Sermon: Pentecost Sunday 2017

 

Sermon preached at Cathays Methodist Church, Cardiff:

 

May I speak, and may we listen, in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

 

Today, the Church remembers that moment in the history of the Church when the disciples – gathered together, received the Holy Spirit.

A whirlwind of power – a day of excitement, confusion, panic, calm, new life and empowerment. Suddenly this thing that Jesus had told them he would send, this thing that Jesus told them was coming was finally here! And they knew it. It was obvious.

After all that time between Jesus being taken up into the clouds at the Ascension, when they were left waiting for the Holy Spirit – that Spirit, that gift that Jesus told them would come they knew not how or when….it had finally come. And once it had done, they knew that their lives would not be the same, that Jesus hadn’t forgotten them, that Christ hadn’t broken his promises – but most importantly that Jesus was still active in their midsts.

 

No longer were they orphans without a leader and teacher and friend but they were a people set ablaze by the Spirit of God…

This Spirit of fire,

This Spirit of wisdom,

This Spirit of knowledge, understanding and unity….

This Spirit which breaks down barriers of culture, of language, of religion, of class – suddenly all who were together in that place, which acts tells us were ‘from every nation under heaven’ though from different locations and of different languages were able to speak to and be understood by the other.

In Acts 2 verse 9 we get that amazing list: ‘Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 

It’s really no wonder that people began to think the disciples were drunk, acting like a crowd of fools – in a frenzy of excitement and speaking in tongues…looking and sounding as though they themselves were completely out of control.

 

And what had happened?

Well, a gift had been given to them – a gift had been given to the Church.

Not an object,

Not an item,

Not an idol to be worshipped,

Not even a set of laws,

But a new way of being – a new way of seeing – a new way of living in the world as Christ’s disciples.

The eyes of their hearts were opened – God was giving them the gift which would be even better than anything they had imagined.

They were made in that instant to set their sights back on something higher – to set their sights towards heaven – from which this new power had come.

And for all their drunken behavior, Peter does seem to get what’s going on.

Peter does seem to be able to make sense of it all.

Peter can interpret and understand what is and has just occurred, and he decides it would be a pretty good opportunity to preach the Gospel to the crowds, to challenge them in their assumptions, to give them an invitation….

No, we’re not drunk says Peter – and if you want to understand what this is all about you have to listen to the Prophet Joel…and he recites Joel’s words:

 

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

What Peter does is set the whole scene into a context of prophesy – that this occurrence is something which God has promised, and is now being fulfilled…no, it’s got nothing to do with new wine – but with prophesy, with visions, with dreams, with the coming of the Lord….and most importantly with salvation.

Peter faces the crowds with the reality of God, and God’s Holy Spirit – ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’.

And saved by that God who will pour out his Spirit on ALL flesh…

And your sons and your daughters, your young men and your old men, even slaves will be part of this…it is an outpouring of the power of God into the world.

So, Peter is saying ‘don’t think that all this is just for us…..it’s for you too’.

 

Now, we are gathered here this evening in Cathays – we’ve come to worship God, to be in fellowship with one another, to do the things we usually do in our worship. But have we come expecting, and longing for an encounter with God, and with Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit?

What might Peter say to us, this evening?

When you think of the kind of week we’ve had, and the past few weeks – with events in Manchester, and now in London last night and this morning….I wonder what St Peter might say?

 

You see, I think he’s onto something in quoting the Prophet Joel at Pentectost….and there’s something in that that we need to hear, and take seriously.

He says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh,

and our sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and our young men shall see visions,

and our old men shall dream dreams.

You know, the saddest thing about the state of our world today – is that most people have no vision, and most people have stopped dreaming.

 

Most of us,

the young the old,

the faithful and those outside the faith,

those in the West and those in the East,

we see no reason to dream, we have no vision, we are people who are so close to losing hope.

 

And I see it, and I hear it and I sense it far too often.

 

Every time we experience yet another act of terror, we immediately feel shaken to the core

  • We lose sight of our common humanity,
  • We become obsessed with difference,
  • We become experts on the motives of those who commit evil.

 

Yet for me, I have to say the scariest, most worrying thing about this whole thing of terrorism – isn’t that those who commit the terror have lost sight of the humanity of others – it is that they have lost sight of their own humanity.

 

It’s one thing to not see your fellow neighbour as human,

Because I might eventually be able to help you see that.

But if you yourself do not even fully see yourself as human,

Then I can’t re-humanise you….I can’t make you what you already are.

 

And if you have lost touch with your own humanity, your own ability to feel pain and hurt and vulnerability….if you have lost sight of your own worth – then of course blowing yourself up and taking the lives of hundreds of other people is really not a big deal and will never be to you.

 

Because you are not human, and by extension, neither are they.

 

Now, I got into a big argument with a friend yesterday because they were saying that religion is the issue – and if we could only get rid of all your religious folk then it would all stop. You won’t be surprised to learn that I disagree…

 

And when people ask me what I think the solution is, you might laugh at me, but I think the solution is Jesus.

 

Because in Jesus we see, lived out in reality, in flesh and blood, in sweat and tears, in righteous anger and in laughter – what it means to be fully human.

 

In Jesus is the embodiment of hope, of mercy, of forgiveness, of love….and it is only hope, mercy, forgiveness and love which can end and resolve the madness that we are enduring all around the world.

 

It is hope, and mercy and forgiveness and love which enables me to see you as human, as somebody of worth, as somebody worthy of understanding.

 

And Jesus challenges us, and all people to be the best that we can be.

 

We can’t afford to be people who do not dream, and who have no vision – we need our sons and daughters to prophesy and for young and old to dream dreams and see visions of what the world can actually be like. Because if we’re not dreaming then we have no vision of the future, and with no vision of the future we have nothing to work towards. No goal to build the foundations for….

 

I said this morning at St Andrew’s that as Christians we need so deeply to have a confidence in Jesus Christ – so much so that we can say to the world: ‘There is nothing you need more in the whole universe than Jesus Christ and his Gospel’.

 

And I truly believe that Jesus Christ, and his Gospel are the answer to the state of our world – because in Jesus is the full and total expression of God’s will for humankind. That we become like Jesus, is God’s will for the world.

 

I have a vision, and I have a dream – I have a hope for the future….my vision and my dream at the moment is of a world in which the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the oppressed are set free – and the peace which God intends for creation is present in abundance.

 

But actually my vision is also that vision presented to us in Revelation 21 when John says:

 

 

‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

 

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”’

 

 

If we ask anything of the Holy Spirit this evening, let it be a request, in fact a demand that we receive dreams and visions of what our future on this planet can be.

 

And that we are captured by that vision, and inspired by that dream – that we might labour with all our might, to see the world that God intended brought to birth.

A world where Jesus Christ is King,

A world where the message of the Gospel is lived,

A world where our common humanity is known, and respected,

A world of love and mercy, hope and understanding, joy and peace.

 

For God’s sake – might that be our dream, our vision and our hope.
Amen.

 

PentecostHeart.jpg

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