Sunday, June 04, 2006

PENTECOST: a sermon

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 this congregation depends right now on the decision we will make; 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 reach the people of this community? 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.

A few months back a lady 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, wherever she is 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 the lady was giving 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 a mission Church 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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