Sermon preached by Margaret Carter on Pentecost Sunday 2013, continuing our exploration of the book of Jonah, and connecting it to the theme of Pentecost.
Whenever l hear a sermon l understand and remember far more when l can see the relevance to my life today. It is fascinating to hear about the ancient world and how Christianity came into being but how can we use that information to help us to grow today?
My intention today, being Pentecost Sunday, is to link forgiveness and redemption in Jonah 3 with that of transformation in Act Ch 2 and to discover the relevance for us today by answering these questions:
Who was Jonah and did he actually exist?
What is Pentecost, where did it start?
Who was gathered in the upstairs room and why?
What does it mean for us today?
1. Who was Jonah and did he actually exist?
Modern skeptics often consider the account of Jonah to be an allegory or symbolic story only, however Jesus compared himself to the Prophet Jonah in Matthew Ch 12, showing that Jonah did exist and that the story was historically accurate.
The Prophet Jonah’s relationship with God seems almost comical, except for one thing: The souls of over 100,000 people were at stake. In a nutshell, Jonah tried to run away from God, he learned a terrifying lesson but then did his duty.
Good news never sold a newspaper. Today’s headlines cry out…..murder, rape, corruption, abuse, terrorism, greed, pornography, ruthless dictatorships etc. etc. but they could so easily be the daily headlines in Ninevah during the time of Jonah. God’s need for them to turn around and repent is understandable. It is no wonder Jonah ran the other way, knowing just how vile their activities were. l think my reaction might be similar to his if l felt God was asking me to go into the most corrupt city and try to get them to repent. But Jonah was given this very task.He explained to them how their life and the way they live appears to God. He explained to them the law of God, the Ten Commandments, and showed to them their life in the light of that law. Jonah’s prophesy was ‘In forty days, Ninevah will be overthrown’. Everyone, man, woman and child, even the animals repented and begin to worship God. The people dressed in sackcloth and fasted and even the king repented.
God was forgiving, both of the Prophet Jonah and the sinful people of Ninevah.
2.Why Pentecost and where did it start?
The story of Pentecost is believed to be the oldest feast in the Church and dates back to the first century A.D. The feast of Pentecost coincided with the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which occurs 50 days after the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:10). According to Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses at Mount Sinai, 50 days after the first Passover, which freed the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. As the Hebrews settled into Canaan, the feast became a time to honour the Lord for blessing the fruits of their labours. God commanded them to celebrate the same feast every year to commemorate their freedom from slavery and their departure from Egypt.
3. Who was gathered in that room and why were they there?
People get excited and plan ahead for most holidays, but Pentecost isn’t usually thought of as a holiday. In fact, many people don’t really understand what Pentecost is or why it is so important in the Church calendar. Some however, feel it is the most important time in the church calendar.
Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles. After Jesus rose, he appeared to the apostles over the next 40 days, teaching them the significance of what had happened to Him. They listened, but didn’t really understand, so Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would enlighten them and give them everything they would need to carry the Good News to people all over the world.
Then Jesus ascended into heaven, and the apostles were more confused than ever!
The disciples gathered in an upper room with the mother of Jesus to pray and to choose someone to replace Judas. Ten days later they heard a loud noise, and the Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire. When that happened, they received spiritual gifts that transformed their lives and gave them the power to touch the lives of other people.
Peter went with the others and ran into the streets to tell people about Jesus. Each person in the crowd understood the apostles in his or her own language. Thousands became believers that day.
Peter, who had been an unstable leader during Jesus’ ministry, letting his bravado be his downfall and even denying Jesus. But Jesus had forgiven and restored him. This was a new Peter, humble but bold. His confidence came from the Holy Spirit, making him a powerful and dynamic speaker.
4. What does it mean for us today?
Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Do we rely on the Holy Spirit? We (myself included) limit ourselves by our fear, our sin, our low expectations….. not to mention our ability to get easily distracted from God’s work.
Today we can experience exactly what the disciples experienced back then in the upper room. We can experience it collectively, in a small group or on our own. It absolutely can happen today and does throughout the world. A few years ago at a Pentecost service, being lead by Erica, l felt something happen, which l couldn’t explain. During the service, Erica asked us if anyone had had a word, picture or Bible passage. I reluctantly put my hand up, l wasn’t sure if it was just my imagination or what but l explained that l had seen a picture right in front of my eyes and it wouldn’t blink away. It was an image of a waterfall cascading down a mountainside, bouncing off the rocks, on all sides. The water was shooting everywhere. At the bottom of the mountain the water fell into a still, calm pool and that ran into the sea, which was also still. At the end of the service Martin came to me and said he had had the very same message l had seen but in word form.
Pentecost offers us the chance to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh. Just like Jonah, you may feel that you have run away from God, you’ve disqualified yourself from serving God because of past mistakes. But serving God is not an earned position……no-one qualifies for God’s service. But God still asks us to carry out his work, just as he did with Jonah. Allow God to forgive you and use you.
When you came in you were given a tongue of fire. I’m not sure about you but my prayers are usually about other people, my family, friends, neighbours, wars throughout the world. I often think that God knows what l need and he will provide. But, God wants us to be honest with him about our needs and feelings and there is nothing selfish about asking for ourselves. Write down the word sorry and then ‘please fill me with your Holy Spirit’ and be prepared for him to act. Keep the tongue of fire to remind yourself of this day.