SERVICE AT WARRAGUL 2003 (8 June 2003)
IS THIS SERVICE OF PENTECOST ABOUT?
I wonder how long it is since each of us looked for God?
you remember when you last looked for God?
wonder where you looked?
looked far away?
looked close at hand?
looked into someone else’s eyes?
any of us look into our own hearts?
is a good time to look for God, because today we remember the story of how Jesus
sent God the Holy Spirit to the 120 or so disciples praying together in
expectation that this gift would soon come.
When the Spirit came, it was so weird, ordinary word pictures could not
really convey what it was like. There
was a frightening noise from the sky, like a very strong wing blowing, and it
filled the whole house in which they were sitting, but there was no wind!
They saw what looked like tongues of fire that spread out and touched
each believer, and their hair was not burnt!
They started to talk in languages they had never learnt!
I can’t imagine what all this was like, but I do know that each image
relates back to a picture of God in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The book of Genesis tells us that it was God who confused people’s
languages when they tried to build the tower of Babel.
The book of Exodus tells us there was smoke and fire on the mountain when
Moses went up to God to receive the Ten Commandments. 1st Kings tells us there was a furious wind that
split the hills and shattered rocks, before the Lord passed in front of Elijah
as he sheltered in a cave. So these
strange pictures convey that the awsome presence of God was very powerfully
have we experienced God in our lives? That
we are here this morning tells me that in some way God has touched each of our
lives. It is God who called us
together this morning. God is
always calling people into relationship with him and with each other.
It is to community that I usually look when I am looking for God,
or to the beauty of creation, or to the very core of my being.
These are the places where God usually finds me.
I hope you will take the time to have a look for God. And Jesus has promised that if we search for God, God will be
known to us.
402: “Peace with the Father”.
us listen now to the passage I referred to earlier, the passage in which Luke
tries to paint a word picture of the coming of the Holy Spirit, using images for
God’s presence that Jews were familiar with from their reading of the Old
Drunk, huh? Why was this a plausible accusation? Even Peter treats it as a serious conclusion: ”Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.” (Acts 2:15) The reason he gives for the accusation being false seems silly compared with the reason at hand. He could easily have said: “When was the last time you heard a drunk speaking in your own language, though he didn’t know that language?” Is Peter not aware that foreigners are hearing the church speak in their own language? In that case, he is defending glossolalia (prayer in tongues) against the charge of irrational speech? The whole paragraph is a defence of Spirit directed speech facilitating communication rather than frustrating it.
Peter doesn’t get sidetracked by glossolalia but goes straight to the heart of the event, which is an announcement of the day of the Lord. The fact that everyone understood regardless of their nationality is intended to show that the day of the Lord is for everyone. Joel, the latest of the prophets, foreshadowed what God did with the church. God poured out God’s Spirit without regard to the traditional Jewish order, which should have meant it would only be received by Jewish males. “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...” (Acts 2:17) [your daughters shall prophesy!!] “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (2:21) [everyone!]
There were Roman proselytes among the audience at Pentecost. The Jewish community had become evangelical in the period preceding the Christian era. The church emerged as a further work of God begun among the chosen people. God had been helping the Jews to realize that they were sitting on a world religion -- thus the emergence of evangelism in that community. But, if Jews were teaching their children to swim, the church transformed them into fish. Evangelism became the central work of the church -- “to proclaim the Lord’s death until his coming again.”
All of the lectionary readings for this Sunday proclaim the mighty work of the Spirit of God, of course. Psalm 104 declares that God’s Spirit imparts life to the planet. God’s Spirit is still creating. People, through the selection of animals for particular traits, are furthering God’s work of creation.
Paul’s marvellous, mystical vision of Romans 8 expands the horizon of the Spirit’s power: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now.” (Romans 8:22) Then he settles in on the central power for this Sunday, communication, the gift of direct communication between God and people, people and God. What a concept, what a reality!
let us listen to the Gospel reading now, from John 15 and 16, again part of
Jesus’ teaching to his own closest friends on the night of his betrayal:
John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15.
