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Sermon Christ Church Brentor Sunday 28th May 2023 Pentecost
(Psalm 104v26-37)1Corinthians 12v3b-13 Acts 2v1-21
Happy Birthday to you all.
No, I have not gone completely bonkers, it is all of our birthdays today.
You and I are members of Christ’s body, the Church, and today-the day of Pentecost, is traditionally celebrated as the birthday of the Christian Church.
But why did God chose this time, 50 days after the resurrection to send the Holy Spirit on those early believers and so birth the Church? Any ideas?
Well let us cast our minds back to the early summer of the year AD30.
As we have read the streets of the city of Jerusalem were bustling with many pilgrims who had gone up to obey God’s command to keep the second of the three principal feasts of the Torah, the feast of Shavuot or Pentecost, which occurred 50 days after Passover. But why this time?
God keeps perfect time in his plan of salvation and knew that the second Temple in Jerusalem of Jesus time would soon be destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Then the Jews would have no place for their sacrificial worship system and would replace that by the services in their synagogues and where they focus on the reading of the Torah, the law given to Moses. The Jews then started to celebrate Shavuot as the time when the Torah was given on mount Sinai. But God was about to introduce and break forth upon the world a new order, the time of the Church, and Jerusalem was full of pilgrims so what better time could there be. I am sure that there is some much deeper theological reason, but I am happy with this simple explanation!
So the disciples with Mary and the other women and followers were also in Jerusalem, in obedience to keeping the feast and Jesus words to wait for the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. They were all assembled in the same upper room where Jesus had shared with them the last supper and they were waiting, waiting as Jesus had told them at His ascension just ten days earlier, waiting for the promise of the Father.
Perhaps the best contender for this location is probably the site of a later Christian Synagogue at where now stands the Cenacle and below which is the location of king David’s tomb.
Do you like me ever find waiting a bit of a problem? We live in a society that increasingly wants everything now, but as believers we are to be separate, to be different, we are to wait upon the Lord. Do you recall the promise written in Isaiah the Prophet (40v31), “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”.
It seems increasingly more difficult even for believers to be able to take time out, to be still and through the scriptures and prayer to listen to what the Lord has to say to us. I need to work at making that a priority.
So as they waited there then came a sudden sound from heaven, that of a rushing wind, tongues of fire came and rested on each one of them, and each began to speak in strange tongues as the Holy Spirit descended and gave them utterance. I guess they were taken aback never having experienced anything like that before. I wonder what you would make of that if God would now sent upon us here that same Holy Spirit?
We then read that those around who heard this commotion going on said the disciples were drunk. But no, it was only 9am as Peter pointed out.
But where did that occur? I can’t believe that so many pilgrims were out of the city in the region of the upper room to here that, it is much more likely that those ecstatic believers had moved on to the Temple Courts where the many visiting pilgrims were gathering.
And those strange tongues were recognised as actual languages, but how could such uneducated Galileans speak them? And we know the answer, by the Holy Spirit giving the words to them.
Peter was then quick to recognise that this was rather like a prophecy from the first of the minor prophets, Joel (2v28-29), spoken some 800 years previously. “Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Peter recognised that God was fulfilling that prophecy by sending his Holy Spirit upon all peoples, and is still giving dreams and visions to many of our persecuted brothers and sisters today.
Even though there were such a diverse number of countries represented by the many pilgrims present, they each heard the disciples speaking in their own native languages. How could that be? And we know the answer to that also, the same Holy Spirit gave them understanding, I suggest somewhat better than Google translate!
But surely this is not for now, it is a thing of the past isn’t it, well is it? Let me tell you a little story. When I was in Jerusalem some years ago I visited the Syrian Orthodox Church of St Mark. This is said to be built upon the site of the house belonging to Mary, the mother of John Mark the evangelist, and also claims to be the site of the upper room. Inside there is also an icon supposedly written by Luke the Evangelist of the Virgin Mary and child but now dated to the sixth century.
I spoke there to a Nun who had come from Iran and she shared a tale of a visitor who had entered the church some time before and was listening to her recount the history of the church. Some while later that same visitor returned with another and went up to the Nun as she was again telling the history of the church and asked her to speak in Hebrew and not in English as she had done before. The Nun replied that she did not speak Hebrew, but I heard you last time speaking Hebrew was the visitors response. What do you make of that? Rather like on that first Pentecost day I should say.
There are many other stories to share but we have no time for them now.
There are many stories of people and churches speaking in tongues today.
Robbie Meredith of BBC news NI, wrote in 2014 that there are estimated to be some 584 million Christians worldwide, that is over a quarter of the world’s Christian population, that practice this same phenomena today.
And let us remember that St Paul said to the Corinthian Christians, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (1Cor14v5) and “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all” (1Cor14v18). And even our own Archbishop Justin admits to speaking in tongues before breakfast.
