Service of the Word: Day of Pentecost

Homily by the Revd Lee Johnston

May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit+

When we think of significant moments when history changed and new movements were born, we can often trace it back to one fateful meeting, when likeminded people got together for a common cause. Last year Harriet and I went on a tour of Boston, sometimes called ‘the birthplace of the American Revolution’. At the Boston Harbour we learned about the seemingly insignificant Boston Tea Party, when a group of protestors dumped 300 crates of British tea into the water below. This symbol of defiance spread the spirit of independence throughout America and ultimately led to the start of a great nation. For the church, the Day of Pentecost was that spark which spread like wildfire.  

The book of acts recounts the day it all happened. Pentecost was already a festival in the Jewish calendar. A day on which many Jews from all over the world were gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate Moses being given the 10 commandments. Pentecost was also a celebration of the spring harvest. In this rich atmosphere of remembering how God had created the world and its harvests, and how had God saved the people of Israel through revealing himself to Moses, the Spirit comes to bring a new creation and salvation. The nation and the creation for some time had felt empty. Jesus had spoke into that emptiness, establishing a small group of followers and assuring them that after his resurrection and return to heaven, he would send down the Spirit to fill that emptiness for the world.  

It was a small and seemingly insignificant group that waited for Jesus promise to be fulfilled on Pentecost. Whilst waiting, suddenly the sound of a rushing wind filled the room. Symbols of fire appeared over the heads of all the disciples who had gathered. For Jews, as most of these early disciples were, fire and wind were not only unpredictable and uncontrollable forces of nature. They were also the elements through which had God made himself known in the past. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and a pillar of fire would guide the Israelites through the wilderness in the desert. God answers Job’s most piercing questions by speaking to him out of a whirlwind. To these disciples on the day of Pentecost, the symbols of fire and wind were God revealing himself in a new and powerful way, a way which they could not control or predict, but which enabled them to speak of God with others.  

Soon the sound of the wind was replaced by the sound of languages. Languages that had not been known by the disciples before the Spirit’s arrival. In those languages, whatever they were saying seemed to attract attention and soon their private prayer meeting moves to the public square where the many Jews from East and West had come for the Pentecost festival. Each of them were hearing the disciples speak in their own languages from as far away as Europe and Africa, and the message they were hearing was about Jesus – God’s new and powerful revelation, God’s very presence in humanity, connecting the world to himself. Some in the crowd said that the disciples must be drunk. After all, if you go a pub on Saturday night, there’s plenty of chat. Alcohol tends to help the shy talk and it often needs a translator. But Peter stands up and says no no, it’s not that. The shy disciples are have moved from the private sphere to the public, they are talking about Jesus boldly because they have been empowered and given courage by the Holy Spirit. If the disciples had shared the British attitude of not bringing religion into public conversation before the day of Pentecost, they lost it when the Spirit arrives. After the Spirit fills them, they can’t help but draw people in by talking in a language the audience understood about Jesus. Pentecost tells us that it’s not the listeners job to learn and speak the church’s language to learn about Jesus, but it’s the churches job to translate Jesus and his message into the language of those who listen. When we think about language, that includes more than just words. Language communicates our culture, our history, our sense of identity. We need to translate our faith, talking boldly to all of those different points when we to talk to others about our faith. Talking openly about faith in a way that will draw your friends and neighbours into a relationship with Christ isn’t easy. The disciples couldn’t do it by themselves; we can’t do it by ourselves; but God sends the Spirit to give us this ability to boldly translate and share the good news of Jesus.

You’ll notice today that I’m wearing a red stole instead of a white Easter one. We’ve moved from Jesus going up, to the Spirit coming down. Red is the sign of the Spirit’s fire that enlightened and empowered the disciples in their sharing of the gospel with the world. But in some churches, it’s not only the clergy that are expected to wear red on Pentecost Sunday. In many churches, people will don red scarfs, or pop on a pair of red socks because this fire isn’t just for those with a collar, it’s for every disciple. All of us are called to take on this enormous task of translating and sharing the message of Christ to our culture which has largely wandered from religion. Not in our own ability or with our own confidence, but with the Spirit who empowers us for this task.  Our religious conversation needs to confidently move from private to public, not for the sake of debate, but so that those who feel empty can find salvation and fullness of Being in Jesus. By the Spirit, may our humble efforts to translate the message of Jesus to our culture, draw many people into this grand movement, which has spread like wildfire since that first day of Pentecost until now.

Intercessions

We pray for God to fill us and the world with his Spirit. Lord come to bless us, and fill us with your Spirit.

Generous God, we thank you for the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask that we may be strengthened to serve you better.

Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the wisdom of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to make us wise to understand and perform your will.

Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the healing of your Holy Spirit.We ask you to bring reconciliation and wholeness where there is division, sickness and sorrow. Bringing before you those who struggle for racial justice in the United States, those who stand up for freedom in Hong Kong, and praying for those known to us who suffer at this time: Christine, Ian, Richard, Ros, Chris, Bill, Lorna, Joyce, Louyse, John, Avril, Helga, Karen, Colin, Margaret, Stuart.

Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the gifts of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to equip your church for the work of sharing the good news, here and overseas. Granting us the confidence and the sensitivity to share the saving message of Christ.

Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the breath of your Holy Spirit, which brings us to spiritual life now and for eternity. Trusting in your faithfulness, we hold before you those who have departed this life, yet remain in your love. Mavis, Isabelle, Mel, Susan, and those who’s years mind’s fall this week: Amy and Thomas.

Lord, come to bless us and fill us with your Spirit.

Generous God, Accept these prayers for the good of the world, filling the emptiness with the fullness of your Spirit

In the name of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. Amen.