May 19, 2024

MESSAGE – Day of Pentecost – Year B – Sunday 19 May 2024

MESSAGE – Day of Pentecost – Year B – Sunday 19 May 2024

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

Here it is, the Day of Pentecost, where the spirit descends and fills us with courage, clarity and purpose. But before we get into the nitty gritty, can we, for a moment think about the times in our lives, when we have experienced the power of the spirit? Perhaps it is as simple as feeling a renewed wave of overcome us as we waiting for our child or gran child to put on their socks after they’ve already taken half an hour! Or perhaps it was more expansive- I had an experience last week when I woke up and got ready and sat down at my table and I had a mountain in front of me to climb. And that mountain was a 3000 word essay. And as I sat there I thought, “well I will probably need an extension for this”, and then from there negative thought after negative thought arrived and I was spiralling. But at some point I stopped long enough to hear from deep within, “it doesn’t have to be this hard”. And so I went straight into prayer and asked God to lead the way, and sat in silence for quite a while. After I opened my eyes, I had a new plan. Firstly, I decided to try a completely different process of writing. As someone who is energised by change and enjoys trying new things, this was a bit of gamble but the new and unfamiliar gave me a big burst of energy. Secondly, and most importantly, I decides to set myself aside, and let go and let God. And I wrote 3000 words in four hours, and it was a good essay. Never have I produced work this quickly before. So for me this was a real testimony for allowing God to work through us, and how leaning on the Lord can make the roads we walk a lot easier.

Thank you for sharing your testimonies. We are Christians gathered in a church on Sunday AND we are people who have been profoundly changed through the presence of Christ. And we can rejoice in knowing that what we have in front of us, in our scriptures today, are living words- words that can have a real impact on us and others around us.

So, now down to business.

The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word “Pentēkostē,” which means “fiftieth” and it marks the fiftieth day after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ.

Prior to Pentecost, we have journeyed through Jesus’ death and his resurrection, and heard the accounts of the forty days where he was appearing to His disciples, teaching them more about the Kingdom of God and promising the coming of the Holy Spirit. Leading up to Pentecost, the ascension of Jesus marked His physical departure but also assured His followers of the imminent arrival of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would empower them for their mission. The disciples, filled with anticipation and probably a lot of uncertainty, gathered in Jerusalem as instructed by Jesus, praying and waiting for the fulfillment of His promise.

As the day of Pentecost arrived, a sudden sound like a violent wind filled the house where they were sitting, and tongues of fire came to rest on each of them. People spoke in unknown languages and these languages were understood by everyone. This marked the beginning of a new era in which the disciples, emboldened and guided by the Holy Spirit, would spread the gospel with unprecedented courage and clarity, ushering in the birth of the early Church and the spread of Christianity throughout the world and into the very church we find ourselves belonging to today.

It all sounds pretty straightforward until we think about the details in Acts where fiery tongues descend on people and people speak in languages that others don’t know and yet they can understand them– when we think about the details it all starts to seem quite strange and peculiar to us. But the Bible is steeped in symbolism and metaphor, and the presence of fire often indicates the presence of God, and rather than literal fiery tongues floating above people’s heads, we can think of this as the best description that could be given to what was happening in the room. But no matter how it was described, it is safe to say something remarkable happened in that room, on that day and that it is still unfolding all around us today.

To help us go deeper into the message, I’m going to share three short stories. The first two I stumbled on one day when I was watching animal clips with my children on you tube, which was something we used to do after they had a melt downs and after things had calmed down a bit and some emotional regulation had taken place and as we were watching clips of puppies seeing themselves in the mirror for the first time we stumbled across a channel about animals reacting to humans in unexpected ways. Two stories have always stuck with me.

The first is a video with a group of hikers who come across a bear in the woods in North America. And the bear, has got into some trouble. It has a razor sharp tin can stuck around its head, and the hikers know they have two choices. The first choice is to leave the bear alone, knowing that in this instance the bear will die. The second choice, is to try and get the tin off the bears head. The animal is distressed, angry and adrenalized. Any attempt to save it poses significant danger. But they choose the option that most of us would like to think we would choose and they decide to try and save the bear. After some struggle, they get the tin off and they find themselves facing the most vulnerable thirty seconds of their lives, standing face to face with an agitated wild animal. My heart was thumping in my chest as I watched this-which way is it going to go? But then something beautiful takes place. And the bear, instead of lashing out and attacking, bows his head and then looks up and stares them straight in the eye and there is not a person in the world that could watch this and not understand the communication of immense gratitude flowing from the bear to the hikers.