As we have read there are many gifts of the Holy Spirit so not all believers are given or even want to speak in ‘tongues’, they are gifted in other ways to build up the body of Christ and to serve him.
But most people who speak in tongues do not speak in these ‘tongues of men’ that is in natural earthly languages. Saint Paul writing in first Corinthians (13v1) says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.”
In this passage Paul refers to the tongues of angels, something that was also known before the Christian Pentecost in Hebrew religious practice. It is mentioned in the ‘Dead Sea scrolls’ and in the ‘Testament of Job’.
These ‘tongues of angels’ are the tongues that some believers use in their individual and private practice, and one generally has no understanding of what it means. So why use it? Well, again Paul tells the Corinthians (1C14v4-5) “ Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church. Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”
Here Paul is encouraging the use of tongues as a means that God uses to build up our spiritual life. There is much more that could be said but that requires some detailed study, what we must be careful of is not to let this issue be divisive between believers.
The giving of the gift of tongues at Pentecost was a dynamic sign from God that He was birthing a new movement, the Church, to take His message of love and reconciliation into all the world.
The gift of tongues is only one of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit that God has for us now that He has breathed on us the promised Holy Spirit, as the Lord Jesus did in the upper room upon His original disciples.
St John tells us in his first epistle (1John3v1) that God has given us such love that we can be called “children of God”, and because we are now God’s children, He has many things still to reveal to us. One of those things is that when Jesus will be revealed for all the kingdoms of the world to see, we His children will be like Jesus. Now that is a promise to help us all as we walk our own pilgrim path and I would suggest that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the beginning of a great journey and adventure that God has called you and I to share both with Him, and with our families, friends and neighbours.
Let us pray: (From Daily Prayer Psalm 97)
Most high and holy God,
enthroned in fire and light,
burn away the dross of our lives
and kindle in us the fire of your love,
that our lives may reveal the light and life
we find in your Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Sermon St Eustachius 9.45am Sunday14 May 2023 6th Sunday Easter Year A
Paul Mars Hill Sermon Acts 17v22-34 John 14v15-21 (1Peter 3v13-end) (Psalm 66v7-end)
May God the Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds to hear His voice. Amen
I wonder how often you may have heard someone say “O my God”?
Perhaps, if you can think quickly enough, which is not one of my best traits, I can always think of what I should have said about 2 minutes too late, you could say back to them “And what god is that then”.
This is rather like the situation that Saint Paul found himself in when in Athens around the year AD 50 when on his second missionary journey to Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth.
Luke tells us in our reading from Acts, that while Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens, his spirit was provoked as he saw the city full of idols, full of many false gods. Although in Paul’s day Athens was not at its zenith, one of its most prominent features was its numerous pagan temples. In fact Petronius, a Roman courtier during the time of the emperor Nero, made the satirical comment that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Paul took this diverse mix of gods as a cue to give a sermon after seeing an altar with the inscription ‘to an unknown god’.
But before we look in more detail at this famous sermon I want to ask a question. Why do we not use the name of our God, the one and only, true and living God? If we did, it would be clear that YAHWEH is distinct and different from all the false gods that abound in our world today. Those of you who may have visited places like India will be aware of the many divinities worshiped there. Today however we live in a culture where we have to be careful what we say so that we give no offence. I wonder what ever became of ‘the offence of the cross’ that Paul speaks of to the Galatians (5v11). Using the true name of God does has significance.
We often hear in the media that an Islamic terrorist has cried out ‘Allah Achbar’ which they then translate as ‘god is great’. But which god is great? What it actually means is ‘Allah is greater; I leave you to make your own deductions as to what that implies and points to.
So what do we know about Paul’s time spent in Athens?
First Luke tells us that while Paul was waiting for Timothy and Silas he reasoned with the Jews that he found in the synagogue in Athens. This was typical of Paul, to first seek out the diaspora Jewish community and to give them the opportunity to hear the gospel but usually they rejected that offer.
So Paul went to the market place or, as it was known, to the Agora, and there he met with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. It would seem that some of them wished to hear what this ‘babbler’ had to say to them for ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities,’ for Paul was preaching ‘Jesus and the resurrection’, a new concept for some of them (Acts17v18).
Would it not be great today, both in this country and wider afield, if there were more evangelists raised up who could engage in preaching ‘Jesus and the resurrection’, and calling people to repent. Please make that a prayer, a prayer for revival in our country as we have seen in the past. Pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit to come upon our society.
The men of Athens then took Paul to the area in the city known as ‘the Areopagus’. The Areopagus is the ‘hill of Ares’ the Greek god of war, and it was where a long established body met that held extensive authority over both the civil and religious life of the people of Athens.
