Toorak Uniting Church

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Pentecost

Acts 2
Rev. Ian Brown
15 May 2005

So there were two drunks in a bar and one says to the other, gee, how did we get into a sermon about Pentecost?
Well it happens like this;
The crowds in Jerusalem saw the evidence of this mysterious Spirit of God at work in the first Christians and they said, "these men are under the influence."
And they were exactly right!
But this was nothing to do with inebreants in a pub, It was nothing to do with the consumption of mind altering substances. No, these new Christians were under the influence, but just what it was that they were effected by was not so clear.

How do you explain that sort of experience that is mysterious, mind blowing and spirit energizing?

Luke, who wrote the story we heard, tries to describe Pentecost as coming like tongues of fire that doesn't destroy and like a powerful wind that causes no damage, the movement of the Spirit is as mysterious as a fire that doesn't burn. Strange, awesome, puzzling!

Peter, the apostle in the story tried to explain the effect of the Spirit's presence to the crowds in Jerusalem. To do this he quotes the writing of the Old Testament prophet, Joel,

"In the last days it will be, declares God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh"

Now this is quite some statement to make! God’s spirit to be given to all, uncontrolled, indiscriminate, unprecedented.

I’m sure that if our apostle and reformer ancestors in the faith could see some of the gimmicky things we do to mark Pentecost in the church today, they would be appalled! God’s very life giving breath, the Holy, awesome Spirit of the living God is given to humanity and we do things like wear red clothing, wave red streamers or fly red balloons!
What are we thinking for God’s sake?!

Pentecost is not about wearing a red ribbon to show our sympathy with a cause – Pentecost is about being so under the influence, so inspired by the Spirit of, so energized and renewed and driven by the very essence of God, that others are amazed, perhaps even attracted to this new way of being.

To really celebrate Pentecost is to affirm that God is loose and at work in the world and in us in a new way.
This is not to say that God has done everything for us, of course we still need to respond to God, but God's presence, that spirit of Jesus, is at work in and around us, with us and often, despite us.
The Spirit has been poured out, God is at work in and around us.
Some images might help to explain what I mean.
I have had a little kite flying experience,
Those who came to the last church picnic here might remember me trying to get a number of kites up.
It was a lovely day – just not more than the faintest breath of wind. You need wind!
I do know that with all the wind in the world, having a kite and string is not enough to make it go. There’s no key to turn, no buttons to push! You have to learn and prepare. You have to get the kite to catch the wind and then let out the string - then if the whole thing doesn’t fall flat, off you go!
The power is there - but to make use of it you have to have the gear and some knowledge. The Spirit is there, like the wind, says the bible.

Or perhaps if we think of fire as a metaphor for the Spirit. Think of a blistering hot north wind day at the height of summer and picture the effect of a small flame lighting the tinder dry bush. Whooosh, and away it goes, powerful, uncontrollable, all consuming.

Or think red and its association with revolution, with bloodshed, anger, heat of emotion, red of the fight, red of a burn.

These images suggest Pentecost is not an event to be wished for lightly! This wind of the Spirit "blows where it will" as Jesus said.

So how does it work with the power of the Holy Spirit?

And should it to be left alone as too dangerous?

My hint for working out such a conundrum is always to look at the real effects of the phenomena first.

The first effect of the Spirit in this story from Acts 2 is that the disciples began to speak in other languages, which people from other parts could understand and both the medium and the message bore witness to God's power.

Now have you ever wondered why was the ability to communicate with foreigners so significant?

The Medes, the Elamites, the Parthisans and all those others named; they could all understand this good news in their own language!
Why not a great show of strength, miracles to make people believe in God?
The point is, that this effect is consistent with the nature of the gospel. God's authentic Spirit opens up channels of communication between people who otherwise wouldn’t understand each other.
The working of God's authentic Spirit breaks down the walls that divide people.

The power of the Holy Spirit then, never forces us to act or even to believe, just opens the way. Pentecost is known as the birthday of the Church because the coming of the Spirit is what brings us together, people from all ages, from different backgrounds, races and social standing in to the one fellowship of the church, breaking down the barriers and opening the way for us.

Pentecost is not a festival of red, it is not a celebration of wind or fire! Not even of a dangerous power of God, let loose in the mortal world.
These might be useful as signs, but only as they serve in pointing us to a mysterious reality – a reality that we dare to name the very Spirit of God, shown and made real in Christ Jesus.

And not just an abstract reality or a historical reality;
Pentecost is a reminder that the breath of God, the very same Spirit that was in Christ Jesus is the engine driving the church, it is the dynamic behind apostles and reformers. The Holy Spirit is the same energy as that which inspired and enabled Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu, the missionaries that went from here to Korea, the same that called you and me to be Jesus followers, the same energy and spirit that directs our work and outreach in the community today – in the John Macrae Centre, through Uniting Arts, and so on.
We are a Pentecost people, a people under the influence!

The Holy Spirit we celebrate today is the Spirit of Jesus who gave himself in love for us, the Spirit who makes us into a community of faith the spirit who is present to all and invites us to be under the influence of that same wind of the Holy Spirit. May God give us grace to be open to receive as we are given, to go and to do as we are led. Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005


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