Here Jesus talks about the power of the Spirit to communicate: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth...” (John 16:13) That means that the truth of God is not limited to the Bible. God’s self-revelation can be progressive. It can progress beyond the first century. What does that mean? Jesus doesn’t say to the disciples, “The Spirit will guide you into all the truth for a few years and then knock it off.” I find this promise of Jesus troubling as well as exciting. I want all truth to be in hand, not something that unfolds. I want to have a finite document from which I can verify all conclusions. I shudder at the responsibility for discerning a new word of the Lord. But then, when the Spirit moves, the Spirit takes responsibility for the direction.
think the words that help me to understand what Jesus is saying most clearly,
are words from an old Congregational hymn of George Rawson that says:
limit not the truth of God
our poor reach of mind,
notions of our day and sect,
partial and confined:
let a new and better hope
our hearts be stirred:
The Lord has yet more light and truth
break forth from his word.
great ancestors groping went
first steps of the way;
was the dawning, yet to grow
the perfect day.
grow it shall, our glorious sun
brighter rays afford:
The Lord has yet more light and truth
break forth from his word.
Father, Son and Spirit, send
increase from above;
expand all living souls
comprehend your love;
make us all go on to know,
nobler powers conferred,
you have yet more light and truth
break forth from your word.
over the years I have come to see that almost everyone has difficulty with this
teaching. It is not just me who
wants my beliefs fixed and final. It
is not just the Fundamentalists, or the Evangelicals, or the Roman Catholics, or
the Orthodox, or any other box into which we try to push people who believe
differently from the way we think. Almost
every one has problems with such freedom and responsibility.
The freedom and the responsibility to listen for themselves to what God
is wanting to say to them. The liberal theologians have as much trouble as the
Conservatives. If people challenge
my beliefs, because they are at the very core of who I am, defining the very way
I see the world, I feel threatened, and I try to force them to see things the
way I do, to read the Bible the way I do, or I withdraw and find a quiet place
where I can go on thinking my own thoughts without these disturbing challenges.
Jesus said: “When…the Spirit
comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth.
He will speak of what he hears, and will tell you of things to come.
… The Spirit will take
what I give him and tell it to you.
Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word!”
has not ceased.
is still going on amongst us in 2003.
of us yet has the whole truth.
are new ways of reading the Bible, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
which give new answers to the new problems the modern world is throwing up at us
and at our children and at our grand children.
it is the same Spirit of love who inspires, sent by the same Father, through the
intercession of the same Jesus Christ. Still
the inspiration comes to those who are in a love relationship with Jesus.
Still the Spirit is given to those who by faith are following Jesus’
way, living his truth, and being filled with his life.
Still God is wanting to reveal the fullness of love to us, and still it
is beyond our grasp, because we are mere mortals.
am struggling here to convey something that is extremely important to me.
It was really important to Jesus, so important that he took time trying
to explain it to his friends in the very last hours that he was to have with
them in bodily form. And it was the
first truth that they experienced on the day of Pentecost.
Everyone heard them speaking in their own tongue.
What that means to me is that God speaks to each of us by name, in a
language we can understand, using images and parables that speak to our
particular needs at every moment of our lives.
What we need to hear today may be quite different to what we needed to
hear 10 or 20 years ago. And in
weeks or months or years in the future, we may need the message to come to us in
another way again. But the message
will come to us in the form of a relationship with the living God, who is always
beyond our grasp, beyond our manipulation and even beyond our full
Wesley, who I have been studying up on in preparation for next weeks “Festival
of Wesleyan Hymns”, put it this way: “In
the case of disputed questions, think and let think”
To accept in living faith that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord is all
that is essential. Jesus is the
centre of our faith, the one around whom we all gather, coming as we may from
all different directions, but finding in him the love of God for all people.
Yes, differences of belief may cause confusion, the day of Pentecost
seems to have been fairly chaotic. But
out of chaos new life emerges, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us trust the Spirit, and build each other up in faith, rather than
trying to destroy each others beliefs in fear.
leave you with my two main points, let me repeat them in just a few words.
we each have the responsibility to listen to God’s message for us, spoken to
us by name, for God loves each one of us in a unique and wonderful way.
second, we should all be very careful before we try to tell another believer how
they should think or what they should do. The
love of Jesus is our judge, and if we judge another, we may find ourselves under
judgement. They each heard God’s
message in their own language, and it is still the same today.
God be the glory and the praise.