Here is my script for the BBC Radio Devon Sunday Morning Service that will go out on Pentecost Sunday (sadly the iPlayer begins after my hilarious reference to G. K. Chesterton and dead dogs)!:
Pentecost is a most wonderful and vital part of the history and life of the Church.
In fact, the Church comes into existence only by receiving the creative life of the Holy Spirit of God.
We remember it as a past event, and without its continued present reality, the Church would cease to exist.
Although G. K. Chesterton humorously observed that, “At least five times [Christianity] has to all appearances gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died.”
Pentecost is a Greek word that means fiftieth, and is celebrated 50 days (7 weeks) after Easter Day. This covers the period between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish ‘Festival of Weeks’ (the second most important Jewish festival) – a momentous celebration for the Jews celebrating the redemption from Egypt on the 50th day after Passover.
Just as the Jewish festival coincided with the end of the reaping season, for Christians, the work of Christ’s resurrection was completed when the disciples were made members of the Lord’s Risen Body when the Holy Spirit fell on them.
Let us read the account of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13
2 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Jesus spoke much about the Holy Spirit coming to the world.
The NT reveals two distinct ways the Holy Spirit is given to the apostles:
- In the Gospel of John, during the Last Supper, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon his 12 disciples with an Apostolic mandate: The forgiveness of sins.
- The second one is of course from Acts 2 with a worldwide, world-changing mandate: The offer of God’s salvation and forgiveness exclusively through His Son, Jesus, the Messiah.
And it is in these Pentecostal events that the Church is born, into a Mission that God wants the human race back from the clutches of sin, alienation, death and brokenness.
And so the Holy Spirit, is the promise of Jesus and the Father to be with His people until he returns. All this is seen in the life and mission of the Church.
For no one person is saved only to exist in isolation of God’s wider salvation plan because the Holy Spirit makes missionaries of us all.
We don’t merely make room for God. As one URC minister put it,
“Making room for God in your life is like making room for cold in your fridge.”
In this way, the Holy Spirit fills the visible, worldwide Church,
acting in the preaching and sacramental life of her members;
sanctifying them by works of love, in church and world;
and leading them into the fullness of truth.
Here are two examples:
- From the Bible: Following the debacle of the Golden Calf at the foot of Mt Sinai (Ex. 32-33), the rescued Israelites were under the fury of Moses.
And even God threatened to abandon his Plan A with the Israelites, and start Plan B with Moses. But Moses prays for his people.
So God makes him a promise:
“My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses responded:
“If your presence will not go with us, do not send us from here.”
For Moses, God’s empowering presence, His Holy Spirit, must go with his people.
Moses knew that the fakers and the fraudsters can keep their religious games – he wanted God or nothing.
Because, as Catholic Bishop Robert Barron says, “God knows that bad worship (idolatry) hurts us.”
- From History: Jason Goroncy has collected the sermons of the great 19th/early 20th c. Congregationalist preacher and scholar Peter Taylor Forsyth.
The book is Pentecostally entitled:
‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’.
In other words, P. T. Forsyth knew that unless God came to us and interrupted, or intervened in our lives, we are wholly lost to the forces of sin and chaos.
Forsyth himself would say in one of his sermons, the best shortest definition of what Pentecost means,
“Unless there is within us
that which is above us,
we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”
This is precisely what the ancient Israelites did in yielding to the idolatry all around them that so enraged Moses and God; It is our present day danger too: Christianity w/out the Holy Spirit isn’t Christianity. God must go with us. Pentecost tells us He does
Although there will never again be a Pentecost event as described in Acts 2, the experience of Pentecost can and must be repeated in the experience of all who would become disciples of Jesus.
In the breathing of the Holy Spirit at the Last Supper, or in the Holy Spirit coming as rushing wind and holy fire in Acts, the experience is communal:
Individuals are filled by the Holy Spirit in community with each other.
One of the ironies of the book of the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ being named as such in the New Testament, is that it really should be named ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’.
The Holy Spirit is active and creative on every page of Luke’s account of the spread of the Church from Jerusalem to Rome.
And in this NT book, a key theme concerns God and the community (the church), and the rejection, as someone has said, of “the individualistic self-preoccupation that often passes itself off as spirituality.”
Many people in our society who do not go as far as describing themselves as “atheist” or “Christian” are increasingly content to refer to themselves as “spiritual.”
The Israelites were being “spiritual” with the Golden Calf, but Moses wanted God.
Jesus knew that if fallen, fragile and fallible people were to proclaim His Good News of salvation, the Holy Spirit has to empower and indwell them.
I recently heard of a Church Warden saying of his new Priest: “She’s alright I suppose, but the problem is that she believes in all that Bible stuff!”
This is an example of religionless Christianity!
No. God must descend to us, and He must intervene for us, otherwise it is only a big religious game that we play!
Pentecost is the fulfilment of the promise that God has done it, and does do it still. “God works in and through history.” He is truly ‘God with us’ – which is why Julian of Norwich would say, “God is nearer to us than our own souls.”
Here’s some more from Acts 2
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on 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 on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus,[b]delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
The ancient 8th c. BC prophecy of Joel is fulfilled and being fulfilled.
The love of God is seen in Jesus; not just dying on the Cross and rising from the grave, but in being poured out – on all flesh – without distinction – to those who call upon His holy and mighty name.