The second story that stayed with me features a heard of adult female elephants and their young. Female elephants play a crucial role in the social structure of the herd. They live in close-knit family groups led by a matriarch, who is typically the oldest and most experienced female. These herds are highly social and cooperative, with all members participating in the care and protection of the young calves. The young ones are surrounded by attentive relatives who help guide and nurture them, ensuring their safety and well-being. And in this clip one of the babies had fallen into a very deep and narrow ditch. The herd is frantic. They are trumpeting and rumbling to signal alarm. They are pacing, swishing their tails and trunks and flapping their ears. The calf is squealing in distress. But local farmers hear what is happening and as they assess the situation and again they are also faced with a choice. Do they try to save the baby and in turn risk their own lives? Elephants generally avoid conflict with humans, but if they feel their young are threatened or provoked, a herd may attack, initiating highly coordinated charges against the threat. Their sheer size and strength is enough to trample even the strongest creature. But the farmers decide to help and they come out with a digger and after a few attempts, they scoop the baby up into the bucket at the front of the digger and lift it out. Again, those moments of vulnerability straight after the rescue are palpable. But the herd retreats and all of them walk away over to a nearby pool of water, about 200 metres away. And again something beautiful happens. The lead matriarch sucks up some water into her trunk and turns around to face the farmers and she raises her trunk up high, and trumpets loudly while spraying the celebratory water up into the air in an exchange of deep appreciation and joy for the farmers.

The third story takes on a very different tone: it was in real life, and it happened over in Caloundra a few months ago, when one of closest friends and teachers walked out of his house and saw a man lying in the gutter out the front. Immediately he went over to see of this person was ok. He couldn’t get a response, and so he called the ambulance. He was sitting with the man, when a woman came out form her house and said “oh I am glad you stopped, he’s been there for about two hours and everyone has just walked over him”. Now my dear friend in his seventies and he is an incredibly wise person He knew why no one stopped. Firstly, he said, they were scared. They thought they might be putting themselves in danger. But that doesn’t explain why no one called the police or an ambulance. And secondly, and this is the part of modern day society we need to resist with all our might and direct our young ones away from, is the part of society that is so self-consumed, that it would walk over someone in need without even batting an eyelid. When the paramedics arrived, they told my friend he had saved the man’s life; he was unconscious after an epileptic fit.

And in each of these stories; the bear and the hikers, the elephants and the farmer and my friend and the man in the gutter, there one powerful, underlying pulse:

No matter what language we speak, no matter what categories of individuation we have defined ourselves by: gender, age, race, class- even what species we are:

The spirit recognises the spirit.

In John 15:26, Jesus lays it out clearly for us, he says: “I can’t be here anymore but I will send you the advocate, the Holy Spirit, who comes from the Father”. No longer do we have Jesus walking around in our midst, but he does not leave us to deal with any of this alone. He sends the advocate. The backer. The promoter. The sponsor. The campaigner. The divine spark within. And in each of these stories where people are presented with a situation where they have to choose themselves or another, what do they do? They lay their life down for their friend. And to be honest, I don’t know how I would respond in these situations. I would absolutely be thinking about my own safety. I’ve got a family to look after and they need me. But the good news is in those moments, the will of the Holy Spirit takes hold. Acts chapter 2, verse 4; “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave them ability”. And as I set Lydia aside, as I lay my life down and allow the spirit to move through me absolutely anything is possible and all of the fear and doubt, and self- focus subsides, while the spirit within us rises. So we don’t really need to worry or anticipate how we might react in these situations, or in any situation: rather, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and lead the way.

But there also are no guarantees. My friend could have been hurt, checking on the man lying down in the street. The hiker could have easily been attacked by the bear; the farmer trampled by the elephant. But there is nothing to fear. As people of faith, we have to remember that for each of us comes the time when we realise that we are no longer consumed with building our material worlds, but rather, consumed with attaining the qualities of mind that encourage us to replace the earthly thoughts with heavenly thoughts: this is what being made alive through Christ is all about. Setting the self aside. Taking the lesser seat. Giving God all of the glory and all of the credit for everything good we do- if we try to do it ourselves we will get tired and burnt out and grumpy but when we are resourced from a higher place, we are given all of the stamina, and clarity and grace we will ever need. And instead of trying to advance ourselves in the material world, we can now turn our attention to devoting ourselves to building our Eternal Kingdom. And in making this shift towards the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, both within us and around us, we’ve been given the only guarantee that matters: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.