Sermon at St Mary Hadlow – Pentecost – HC(CWO1) – 24 May 15
NT: Acts 2 vv 1 – 21 – The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s explanation.
Gospel: John 15 vv 26, 27 and 16 vv 4b – 15
Theme: The Holy Spirit comes to the Church
- Introduction. You are sitting here this morning because of a chain of events of which that recorded in our first reading this morning is a vital link. You may feel that the event of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as recorded in Acts Chapter 2 is outside your comfort zone, being alien to your personal experience. Let’s though not underestimate its significance. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the birth of the Church and individually, that rebirth of the personality about which Jesus spoke to the Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus. What a contrast though to our Gospel reading in which Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to his disciples. God is a God of surprises. Who could have predicted such a fulfilment of Jesus’ words? This is the third time in four years that I have had the privilege of preaching on Pentecost Sunday. On the two previous occasions I have focussed on the Acts 2 reading, which is an invariable reading, whether we are in year A, B or C of the lectionary, whereas the Gospel reading varies year by year. Today therefore I am going to concentrate on the Gospel reading. You will find this on p118 of New Testament in the Church Bibles. We find four activities of the Holy Spirit given in Jesus’ teaching. The Holy Spirit will testify, will prove, will guide and will glorify.
- Testimony. In Chapter 15 verse 26, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will testify on his behalf, and then in verse 27, that the disciples also are to testify or in some translations, ‘bear witness of me’, ‘because you have been with me from the beginning’. The picture is very much that of the court room. Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as ‘The Advocate’. Isn’t this what was happening on the day of Pentecost. Firstly, in Peter’s explanation in defence of what was happening. This isn’t something that he would naturally have done when he was accompanying Jesus before Jesus’ death. The Holy Spirit was giving Peter insight in relating the Old Testament Scriptures, especially the prophecy of Joel and then later on in his speech, the Psalms. The Holy Spirit was giving him courage to speak out in the very city where not long before he had denied that he even knew Jesus. Then all the rest of the 12 apostles and perhaps a number of the 120 disciples that we read of in Acts 1 were testifying of the greatness of God, praising God as they were inspired by the Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles is full of this giving witness to the risen Jesus. The book might well be called, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. Not many of us are evangelists but we can all testify to what God has done and is doing for us. Peter says in his Epistle, “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with reverence and gentleness” (1 Peter 3 v 15). Has anyone asked you, ‘What makes you tick?’ ‘Why do you take the trouble to do what you do?’ Let us not be fearful of mentioning our Christian motivation, put forward sensitively and gently. The Holy Spirit will enable you to give a helpful testimony.
- Prove. Secondly Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will “prove the world wrong”, Chapter 16 v 8. Why? He goes on to speak of the world being wrong about sin, righteousness and judgement. The verse can equally well be translated “He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin etc” For example, ‘of sin because they do not believe in me.’ Again isn’t this what is going on during Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Peter doesn’t pull his punches when he speaks to the devout Jews who had travelled from countries around the Mediterranean to be in Jerusalem for Passover and had stayed the 6 weeks for Pentecost, people who had been in that crowd crying, “Crucify him, crucify him”. Peter says to them, “This man handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed”. The Holy Spirit brought a strong conviction into the hearts of these people who had been misled and cajoled by the authorities to ask Pilate to release Barabbas rather than Jesus. 3000 people that day came to faith in Christ. The situation with us is very different, but perhaps the Church in England is too timid in failing to challenge people about the sin of unbelief. You cannot expect to be experiencing the fruits of the spirit of love, joy and peace whilst at the same time cheating the tax man or being unfaithful to your wife or husband. The sin of individual members of the Church hinders the witness of the Church as a whole.(pause)
- Guide. Thirdly, in 16 v 12, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as ‘The Spirit of truth’ and says that “He will guide you into all truth”. I see this as one of the aspects of the Pentecost experience. The Holy Spirit is guiding Peter into an understanding and explanation of the strange event. Even more so, one sees the Holy Spirit guiding Peter, the apostles, the deacons and others throughout the Acts of the Apostles.
Two weeks ago we had the reading of part of Acts 10 which includes Peter’s vision of the clean and unclean animals leading to the conversion and baptism of the Centurion Cornelius and his household. I am amazed at how quickly the early Church accepted Gentiles fully into the Christian Church, including minimal observance of the Jewish law, as decided in the council of Jerusalem. It has taken us 2000 years to accept women priests and bishops in the Church! The Holy Spirit is still available to us corporately to guide the Church and individually as Christians to discern God’s will for our lives.
- Glory. Fourthly and finally in 16 verse 14, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit glorifying Jesus himself. On the day of Pentecost it was the Holy Spirit who enabled the disciples to speak in tongues and praise the works of God, the wonders of God. Much of this must have related to the life, ministry death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It is still the work of the Holy Spirit to enable our praise whether it be in exuberant Pentecostal style worship, the more staid and ordered Anglican worship or in private prayer.
- Conclusion. God is a God of surprises but I hope we can see that the events of the birth of the Church in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are entirely consistent with the more matter-of-fact teaching of Jesus. Let us as a church and as individuals be open to the God of surprises, open to the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to testify about our risen and ascended Lord, open to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit where we have strayed from Jesus’ teaching and the teaching of Scripture generally, open to the Spirit’s guidance so that we may be willing to adventure out of our comfort zone in God’s service and throughout it all, to worship God in a true spirit of worship and praise.
We will now have a short time of quiet reflection whilst Michael plays the tune of ‘Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me’. At the end of this reflection if anyone has a strong feeling that God is saying something to him or her, that is for the whole congregation then I will invite you to come and share that with us.