Sunday, May 23, 2010

PENTECOST

PENTECOST 2010 – ACTS 2: 1-21 & JOHN 14: 8-17, 25-27

Have you ever felt discouraged, afraid, powerless or disillusioned?
If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’re not alone. The disciples of Jesus went through such emotions themselves, as did the prophets before them, and so have many faithful people after them.
When we can’t see what God’s doing or understand what’s happening in life, church or world we become downcast and it’s then that it becomes all too easy to take our eyes off God, to question our faith, or to think that God’s deserted us. But it’s at such times that it becomes all the more necessary to look to God, to pray, to be reminded of God’s faithfulness and that we’re not the only ones to go through such times of discouragement or apparent darkness.
The prophet Elijah became so afraid when his life was under threat and he thought he was the only man of faith left that he ran away in despair and cried out to God, “Take my life Lord!”
The people of Israel despaired when they were taken captive and exiled by the Babylonians and when their captors mocked them and told them to sing their songs of worship now they proclaimed (as we have it in Psalm 137): “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion….How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” For them the presence of the Lord was in the place of the Temple and they were removed from his presence. (Though the prophet Ezekiel found out otherwise when he, one of the exiles, was by the river Chebar and the Lord appeared to him in glory and gave him a word to speak to his disobedient people whether they would listen or not). The Lord was still there!
The disciple Peter was so afraid when he observed the trial of Jesus that he denied knowing him and wept with despair and disappointment at his own lack of courage in the face of persecution.
The writers of the Psalms, the poems and songs of God’s people Israel, often called out “Where are you Lord? How long O Lord must I wait for you?”
After Jesus had died and though he was even then raised from the dead, his disciples locked themselves away in a room because they were afraid of the Jews and it was into that locked room that Jesus appeared among them and spoke out “Peace be with you”. What did they most need in that room of anxiety and fear – the peace that God brings, the peace that Paul described as “beyond understanding” in his letter to the Ephesian Christians later on – peace of mind and heart not due to our circumstances but despite them.
We might not, like Elijah, face the threat of an evil queen like Jezebel trying to kill us for opposing her anti-God regime. We might not face violent persecution for being associated with Jesus like Peter and the early disciples did, though many do face that around the world today. We may not, like the greatest Psalmist King David, face enemy armies fighting the people of God. We may not experience being a minority faith in a society hostile to Christ as the disciples did in the days before they saw the joy of the resurrection of Jesus, though sometimes it seems our society is becoming more hostile to Christianity; we may not be sent into exile to hide away because of our faith; and yet we all face times of discouragement, fear, disempowerment and disillisionment. Do you see that God’s people have faced worse than I pray we will ever face and have come through with a faith like gold that’s been tested as through fire!

Because always God was there! Sometimes they didn’t realise it in the midst of the storm, sometimes their sinfulness and unwillingness to live God-honouring lives closed their ears and eyes to God, sometimes they had to wait and trust, but God in various ways reveals his presence and gives his peace in all of these situations.
It might be that facing the loss and pain of bereavement, worries for family members, concern about money and meeting the demands and needs of each day, sadness at being alone or living with difficult relationships, problems at work or being unable to find work, insecurity around issues of settling in another country, fears about your health or any number of other concerns and burdens cause you to feel that sense of discouragement or lack of peace.

And in the church too we can face concerns: As a church we have costs as you’d expect of any big family with a big home to keep and heat and light and maintain. Our Parish has a Parish Share (that is our allocation from the deanery towards the costs of our clergy, housing, and the training of new ministers) of £... for this year. If we actually gave a parish Share that reflected the number of stipendiary clergy in our Parish the cost to the Team would be a huge amount more than that. And of course we also put money into our mission and ministry here as well – all of this pay out is for God and to God – part of our commitment of discipleship, to enable there to be a church in this place to glorify and serve him. Meeting the costs of being church here and not just meeting them but we pray beyond that – and seeing an abundance that lets us be creative and imaginative and generous is something that I ask you to keep as a focus for your prayers through the coming year. This is one of the things of life that can give the vicar a distinct lack of peace, but in this we’ll pray for God’s abundant blessing to be demonstrated through us and that we will be like Barnabas who generously sold a field and placed the value of it at the disciples’ feet as his offering (none of us may have a field to sell but I pray we’ll think and pray afresh and bring what God prompts us to bring to set before him even if that offering seems so small to us – together we will provide the abundance and God will bless it!).

