Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 2014

This was the sermon I prepared for Pentecost Sunday 2014, although the sermon I preached was in fact a bit different, as followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

The sermon was followed by a time of confession (where we asked for God's forgiveness for rejecting his spirit), which then moved into a time where we invited the Holy Spirit to be poured out afresh on the people gathered in church.

Introduction

When it comes to birthday’s I always struggle for inspiration, I never know what to buy.  So I was amused by this cartoon of the Dalai Lama’s birthday party.



Today is Pentecost Sunday, and it marks the birthday of the church.  But unlike me, who never knows what to give, God knew just what his people needed, so he sent the Holy Spirit, the greatest gift of all. 

This is why I love Pentecost Sunday so much, it marks a watershed moment in Christian history.  I believe that after Good Friday and Easter Sunday it is the most important day in the Christian year, and like Easter Sunday it is a day of celebration, joy and hope.

What is Pentecost?

The word Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentekostos, which means ‘fifty’, because Pentecost is held 50 days after Passover. 

Pentecost was also called the Feast of Weeks and Feast of Harvests, and is known as Shavuot in Hebrew. It was the second of three major feasts in the Jewish year.  It was originally a harvest festival  (Exodus 23:16), but in time, also turned into a day to commemorate the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Jews of many nations would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate this important festival. 

It was on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after his resurrection and ten days after Jesus had ascended to heaven that the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ followers who were gathered in Jerusalem. 

Before Jesus had returned to heaven, he had instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem and wait to be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49).

When the Holy Spirit came it was powerful and dramatic, a sound like a violent roaring wind filled the house where they were sitting, and tongues of fire rested on each on them, and they were filled with the power of God, and began speaking other languages, languages they had not learnt, as the Spirit enabled them.

The Holy Spirit that came on that first Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that is active in the church and world today.

Who and What is the Holy Spirit?

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, many people are confused and sometimes afraid of the Holy Spirit. On Wednesday I was at a prayer meeting, where I was told about one church in Walsall, where the congregation actually said ‘We want nothing to do with the Holy Spirit’. 

This fear exists because people don’t understand or know what and what the Holy Spirit is, and because they are afraid of what might happen if the Holy Spirit was to come in power.  But we do not need to be afraid of the Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is simply the presence and power of Jesus.  It is the spirit of Jesus.  It is how Jesus is with us.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry he could only be in one place at one time, but as he prepared to return to his father in heaven, he said to his disciples “I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20).  This promise was fulfilled when ten days later the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus is with us now, and through which we encounter and experience God in our lives.  It is the Holy Spirit that makes God real.

In our Gospel reading Jesus said “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16).  The word the NIV translates as advocate, in Greek is Parakletos which literally means called to one's side, and can also be translated as counsellor, comforter or helper.  So the Holy Spirit is the comforter, who comes to guide and support us, working for us and with us. 

How to receive the Holy Spirit 

There is a fear that some people have about what will happen when they invite the Holy Spirit into their lives, but the fact is that if you have invited Jesus into your lives, you already have received the Holy Spirit.  Jesus says "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me (Revelation 3:20)  When we open our hearts to Jesus, we open our hearts to his Spirit. 
But being filled with God’s spirit is not a one off occurrence.  In Ephesians Paul instructs the Christians to keep on be filled with the Spirit, to "Go on being filled over and over and over again."  

We need to be constantly filled afresh with God’s spirit, and to recognise that there is a difference between having the Holy Spirit and being FULL of the Holy Spirit. 

As we experience more of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, so a transformation begins to take place within us, as the fruit of the Holy Spirit begins to grow.  That's love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22).  In other words we should become more like Christ, as the spirit of Christ dwells within us. 

The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, gave birth to the church, which saw rapid growth.  At the end of Acts chapter 2, we see what the early church was like.  It was a church where the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship.  It was a church where people were filled with awe at the many wonders and signs that were performed.  And it was a church where no one was in need.  Everyone was cared for and supported.  This was all the outworking of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers.

This is surely a model of what the church should be like today, a place of awe, unity, hospitality, generosity and growth. 

One aspect of the life in St Martin’s that we have been looking at as part of our Mission Action Plan is how we can strengthen and improve pastoral care, so that every member of the church is loved and supported. 

We recognise that a lot of pastoral care takes place in St Martin’s on an informal basis every day, through people listening and supporting one another, through the home groups, cafĂ© and tai chi groups, and through the friendships people have. 

But we recognise that more can be done, and we want to do our best to ensure everyone in the church family gets the support they need, and that we can also extend this support out to the wider community.

This is why we have now produced Pastoral Care Request Cards, and recently sent out a questionnaire asking people in church if they could provide support to others, whether than be visiting someone in hospital or at home, making phone calls, providing lifts to and from church the hospital, or other appointments. Providing other practical support, such as helping with gardening, making meals for people, dog walking, etc.  If there is something you can offer to help with please speak to one of the Wardens, David and Julie, or to Lilian.   

We have also established a new pastoral care group, which Lesley Bates is co-ordinating, called ‘Caring Hands’.  So if you know someone is in need of help and support, whether in the church or someone in the community please let Lesley know so we can ensure everyone gets the help they need. 

But whilst all of this is encouraging and positive, we need to recognise that we all have a responsibility for pastoral care.  It is not just the job of the Vicar, or the Caring Hands group, or the Ministry Team or Wardens.  We each have a part to play.  Because it is through each one of us that God’s Holy Spirit is at work. 

The Holy Spirit is given to us not only so that we may know and experience God’s power and love in our lives, but also to work in and through us to change both ourselves and the world around us. 
St Teresa of Avila wrote this famous poem
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours, 
Yours are the eyes with which he looks 
Compassion on this world, 
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, 
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. 
Yours are the hands, 
yours are the feet, 
Yours are the eyes, 
you are his body. 
Christ has no body now but yours, 
No hands, no feet on earth but yours, 
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. 
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

With the Holy Spirit within us, we are the presence of Christ in the world today.  We are his hands, his feet, his eyes.  Through us, Christ reaches out and serves the world in love. 

We need to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and release the spirit that is within us, as we seek to serve God, one another and our world.