Pentecost – Rev’d Christopher Miles

Sermon at St Mary Hadlow –Pentecost – Gifts of the Spirit – 8th June 2014

Acts 2 vv 1 – 21 – The giving of the Spirit with Peter’s initial explanation

John 7 vv 37 – 39 – Come to Jesus the living water the source of the Spirit

Theme – The gifts of the Spirit

Text Acts 2 v 4 – “All of them (the apostles) were filled with the Holy Spirit.”

1.      Introduction. In last Sunday’s sermon Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit might be visiting Canterbury.   This Sunday we are considering the Holy Spirit visiting Jerusalem, when “All of the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit.” It is rumoured that The Holy Spirit might even also be visiting Tonbridge and the surrounding villages.

I am sure that most of you are fairly familiar with the reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounting the event of the birthday of the Church on the Jewish festival of Firstfruits, on the day of Pentecost. But what does it convey to you?   Do you regard it as a dramatic event, appropriate for the launching of the Church but not really of much significance for the Church today, at least not for the Church of England? Or perhaps you say to yourself, ‘Wow it would be quite something especially if every Sunday were like that, with 3000 people being added to the Church’.   I plan this morning to look at the nature of the event including some explanations of the event, the theological significance of the event and finally the gifts of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the Church today.

 

  1. The nature of the event.
  • Drunk.        Some of the crowd were saying that the apostles were drunk.   Perhaps this was a natural explanation. Maybe initially in the excitement of the event, several apostles were speaking together and it wasn’t easy to make out what was being said. People often say all sorts of things, some of which they regret, when they are under the influence of alcohol.   Peter counters this by saying that it is only 9 o’clock in the morning and therefore their explanation is not very plausible.
  • Peter’s explanation.        Peter explains the event as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, in particular the prophecy of Joel about the outpouring of the Spirit. In the Old Testament period the gift of the Spirit was seen as being quite limited and that, mainly to the prophets, but Joel looked forward, following the judgement of God on his people, to a renewal of the nation when the Spirit would be given to young and old, to men and women. It seems surprising that in the light of the beginning, the Firstfruits, of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel 2000 years ago we are only now allowing women to enter fully into the ministry and leadership for which the Holy Spirit has been waiting to equip them. Peter can equate the speaking in tongues as prophesy because the apostles were proclaiming the wonders of God. (paragraph at the end omitted in actual sermon)
  • A modern explanation.    In our age with a rather different mode of thought, some people will look for a more scientific explanation of what was going on.

If that is the case with you, then let me offer a possible explanation. The Pentecostal phenomenon of tongues of fire may have been some form of electrostatic phenomenon of a similar nature to ball lightning, that is, a form of quite gentle plasma of electrical charge.   The charge would have been visible, not with the high temperature white and yellow flash of ordinary lightning, but a low temperature bluish light like Elmo’s fire.   Ball lightning can be accompanied by a small wind but also by some crackling of the electric charge. The two effects together might well be described as ‘a sound like that of a mighty rushing wind’. The effect on the apostles was a mild form of electrotherapy, releasing them from their fears following Jesus’ death and their inhibitions, stimulating their subconscious into the expression of praise in the language of their hearers. This explanation does not detract from the divine origin. Peter’s explanation and this modern explanation are complementary.

 

  1. Theological significance.        Now let us go on from Peter’s explanation to consider two other theological aspects of the Pentecostal experience.
  • Wind and Spirit.         Firstly there is a close accord between wind and spirit in both the OT and the NT.   In the OT the Hebrew word ‘ruach’ means both wind and spirit. Similarly in the NT, the Greek work ‘pneuma’ means both wind and spirit.   Although other symbolism is associated with the Holy Spirit, such as a dove as at Jesus’ baptism and ‘water’ as in today’s Gospel, it was entirely appropriate for the event which resulted in the apostles being filled with the Spirit to be associated with both ‘fire’ and ‘wind’.
  • New birth.       Secondly and perhaps most importantly, the event of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.   For us, birthdays are important occasions and are often celebrated with candles, perhaps even fireworks; these are just annual remembrances. Should not the birth of the Church have been marked with a dramatic and unusual, not to say unique, event at the same time authenticating and equipping the apostles for their ministry, beginning with Peter’s highly effective sermon that same morning?
  • Babel.     Deleted from actual sermon

 

We see then on the birthday of the Church an era of fruitful co-operation in love is inaugurated in an outpouring of the Spirit of God.

