Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 22 May 2021.
• First Reading: Acts 2: 1-21 (The disciples gathered together, violent wind and flames of fire, the coming of the Holy Spirit)
• Psalm 104: 25-35, 37
• Epistle: Romans 8: 22-27 (The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God)
• Gospel: John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15 (The Advocate – the Spirit of truth – will testify about Me)
For a time so wedded to the denial of faith, we live in a time of many spirits.
There are the ardent spirits – mainly strong alcoholic brews and distillations which blur the wits but fortify the emotions and reduce the inhibitions. It is in the strength of these that any alluring proposition can seem to be attractive – so long as it is not examined too closely.
This is why drunkenness on any kind of duty is forbidden and equally why no agreement should be made when under the influence. It is also why any kind of sensitive equipment should not be operated or mechanical vehicles driven.
Then there are the spirits of the age. These are the fashions of the moment which can and do change and whose allure draw many others along in their train.
This can be a fashion about political opinion, artistic expression, personal clothing and adornment and of course questions of value, morals and of taste. Whatever sentiment has the ear of the listening and viewing public, and the hand of the producers of written and broadcast media will be rapidly established as the orthodox opinion of the times.
Humanity may not have changed much over the millennia but think of how different our values and institutions are from those of 100 years ago.
And then there is the Holy Spirit. Not a spirit of intoxication or of the easily persuaded but insecurely moored people of our age. This is something quite different, and the Day of Pentecost is the day on which we recall how the gathering of exuberant and expectant disciples was galvanized into a body who were to be grounded in the words and works of Jesus and who would proclaim them fearlessly around the ancient world.
The disorganized rabble of fearful disciples on the day of Jesus crucifixion had become an irresistible force through the Roman Empire – and one not particularly known for tolerating dissent, especially if it meant that Caesar was definitely not divine.
The Holy Spirit was going to do and be far more than the display of tongues of flame, the speaking in foreign languages and the arresting proclamation of the Christian message to a curious but skeptical audience.
Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would point to Himself and Himself alone – and was not going to be any way multi-cultural – at least not in the spiritual realm. Just as Jesus had spoken the words that His Father had given Him, so the Holy Spirit would be faithful in holding to what Jesus had said and done. He would acknowledge none other in a time of many deities and claimers of sovereignty over the human soul.
What was true then is true now. But Jesus pointed to three aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit.
First, He would convict the world of sin. The world has plenty of sins to repent of, in every sphere of life. But Jesus was pointing to something specific and this was the sin of unbelief. It would apply to the people of Israel who had been raised and trained to expect the coming messiah who would redeem them of their sins. But no, Jesus was rejected when He came.
But even outside Israel and among the nations of the world there seems to be a sentiment that all opinions and practices are acceptable – expect those of Christians, especially of those who hold to Jesus Christ above and before all other considerations. Somehow there is a special venom and toxicity reserved for the gospel of mercy and every contrivance is used to distort it, subvert it, or just plain abuse it.
Then the Holy Spirit would convict of righteousness: Jesus had died yet risen from the dead; He had been on earth but was now in the presence of the Father. He was wholly and totally vindicated having been crucified in utter innocence and integrity.
But God had raised Jesus from the dead and had prepared a people in every land and age and culture to proclaim it to be so. The Holy Spirit would see that they did.
God had done what none others in history had done or could do and He was indeed the righteous One who would judge the world.
Finally, the prince of the world was judged. Jesus had never contested the right of Satan to bestow the kingdoms of the world on Him, for they were his to offer. You might argue that he has indeed passed them into the temporary control of all sorts of dictators – but in each case they have come to an end. And that applies to the dictators of today as well.
But the very facts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and of the spread of the gospel message to almost all tribes and languages around the world means that even the powers of the most destructive and self-consuming spirits are limited in time and will be brought to an end. Maybe it is small wonder that it is the Christian message, its believers and proclaimers that are the most persecuted upon the earth.
But the Holy Spirit is the seal of God’s promise to His people and His gifts are His assurance that they are all for real. Hallelujah!