Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 9 June 2019.
When Peter began his Pentecost address, he was a changed man. He had been reinstated by Jesus as one of the disciples, but at this stage he was still the same as before: enthusiastic and impulsive, liable to speak before the brain was too heavily engaged and not very effective.
But on that Day of Pentecost he was changed from within and his address showed it. He had been inclined to being bombastic and emotional. Now he was reaching people he had never known, and his words were changing their lives. Now, when he spoke, he still controlled his body but the Holy Spirit was nurturing his thoughts so that his words were now inspired and powerful. Now things happened.
And so it was that on the Day of Pentecost, the body of disciples were changed into a reflection of the glory of God. Now they radiated more that their own memories and fellowship.
Now, like the burning bush that had attracted Moses’ attention, they were radiant with the glory of God and people were wondering how it was and what it meant.
They were filled with the Holy Spirit of God but they were not consumed or reduced to ashes. Instead they had a light and an authority about them, which was quite different. They had been consecrated to new ministries but without violation of their persons or their wills. The spirit of the prophet is always subject to the prophet.
But Jesus had never intended to establish an institution with all its offices and procedures and hierarchies, all those committees and senior positions and struggles for preferment. Rather He had always intended the body of His disciples to radiate His own life and this theme is there throughout the gospels.
And this sense of mission was not only there in the gifts of the spirit, but also its fruits.
There is a much loved hymn – ‘Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost’ whose recurring theme is ‘Therefore give us love’. It treats love as one of the gifts of the spirit, but I am sorry to tell you that this is not so.
Love is definitely there among the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. It is praised by St Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth, and even greater than the gifts of the spirit which will all come to an end.
But while love, along with faith and hope will endure forever and is the greatest quality of all, it not a gift of the spirit.
Love grows and is cultivated. It endures in the reverses of life and is strengthened by overcoming all the adversities that life has to offer – and there are many.
It is pruned by God so that like any fruit of the spirit it may be more fruitful yet. But is remains a fruit of the spirit and not a gift which is unearned, unearnable and certainly no proof of personal sanctity.
Yet there were and are the gifts of the spirit and they are there to enable the mission of the church. That includes the gift of tongues which is given as a personal gift and is there to pray when normal words fail. It is there to edify but not to inflate the ego of the speaker.
It is there to be used in simplicity and quietness and you do not have to swing from the proverbial chandeliers to use it. As you see we have no chandeliers anyway.
But the disciples were being raised to a new degree of glory so that they could radiate the glory of Jesus Christ. They would do so among themselves and they would attract curiosity and interest from onlookers, who wanted to know what this was all about.
And so Jesus released the Holy Spirit on the disciples as a body – rather than on the church as an institution. What they had and what they were would be consecrated to higher purposes, but without doing violence to them, violating them or abusing them.
This was all about God the Holy Spirit within them, and not their own self-conceived ideas or preferences.
Gifts of tongues was there to edify those around them, who heard the message or God in their own language and not that of a foreigner or an occupier. God was initiating a new agenda among them and giving them the power and the authority to follow it through.
In our time Pentecost is all about God’s agenda, and not about our own needs or preferences. It will always involve speaking in the society where we are but that does not mean endorsing all its tastes and fashions uncritically.
This is where we may find opposition, but Jesus was always clear in saying that our confidence and our peace was to be in Him, and not in what satisfactions the world has to offer.
But then He always promised to be with us – to the end of the world.