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Bible Talks

Pentacost (John 15:26-27-16:4b-15, Acts 2:1-21)

Alan Shaw, May 24, 2015
Part of the 1 Corinthians series, preached at a Lismore Sunday service

The Work of the Holy Spirit – Rev Alan Shaw
A pastor of a Pentecostal church once commented that there was nothing new to celebrate on Pentecost Sunday that they didn’t already do every other Sunday! This evening I’m attending the Combined Churches of Lismore Pentecost Celebration to find out for myself.
We might accept that the Anglican Church typically doesn’t celebrate the Holy Spirit in quite the same way as some of the Pentecostal churches we know – but I believe we do value & encourage the work of the Spirit – even though we may admit we can be a little self-conscious – or unsure about how to go about it.
The role of the HS in the Christian life is a sticky point in many churches. Since earliest times arguments have arisen over how we understand the work of the Spirit - & over what we call the gifts of the Spirit – in particular the gifts of prophecy & of speaking in tongues – which are only 2 of a list of gifts the Apostle Paul states are given to some by the Holy Spirit expressly for the building up of the church.
You can read about the Gifts of the Spirit in 1Cor 12 & 13 & Romans 12.
The gift of wisdom seems to be & the ability to make decisions and give guidance that is according to God's will.
The gift of knowledge is the ability to have an in-depth understanding of a spiritual issue or situation.
The gift of faith is being able to trust God and encourage others to trust God, no matter the circumstances.
The gift of healing is the miraculous ability to use God's healing power to restore a person who is sick, injured, or suffering.
The gift of miracles is being able to perform signs and wonders that give authenticity to God's Word and the Gospel message.
The gift of discerning spirits is the ability to determine whether or not a message, person, or event is truly from God.
The gift of administration is being able to keep things organized and in accordance with God's principles.
The gift of helps is always having the desire and ability to help others, to do whatever it takes to get a task accomplished.
The gift of tongues is the ability to speak in a foreign language that you do not have knowledge of, in order to communicate with someone who speaks that language.
The gift of interpreting tongues is the ability to translate the tongues speaking and communicate it back to others in your own language.
The gift of prophecy is being able to proclaim a message from God.
The Apostle Paul indicated that the gifts of the Spirit are equally valid - but not equally valuable. Their value is determined by how much they build up the church.
There’s no magic formula or special test that can tell us accurately what gifts of the Spirit we might have at any time - & we shouldn’t be distracted by worrying about it. What we need to focus on is serving God through serving others - & God will take care of the rest.
?Do you see a need in our church? Then do what you can to meet it.
?Is there a ministry that needs help? That interests you? Then ask God if you are the one to put your hand up.
Unless we seek & follow God's will – whatever we do can quickly become for our glory - not God’s. If we ask God then God will always either show us the way & equip us with what we need - to do what God needs us to do. Or… God will place barriers before us or direct us elsewhere.
Today’s Acts reading tell of the coming of God’s Spirit in a specially powerful way on the disciples – a day that has been called the Birth of the Church. In a way today is the Church’s Birthday. This powerful manifestation of God caught those disciples unawares – it moved them to do & say things that previously they were either afraid of – or didn’t understand.
What is clear is that the HS is the precious gift that Jesus had promised his friends before he left them – a gift that would empower them to do what Jesus had asked of them – to take the good news of God’s love to the world. And we are here this morning because they did.
This HS has been given various titles - Comforter – Advocate – Guide – all sounds lovely enough. But what use is it? Some people have used the HS as an excuse to not properly prepare – to leave things to the last minute.
But the picture of the HS many have today bears little resemblance to the one described in the NT. Putting the spectacular rushing wind & tongues of fire aside for a moment – what we get from Peter’s spirit-filled pronouncement in that Jerusalem street is the comforting news of God’s promises - & the bottom-line & very UN-comfortable message about God’s judgement that would come on the Day of the Lord – whenever that comes.
The coming of the HS emphasises what God has done through Jesus – it’s how we respond to Jesus that seals our fate for eternity. Each must take responsibility for making a choice that will determine our eternal future. Peter spent the rest of his life proclaiming this reality – & witnessing to this truth that he at one time denied - & history tells us that it cost him his earthly life about 30 years later in a gruesome crucifixion in Rome under Emperor Nero.
Our gospel from John also underlines how the work of the HS convicts us of the consequences of our response – or lack of response - to Jesus. We reject or ignore Jesus & we die. We accept him as Lord – we live forever.
The world judged Jesus to be a misguided fool – dangerous agitator – even mad. It condemned him to death in an attempt to silence him. But the HS made sure the good news that Jesus came to share would not be silenced. The HS came to bear witness to the unity of the Father & the Son & to empower us to do the same.
One thing stands out in this Pentecost story – how God’s Spirit broke through the barriers of communication that separated those 1stC visitors to Jerusalem - people from all parts of the known world - people who could not normally understand each other because of language barriers suddenly heard & understood God’s message of freedom. The power of the Spirit gave the disciples a message that could reach every heart & mind.
It doesn’t really matter whether the miracle happened in the throat of the speaker or in the eardrums of the hearer - or both. What matters is that something amazing happened that simply wasn’t possible - unless God’s Holy Spirit had not made it so.
Theologian Marcus Borg - author of Reading The Bible Again For The First Time [HarperOne: San Francisco, 2001] - argues that the HS undoes – overturns the confusion & miscommunication that happened on the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) – restoring & bringing back together the broken & divided community of humankind in a spirit of unity.
Borg argues that the different languages of humankind – even the different variants within languages - have the power to divide one from another – depending on how we use words. We can see that God’s Spirit rushed in to empower people of different language groups to do something previously only dreamt of - to communicate effectively with one another.
The word ‘advocate’ – one of the names for the HS – is a common legal term originating from the Greek meaning counsellor – helper – one who testifies on behalf of another. The role of the HS is to testify - convey the truth – communicate.
Wonderful things happen when we sit down with each other & earnestly explore what we share in common – despite our perceived differences - & discuss the deeper questions of life. [Tell story of Healing & Reconciliation dinner at CWA on ANZAC eve]
Bishop Sarah will be doing just this on SUN 21st JUNE when she joins a panel in a public forum with Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell – facilitated by ABC Radio North Coast presenter Joanne Shoebridge in the hall next door. It promises to be an event not to be missed - & I pray that this will be the first of many ‘Different Conversations’ that will help us as church to see ourselves as having something intelligent to say about current world issues. And that the world may see the church as having a voice & a social conscience.
But communication can be hard work. Jesus was often frustrated with his disciples. Time & again they misunderstood what he was on about.
But how often do we misunderstand each other?
How often do we really hear others? Or become lost in our own thoughts & push our own points of view at the expense of others?
A comforting thought here is that we don’t need to beat ourselves up over our shortcomings or the disunity we might see in the world. Our job is to discover what God has planned for each of us – then have the courage – through the power of the HS – to follow God’s plan.
The only way we can know God’s plan for us is through earnest prayer. It’s not our job to break down the barriers that separate us from each other. That God’s business. Our job is to pray & to give God permission to do what God needs to do within us – then get out of the way while God does it.
When we pray we open ourselves to the leading of God’s Spirit & we are more likely to surrender & give God permission to lead us where we might glorify him.
Prayer. That’s it. Pray & ask God to do it. We must plead with God to break us open & to strip us bare of all the junk that can clog up our ears & our souls. God will do it – maybe not in one spectacular outpouring of wind & tongues of fire - but God will - if we really want it - & we keep asking for it.
Birth is a messy affair. Births are rarely neat or quiet - & the birth of God’s Spirit within us – is no different. Pentecost Sunday is an appropriate time to think about new life & growth – as we ponder the possibilities & the new things God might be calling us to - as individuals – as community – as church.
How do we reach out to - & communicate with - those who are different – those who ears & hearts are closed to the gospel?
How do we make Jesus real in a way that makes a difference?
What new things might God be calling us to – as individuals – as a church?