 

  1. The gifts of the Spirit today.     What place is there then for the gifts of the Spirit in the life of the Church today?
  • Tongues.                  Firstly consider the gift of tongues.    On the day of Pentecost no interpretation was required.   Presumably, after an initial period of excitement, each apostle spoke, one at a time, in the native language of a particular group, such as those from Egypt.  There was no need for interpretation because immediately afterwards another apostle gave a similar message in the language of another group. Generally speaking though there is a need for someone to interpret what is said. The apostle Paul is very insistent on the need for interpretation when he writes to the Church at Corinth. The whole thrust of his 3 chapters on the subject is twofold. Firstly to limit the use of tongues and to focus rather on what builds up the spiritual life such as prophesy including good, clear understandable preaching in the Church and secondly to recognise love as the supreme gift of the spirit, rather than using the gift of tongues as some sort of ego trip. Let us not ignore the gift of tongues which can, perhaps more in smaller groups and in private prayer rather than in our Sunday morning worship, be encouraging and uplifting.
  • Other gifts.   In writing to the Church at Corinth, Paul emphasises other gifts of the Spirit such as messages of wisdom and knowledge, gifts of prophecy and healing and also what may seem very mundane, gifts of administration. He also there, and in his letter to the Ephesians, writes of the roles of people in the life of the Church, equipped by the Holy Spirit for their role and ministry – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Today people in all these roles and many others such as those who organise all the various rotas and organisations, need gifts of administration. How could a Church manage without all its rotas!
  • Gifts of craftsmanship   All the above may seem fairly familiar to you. However I am now going to introduce you to two people who may be quite unfamiliar to you – Bezalel and Oholiab. Have you come across them?   I invite you to turn to Exodus 35, page 88.   (Pause). In Exodus 35 verses 30 and 31 Moses says to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel and he has filled him with the divine spirit”. What sort of gifts has God given to Bezalel? “Skill, intelligence and knowledge in every kind of craft – to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting and in carving wood, in every kind of craft”. Then the narrative goes on to relate that God has appointed Oholiab to help him and they will be skilled in teaching others. Do you pray that God will inspire you in your practical activity day by day, whether it be knitting a jumper, cooking, repairing the car, your gardening, your professional paid work or your voluntary work?
  • Evangelism.      Last week the Archbishops of Canterbury and York gave a national call to prayer for evangelism.   Justin Welby said, “The task before us cannot be overestimated.   We could easily be disheartened. We cannot do it alone. But .. Alleluia! For we not thrown back on ourselves, but in, by and through the power of the Holy Spirit, God brings forth life”. John Sentamu said, “Let’s commit ourselves afresh to pray, for a new boldness, simplicity, wisdom and compassion for the proclamation of the Gospel”.   (Church Times 6 June 14 p 2)

 

  1. Conclusion.          Our God is a God of surprises. Be open to God to do a new thing in your life and the life of the Church.  Pray that God the Holy Spirit will guide you and inspire you so that all that you do may be done in his name and for his glory. We might even find that 3000 people are being added to the Church of England every week.   That would be one new person every month in every parish church. Quite achievable.   I conclude with a period of silent reflection and prayer followed by a prayer from Common Worship Morning Prayer for last week:

 

Silence

 

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people

and kindle in us the fire of your love.

 

All who are led by the Spirit of God

are children of God and fellow-heirs with Christ.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people

 

Renew the face of your creation, Lord,

pouring on us the gifts of your Spirit,

and kindle in us the fire of your love.

 

For the creation waits with eager longing

for the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people

and kindle in us the fire of your love.

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