Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 5 June 2022.
• First Reading: Acts 2: 1-21 (The coming of the Holy Spirit – Peter’s sermon)
• Psalm 104: 25-35, 37
• Epistle: Romans 8: 14-17 (Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God )
• Gospel: John 14: 8-17, 25-27 (I will do whatever you ask in My name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son)
You will recall the gospel story of the man who asked Jesus what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ reply was simple: obey the law. All of it, in every detail. And yes, you will live.
But we know that obeying the Jewish law is not simple and there was an elaborate system of atoning sacrifices for covering any infringement.
If anything, the law showed up just how far we were from the salvation it promised, which is why Jesus came among us and went to the cross.
So let’s try again. What do we have to be in order to gain eternal life? More interesting but still very testing because in ourselves we have only gained condemnation, under the law and in the sight of God. Apart from Jesus we are still beyond hope.
And the starting point is not the occasional acts of goodness that we may perform, because these only invite a reckoning on the number of acts of selfishness that we also perform. This also is a loser.
If anything the change has to come, and it has to come within us in the deepest part of our lives. Part of it is a personal faith in Jesus Christ as our justification before God, but even a personal faith without the power to sustain it throughout life is also going to run on empty.
Our personal faith in Jesus Christ brings us out of the proverbial changing room and to the starting line, but in ourselves we will not finish the race successfully.
More is needed. And this is the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ personal representative in all parts of the world, in every church that believes in Him and in every soul that trusts in Him.
If you like, the Holy Spirit is the power in the engine that makes the vehicle drive, uphill and downhill in fair weather and foul, day and night. The Holy Spirit is the person of Jesus in action in every believing soul.
So what happened on the Day of Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit came to be gathered disciples of Jesus who were already expecting that special gift, and empowered them from within.
Where faith was flagging, He would strengthen it.
Where understanding was faint, He would deepen and widen it. Where the courage to share one’s faith was faint, He would give strength and confidence.
Where the understanding of what to pray for was lacking then He would give vision.
Where steadfastness in the face of disappointment and failure was undermined, then He would give strength in the inner soul. Where faith to persist or even when believing was being undermined then He would bring the comfort of reassurance.
In short the coming of the Holy Spirit was far more than the tongues of flame and even the gift of foreign language, though these are indeed part of the heritage that He gives.
Rather, it is the deepening of personal faith, especially for those who are uncertain and unsure of their own ability to speak out. It is the ability to pray when all reason cries out against it. It is the ability of faith to see through all sorts of reverses and to trust in the providence and goodness of God.
It is the kind of faith that is sustained when we are isolated and unsure, and when every voice of condemnation is raised against us.
The faith that Jesus wants us to live by is the faith that He had sustained Himself, and which He knows is not natural to us. This is the faith by which He wants us to live and thrive. And no, it is not part of our natural endowment – which is why He wants us to be filled with His Holy Spirit and to know His power in believing.
The Day of Pentecost brought the church – the disciples of Jesus who were gathered together an endowment that went far beyond their personal edification.
It gave them a power to sustain and display their faith as they came together to worship Him and to proclaim Him in their lives.
The Holy Spirit definitely came in tongues of flame and with the gifts of foreign language so that they could proclaim Jesus more effectively in the Jerusalem of their time.
He also comes to the church today so that it can have a real life and more than a collection of individual believers. It becomes the Body of Christ in which every member is part of the whole and knows the joys and sorrows of the whole.
For us the question is more personal and direct: Does our faith really sustain us during those times of difficulty and dryness? Do we need something more from God in Jesus Christ to further sustain us?
Are we really that self-sufficient through all the changing scenes of life? Or is there more that we can ask for and expect to receive?
The Holy Spirit is not a special gift for the specially holy: He is there for all who ask and who do so from within their own sense of need and even inadequacy.
That is why we are all encouraged to ask and to expect to receive the Holy Spirit when we have done so. And help is always on hand from within the body of needy believers.