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Sermon for Sunday 15 May 2016

FIRST READING Genesis 11:1-9

1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.


PSALM Psalm 143

1Lord, hear my prayer, and in your faithfulness heed my supplications; answer me in your righteousness. 2Enter not into judgment with your servant, for in your sight shall no one living be justified. 3For my enemy has sought my life; he has crushed me to the ground; he has made me live in dark places like those who are long dead. 4My spirit faints within me; my heart within me is desolate. 5I remember the time past; I muse upon all your deeds; I consider the works of your hands. 6I spread out my hands to you; my soul gasps to you like a thirsty land. 7O Lord, make haste to answer me; my spirit fails me; do not hide your face from me or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit. 8Let me hear of your loving kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you. 9Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, for I flee to you for refuge. 10Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God; let your good Spirit lead me on level ground. 11Revive me, O Lord, for your name’s sake; for your righteousness’ sake, bring me out of trouble. 12Of your goodness, destroy my enemies and bring all my foes to naught for truly I am your servant.



1When the day of Pentecost arrived, {the disciples} were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

GOSPEL John 14:23-31

23Jesus answered {Judas, not Iscariot}, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.


Mark L. Feldman and Michael F. Spratt authored a book titled Five Frogs on a Log in which they tell the story of a family visiting Mexico and who found itself in a difficult situation. In September of 1960, the Salado River in Sabinas, Mexico, overran its banks. Flood waters filled the main road leading from Sabinas across the border into the U.S. Numerous cars and trucks stalled while attempting to cross the border. However, a tow truck driver observed the mess with happy anticipation. I’m sure you can guess why. He took advantage of the situation and charged an exorbitant fee to tow waterlogged cars across the border.
Before long, there comes an old station wagon, packed with this family from the U.S.–a man, a woman, and three small children. They were obviously tired and eager to return home, so the man approached the tow truck driver about a tow across the border. As he had been doing, the tow truck driver demanded an outrageous sum of money. As the man considered his options, a Greyhound bus pulled up to the road. Suddenly, the man knew what to do! As the bus charged across the flooded road, the man pulled his station wagon behind the bus and traveled in its wake. The bus displaced enough water to clear the roadway for the station wagon.
Welcome to you this Sunday and the celebration of Pentecost. As most of you know, Pentecost is often referred to as the birthday of the church. However, it’s more properly known as the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers and empowered them to do amazing things. Metaphorically speaking, the Spirit parted the waters to help those early believers reach thousands of people with the Good News of Christ.
An even better analogy to Pentecost is a story that comes to us from the 1800s. Some people were attempting to build a bridge across Niagara Falls. “Engineers were consulted. Money was raised. No stone was left unturned, but they couldn’t get a cable across the Falls. They found that they were unable to float it across because of the rapids. They weren’t able to shoot it far enough with a bow and arrow. They couldn’t climb the steep cliffs and get it across that way. “Finally, a ten-year old boy made a ridiculous suggestion: ‘Fly the cable across the gorge on a kite.’”
“That’s absurd!” said the engineers. “It’s a foolish suggestion!” declared the knowing adults. Yet, after trying every other conceivable method, that’s exactly what they finally did. They flew the cable across with a kite. The reason this is a better analogy is, of course, the relationship between the words, “spirit” and “wind.” The word spirit in both Hebrew and Greek means “breath” or “wind.” Both a breath of air and a breeze are appropriate images for the Holy Spirit doing its work in the world.
You’ll recall that when God created Adam He breathed into him the breath of life. In other words, God breathed into him His own Spirit. The point is that the Holy Spirit breathes new life into the believer at baptism and gives us the lift we need to witness to the presence of God in the world. Our second lesson for today comes from the second chapter of Acts and demonstrates the Holy Spirit in action.
You know the story well, the day of Pentecost had come. The disciples, as instructed by Jesus, were all in one place. The King James Version says they were “in one place with one accord.” I’m remind of the old joke about the little boy who told the story of Pentecost and said that when the Holy Spirit came the disciples were all crammed into a Honda. When asked why he thought all the disciples were in a Honda, the little boy replied, because the Bible says they were “all in one Accord.”
The word “Pentecost” is literally translated, “fiftieth day.” It was originally a Jewish holy day celebrated on the fiftieth day after the Sabbath of the Passover week. It was an annual feast and was one of the three great annual feasts of Israel (Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths). The fact that Pentecost was a major festival is indicated by the fact that Jews from all over the Mediterranean region had poured into Jerusalem for the celebration.
On the Day of Pentecost, the apostles were also in Jerusalem where they were gathered in a house. Luke records that suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the house, and the Apostles saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Suddenly they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. This phenomenon attracted the attention of those in the streets and a crowd gathered. To no one’s surprise, God timed this event perfectly because Jews from all over the known world were visiting Jerusalem that day.
God used the opportunity to announce the Gospel to people from across the region. When these visitors heard the sound of the disciples speaking in different languages, they were bewildered, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans . . . ?” What they were essentially asking was, how in the world are these uneducated hicks able to speak all these languages? For those gathered that day, it seemed like a good question. There is, of course, only one explanation–a miracle. One thing we need to note here, is that there’s more than one way of viewing this miracle.
Poet W. H. Auden once suggested that we need to reread the second chapter of Acts in light of another aspect. Auden says that the miracle of Pentecost wasn’t only the gift of tongues, “but was it not equally, the gift of ears?” He is of course correct. The miracle here isn’t only what was said, but also the fact that it was heard. Each heard and understood God’s message in his own native tongue. Luke writes that amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of the disciples and brushed the event off by saying, “They’ve had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I have to say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Peter then began to quote the words of the prophet: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
Then in verses 22-24 Peter began telling the story of Jesus. And when he was finished, the writer of Acts tells us, “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” And indeed, the church was born that day. A mighty movement began that would shake the entire world.