But where is all this leading then? What we find is that into the midst of our lives – both the holiness and the messyness of them, God has a promise and that promise is that he will pour out his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Comforter, the one who comes alongside to help, the bringer of peace, the encourager.

Just as the risen Jesus came and stood among his disciples and said “Peace be with you” so God’s promise to us is that now Jesus has ascended to heaven his Spirit is being poured out for all people who call on the name of the Lord and they will be saved. We might not always be saved from the calamities of life but he will be alongside us in them, sometimes he will even transform them; but we will be saved from the sin that separates us from God, forgiven and made new. And in that newness we’ll receive life that stretches beyond death and into God’s presence – the hope of what’s still to come, we’ll receive purpose and meaning for life and we’ll receive an equipping and empowering to be part of God’s transforming mission on earth – right where we are.

That was the Holy Spirit, the gift, that God told those early disciples to wait for and the gift that we see poured out on the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate today with a prayer once again that God will pour out his Spirit on us as individual people and as his church.

Why did God pour out his Spirit on those first, waiting, disciples?
Why does God pour out his Spirit on us, the disciples of today?
The reasons and benefits are numerous and we find them contained in the two readings we’ve heard today…

1. So they could hear God. People from many nations were gathered together and when the Spirit was poured out they each heard the message of Jesus, spoken by the disciples, in their own language. God wants people to hear and understand and sometimes he even gives a gift of ‘tongues’ that the speaker does not understand but the hearer does.

2. So that they might call on the name of the Lord and be saved. Peter, as he spoke to the crowd, quoted the words of the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…” And the result of these outpourings (in prophecies, visions and dreams) would be that people would come to God and be saved.

3. So that they would know the Father. God pours out his Spirit so that we can know him, and know him through Jesus – the one who came to show us the Father and break the barrier of sin and death that stands between us and God. The Spirit helps us to believe and understand the things of God and to know that we are his children.

4. So that they might do the works of Christ and glorify the Father. Our faith is not just a matter of belief in Christ but a matter of action too. Jesus sent out his first disciples to do the things they’d seen him doing – empowered by the Holy Spirit – healing the sick, breaking the powers that bound them, proclaiming the good news of God. None of those things can be done in our own strength but only by God at work through us with the outcome that people are blessed and God receives the glory!

5. So that they might keep his commandments. Jesus summarised all the law of God in two commandments: to love the Lord your God, with heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself; but he also taught them to be prayerful, always calling on the Father, to baptise, to teach what he had taught them, to make disciples and to love and serve one another. It is the Holy Spirit poured out that enables us to keep these commandments.

6. So that they would receive peace from God and not be afraid. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
And here we come back to where God meets us in the very real things of our day-to-day lives that I spoke of before. The Spirit is poured out so that we can know God with us – encouraging, comforting, envisioning, helping and empowering us to live for Christ and be at peace with God.

And how amazing it is to see the fruit of the Spirit at work in us and among us – not only in growing in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, but the Spirit is at work when people of different cultures and traditions can stand side by side around God’s table and receive bread and wine, the gifts of God’s presence, together; the Spirit is at work when forgiveness takes the place of bitterness and thoughts of revenge from past and present hurts; the Spirit is at work when great doubts are gradually replaced by growing seeds of faith and hope; the Spirit is at work when acts of love and service are visible in a society of indifference to all but those we call our own; the Spirit is at work when God’s mission of bringing strength to the weak, healing for the sick, binding up the broken and seeking out the lost from God is shared by his people; the Spirit is at work when God is honoured in our words, our actions, our choices and our lives.

COME HOLY SPIRIT!
Amen.

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12 Comments:

At May 23, 2010 4:31 am, Blogger Purple said...

Blessings as you preach. I left a note in the comments over at my place about "Old Turtle".

 
At May 23, 2010 9:01 am, Blogger liz said...

Thanks, you've certainly helped my thoughts along. And I appreciated your childrens idea at revgals. Blessings on the preaching.

 
At May 23, 2010 9:48 pm, Blogger Rev Nancy Fitz said...

How did it preach? It reads well, thanks.

 
At May 29, 2010 11:12 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is No God. Sorry :(, but cheer up - there's still good people, and all the wonders of Nature and Life and Art and Music.

