Sermon delivered by the Rev’d Sydney Maitland
Among my memories of childhood and times at school there was the sense that whatever I did, it was never quite enough. My performance on the school playing fields was admittedly lamentable, and I had no particular interest in the ball games that they insisted that I should play.
In short I was always something of a misfit, and accordingly I came to enjoy the general level of contempt that this special status merited. Essentially, whatever it was, I did not really belong and was normally on the outside of things, looking in.
Jesus’ disciples had also come to enjoy their own special kind of exclusion. They might have enjoyed the kudos of Jesus’ company at the height of His ministry, but when the chips were down, they too had taken to their heels and fled. Peter had tried to follow but when challenged he also denied having had anything to do with Jesus.
Six weeks later, when Jesus had been resurrected, the disciples had at least come together in the knowledge that Jesus now lived and that death had not been able to hold Him.
Even so, they were still liable to misunderstanding and confusion, they still had to be taught, and led in the path of a new kind of discipleship.
As instructed they stayed together, continuing in prayer and worship and in each others’ company. They had been promised another helper, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit but they probably did not know what to expect, and so they were quite happy to await events. The disciples were still a very small minority and the authorities were quite ready to stamp on them again.
When it came, first there was the rushing of a mighty wind. When God had created Adam, He had breathed life into him, and Adam had lived. In the same way, when Ezekiel was presented with the valley of dry bones, they did not live until they had received the breath of God, and then they indeed became a mighty army.
The wind or breath of God was the life of God Himself, and it was wholly different from the breath that filled their lungs in the normal course of events. It was special in its character and it was limitless in its supply.
Then there was the fire. It was the burning bush that had attracted Moses in the wilderness, and again it was special. It was the kind of fire that burned but did not destroy. It gave light and warmth but yielded up not ashes but the very voice of God. It was the fire that rendered the ground before it sacred, and which pointed to Mount Sinai which would guide Moses during the exodus to the place where the children of Israel would be given the law and would be constituted a new people. Above all, it was the fire that consumed sacrifices and rendered them into an acceptable offering to the Lord.
Next came the gift of tongues: perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of them all. Of the phenomena of Pentecost this has persisted in the church to the present day, and can generate as much confusion as ever.
For this was indeed personal. If the tongues of flame had anointed the disciples in the upper room, they had at least been contained on the premises. But the new languages were something else for they embraced all who were there and all spoke out as they were given the power of utterance to do so.
Now God was touching each disciple, in his or her heart and mind and body. Now He was acting directly upon each of them, and using each to speak out.
Each was now being taken deeper into the counsels of God, for the Logos of God had spoken and creation came into being.
It was by speaking that the law had been received and by speaking forth that the prophets had uttered their prophecies. It was by speaking that Jesus had preached the gospel, healed the sick, forgiven sins and instructed the disciples.
It was by speaking that Jesus had confounded the temptations of Satan and could have escaped the cross, and by which He had finally committed His body to death on the cross.
It was by speaking that the disciples had also preached the gospel, healed the sick and defied the authorities.
It was therefore by offering up their voices to be used and sanctified by God that the disciples had been launched into the first momentous proclamations of the gospel, of which our daily expressions of faith to others and even our sermon today are successors.
For God was indeed using their voices and their bodies, without violating them or doing violence to their minds or wills, and without suppressing their intellects or their mental integrity.
And yes, we are their successors, and we also are given the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. On the other hand we also sometimes need to be reassured that we also are not left comfortless, that what we do is not just the repetition of a routine or a liturgy, but is also possessed with the life and will of God.
That is why we continue to be drawn back to the words of Jesus, to His commands to obey God and to love one another.
It is why we also need on occasion to be reminded that we also are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ Jesus, children of the same heavenly Father thought the merits of the body and blood of Jesus who died on the cross for us.
It is also why we too need to be still in the presence of the Lord and to say to Him in the simplicity of our hearts:
COME, HOLY SPIRIT.