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Pentecost 2021

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

This morning is Pentecost, when the church remembers and celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit.


**The recorded service is no longer available, but the text of the reading and reflection are below.**



Reading | Acts 2:1-4, 14-21, 41-47 (NIV)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them...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 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: ‘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. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’”...Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.


Reflection

I set the theme of ‘sharing the good news’ for this week because it’s Pentecost and that’s what happened at Pentecost, as the disciples took up the call to make disciples of all nations in truly spectacular fashion, but to be honest I wasn’t really sure how to approach it. The truth is that I may be a minister, but I’m not a natural evangelist. I am very happy to talk about my faith to anyone who shows an interest, but I’ve never been much given to approaching strangers and asking if I can talk to them about our saviour Jesus Christ. Now I do know that’s a very crude stereotype of evangelism, and there are wonderful people who can start those kinds of conversations with grace and sensitivity, but I hope you take my point that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.


So I was at a bit of a loss as to where to start, and then I watched the Friday night opening worship for the Baptist Assembly, and the speaker Shane Claiborne said something that really struck me. He said that as Christians we have been really good at promising life after death and not so good at looking at the world as it is now, and yet Jesus did not just come to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live. His words got me thinking about the nature of the good news we have to share.


The good news is not that we get a ticket to heaven, just as long as we believe the right things and turn up to church in our Sunday best every week. The good news is that we can partner with God in creating heaven right here, even if we ask a million questions and look a little rough around the edges from time to time. And so perhaps for those of us not gifted with starting evangelistic conversations, sharing the good news may look more like living the good news, practising the kingdom values of compassion and justice, and inviting others to step into that kingdom as we do.


So that is how I found myself thinking about the kingdom for the third week in a row. The kingdom that is God’s will on earth as in heaven. The kingdom that is unlike any we have ever lived in. The kingdom that turns everything on its end to show us the world the right way up. The kingdom that is generous and just and joyful. But really it’s not just been the last three weeks. I’ve thought about this kingdom a lot over the past few years, and I am increasingly convinced that it needs to be right at the heart of our thinking and being and living as followers in the way of Christ, just as it is right at the heart of the prayer we share together each week.


I started this short series a month ago by saying that we were going to be looking for God’s perspective, as a way of anchoring our own shifting perspectives in these changing times. Perhaps that theme has not been terribly clear at times, but the thread is still there because I think the kingdom is God’s perspective. Or to borrow Shane Claiborne’s words again, it is God’s dream for the world, the world as God longs for it to be. And what we need to take hold of us is what I believe we hear in the verses from Joel which Peter quoted at Pentecost, which is that through the work of the Spirit, God’s dream becomes our dream.


So what does that dream look like when it is worked out? What can we learn about the kingdom from the reading we heard earlier? I listened to a podcast from the Joint Public Issues Team this week, presented by Beth Allison-Glenny, who you may remember preached for us last summer while I was on maternity leave. She was talking to Andy Fitchet, a Baptist minister currently serving in a Methodist church, and they were reflecting together on the lectionary texts for this week, which perhaps unsurprisingly include the story of Pentecost. I was really interested in the way they picked up on the fact that the disciples and the crowd would likely have had a common language, as they were all Jews and may have spoken Koine Greek as the language of the marketplace, and so it would have been entirely unnecessary for the Spirit to have performed this miracle whereby the disciples spoke in tongues and everyone heard in their own language.


Perhaps God was just showing off, but I suspect there was rather more to it than that. We often talk about the explosion of language at Pentecost as showing that the good news is for all people, which should be a wonderful celebration of the diversity of God’s people, but then we can act in a way that tries to bring that diversity not into unity but into uniformity. The colonising attitude of the church in former generations is the most extreme example of that, but I have seen worship leaders squirm as someone in the congregation sang out their own words of praise because it didn’t fit with their culture of worship. Perhaps the Spirit speaking in different languages is meant to teach us that we too are meant to speak in different languages. That our multiplied tongues and traditions are no longer to be seen as the confusion of Babel but as a gift from God. That the wonderful colours of our voices and passions do not need to be mixed together into a muddy grey puddle but can sit alongside one another in a beautiful rainbow mosaic.


So perhaps Pentecost gives us a vision of a kingdom in which we do not have to give up our own particularity in order to belong. God speaks to us in the language we know best, opening up the space for us to respond in the language we know best. And I’m not just talking about language in the sense of English or Urdu or Swahili, although that is a part of it. I have had the joy of praying the Lord’s Prayer in an international group where everyone prayed in their mother tongue, and it was not a confused noise but a holy sound. For most of the time we were together we were able to understand one another because we all spoke English, but in that moment we understood one another because we spoke most authentically as ourselves. So yes, that kind of language is a part of it, but I’m also talking about language in the wider sense of how we communicate, although I’m thinking particularly for the moment about how we communicate in worship.


The kingdom has room enough for those who sing and those who dance and those who maintain silence. It has room enough for those who want to read scripture with a dictionary and a pile of concordances by their side and those who want to meditate on it with their prophetic imagination. It has room enough for those who feel upheld by the structures of formal liturgy and those who feel inspired by charismatic prayer. It has room enough for the insights of poetry and art and science. It has room enough for the wisdom of old wives and young children. It has room enough for every kind of person and every kind of expression. It has room enough for all of us to show up as our best and most authentic selves. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?


And because the good news is that we are trying to bring out the kingdom that is already emerging, we need to be seeking to make as much room as we can now. It’s easy to find ourselves in narrow spaces or dig ourselves into tight holes, and it’s especially easy in church life when so much of the time worship is led by one person. I said before I came here that I wanted our worship to be multivocal, but then I quickly fell into a rut and dragged you into it with me, and I want to put that right. I want to encourage each of you to be able to use the language you know best in worship, to offer the colours of your voices and passions to create a mosaic we can all delight in. I want us to make as much room as we can to hear from one another and learn from one another and celebrate one another. I hope that is something you might want too.


I had planned to talk about the end of our reading, and the hallmarks of the early church as further signs of the kingdom, but the Spirit has done something unexpected again, and I think perhaps that may be for another day. For now let us stop and take a moment to sit with something that has struck us this morning. Perhaps you might like to think about how you could share the good news by living the good news. Or perhaps you might like to reflect on the language or expression of your worship and how we might make more room for it here

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