This sermon was preached by Geoff Pound at ABC on Pentecost Day, 15 May 2016. Here is a link to the Personal and Group Study Notes—Study 8 that accompanies this sermon. The other study notes in ABC’s Resurrection People series is at this link.
Reading: Acts 2:1-21
Waleed Aly won the Gold Logie this week for the person judged to be the Best Personality on Australian television in this last year. Accepting the award he expressed his appreciation for the personal honour.
But he saw something more significant. It was so startling that he said: “Don’t adjust your sets. There’s nothing wrong with your picture. I’m sure there’s an Instagram filter you can use to return things to normal.”
He thought it amazing that the Australian public had voted for him—a man of Egyptian extraction and a Muslim to boot.
Aly talked about a recent conversation he’d had with an actor. Tyler can’t use his given name, Mustafa, because he wouldn’t get any work. He spoke of another man called Dimitri who’s yearning for greater ethnic diversity in the media.
Waleed said: “If tonight means anything, it’s that the Australian public, our audience—as far as they’re concerned there’s absolutely no reason why that cannot change.”
On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the hope that people with different gifts and from different cultures can be valued by the unifying work of the Holy Spirit.
People from all over the world gathered to celebrate Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. This was the Spring harvest. It was also the annual Jewish celebration of the giving of the Law.
The coming of the Holy Spirit on that day was wild, explosive and out of control. On that birthday of the church it was like the gushing of oil out of the ground.
While we cannot stage the way the Holy Spirit keeps on coming, we see some things on that day that are always the same.
Listen to the key words, ‘all’ and ‘each’ as I give them emphasis:
They were all together in one place. (v1)
A tongue rested on each of them. (v3)
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. (v4)
Each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. (v6)
How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? (v8)
All were amazed and perplexed. (v12)
Then when Peter explains the outpouring as a fulfilment of prophecy, listen to the emphasis on the Holy Spirit as a gift for all people:
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, …your sons and your daughters …your young men … your old men …(17) Even upon my slaves, both men and women, … I will pour out my Spirit; … (18) Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' (v21)
The Holy Spirit is a gift for us all. You are included!
Just imagine going to a birthday party with your present ready to give. The birthday boy opens some of the gifts with delight but then leaves the others wrapped up. Ignored. Your gift is passed over.
On the Day of Pentecost God reminds us that each person is a gift to discover, to respect and to appreciate.
I once went to a Eucharist where one of the worship leaders had a censer. It was full of burning incense. He came before each person in the hall, and he swung his censer to us. Each of us was incensed with holy smoke.
As in Old Testament times this was done as a blessing to each person. As he bowed before each he was reverently recognizing the Holy Spirit in each person, each with their unique gifts.
This day is a challenge to us to recognize the gift that each person is to us. The challenge is to unwrap, to discover and to appreciate every person and their every gift.
But Luke’s emphasis is not only about each person but each culture.
Luke writes about the devout Jews from every nation which emphasizes the universal character of the Pentecost event (v5).
He gives a comprehensive catalogue of countries and races represented on that day. He lists them from east to west, suggesting a universal participation. (v9-11)
The amazing thing was that they each heard in their native language. (v8)
This was Babel in reverse!
The Holy Spirit was replacing confusion with comprehension.
Disunity with reconciliation.
The list of all these hard to pronounce nations might sound boring and tedious but there’s a good reason.
We see it at the opening ceremony of every Olympic Games.
There’s the announcement of each country.
We see the representatives coming into the stadium in their national colours.
They’re walking under their flag.
When we see the competitors of our country, it validates us.
We are recognized. Our culture is valued.
At this opening ceremony of the Christian church there are people mentioned from every nation. They hear the proceedings in their native language. Each culture is respected. They all feel loved. Included.
So this is what the Holy Spirit wants to give to us—that appreciation for the gifts that God gives through every culture and every language.
I wonder how many languages are represented among us today? How many cultural backgrounds? Not only here today but in our communities?
Pentecost Day renews the challenge to unwrap and appreciate the wonderful gifts of insight and practice that are contained in each other’s culture and language.
Luke says: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v4)
We can’t go back to the Day of Pentecost with glazed eyes and ask for a repeat. But we can seek to be filled again with the Holy Spirit.