References:
Barclay, W. The New Daily Study Bible – Acts of the Apostles, WJK: Louisville, 2001
Barclay, W. The New Daily Study Bible – Gospel of John vol 2, WJK: Louisville, 2001
Borg, M. Reading The Bible Again For The First Time, HarperOne: San Francisco, 2001
Gifts of the Spirit, http://www.allaboutgod.com/gifts-of-the-spirit.htm 21/5/2015
Matthews, K. & Suriano, M. Sermon Seeds, May 24th 2015, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_may_24_2015
Nettleton, N. Breaking the Sound Barrier, http://laughingbird.net/SermonTexts/0207.html, 18/5/2015
Williams, J. Lectionary Reflections - Year B, SPCK: London, 2005.
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PENTECOST SUNDAY 24TH MAY 2015
Eucharistic Preface
Lift up your hearts. ......We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. .It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is indeed right to give you our thanks and praise, O God,
for you pour out your Spirit on all flesh
and amaze us with your deeds of power.
In your infinite wisdom, you created the earth and made it pregnant with new life.
You raised living creatures from the dust, by the power of your Word
and breathed into them the breath of your Spirit.

Your Son, Jesus, taught us your truth and, before being given up to death,
he promised to send us the Holy Spirit
to support us in both strength and weakness as we labour with you
to bring to birth the promised fulfilment of our deepest hopes and yearnings.
In these last days you have poured out the new wine of the Spirit,
opening our eyes to visions and dreams,
awakening within us your marvellous gifts
and firing our tongues with everlasting songs of joy.
Therefore with .....
Declaration of Grace / Absolution
The one who has corrupted this world has already been condemned,
but everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Sisters and Brothers, your sins are forgiven. The first fruits of the Spirit are yours.

Commission & Benediction
Go out into the world, and work to bring forth new life.
Dream dreams, pursue visions and speak of God’s goodness
in the words of those who would hear.
And may the God who breathed life into creation be your delight.
May Christ Jesus give hope to your dreaming,
and may the Holy Spirit, your advocate and supporter,
........set your hearts ablaze with a passion for peace.

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