Tuesday, 17 May 2016
Sermon The Day of Pentecost
Tongues of fire overhead; a sound like the rush of a violent wind; people speaking in languages not their own; no wonder the people were perplexed; 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Well I don’t see anything like that today. Perhaps we will be filled with new wine at the wine tasting on the 29th. But there aren’t any tongues of fire that I can see and no sounds like the rush of a violent wind that I can hear. Did any of you start speaking in languages you don’t know before the church service started? There is often a lot of conversation before the worship service but it is always in English as far as I know. So, does that mean the Holy Spirit is not at work in this place?
The Holy Spirit was certainly in evidence on that Day of Pentecost. This is the birth of the church when the first Christians—before they were even first called by that name—came together from all the corners of the known world. They were amazed to hear the Galileans speaking in the native languages of all those observers. By my count there were at least twelve different languages recorded that day. This was, I believe, the first record of speaking in tongues.
We have the other evidence of that action of the Holy Spirit—the tongues of fire in addition to the tongues of language; the sounds of the rush of the violent wind. With the Holy Spirit at work in such a direct and forceful way how could those first Christians not respond and go out and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ risen from the tomb, spreading the Gospel?
They certainly did just that. The Christian church spread like that rush of wind and spread throughout the known world and beyond in what seemed like the blink of an eye. However, things did not go without a hitch as we can see in Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth and other places. We had people not behaving as Paul believes Christians should; acting immorally, not sharing with each other, letting some go hungry, people thinking they were better than others and had gifts that were more important than other gifts. Paul spends a great deal of energy trying to get the Christians in Corinth and elsewhere to behave like Christians.
Does that sound familiar? The church today certainly has more in common with those seven churches that Paul kept criticizing than with those gathered on the Day of Pentecost. We can say, well, if only the Holy Spirit would show itself in the same way as it did on that day all would be well. Why don’t we have evidence of the Holy Spirit at work as those Christians had?
Where are the tongues of fire and the speaking in tongues and the noise of violent wind not to mention the other miracles? What has happened to the Holy Spirit today?
Where is the promise given to us in Scripture, “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.”
People have been looking for the fulfillment of that prophecy ever since. They have looked for it in all the natural disasters ever since. One example is the Great Lisbon earthquake which occurred on All Saints day in 1755 which had far reaching consequences beyond the destruction it caused directly. The people and even some theologians saw it as divine judgment. More recently I recall getting into an online debate after Hurricane Katrina with someone who knew with absolute certainty that New Orleans was destroyed because it was a modern Sodom and Gomorrah.
I would not be surprized if fundamentalist of both religion and ecology claim Fort McMurray was destroyed because of the sinful people there and the sins of the oil sands. We have people misidentifying the Holy Spirit in many different places. We have so called speaking in tongues that occur in religious settings today. The modern term for this is glossolalia. It has no relationship to the events recorded in Acts and other places in the bible. What is called speaking in tongues lacks any comprehension by any of those listening. In the account in Act we are told that those listening heard the Galileans speaking in their language.
However, the Holy Spirit is at work today although it does not seem to work as it did in those days of the early church. One of the great challenges for Christians today is to learn how to discern the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the world. It is very easy to latch onto to some event or circumstance and say that is the Holy Spirit at work. It can certainly be something that seems to be God at work in the world. However, we can certainly be wrong. We can believe that we know absolutely what God is doing in this world. Often it can be just what we want to happen. We want God to fit our idea of how God should behave. We want God to smite our enemies as God appeared to do in the Hebrew Bible. If not actually smite them at least bring them crashing down to earth—as I wish God would do with Donald trump.
So we ask ourselves how can God let the world go to hell in a hand-basket? How can God let the Anglican Church wither and die as it seems to be doing in so many places in Canada? How can God let bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? How? How? How? Is God actually dead as was popularly proposed in the 1960s or does God actually not care?
The short answer is that God alive and well and does love and care for us. God loves us so much that God gave us free will and God continues to give us free will. That could be considered God’s great curse and God greatest gift. God allowed Eve to be tempted by the serpent God encouraged humankind to leave our Garden Paradise and be in the world and to be stewards of the world. Unfortunately we have tried to dominate it ever since rather than be stewards of creation and of each other as God intends. God loves us so much that God sent God’s only begotten son to show us what it means to live fully the life that we are meant to live as God’s children.
The Holy Spirit is indeed still active in the world. Although it doesn’t seem to be acting in the same way as it did in biblical times.
Or perhaps we have just learned how to ignore it and to misidentify it because it doesn’t act in the way our egos believe it should. What we need today is to develop our ability to discern how God is acting in the world. We need to listen and not do all the talking. We need to be silent and know that God is at work in the world. That is not easy for us to do. We need to listen and hear and know that God is God. We need to hear and respond in our hearts and bodies and minds and souls. When we act we need to discern if we have heard God correctly. By the fruit of the acts we will know if God is behind them and in them. But first we must be still and know that God is God. Amen.