Sermon: Pentecost, 20 May 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Pentecost- Acts 2:1-21

-Did you know that your life is shaped by stories?

-How you think,

-How you act,

-Even how you feel is shaped by the stories you hear,

-The stories you know,

-The stories you tell yourself.

-And it’s not only individuals that are shaped by stories.

-The United States is shaped by the ‘Manifest Destiny’ story of American exceptionalism,

-The virtue of the American people and their institutions,

-The mission to spread these institutions and redeem the world,

-And its destiny under God to do this work.

-The Australian story on the other hand is far more prosaic.

-A convict past that stoked our anti-authoritarianism and pragmatic individualism,

-Culminating in the Anzac legend of mateship, sacrifice and egalitarianism.

-These personal and corporate stories feed unconsciously into who we are,

-What we believe,

-What we value,

-What guides, directs and motivates us.

 

-The bible is one of these stories that has fundamentally shaped Western society.

-In fact many sociologists and historians would argue,

-That the Bible has been the most influential story impacting our Western culture.

-And as we continue to hear the little stories of the beginning of the church from the Book of Acts,

-We’re also reminded of the big story of redemption that overarches the whole of the scriptures.

-There in Acts 2:5 we have a subtle reminder of the big story that’s been unfolding across history;

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” Acts 2:5

-Every nation under heaven.

-The story of Acts is about how the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit were witnesses to Jesus,

-From Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth

-That description of ‘every nation under heaven’ is a pointer to where this story is going,

-But it’s also a reminder of where the world has come from,

-A reminder that for us to know why the world is how it is,

-We need to go right back to the beginning of the story in the book of Genesis.

 

-In Genesis 1 we see a personal and powerful God creating the universe by a mere word,

-‘Let there be . . .’

-And out of nothing comes something.

-It’s the idea picked up in all of Psalm 104 and most particularly v26 on your Readings Sheet;

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” Psalm 104:26

-Genesis 2 shows the personality of God being literally stamped on his world by the creation of human beings,

-Man and woman enlivened by the Spirit to be God’s image in the world,

-Given the task of ruling and ordering creation,

-And intimately knowing the Lord who created them.

-But Genesis 3 turns dark,

-And through the temptations of the devil those first human beings reject God’s love and grace,

-And choose to live their own life their own way.

-So from ch3 to ch11 we see the spread of sin and it’s consequences on human relationships.

-Adam blames Eve,

-Cain kills Abel,

-Lamech introduces polygamy and murders a man for an insult.

-Chs 6-9 tell of God judging a sinful world and restarting with the faithful Noah,

-But the deep roots of sin re-emerge on the plains of Shinar with the building of the tower of Babel,

-And the final curse upon humanity is God confusing the language of the builders,

-So they can’t understand each other.

-With that scattering out across the whole world nationalism was born.

-The rest of the book of Genesis is the story of God choosing a people for himself,

-Who’ll be the vehicle of salvation for the whole world.

– A salvation Peter acknowledges in that quote from the Old Testament prophet Joel;

“The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:20-21

-And then explains in vv22-41.

 

-So let’s return to that smaller part of the bigger story that Acts 2 famously tells us.

-Obedient to Jesus’ command to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit,

-The Apostles gather together a few days later on the day of Pentecost.

-Pentecost was a Jewish festival celebrating the first fruits of the wheat harvest,

-Held fifty days after Passover.

-It was a pretty big festival,

-Which explains why there were God-fearing Jews from every nation present at that time.

-Luke writes;

“. . . suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:1-4

 

-There are a number of times throughout the Old Testament,

-Where wind and fire symbolise the Holy Spirit and the presence of God.

-When Ezekiel looked upon the valley of dry bones,

-He heard God say;

“Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” Ezekiel 37:9

-The Lord then told Ezekiel to explain to a despondent, exiled Israel;

“You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live,” Ezekiel 37:13

-God was promising new life through the Holy Spirit.

-As well as that audible manifestation of the Spirit in Acts there was also the visual,

-And fire symbolised the presence of God.

-Remember Moses at the burning bush?

-Or Moses leading the people to the Promised Land,

-A pillar of smoke led them by day and fire by night?

-Both of these were indicators of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

-At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry it was John the Baptist who said that Jesus,

-Would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.

-And now at Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes in power upon the Apostles in tongues of fire,

-And they begin to speak in other languages enabled by the Holy Spirit.

 

-Let’s return once more though to the really big story of Genesis.

-The reason we see the world as it is today with all it’s brokenness, tears and pain,

-Is because of human sinfulness.

-From family squabbles to international tensions,

-All can be traced back to that original rebellion against God’s rightful rule over this world,

-And our individual, ongoing belief that we can run our lives better than God.

-Genesis 3-11 traces that individual to international descent into sin.

-From Acts 2:22-40 we hear Peter explaining how Jesus came into our world and dealt with the problem of our sin.

-Peter gives an abridged version of what the four gospels state;

“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” Acts 2:22-23

-The sin of Adam and Eve brought disease, death and the demonic into God’s good world.

-In Jesus’ ministry we see creation being restored.

-Disease is healed,

-The dead are raised,

-Demons are cast out as the Son of God enters into his creation.

-In the presence of Jesus even the chaos of a storm is calmed,

-Leaving his disciples to ask in fear,

-‘Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him.’

 

-But all of this occurred in the context of the Jews,

-With even Jesus himself saying he only came to the lost sheep of Israel.

-What about the rest of us?

-It’s the rest of us that the story of Acts encompasses,

-It’s the rest of us,

-Who were scattered to the ends of the earth through the sin of Babel,

-The rest of us who were labelled Gentile dogs and outsiders by God’s people the Jews.

-But here at Pentecost a remarkable thing is about to occur.

-If Jesus’ presence reverses the scourge of death, disease and demons,

-The presence of the Holy Spirit reverses the scourge of disunity amongst humanity.

-The curse of Babel is reversed as Jews from all the surrounding nations,

-From the lands of old Assyria where the ten tribes where scattered,

-To the northern lands of what is now Turkey,

-And on around the Mediterranean to Libya in Africa and Rome in Europe,

-Hear the apostles witnessing to Jesus in their own language.

-Those ethnic barriers are broken down through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

-When they asked one another what does this mean?

-The answer comes back from Peter;

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18

-Notice the extent of this gift of God,

-It is to ‘all flesh’,

-Sons and daughters,

-Young and old,

-Slaves and free.

-No-one is excluded,

-This gift is truly multi-facial.

-There will be no limit to the grace of God,

-So that;

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21

-Now it’ll be a few more chapters before Peter is confronted with the breadth of God’s grace,

-A little while longer before he realises it’s not just the Jews from the ends of the earth,

-That can receive God’s gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit,

-But even the Gentiles,

-The rest of us.

-Because we are part of this great story.

 

-That prophecy of Joel with its promise of salvation and Spirit,

-Wasn’t just for the crowd in Jerusalem.

-When Jesus said ‘Go, make disciples of all nations’ in that Great Commission,

-It wasn’t just to those eleven disciples on the top of the mountain.

-When he called the first disciples to be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth,

-He was giving that charge to all of us who have been changed by the story of Jesus,

-Who have called on the name of the Lord,

-And received the promised salvation and forgiveness of our sins.

-We don’t just hear the story,

-What the book of Acts reminds us is that we become part of the story,

-The great story of God’s creation of a good world,

-And his redemption of a broken one.

-Through the gift of the Holy Spirit and his presence in our life,

-We enter into the story of God’s grace and mercy,

-And are called to be sharers of that story.

-And like those first believers,

-We are given the same power through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to Jesus,

-And share our story,

-Of the blessings of his story.