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.