God I believe, are what is stopping the spread of Christianity in this country and other western cultures. We need to take a look at some of the so-called third world countries and see what the Spirit is doing in power through His believers.
In many of the mainline churches, the Holy Spirit is the forgotten member of the Trinity. Though we refer to the Spirit in our creeds and liturgical prayers, we do not give much time to teaching about the Spirit in sermons. Many traditional churches are nervous about displays of what is perceived as excesses in Pentecostal circles and steer clear of so called “Spirit” filled worship services.
So who is the Spirit, and what does the Spirit do, and how much space should we give to “displays” of the Spirit during our liturgical services?
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity. It is the Spirit who brings us into a relationship with God the Father through Christ the Son.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Spirit is rarely distinguished from God – but there are hints that the Spirit of God is a conscious personal being. Israel’s experience of the Holy Spirit before the time of Christ, was rather patchy and vague.
In the act of Creation, the Spirit seems to play a distinctive role, hovering like a mother bird over a formless chaos at the beginning of all things, breathing life into human beings, reviving the dry bones of a spiritually lifeless people. God’s will for His people was communicated through the work of the Spirit, who inspired prophets and empowered leaders. Those chosen by God for special tasks were filled with the creative Spirit, who gifted them with the necessary abilities. The Spirit was characterized as Holy, capable of being grieved by Israel’s spiritual rebellion and of withdrawing from the lives of those toying with sin.
In the New Testament, each of the Gospel writers describes the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at His baptism, emphasizing that His ministry proceeded under the power and the guidance of the Spirit of God. The outpouring of the Spirit upon Him, and His relationship with, and dependence on His Father, enabled Jesus to accomplish His redeeming work.
On the Jewish day of Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the 120 who had gathered in Jerusalem to await the fulfilment of Jesus promise.
In wind and fire, the Spirit was manifested – vibrant symbols of the Spirit of God in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Spirit is our Comforter, our Advocate, the Counselor, the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit is exciting, challenging and unpredictable.
So what does the Spirit do: As we grow closer to the Lord, as we spend time with God, the Spirit grows the fruit of that relationship in us, Paul describes the fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The Spirit gives us gifts: Paul lists these gifts as firstly, apostles, that is believers, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, gifts of healing, those who help others, administrative gifts, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, wisdom, faith, prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, leadership, contributing to needs, showing mercy, but he says the greatest of these is love.
And yes, the Holy Spirit can be grieved by our behaviour.
I could go on talking to you about the fruits of the Spirit as described by Paul, or discuss with you the gifts of the Spirit, but I think that what would be more helpful is to tell you of my own experience.
When we moved down to the Manawatu our youngest four children became involved with a great youth group at the local Apostolic Church. We decided that we should worship there with them. I enjoyed our time there very much.
It was a time of a different growth and learning, for it was in that Church that I was exposed to the person of the Holy Spirit.
It was there that I experienced, shall we say, some of the more “showy” gifts of the Spirit. And I must say that all was done decently and in order, as it should be.
It was there that one morning, I went forward during an altar call, surrendered my pride, and offered my gifts and talents to the Lord for His use.
All my life I had believed that I had been hardly done by, when it came to dishing out gifts. I realised then, that I had wasted much of my life enviously desiring only the wonderful gifts that my two brothers and my cousins exhibited – a keen intelligence, musical abilities, etc, etc, etc. and so shutting myself off from appreciating and using the wonderful, unique gifts with which God had blessed me and I stress that, – my unique gifts with which God had blessed me, energy, good health and enthusiasm. From that time on, the Holy Spirit was able to begin to use my uniquely given gifts.
I was then led to use those gifts in an Anglican Parish. As I have been willing to be used, God through His Holy Spirit has grown, and continues to grow other talents in me, and has shown me gifts that I had buried deep inside, from fear and lack of self-confidence.
And here I am today.
As I said the Spirit is exciting, challenging and unpredictable.
That same Spirit that drenched the community with fire and breath on the day of Pentecost – that same Spirit desires to dwell within us and among us.
As we live in an ever growing relationship with God, the Holy Spirit pours into us His life-giving Spirit, so that we grow ever more Christ-like and fruitful, and are able to use the gifts that He has abundantly gifted us, to the glory of God. Amen.