Sermon 20 May 2018 Tongues of Fire Martin Baker
That question that comes up again and again in the stories we’ve been hearing over these last weeks. How can all we read about, happen?
Paul, the persecutor and terroriser of Christians, had his life transformed and becomes the most influential missionary in the early church.
But not just him.
The jailer who has imprisoned Paul and Silas asks ‘what I must do to be saved?’ He is told to believe in the Lord Jesus. And he and his family are baptised.
The cynics and philosophers in Athens, hear the word proclaimed and their lives are changed.
The establishment of a new church in places of hostility, in places of enormous prosperity, in places where so many different gods are prayed to and thanked for bringing wealth and power. And the few believers gather, and the church is established.
How is all that possible?
All that change and transformation was celebrated as the work of the Holy Spirit. The continuing manifestation and presence of the God revealed in Jesus.
Of course the first Christians were Jews. They knew that the Holy Spirit had been present throughout their history. But here today it becomes manifest in the life of all those earliest followers of Jesus they come together as the first church.
Pentecost was a big Jewish festival associated with the harvest. 50 days after the ripening of the first crops. It was a time when many came to Jerusalem to celebrate.
So two things happening - a big Jewish celebration of Pentecost relating to a harvest celebration. And the gathering of that group of Jesus followers after his resurrection. He told them to wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high. So they have been waiting for something to happen.
Let us hear the story again:
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs -- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 "In the last days it will be, God declares that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
Let us Pray
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon those first believers.
There are two groups we hear about today. Two ‘theys’ that our reading speaks about. They are the speakers and they are the hearers. The first ‘they’ speak words given to them through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the second ‘they’ in our story, listens because these words are the words that make all the difference.
So at one simple level we say that we all have the power to speak words make a difference. Fulfil dreams and visions.
We find life in the discovery that in speaking words, we can bring life, that we can make a difference in the life of another. Today. The Christian community has found its life by bringing life to others.
The power of words to transform.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
We hear about that group of early believers. 120 from Acts Chapter 1. They include the 12 disciples, women, men, Jesus mother and some of Jesus own family.
And the second group here, is this large group of devout Jews from, we are told, every nation under heaven. They have gathered for the festival of Pentecost.
So the birth of the church the first action that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit among this group of fearful excited followers, the first act is one of communication, proclamation. From us to them. From one group of gatherers to another.
Glossai tongues of fire. Give these first church people glossaias the language, the tongues to communicate and speak. Communication. Proclaiming God’s mighty acts. Tongues of fire lead to tongues to speak.
So our first task, one that brings us together, is communication and proclamation. And this task needs to be in the language our diverse community understands. It makes a difference. Whatever language is used, needs to be understood.
I think perhaps that my millennial children may never experience the wonder and joy of new communication in the way that people of my generation have experienced it.
I remember as child the big green plastic dial phone we had in Kohimarama in Auckland. I can even still remember our 5 digit phone number.
And then we shifted because of some rather eccentric view of my father’s that we should all have a rural experiences. We moved to an old house near Horitu. And we had a party line. One phone line we shared with 5 or 6 other homes. You cranked the side of the phone to make contact with the operator. And when someone was ringing you they did so by the number of rings on the phone. We were two longs and three short rings.
But of course you could listen to all the 5 households’ phone calls. There was as sense that maybe someone was listening in.
And then a new phone arrived. And we had a three digit phone number still through the operator, but now our own line.
But to make a toll call, or a call overseas you still needed to go through an operator. With those distant voices form the occasional international call. The alarm when you heard the operator’s voice.
And then another proper dial phone. And then the internet. Emails, mobile phones, smart phones.
I’m starting to bore everyone. But at each moment an excitement. A wonder.
I can communicate with others in a way never possible for me until that moment.
What does our Pentecost story say to us in an era in which we can communicate like never before? With all that power to communicate, and at the same time the awareness that people feel a profound sense of isolation and loneliness. What is the Holy Spirit saying to us now?
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
We talk about the great movement of the Holy Spirit on all those first 120 followers of Jesus. But remember they were Jews and the only reference point they had to understand what was happening were in the words of Jesus and the in the stories of what we call the Old Testament. The work of the Holy Spirit. Those more ancient stories help us in our understanding today of what to do and say.
The first line of the first chapter in Genesis. The Spirit of God hovering over the chaotic primordial water at the moment of creation. God speaks a word and creation comes into being. The spirit moves, a word is spoken and the church comes into being. Those first Christians would have been making these connections.
They would have known Isaiah’s words. The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
Or they knew the story of that old man Simeon. That Luke would have told them. When Jesus was born. A new creation. We are told that the Holy Spirit was on Simeon. Simeon went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
So all of them filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s how Luke describes the birth day of the church. The work of the Holy Spirit was already deeply part of their history their stories. Creation, prophesy, restoration. Word and Spirit. Always present together. And now the spirit manifest in the whole community of early followers.
The spirit filled community speaking as the spirit gave them power. The spirit in us, and so what are we saying?
We know what devastation happens when words are no longer spoken.
So, why don’t you speak to them anymore? Powerful forces at work when we stop speaking and listening.
The failure of language. In Jerusalem, the very city where that spirit first rested on those 120 believers we now hear of so much death and destruction. What terrible failure of speaking and listening.
What follows the end of speaking and listening is death. If the spirit or the breath leaves us, we are dead. In our relationship with others, with God. The talking stops and the death begins. What a thought. That our modern technologies, with all their blessing, might also corrupt our ability to do and say the words that make a difference.
It’s hard to learn a new language. How many of us could close our eyes now and hear the same language that’s being going around in our heads for as long as we can remember, same old fears same words to describe our world and ourselves. What does it take for us to begin speaking a new language?
So let’s pray for a movement of the Holy Spirit upon us. Pray for a tongue of fire, so that we each have a tongue to speak. Like those first believers we discover this is something we can all do. We join with the 120 gathered this morning.
We find our life in bringing the words of life to another.
Say the words do the thing that makes a difference to them.
We are loved powerfully and completely loved. Forgiven, set free, empowered, and strengthened, by the Holy Spirit.
Just like those first followers, about 120 of us gathered across our three congregations this morning. Filled with God’s Holy Spirit. Never for our own benefit. We find our strength together, our growth, in speaking the words and doing the things that make a difference to them. To the other. We can all do that. This afternoon. This week. The words the actions that bring new creation new life.
God’s deeds of power
Visions and dreams fulfilled
The spirit poured out on all flesh
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.