Sermon St Mary Mary Tavy Sunday 23 May 2021 Year B Pentecost John 15v26-27 & 16v4b-15 Acts 2v1-21 Rom 8v22-27
Let us pray;
Journey with me back some 2000 years to Jerusalem in the early summer of the year AD30. The streets were bustling with many pilgrims who had gone up to Jerusalem to obey God’s command to keep the second of the three principal feasts given by God to Moses in the Torah, the feast of Shavuot or Pentecost.
Jesus disciples and followers, numbering around 120, may have assembled in that same upper room where Jesus had shared with them the last supper, although some think that they may have gathered in the Temple precincts. They were waiting just as Jesus had told them at His ascension ten days earlier, waiting for the promise of the Father. And what was that promise to be? I wonder if they had any idea of what was about to hit them as they pondered their Lord’s recent resurrection and ascension, and they waited.
And then it came, a sudden sound from heaven, that of a rushing mighty wind, then 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. Well, what would you make of that I wonder if the same should happen to us right now here in St Mary’s? But it could!
Those standing around who heard this commotion going on said that the disciples were drunk. But no, as Peter pointed out it was early morning and only 9am. Moreover, these strange tongues were recognised as actual languages, but how could such uneducated Galileans speak them, and what could all this mean?
Peter was quick to recognise that this was rather like a prophecy spoken some 800 years previously by Joel, the first of the minor prophets. “I shall pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
When one reads the full context of Joel’s prophecy, some of us believe that Pentecost was just a partial fulfilment of that prophecy, and that it may also be especially applicable to our own time in God’s salvation history.
It is an issue that has caused division within many churches and across all denominations.
However, there are many stories of people and churches speaking in tongues today. Robbie Meredith of BBC news NI, wrote “there are estimated to be nearly 600 million Christians worldwide, a quarter of the world’s Christian population, that practice this same phenomena today. Many of you will know that it is a practice of the Pentecostal and other charismatic Churches, but it also extends across all denominations.
Some years ago when in Jerusalem I visited the Syrian Orthodox Church of St Mark. St Mark’s is tucked away along one of the small back streets of the Old City and is said to be built upon the site of the house belonging to Mary, the mother of John Mark the evangelist.
When speaking there to a Nun who had come from Iran, she shared a tale of a visitor who had entered the church some time before and was listening to her tell the history of that church. Some while later that same Jewish visitor returned with a friend and went up to the Nun as she was again telling the history of the church. He asked her not to speak in English but to speak in Hebrew as she had done before. The Nun replied that she did not speak any Hebrew, “but I heard you last time speaking in Hebrew” was the visitors response. What do you make of that? Sounds rather like what we have just read was happening on that first day of Pentecost to me.
Again as in Joel’s prophecy, we hear today, especially in some closed muslim countries, that there are reports of many people who are truly seeking after God of having visions and dreams pointing them to our risen Lord Jesus.
So what did St Paul make of ‘speaking in tongues’? He wrote 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).
We each have to make up our own minds if this were just a phenomenon for the early church, or a practice that God still has for us today, and if that is so, what should we do about it in our Christians lives.
The giving of the gift of tongues at Pentecost was a dynamic sign from God that He was birthing a new movement, the Church.
A new movement to take His message of love and reconciliation out into all the world, out to all races and languages, and the timing of this gift was no accident. It is celebrated as the ‘birthday of the Church’, and of the Church’s mission.
That timing was no coincidence. As we Christians see Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, so Jews today see the feast of Shavuot, Pentecost, as the birth of Judaism. It is the time they look back to and celebrate the giving of the Torah, the giving of the law, to Moses by God at mount Sinai during the exodus from Egypt. As such it was perhaps also the time when the Hebrew nation becoming a separate people and were called apart to serve God.
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, the Comforter, the Helper. You will remember that the Lord Jesus promised to his disciples in the upper room that God would send the Holy Spirit if they waited. And God kept His promise to them, and to us as well.
St John tells us in his first epistle (1Jn3) that God has given us such love that we can be called “children of God”, and because we are now God’s children, God has many gifts still to reveal to each one of us. It is through the gift and work of the Holy Spirit in us that God makes this revelation possible, and especially at times when we read our bibles, and when we meet together as God’s people for prayer and meditation.
One of the amazing things that God reveals to us is that when Jesus is to be made known at some time in the future, revealed for all the kingdoms of the world to see and acknowledge Him, we His children will also become like Jesus as we share in His glory. Doesn’t that get you excited?
I would suggest that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the beginning of a great journey and a great adventure with God. An adventure that God has called you and I to share with Him. An adventure to share with God as we continue our pilgrim path here on this earth, and as we grow in faith as disciples and witnesses to our risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray:
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church to lead us into all truth:
may we manifest your glory and show forth the way of your kingdom to all peoples; through Jesus Christ our Lord and coming King. Amen