It would seem that the Athenians liked nothing better than spending time ‘telling or hearing something new’ (v21), and just to cover all the options, they had also erected a shrine to ‘the unknown god’ A second century geographer called Pausanius mentions there were also shrines with that same association in both Olympia and Pergamum. Paul stood up in the middle of the Areopagus and addressed the Men of Athens.
This address by Paul on ‘Mars Hill’ is the most detailed in his missionary career that is recorded in the New Testament. It touches on five main issues: The ignorance involved in pagan worship (vs23)
That there is one true creator God whom we should worship (vs24-25)
The relationship of God to humanity (vs26-28)
That God cannot be fashioned into idols of silver or gold (vs29)
And that now is the time to bring ignorance to an end & Repent (vs30-31)
How many of these same issues are still appropriate to society today?
I would suggest all of them. Human ignorance of YAHWEH, of the One True and Living God, does not seem to have changed over the course of two millennia despite our advances in knowledge, science and technology. Moral development has sadly not kept apace.
In fact Pope John-Paul II called the modern media-the new Areopagus. This shows to us Christians the urgent need to declare and make clear our beliefs and ideals to the disbelieving society in which we live. A society which has made silver and gold the idols of modern materialism. As Peter said in our epistle “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you”. That implies that others when looking at us recognise we have a great hope, that of eternal life.
One result of Paul’s address was that ‘some men joined him and believed’ (vs34). One of those was an Areopagite, a member of the Areopagus. He was a lawyer-judge called Dionysius, and also a woman named Damaris. According to the early Church historian Eusebius, who lived in the late third century, following his conversion Dionysius became the first Bishop of Athens and was later martyred in Gaul in AD 96, needless to say he is considered the patron saint of lawyers.
In his address Paul makes reference to two quotations from pagan Greek writers that he, and his hearers, would have been familiar with. Most of us have probably never realised that these were pagan quotes.
The first ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ comes from a hymn to the Greek god Zeus, penned by Epimendes of Crete around 600 BC.
When Joy and I were on a short break in Crete a few years ago, one of our guides made reference to a derogative comment from this same Cretan poet referred to in Paul’s letter to Titus (1vs12) where he says, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons”. I am not sure that would pass for political correctness today!
The second quotation Paul makes is from the Stoic poet Aratus who lived around BC 320, “For we too are his offspring.”
What is interesting with both of these quotations is that although they come from so called ‘pagan’ poets, they do reflect a similar understanding to ours of the inter-relationship of God and humanity.
For in Him-God we do indeed live, move and have our being, and we are children of God, God’s offspring, created in His very own image.
But Paul then makes a new and significant point, the time of ignorance is now past, for like us Paul knew that Jesus had come and revealed to us the full nature of God and of His Holiness.
As a result we need a new relationship with God, not one dependent on sacrifices made to idols of silver and gold, but we have to repent of our former ways and turn to the true God as the one who is to judge the world.
Judgement is not something that sits comfortably with many in today’s society. But as God is Holy he must judge the world for our rejection of him, but it will be a judgement in righteousness through the one who lived a truly righteous life, Jesus, who God raised from the dead and through him has reconciled us to himself if we but put our faith and trust in Jesus.
So are you rejoicing brothers and sisters, that having put your faith and trust in Jesus all the many promises found throughout the scriptures become personally true for you? For those who do believe one of those beautiful promises is that ‘as far as the east is from the west, God has removed our transgressions from us’. I hope I heard an Alleluia, after all this is the Easter season.
When Paul delivered this sermon, I believe that he had the express hope that his hearers would respond and put their trust in the one true and living God YAHWEH, who has been revealed and made known to us through our Lord Jesus. Paul expressed that believe for all people when saying (vs27) “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
And what a comfort those words are for us who do believe, our God is not far from us, He is not just close to us, He indwells us by His own life giving Holy Spirit.
We shall shortly go on to obey our Lord’s command to remember him, and to meet with him as we take the bread and the wine at his table.
So let us this Eastertide remember that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, and so let us celebrate the feast, not with the old leaven of corruption and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”.
If we have humbled ourselves before the cross of Jesus and repented of our sins, we are promised God’s forgiveness and a share in the life eternal. But we must also remember that we are then called to go out into our communities, in that resurrection power of the risen Lord Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to love and to serve one another. Let us always remember that Jesus, King of the universe, came to love and serve, not to be served. Amen
Let us pray:
In the face of Jesus Christ
your light and glory have blazed forth O YAHWEH,
God of all the nations;
may we, with all your people,
make known your grace and love
and walk in the ways of peace;
to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord, our Saviour and coming King.
The Reverend Matt Godfrey
The Reverend Mike Loader
The Reverend Sue Tucker
The Reverend Judith Blowey
The Reverend Dr Hazel Butland
Mr Christopher Pancheri
Mrs Sally Pancheri
Mrs Wendy Roderick
Mrs Liz Bastin
Mr Bob Owens
Mrs Patti Owens
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