23 May 2021 Tongues of Fire Martin Baker
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.'
Today, we join with churches around the world in celebrating Pentecost. The birthday of the church. This extraordinary moment where the tongues of fire came and rested, and all these followers hear of God’s great deeds in the native language of each.
From this beginning, the question - how could this happen?
These stories we have been listening to.
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 Ethiopian Eunuch who asks Philip to baptise 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 Galatia as we heard last week, 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? After all, the Romans crucified thousands of Jewish troublemakers. From their perspective, Jesus was just one more.
And yet, from the execution, all that change and transformation. Celebrated as the work of the Holy Spirit. The continuing manifestation and presence of the God revealed in the risen Jesus.
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, and some of Jesus’ own family.
And the second group here, is this large group of devout Jews from every nation under heaven. They have gathered for the Jewish festival of Pentecost.
So, the birth of the church. Speaking, hearing.
There is a play in the Greek language here. Glossae - 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.
Speaking and hearing.
Communicating to people about God in a way that transforms those who hear.
Then and now, speaking and hearing, as these foundational moments.
I was at a presentation last week about the changes in communication between generations. The presenter reminded us that in his High School, students used email sometimes, text messages, Instagram WhatsApp, Teams, and then another dozen or so other online tools for communications and collaboration. Ones that I was not at all familiar with.
How many times do we get told about the fundamental importance of communication?
I remember living on a not especially isolated farm as a child where we had a phone with a winder handle on it. Two longs, three shorts, two longs, and the operator would answer.
The excitement of new communications. I do not think it is quite the same now. Many days I get messages from strange and exotic looking people wanting to be my friend on Facebook. But that is not the same as hearing the ring on your first big plastic dial phone or marvelling at those first slow images on the internet. My children will never know what that was like.
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.
Sandy was telling me that the most searched words in New Zealand on Google last week related to people’s mental health.
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.
We talk about the great movement of the Holy Spirit on all those first 120 followers of Jesus.
Those ancient stories we find in our Old Testament, help us in our understanding today of what to do and say.
In the first chapter in Genesis. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
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,
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 manifests 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 embassy closes down, and the war starts.
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.
“When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. “
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.
The talk I attended last week also had evidence about the shortcomings of on-line learning and communication. For many it is a poor substitute for real community and there are real limits in many areas of learning without the presence of others.
If we do not have another voice speaking to us how are we going to change?
I wonder 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 are loved powerfully and completely loved. Forgiven, set free, empowered, and strengthened, by the Holy Spirit.
Just like those first followers, in Jerusalem, about 120 of us gathered across our five congregations this Sunday. 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.
To think that our church is founded on this extraordinary phenomenon of the work of the holy spirit that radiated out from Jerusalem and comes to us all the way to the ends of the earth. It can’t be contained.
The message is utterly disruptive. Whatever stories are going around in our heads, whatever is feeding our fears and sense of value, our anxieties. All overwhelmed by this power that comes from God.
In a world where there is no end to the means and methods of communication, and at the same time where there are unprecedented levels of isolation and loneliness, we have a role. Isn’t the work of the Holy Spirit more important than ever? To include, to welcome, to invite and to reject what is false and share the truth of the Good News. News which makes all the difference in the world.
God’s deeds of power
Visions and dreams fulfilled
The spirit poured out on all flesh
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