Holy Spirit Sunday 7pm, May 23rd, 2021
(Stephen Hamer- Diocesan Reader)
(Related Bible readings can be found here)
May I speak in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen
If you were in the Chapel this morning and heard the Revd Byryn Yardey, I hope the following isn’t too much of a repetition. The preparation for what follows started in mid-April and those that preach rely on how they are led. I have heard quite different sermons preached on the same passage of scripture.
Last year our churches were closed for Pentecost, so one has to go back to 2019 when we last considered the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, and what it means to us today.
Ten days ago, some of you came here to a morning service and heard of the Ascension of Jesus back to his father in Heaven. I have no doubt at some time we have all considered this place called Heaven – what it is, where it is, if or why it exists at all, etc – but that is not a discussion for this evening.
Now 7 weeks after Easter, today is Pentecost (50 days) otherwise known as Whitsun or in Israel Shavuot [first fruits harvest]. For the historians amongst us, a bit of history from the 1960s. What was going on in those years ? On the music stage here we had Engelbert Humperdinck at the Majestic Hotel, Onchan, The Rolling Stones at the Palace and across the water in Liverpool were The Beatles at the Cavern Club.
But, the global stage was much more serious. The world was gripped by the ideologies of capitalism and communism. The Cold War between Russia and America began as WW2 ended in 1947. The Vietnam War had been running for 10yrs and with no signs of ending. The dreadful loss of life in WW2 was still fresh in the minds of the residents of Britain – they didn’t want to be dragged into another war, particularly with their European neighbours.
Thus in 1967 the UK Government did two things, one that still affects us today.
And what of Whitsun? – it ceased to be a moveable feast like Easter (to which it was directly linked). The State ignored it and it lost importance in the Church.
Thus, many Whitsuntide traditions have diminished or gone. In NW England in particular it used to be a time for church and chapel parades known as Whit walks, consisting of brass bands. choirs and girls dressed in white. Whit fairs took place which included Morris dancing and cheese rolling – some have still survived having been transferred to the late spring bank holiday.
So, why am I talking about Whit or Whit Sunday when our weekly notice sheet states that today is Pentecost ? What is the difference? Actually nothing. Whitsunday or Whit was the name used in the UK for the Christian festival of Pentecost. The Old English name Whit Sunday derives from White Sunday, probably named after the ancient custom of wearing white robes at or after baptism. Reference to Whit will probably die out with this generation, but Pentecost will remain. History lesson over -
let’s remind ourselves what had been happening since Jesus came out of the tomb.
Acts 1 says this -
'After his suffering, he presented himself to them
and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.'
One of the 20 or so occurrences in the Bible was on the shores of Lake Galilee – a place called Tabgha. It is a very special place to Jeanette as a couple of years ago she presided over a communion service for a tour group with the water lapping behind her in the reeds-
as it would have done some 2,000 years earlier.
Scripture goes on to say….
'On one occasion, while he was eating with them
(NB he was alive and in human form as he ate and had shown Thomas the nail wounds in his hands), he gave them this command:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
To the disciples it was something they had not yet experienced – the promise of a spiritual companion along life’s way.
Did the Holy Spirit only come to Earth at Pentecost?
No – scripture shows that some people throughout history had been given this precious gift of the Holy Spirit on an individual basis and for a particular reason.
Let’s look at a few examples:
In the first book of the Bible (Gen. 41:38). Pharaoh recognized that the Spirit was in Joseph when he asked his officials
“can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God”
It is likely that Pharaoh did not understand this was the Holy Spirit, but later revelation seems to make this clear.
The Spirit was in Joshua which is why God chose him to follow Moses and lead Israel
The Spirit was in Daniel (Dan. 4:8; 5:11-14; 6:3)
The Spirit came upon some, such as the judges, Saul, and the prophets Balaam and Azariah.
The Spirit filled Bezalel. (Ex. 31:3; 35:31) - a special enablement to lead the craftsmen as they worked on the tabernacle.