The Bible tells us, “Be filled (or keep on being filled) with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5: 18)
Several years ago, on one of our walks across Spain, Lyn and I came across the Irache Vineyard. We didn’t stumble upon it. We were looking for it - this popular place for pilgrims to be refreshed on their way to Santiago.
This vineyard is two kilometres from the old Roman town of Estrella. It has supplied wine for royalty since the 12th century. It’s connected to a monastery that became the first hospital on this Camino route.
The extraordinary thing is the wine fountain on the outside of the winery. It comes with an invitation. Pilgrims can come and serve themselves a free glass of vino to spur them on their way. There’s also a water fountain if its Adam’s Ale you prefer.
Around the fountains there are two plaques. Translated, the first one reads: “We are pleased to invite you to drink in moderation. If you wish to take the wine with you, you will have to buy it.”
The other notice reads: “Pilgrim, if you wish to arrive at Santiago full of strength and vitality, have a drink of this great wine and raise a toast to happiness.”
Judging from what we saw and what we’ve read on blogs and in books, thousands of people from so many nationalities have stopped to take in a draft of wine or water. Beautiful Benedictine hospitality.
Those who can’t read Spanish are seen to be filling up their water bottles with wine for the journey. Little do they know there’s a surveillance camera above recording every sip. On their web site there’s a web cam or a wine cam where you can see pilgrims raising a toast in real time.
Yes, be filled with the Spirit. It’s free. You are invited.
This wine imagery wasn’t lost on the onlookers at the Day of Pentecost because some of them sneered: “They are filled with new wine.” To which Peter made the correction: “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.” (v15)
What was it about the imbibing of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day that made onlookers think they were slightly intoxicated?
When the Holy Spirit truly fills us will our tongues be loosened?
Will we be more ready to talk about the Spirit?
Will our conversations be lubricated?
Will there be joy and celebration among us?
In a recent article in The Guardian, Caleb Krisp has made a confession. He’s revealed a wicked past. He is a wanted man. He is hunted by librarians all over England. His crime? Defacing books. He takes books out of the library and tears the end out of them.
It first started with Treasure Island. He was hooked on the story. But Robert Louis Stevenson concluded his book with some of the treasure being found.
Caleb felt betrayed. Duped. He took the book to his bedroom. Tore out the last five pages. Then, using an old typewriter he wrote a new, much more exciting ending.
He cut the pages, glued them in and returned the book so that the next readers would have a much-improved story.
As he kept reading, Caleb Krisp found most endings disappointed him. So in no time he’d ripped out and re-written the endings of 20 books. The library soon caught on. His library card was confiscated.
Luckily there were other libraries and so he continued his mission of making books better.
I’m not encouraging you to become a book vandal but like Caleb’s children’s story, let’s cut out the ending of Luke’s book, the Acts of the Apostles.
In fact if you read Luke’s account this is exactly what he wants us to do. Not to read and wonder about the halcyon days of the Holy Spirit but to rip out his ending.
What a challenge for us this day to rewrite the conclusion. To experience and to express what the Holy Spirit is doing in our day, in our lives and in our church.
Are you ready for the challenge, with the help of the Holy Spirit?
The mission of making this book even better.
With all the Christian Church on this day, gift-giving God, we celebrate the gift of your Holy Spirit.
With the Christian church in all countries and cultures and languages we join our tongues to praise you for the person and work of your Spirit.
Forgive us when we have neglected the Spirit’s work and promptings.
We thank you that your Holy Spirit is the spirit of Jesus and therefore we’re grateful to have his character, his graces, his passion within our lives. So fill us afresh with the Spirit of the living Christ.
We do pray for a new outpouring of your Spirit upon the church.
For still people wander like sheep without a shepherd.
Still there are people not enjoying freedom to be who they really are.
So awaken your church throughout the world.
As we move to a consideration of the ministries and concerns of our church here in Ashburton, we pray for venturesome minds and courageous spirits.
Save us from timidity and fear, from the reluctance and paralysis of our uncertainties.
Let your Spirit strengthen us to endure, to sacrifice and to achieve.
You call us to serve in an unfinished world, to share with you in its completion, to make your story so much better,
so give us creativity, wisdom, strength and a sense of urgency.
In the name of Christ.