Saturday, May 10, 2008

Whitsunday The Feast of Pentecost

As I wrote last week, I will post my sermon below the Collect and Scriptures appointed.

The Collect.

O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending* to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

For the Epistle. Acts ii. 1.

WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome. Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

The Gospel.
St. John xiv. 15.

JESUS said unto his disciples, If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world can not receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us. and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you be fore it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe. Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.

Two things happened on the day of Pentecost. Fifty days after the children of Israel came out of Egypt the Lord appeared on Mount Sinai and spoke to the whole nation. Centuries later, fifty days after Christ rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit came in power upon the Church as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. These events were powerful realities, witnessed as such by all who saw and heard them. They were manifestly supernatural. They both showed that God is seated upon His holy throne, and that every power and authority in heaven and earth is answerable to Him.

People who have seen the movie, The Ten Commandments, have been lied to by the banality of Hollywood. Moses did not climb the mountain of Sinai until after the Ten Commandments were spoken. The people of Israel awoke to the sound of a trumpet from the top of Mount Sinai, and to the sight of fire blazing upon it. The voice of God shook the earth; they all heard it, as the Ten Commandments were spoken to the whole nation at once. They heard the voice of God audibly from heaven, a real sound with vibrations for the ear. The reality of it was terrifying, and they asked Moses to climb the mountain so that the voice of God would not be heard any more; for it was a terrifying sound. The Lord agreed, and called Moses up the mountain.

Fifty days after the real Passover, when, after dying for the sins of the whole world, Christ rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in Jerusalem. The crowd saw the tongues of fire, and heard the rushing mighty wind. They heard the disciples declare the works of God- Christ’s miracles and especially His resurrection- in the native languages of people who had come from all over the empire. The event was real and it was supernatural. Saint Peter (no longer afraid, no longer denying the Lord) declared the Gospel. Through his preaching about three thousand people were converted. The Church was born this day.

Whether or not one understands the Christian life, has everything to do with whether or not one understands what happened on the day of Pentecost fifty days after Christ rose from the dead. Only by understanding and appreciating the meaning of this day can we understand the Christian life. If it is simply a history lesson to us, or even worse, just a big mystery we never try to comprehend, then we cannot live in this world according to our calling as the people of God.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, with His power and His gifts, is every bit as real as the Incarnation, though very different in kind. Through the Incarnation God was present in the earth in the Person of His Son, without any sin, without any taint of original sin. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit God is present in the earth through sinners who are called to become- every one of them- saints. In the Incarnation God was present in his Son to go about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil; through the coming of the Holy Spirit Christ is present in His Church to continue this very ministry.

Through the Incarnation Christ was present in a body of flesh and blood. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, Christ is present in His Body, the Church, of which you are the members- the parts. In us, by the Holy Spirit, Christ remains a tangible, physical and visible reality. His Incarnation is extended though His Body the Church. Where we gather together He is present.

Upon what should we depend? Like most clergy, I have been given many words of advice, many ideas. Some of the ideas are very good; and some are not. But even the best ideas for how to bring people into the Church, are of no value if we forget the source of our power, namely the real and present God in our midst. We are called into His service. The future of Traditional Continuing Anglicanism depends on a decision we make every day; will we exist simply to provide ourselves with the services we like, simply to preserve the old Prayer Book, or many other things perfectly good in themselves; or will we dedicate ourselves to be the people of God who are available to Him so that He will be pleased to use us to save souls? The Lord Jesus said, “This is eternal life, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Are we here to know God, and to help others to come to know Him?

Whether or not we understand the meaning of this day is crucial; it has everything to do with knowing what the Christian life is. Our options are gone; we can afford to hold back absolutely nothing. We depend upon the Holy Spirit. He gives every gift that we need for the service of God. All of the sacraments are made real by His work, including the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood on the altar. But, also many gifts that exist among all of the members of Christ’s Body- gifts that you have, even if you do not know about them, or have never thought about the whole subject. This is not theoretical to me. I am an eyewitness to miracles of healing, and other miracles. I have seen; I know.

When I was in Arizona a woman in my cngregation gave me unsolicited advice. She wanted me to know that I am too strict. She thought I was too strict simply because I preach the same Biblical morality that is so obvious that, frankly, we all should know it. She told me that in order to get new members, I should not teach “old fashioned” morality. I should accept the fact that the times are changing- and all that rubbish. The problem with her reasoning was obvious. None of this was real to her. She believed that we can make up the rules, or change them, at will. I hope that, whatver church she is in now, she will learn the truth. If this whole thing is a fantasy, or if the Church is just a club or a business that needs members, then we can change the rules. But, if the Real and Living God is present among us, and wants us to know Him and to help others to know Him, then we are not simply talking about rules. We are talking about the commandments that have come from on high, and about the revelation of His Word. Concerning these things we have no rights to make changes, and we have no vote- absolutely no vote at all. The Church is the agent of God’s kingdom; it is not a democracy. Was I offended by the advice that this woman offered me? Yes, very much so. Christ is real, the Father has sent Him, and He has sent His Spirit. His real and holy presence is among us, and we are here to do His will. Our calling is to be saints, that is, to be holy people. Our mission is love, that is charity. We are called to Know God and His Son Jesus Christ, and to help others to know Him.

Upon what do we depend? Is it enough to have good plans, and useful ideas? These are good things, but they are not enough. If the disciples had depended upon a brilliant plan, a sure fire market strategy to build the Church, we would not even remember their names. The Church was born on the day of Pentecost for one reason: The Holy Spirit had come in power. The Risen Lord Jesus had told them to do nothing, but simply to remain in the city until they would be endued with power from on high. Without the Holy Spirit, they were told to do nothing at all. They waited and prayed for those ten days after He ascended to the Father’s right hand; and then the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, came upon them.

If we understand that this is reality of which I speak, and that we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give us His power and gifts, we can be useful to the Lord for His purpose of salvation, as the ones through whom our Lord Jesus Christ continues to go about doing good, healing all who are oppressed by the Devil. Even so, Amen.

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