This is the text of the message I preached at Delamere Uniting Church on Sunday 15th May 2016. It was my first preaching engagement in the South-West Fleurieu Linked Congregations (Uniting Church), my new home.
Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, John 14: 8-17, 25-27, (Acts 2:1-21), Romans 8:14-17
The invitation to speak to you today has put me in two minds.
On the one hand I’m kinda disappointed to be preaching on this particular day because this is my first Pentecost in this new-to-me linked congregations setting. As a newbie I’d rather have been down amongst you and listening to one of your regular preachers so that I might hear the South-West Fleurieu take on this great festival of the Church. I’d love to know what you people in this place think about this day, but I won’t hear that from up here. You’ll have to come and talk with me afterwards over coffee.
On the other hand this was, until today, the last of the great Christian festivals for which I had never preached. I have “done” Christmas Day, and I have “done” Good Friday. I have even “done” Anzac and Remembrance Days in the community at the cenotaphs and in church where those dates have fallen on a Sunday. I have “done” Christ the King and various services in both Lent and Advent. I have “done” Trinity Sunday, and I have even “done” the necessarily midweek Ascension at a chapel and coffee morning. But I had never, until today, “done” Pentecost. So that’s exciting for me, my first ever Whitsun.
But this in itself raises a question. I wonder how you as a people in this region usually “do” Pentecost, and whether Pentecost is a day which is “done” at all. Maybe that’s two questions, one to meet each of my two minds.
Well, let’s look at the readings requested by the Lectionary and see what the Uniting Church is telling us that the Bible says about this day.
Our first reading, from Old Testament Law, comes to us from Genesis 11:1-9, and it tells us the story of the Tower of Babel. So at a specific point in time between Noah and Abraham God confused the languages of the world, but at a specific point in time between Jesus and Paul God made the gospel intelligible to all through the miracle of Pentecostal utterance. So the focus of Pentecost is somewhat directed towards the unifying power of God’s word as God speaks prophetically to all humankind. (If you’re making notes that’s point one.)
Today’s Psalm comes from 104:24-34, 35b, and it tells us of the magnificence of God the creator and of how all of creation praises God exuberantly. God is wondrous and nothing and no one must be allowed to distract us from worshipping and glorifying our sovereign maker. So the focus of Pentecost is somewhat directed towards the unifying power of God’s world as we respond to God in worship-filled adoration which speaks prophetically to all humankind. (Point two.)
Today’s gospel reading comes from John 14: 8-17, 25-27 and the evangelist and apostle tells us of Jesus speaking to his friends on the night of his arrest. Jesus tells the eleven plainly that he and The Father are one and that because they have received Jesus in the Father’s name so they will be given the Spirit by the Father: the three who are also indisputably one in all things has been fully revealed to humankind in what is about to take place, the death of the Messiah and the procession of the Spirit. So the focus of Pentecost is somewhat directed towards the unity of Godself in trinity and in activity. (Point three, and hopefully you’ll hear more of that next week on Trinity Sunday.)
Today’s epistle is that of Paul to the Romans and specifically 8:14-17 where Paul writes about the way in which the Spirit directs and accompanies those who love the Father and who speak of God in the way that Jesus spoke of God. If you have the intimacy with God that Jesus opened the way for, and you believe that you can call God “Abba, Father”, then you are making a statement to the whole world. So the focus of Pentecost is somewhat directed towards the unity of God and the Church in proclaiming the eternal story of liberty and love to every human who has ever and shall ever live. (Point four.)
Wow, and you thought today was just about wearing red to church, having someone recite John 3:16 in French and another one in Sinhalese, and singing songs about fire and wind. Actually I have been here long enough to know that you thought far more of Pentecost day than just that, but wow, don’t those four readings make it sound just so very big?
Well I think so anyway!
Pentecost means that God is the master of language and communication, that God is the master of creation and order, that God is the master of relationships and community, and that God is the master of expressive love and emancipation. Well, that’s what the Uniting Church would have us believe that the Bible says to us today, anyway.
And after that, finally, we get to our key-note reading in Acts 2:1-21 and the story of the Spirit’s decent upon a room full of expectant believers in the message and person of Jesus Christ and their, and in particular Peter’s, proclamation of God’s mastery.
That’s a lot to take in, especially at nine o’clock in the morning on a Sunday.
So what do we do with all of this?
We do what Paul, Peter, (Luke), the Psalmist, the writers of Genesis, and especially what Jesus did. In the powerful equipping of the Holy Spirit we (one) receive what we have been given and we (two) tell the world the story of our magnificent and masterful God.
Make no mistake, while Pentecost Day did birth the Church in fire, wind, power, and proclamation it was never intended by God that this day become simply a day of obligation along with the other festivals of what would become Christianity. Pentecost day in whatever year it was, let’s say AD 30, was a day among many days when God released heaven’s supremacy upon God’s chosen people to proclaim the story of that authority-giving God. It was more than miraculous clout in terms of the power of the Holy Spirit which had flowed so freely through Jesus flowing through the apostles and disciples of Jesus. It was that this power was given to them for the same purpose that it was given to Jesus. It is that this power is given to us for that same purpose. Not that we become Charismatic (with big or little c), or Pentecostal (with big or little p), not that we wear red shirts or wave orange streamers one Sunday a year, not that we use our multicultural congregants to read scripture in their native tongue, but that we proclaim God.
We are all, Church, empowered by the Spirit for one sovereign purpose: to magnify the majesty of God and to glorify God in telling the whole world of God’s mastery over all of creation. That is one thing, not two, to worship and witness.
That is what Jesus spent his whole life doing, glorifying God in obedience and prayer and telling anyone who would listen (and everyone who wouldn’t) that God loves them and wants them in the Father’s own care.
This is what Peter preached, and I believe that it was the message of the other 119 on the day who weren’t speaking Hebrew. “God is magnificently gracious,” Peter says, “and Jesus came to tell you that. You killed him, but God vindicated Jesus and his message by raising him from the dead, and now we are here to tell you the same thing.”
This is what Paul wrote, to many different groups of Christians across what are now Turkey, Greece, and Italy, with all of the cultural significance that such an audience would suggest. He also went to many of those places and spoke in person too, no doubt in Hebrew and Greek as the need arose.
This, then, is what Pentecost means for us. God is almighty and loves us with all of that might. Jesus is the embodiment of God on earth and his gracious behaviour and fervent resistance for all that would get in the way of a person’s responding to God in sheer gratitude is the exact shape of what God is like. (Jesus hated sin, and Jesus hated hypocrisy. We believe that God has those same hatreds.) The Spirit is more than a rush of blood to the head but is the power and the presence of God amongst, amidst, and beyond the Church as she engages in mission.
God loves you. God loves the world. God wants you get out there and tell the world about how much God loves it. I really, really hope that I would have heard that today if one of you was up here right now and I’d have been sitting down there.