Like a Greyhound bus parting the waters for an old station wagon or like a kite bearing a cable above Niagara Falls, the Holy Spirit took a handful of uneducated men from a rural region of an obscure part of the Middle East and started a movement that is still at work more than 2,000 years later, preparing the world for the kingdom of God and the return of our Lord. It’s a wondrous story, but how do we connect this story, from long ago, with our lives today?
First we need to recognize that Pentecost is a God thing. Most often in life, God works through very ordinary processes to bring His will into being. Sometimes He uses people who are specially gifted, but it’s rarely very dramatic. A professor sits at his desk one evening working on the next day’s lectures. His housekeeper has laid that day’s mail and papers at his desk and he begins to shuffle through them discarding most of the mail to the wastebasket.
He comes across a magazine, which wasn’t addressed to him but delivered to his office by mistake. It falls open to an article titled, “The Needs of the Congo Mission.” Casually he begins to read the article when he’s suddenly consumed by these words: “The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it’s my prayer as I write this article that God will lay His hand on one–one on whom, already, the Master’s eyes have been cast–that he or she shall be called to this place to help us.”
Professor Albert Schweitzer closes the magazine and writes in his diary: “My search is over.” He gives himself to the Congo. That little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, is placed by accident in Schweitzer’s mailbox. By chance he notices the title. It leaps out at him. Do you really think that this occurred by chance? Your answer to that question would, of course, depend on your theology.
It certainly wasn’t chance that Professor Schweitzer responded to God’s call. It’s evident that God had been working on him for some time. And even though Schweitzer’s commitment touched millions of believers around the world, it was a gradual thing. There was nothing very dramatic about it in the beginning. This is the way God normally chooses to work–through the normal processes of daily living. If we’re waiting for something spectacular to happen in our lives as a sign that God is calling us, we’ll probably miss God’s call. And that would be a real shame. Next, we need to note that at Pentecost, God worked in such a way that no open-minded person could doubt that this was a God-breathed event. First there was the wind and the tongues of fire. Then there was the gift of inspired speech.
Pastor Charles Hoffacker tells of walking through an airport concourse. He saw a display case full of matching yellow boxes, each with the name of a language prominently displayed upon it. At the counter, a traveler could purchase a set of tapes for learning any of a number of the world’s major languages. With these tapes, plus time and persistence, it was possible to become, if not fluent, then at least familiar, with the everyday speech of millions of people.
What was available for sale at that airport counter, notes Rev. Hoffacker, came free to the first disciples on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit of God filled them so that they spoke diverse languages which were recognized by the cosmopolitan crowd which thronged the streets of Jerusalem that day. People in the crowd were bewildered to hear folks from nearby Galilee talking in languages from all around the Mediterranean basin.
The mighty wind, the tongues of fire, the speaking in many different languages all prove that this isn’t from man, but from God. However, the best indication this event was from God was the instantaneous change that took place in the disciples, especially Simon Peter. This is the same Peter who was so timid the night the soldiers took Jesus in the garden that he denied he even knew Him, because he was afraid of being killed also. This is the same Peter who wanted to go back fishing despite being called to be a fisher of men and having been commissioned to go into all the world. And yet, here he is on the Day of Pentecost before this enormous crowd, boldly declaring that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. And quite miraculously three thousand souls are baptized and added to the church. Peter could never have done this on his own. Pentecost was definitely a God thing. We also need to understand that this isn’t just a story relegated to history, it has significance for us today.
As today’s disciples we need to understand that God-things are still happening today. They’re happening anytime people wait on the gift of God’s Spirit and allow God to do great things through them. That’s the place of worship in our lives. I hope you don’t come to church simply to be fascinated or to be entertained. I hope you come here each week prepared to receive a life-changing encounter with God’s Spirit. I hope you come anticipating a God-thing occurring in your own life.
Author Anthony De Mello tells a story that I think is particularly appropriate for Pentecost. It’s about a man who invented the art of making fire. The man took his tools and went to a tribe in the north, where it was bitterly cold. He taught the people there to make fire. He showed them the various uses for fire–they could cook, could keep themselves warm, etc.
The people of this tribe were grateful for the opportunity to learn the art of making fire and they wanted to thank the man. But before they could express their gratitude to him, he disappeared. The man wasn’t concerned with getting their recognition or gratitude; he was concerned about their well-being. He then went to another tribe, where he again began to show them the value of his invention.
People of this second tribe were interested too; a bit too interested for the peace of mind of their priests, who began to notice that this man was drawing crowds and they were losing their popularity. So they decided to do away with him. They poisoned him, crucified him, put it any way you like. But they were afraid now that the people might turn against them, so they devised a very ingenious plan.
They had a portrait made of the man and mounted it on the main altar of the temple. Then they placed the instruments for making fire in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire, which they dutifully did for centuries. The veneration and the worship went on, says Anthony De Mello, but there was no fire.
His point, of course, was that this could be a picture of many churches today. The veneration and the worship go on, but there is no fire. We don’t gather here each week to simply pay our respects to the crucified Christ. We gather here in the expectation that we might encounter Him and be fill with His Spirit; to be fill us with His love so that we can go forth to do great things in His name. Pentecost is a God-thing.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God worked in a wondrous way to lift the church to a new level of service to the world. On that first Pentecost a new movement began and it continues today. Today it’s in our hands. The question is, is the fire still burning? Is the wind of the Spirit still blowing? Are the waters still being parted? The Spirit is waiting to use us, to empower the faithful to go and make disciples of all people. May this Pentecost season be a time when God’s Spirit fills each of us and sends us out to become what God has called us to be; His voice for others to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

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