In OT times the HS seems to have been given for a specific time and to carry through a specific job. eg The Spirit empowered Samson but later the Lord left him (Judges 13:25; 16:20). In the book of Samuel it records that the Spirit came on Saul and later left him (1 Sam. 10:10; 16:14).
There would appear to no be guarantee of permanent presence of the Spirit in Old Testament times – and it was on a selective basis, whereas Jesus was offering the Holy Spirit to all believers. That is, those who not only believe that Jesus is the Son of God (for Satan knows that) but are prepared to try and live a godly life
following the guidelines God has given us.
In the Gospel of St John that Sheila read [John 14:8-17], where he is promising the Holy Spirit it says:
'I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever.
He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God...
you will know him, because he remains with you and is in you.'
Revealing the truth is demonstrated in discovering what is in scripture – the disciples were not only given insights of Heaven by Jesus but the gift of discerning scripture.
Returning to the scriptures: Many Jews were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Early Harvest and the giving of the Law to Moses, which is some 50 days after Passover – thus our 7 weeks after Easter. The early Christians were waiting in the Upper Room when the Spirit of the crucified, risen and ascended Christ came and baptized the disciples.
And the people heard them witness in their own familiar languages.
This was not the 'speaking in tongues' referred to by St Paul in his letters - that's quite different. So what was happening? What languages would those visitors to Jerusalem have spoken? They would have used the common languages of the Near East and the Mediterranean - Aramaic and Common Greek. The Apostles would have spoken those languages, too.
In the Temple the liturgy was in Hebrew, the language of religion, but this would have been less familiar to the foreign visitors and not the language of common speech.
So, when they heard talk about God – ‘the great things God has done’ - the visitors would have been expecting to hear Hebrew, a religious language. Now, in the street, they hear the Apostles talking about God in the everyday languages of home, work and family -
Greek and Aramaic - it was unheard of before.
Some in the crowd think the Apostles are drunk because they are not observing the most basic rules of religious convention - they are talking about God in secular languages!
When I was somewhat younger than I am now, the Roman Catholic Mass used to be said in Latin and I wondered just how much the congregation understood.
8 years ago (2013) Jeanette and I were at a service in Jerusalem where a significant proportion was said in Arabic - and I suddenly knew how those people would have felt.
With the scripture in Latin, the Roman Catholic Church had adopted the Roman tongue for its Mass everywhere. The priest celebrated mass with his back to the congregation and prayed silently, or followed the Latin prayers in books called missals. This all changed in 1965 when the Second Vatican Council felt it better that services should be in the mother tongue of the country.
A thought regarding the disciples gathered in the Upper Room as they waited for the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised. A couple of years ago we went to a meeting run by a Christian psychologist and a professor at Warwick University - Leslie Francis. He was discussing psychological profiling – a tool which can be useful in getting the right person in the right job. His view was that all the disciples would have failed such a test
and yet empowered by the Holy Spirit, they went on to change the World!
We might think we are unlikely people to do God’s work but that is not God’s view.
We might think we are too old or too young to do God’s work, but again, that is not God’s view. We can and should use the gifts and skills God has given us – don’t get too hung up with the theological differences between fruit and gifts of the spirit.
The gifts of the Sprit did not die out with the disciples.
Pray that we discover them in us and use them in his service.
Returning to the Bible - what happened to the early Christians?
We know that they went on to take the good news of Jesus to the world.
Within 40 years of the disciples being given the Holy Spirit by Jesus in this locked room,
of the 11 disciples present 10 of them would have been martyred – many crucified.
They took the Good News not only within the Holy Land, but to faraway places.
They travelled widely to such places as Rome, Greece, Asia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece and India both seeking out existing Jewish communities and preaching to them and to Gentiles alike. Would they have done this if they were not 100% convinced of the Good News of Jesus – the same Jesus who offers us today a relationship with him.
The Holy Spirit not only fell on them in the Upper Room but it filled them and empowered them. It’s the same Holy Spirit that God offers to us today.
If you wonder if you’ve received the Holy Spirit in your life – ask God for it.
It isn’t some magical power, but a gentle and wise comforter
who travels with you on our earthly path.
As we journey through our Christian life, let us thank God for Pentecost