Sermon: Ecumenical Pentecost Service, Tuesday, 30 May 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, Chester Street Uniting Church

Pentecost: Acts 2, Genesis 11

-What would you change if you could turn back time?

-If you could turn the past around and bring in a brand new future?

-What would that future be like if you could turn your past around?

-In the 2004 movie ‘The Butterfly Effect’,

-Ashton Kutcher plays a character who could travel through time and change past events in his life.

-He wanted to change an injustice that he’d participated in,

-But changing that one tiny event had unforeseen ramifications as the new future evolved.

-He had to go back and then make other changes,

-But each change resulted in even more catastrophic events.

-The title of the movie comes from the saying used to summarise chaos theory,

-That a beat of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.

-A seemingly insignificant event in the Amazon Basin,

-Could alter the course of a furious storm in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

-I wonder if Adam had any inkling of the storm he would unleash when he bit deeply into that forbidden fruit?

-With that first rebellion against God,

-A ripple of sin resonated throughout the whole world.

-That first man and woman’s relationship turned from blessing to curse.

-The intimacy of marriage so beautifully illustrated in the innocence of nakedness,

-Is turned into hiding and shame.

-The unity of one flesh is transformed into alienation, blame and accusation.

-Like the pyroclastic cloud of an exploding volcano,

-Sin smothers every aspect of human existence with a suffocating cloud of destruction.

-Work is turned into toil.

-Disease, disorder, demons and death replace the blessing,

-The life,

-The peace of the original creation.

 

-And yet even in the midst of this disaster God has a plan to turn back time,

-To change the course of history.

-Hear how Peter describes it in his speech on the day of Pentecost;

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Acts 2: 22-23

-God’s plan was to send his Son Jesus into our world to reverse the rebellion.

-But unlike the character in ‘The Butterfly Effect’,

-Jesus’ actions would correct the situation,

-Jesus’ intervention would be perfect,

-And he’d set the creation back on the path it was created for.

-Peter tells the assembled crowd on the steps of the temple in Jerusalem what they already knew about Jesus,

-That he was proven to be God by his miracles, wonders and signs.

-Those contemporary inhabitants of Jerusalem would have seen first hand the ministry of Jesus,

-They’d have seen many of the miracles he did.

-They’d have seen him reversing the fall,

-Turning back the ravages of sin and restoring the created order.

 

-What was Jesus doing when he gave sight to the blind,

-Made the lame walk and the deaf hear?

-He was removing the effects of disease and sickness in creation.

-What was he doing when he cast out demons and released the oppressed?

-He was overthrowing the power of the devil in creation.

-What was Jesus doing when he calmed the storm and walked on water?

-He was exercising control over a disordered nature,

-Bringing divine order into earthly chaos.

-And when Jairus’s daughter, the widow’s son and his friend Lazarus were brought back to life?

-He was defeating death.

-All of those curses of the fall are reversed by Jesus.

-And then sin itself is defeated.

-By God’s set purpose and foreknowledge,

-Wicked men put Jesus to death by nailing him to the cross.

“But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2: 24

-His death on the cross paid for our sins.

-Jesus’ sacrifice cleansed our souls.

-On the cross Jesus substituted himself for us,

-He suffered the curse of God we deserved for our rebellion,

-And exhausted that punishment through his death.

-Then he rose back to life.

-Sin and death are defeated.

-Satan loses his power over humanity,

-Jesus restores creation and sends it back in the direction God intended.

 

-But the story doesn’t end there.

-Jesus didn’t just pop up from the grave and say,

-‘Good luck gang you’re on your own now!’

-No, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the next gift of the divine presence.

-But before we go there we need to go back again to the beginning,

-To another event which showed the trajectory of life for a sin blemished humanity.

-It’s the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.

-A story which follows up the cataclysm of the Flood and the new beginning with Noah.

-Let me just read the beginning of this story to you,

-And see if you can’t hear some resonances with the events of Pentecost in Acts 2:

“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.  As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11: 1-4

 

-What was it about the building of this tower that so offended God?

-It was the desire of the builders to make a name for themselves and not be scattered.

-When God created humanity he gave those first humans the command to fill the earth (Gen 1:28.)

-In other words God told humanity to scatter over the world.

-The Babel builders,

-Just like Adam and Eve,

-Rebelled and disobeyed God.

-They wanted to ‘make a name for themselves’,

-They wanted to be the shapers of their own identity,

-To be the autonomous creators of their own being.

-Who does that sound like?

 

-You and me and every other sinful human being that has walked this earth.

-But God intervenes to fulfill his command.

-He confuses their language so they can no longer understand each other,

-They can no longer communicate.

-They’re cursed with ethnic and tribal differences.

-We don’t need to look too far in our own modern history to see that curse at work do we?

-Africa,

-The Middle East,

-Asia.