 
At May 30, 2010 1:13 am, Blogger Chelley said...

Thanks Nancy. It seemed to preach well and unusually for where I am there were comments of a positive/sermon was helpful kind.

Anonymous... Thanks for commenting and for sharing your view that there's no God. I'm certainly delighted and thankful that there are indeed good people and all the wonders of nature and life and art and music but am happy to continue in my conclusion that the inspiration behind them is a being of love, creativity and wonder!

 
At May 31, 2010 7:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conclusion or Delusion? I'm sure it helps you, and I'm certainly not here to cause anyone any distress, but I cant help thinking that you just haven't thought about it, or investigated it, enough. I stand here, as an Atheist, living proof of your Gods Non-Existence(outside of your mind). Hello :)

 
At June 10, 2010 12:43 am, Blogger Chelley said...

Hi Anon,
Well that's a lot of conclusions that you've jumped to there yourself ;-) - that you standing here as an Atheist is proof that God doesn't exist except in my mind - that argument could as easily be reversed. And as for assuming I haven't thought about or investigated faith/God then I don't know what brings you to that assumption but it's far from true. Still, welcome to this Teapot - perhaps there are some other non-God aspects of my ramble that you may have found more interesting (I won't take that as read though, 'ramble' is certainly the word for some of it!)

 
At June 18, 2010 2:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: the reversal argument. Does (your)God know my heart and mind? Does he want me to believe in him?

And re: your investigations - can you give me an idea of what you've read/looked into? Philosophical questions? History? Natural vs Supernatural explanations?

I'm a sucker for a good conversation :)

Oh - I couldn't see much in the way of 'non-God' aspects of your post. When I do good, it feels good. Is that 'The Spirit', working in me?

 
At July 04, 2010 9:52 am, Blogger banksie said...

I check daily hoping to see a reply, or a new post. I'm full of hope today 'cos its Sunday, although i don't know if that's your day off or day on :) If you don't want or aren't able to have a conversation / discussion that's cool - just let me know and i'll find someone else to play with :)

 
At July 07, 2010 8:33 am, Blogger Chelley said...

Hi Banksie, apologies for the long gaps in replies - I don't check in as often as I have done in the past, but it's nice to see your comments (there're also very long gaps between posts these days too, but it's nice to know someone's reading!). Oh dear, two 'nices' there - when I was at primary school we were taught by our headmaster that 'nice' was a disallowed adjective and to find another word!
When I mentioned other non-God aspects of my ramble I meant on the blog as a whole rather than in that particular post - other content has reflected my love of life generally... as expressed in posts about Spurs (beloved football team in case you're not from the UK!), my daft cat, Liverpool Street station, bollards (!) etc. Not that I'm thinking any of those subjects would hold any particular interest for you but they're a reflection that I do agree that there are "wonders of Nature and Life and Art and Music" - or in my case perhaps nothing so profound but enjoyable all the same! Of course there are also posts about God but this blog has never claimed to be a serious space for debating Christianity/faith (Just see the tagline at the top of the blog!) but that just comes through as the lense through which I look at the world. But I love a good conversation too!
I will post a proper reply to your last comment but am first going to post something about 'Doctor Who' as I've got a bit of time on day off today!

 
At July 07, 2010 8:51 am, Blogger banksie said...

That's why i dropped my comments here initially, because you have a friendly conversational tone and seem like a 'normal' person ( mild offence intended :D ). I'm an atheist who loves theology/philosophy/religious studies as a kind of hobby and real bible believing scripture quoting holy spirit moves me Christians like yourself *fascinate* me. I hope we can learn something from each other about our world views and why we have them etc. I will tell you more about me and how i arrived here as our conversation grows. . .

 
At July 07, 2010 9:59 am, Blogger Chelley said...

I have tried to be 'mildly offended' but I'm afraid it didn't work! :D
I did have to smile at the image that popped into my mind of God being on the shelf of a 'hobbycraft' shop though... I believe there are such things anyway... being a non-creative sort I am trusting the testimony of others that suggests there are shops that sell creative, hobby-type stuff for people with more patience than me.
I'm now going to attempt to create a post for random conversational stuff and stick it in the side bar (under the not very frequently asked questions one)... though I haven't done anything as clever as that for ages so it might take a while!

 

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