-Fractured community,

-Communal breakdown,

-Cultural differences that lead to rivalry, jealousy, racism.

 

-But again God has a plan.

-A plan he announces in Genesis 12 to a 70 year old wanderer;

“The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12: 1-3

-Did you hear the reversal in that promise?

-‘I will make your name great’

-‘I will make you into a great nation’

-‘I will bless you and through you all peoples on earth will be blessed.’

-The builders of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves,

-But God says to Abraham ‘I will make your name great’.

-The Babel builders wanted to create their own nation,

-But God says to Abraham ‘I’ll make you into a great nation.’

-The Babel builders wanted to bless themselves.

-They wanted to construct their own blessing from the creation of their own hand,

-And rejected the blessing that can only come through a proper recognition of the Creator God.

-So they get confused and scattered.

-But God’s plan always was to unite and bless,

-To bring a scattered, rebellious people back together as one.

 

-Through the death and resurrection of Jesus sin and death were dealt with.

-Then through the gift of the Holy Spirit a scattered humanity is drawn together in a new community.

-Listen again to Acts ch2:

“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. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” Acts 2: 1-6

-Isn’t that awesome.

-No wonder the people were bewildered.

-For thousands and thousands of years,

-Humanity was separated and divided by the inability to understand what another tribe, neighbour or nation was saying.

-But on this Pentecost morning,

-They were hearing God’s plan of salvation for themselves.

-Just as the divine presence of Jesus reversed the effects of the fall,

-So now the divine presence of the Holy Spirit reverses the curse of Babel.

-Through the power of the Holy Spirit present in our daily life,

-A new humanity is created,

-A new nation is formed,

-A new community is founded.

-God turned back history and fulfilled that promise he made to Abraham.

-Through Jesus,

-A descendant of Abraham brought blessing to all mankind.

 

-Friends, we are the recipients of that great gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

-We’re the recipients of a new name,

-A new family.

-We are now God’s people,

-God’s new community.

-And what does Peter say of this new community,

-What are the marks that make us different?

-We have a new vision.

“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.” Acts 2: 17

-We will have a new way of looking at life in this world.

-We’ll see this world through the eyes of Christ.

-We’ll see what Jesus sees and will desire to see his will done in this world.

 

-Have you ever wondered why the opening request of the Lord’s prayer is;

-‘Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’?

-If you are a true follower of Jesus you’ll want to see God honoured in this world,

-You’ll want to see people recognizing his rule as King,

-You’ll want to see people obediently following his will for their lives.

-But vision is more than the passive desire for these things to occur,

-The vision Peter proclaims in the words of the old prophet Joel is one where the people of God,

-Filled with the Holy Spirit of God,

-See in their minds eye the things that could be done in this world for God’s glory,

-And then set about bringing that preferred future into reality,

-Bringing those dreams of a better future into existence with real world actions.

-What vision has God put in your heart?

-What are you doing to project that vision and make that dream a reality?

 

-Have a listen to the vision that Peter tells us that King David had and wrote about;

“I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” Acts 2: 25-28

-David saw Jesus and that he made known the paths of life.

-Because David could see Jesus he says ‘I will live in hope.’

-David rightly recognizes that in Jesus there’s life.

-Jesus himself said it,

-‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’

-‘I have come that they may have life.’

-‘I am the bread of life.’

-The mark of God’s new community is life,

-Real life.

-Life that has purpose and meaning.

-Life that is rich and full.

-Life that gives hope and fills us with joy.

-That new life should radiate out of us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

-Again can I ask have you experienced this life?

-If you have,

-How are you promoting this life that Jesus gives so freely to this needy world?

 

-The final mark of the renewed people of God is peace.

-Have a look at the final descriptor that Luke gives of the new community formed after the day of Pentecost;

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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.” Acts 2: 42-45

-The curse of the Fall and the curse of Babel are removed.

-People from all the nations of the world hear the good news of Jesus in their own language,

-And God unites them in a new family.

-We have peace with God and a renewed peace with one another.

-See how it’s expressed in v44;

“All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Acts 2: 44

-They shared everything,

-They held everything in common.

-They met needs as they arose.

-Can you see how different that is to that group of people who wanted to make a name for themselves?

-Here is a group of people who through the power of the Holy Spirit are completely transformed.

-Rather than rebelling against God,

-They gather together and worship him.

-Rather than jealousy and envying one another they serve others graciously.

-Rather than being scattered, suspicious and closed off,

-The Lord adds daily to their numbers.

-Let me ask one last time,

-What part do you play in practising this peace and opening yourself to a turbulent and needy world?

 

-The good news of Jesus is that with the power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives,

-We are enabled to have a new vision, new life and new peace.

-We’re not only given this new future as a gift to us,

-We’re given the blessing of sharing that future and to be a blessing to others,

-To being part of God’s plan to restore the whole of creation under the Lordship of Christ.