Pentecost: The Great Feast

Joint Parish Service for Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104
John 15:26-27; 4b-15

Well, it is 10-ish in the morning and we are all gathered together in one place. Perhaps we should watch out for tongues of fire and listen for the sudden rush of a violent wind from heaven. Not to be confused with jet engines from the neighbours!

But I think we should pray first…

Creator God, as your spirit moved over the face of the waters bringing light and life to your creation, pour out your Spirit on us today that we may walk as children of light and by your grace reveal your presence. Amen.

No matter how many times I read Acts 2, it always sounds crazy, chaotic and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. There may be a few people here this morning who would love a little fire and wind to liven things up. Equally there are others who would prefer things a little more ordered.

However, being made to feel uncomfortable about this passage, or any other, is necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a sense of discomfort is needed to remind us of the areas in our faith that we may be ignoring or falling short in. If you leave here today feeling some discomfort; that might be good. The Holy Spirit was sent to change people, including us; to send us away differently, refined, plucked or pruned. The process of change can be uncomfortable through to downright miserable.

Unfortunately being a Christian was never meant to be convenient or wholly comfortable. It is meant to be lived together in both the joys and the sufferings. Jesus told the disciples that ‘the Advocate, whom I will send, will testify on my behalf; will guide you in all truth.’

Jesus points to the Holy Spirit to teach and remind the disciples everything that He had said to them. This is not a one-off, show me, show us event. The work, the presence of the Holy Spirit is an on-going, lifelong affair. It is only the Holy Spirit that can make the connection between God the Father, Jesus the Son and us.

The first thing we are taught about Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is inextricably linked to the life of Jesus and his teaching. It is not some woo-woo spirit floating about like changing clouds.

‘IF you love me’ says Jesus, ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.’

IF implies a choice!

The love of the disciples for Jesus is demonstrated in Acts 2.

We do know that something astonishing is happening in Acts 2. Barriers of culture and language are being broken down as the Spirit falls on those gathered that day. Luke in his writing is struggling to find the language to describe what is going on. He uses ‘seem like’ and ‘sound like’, indicating he has never seen anything like what he is seeing before.

God is drawing new people from every nation at the time towards him. The people, mostly Jews, are encountering the Holy Spirit and being changed. Jesus changes people. We are seeing an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

When trying to understand the Holy Spirit it is helpful to remember that the Holy Spirit has been around from Genesis. It was the spirit hovering over the waters at creation. The Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament but only on particular people at particular times. The first Pentecost saw the most powerful outpouring that had been experienced.

The other thing to keep in mind was the timing of this event. God was using a long-standing appointment on the kingdom calendar of the Jewish people. The Feast of Pentecost was meant to pour out the ‘old’ spirit in a ‘new and powerful way’.

For centuries 50 days after the Passover, the Jews have celebrated with a feast, traditionally called ‘The Feast of Weeks. The number 50 points to fullness, ripeness, to a time that is ready for something to happen. This was already a time of celebration. Pentecost happens 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

In the Feast of Weeks and at Pentecost, God was creating for himself a new people. When the disciples received the Spirit, they became witnesses for Christ. Here Jesus is forming a people for himself; His church and we are that church.

The Holy Spirit acts in three main ways on the Feasts of Weeks and Pentecost:

Firstly: It is a time to remember and give thanks for all that has been done for us. The Jewish people were to remember and celebrate their release from slavery by being generous to each other, feeding the widows, the orphans, the poor and other unfortunates. Our works, how we give our time and money should be a reflection of all that Jesus has done for us.

Looking back to the past to help explain a current situation is a common Jewish method of interpretation or understanding called ‘midrash’. This is what Peter is doing in Acts 2 when he refers to the prophecy of Joel to explain to the mostly Jewish crowd what is happening beyond ‘we are not drunk at 9 am.’ Joel announced that God was going to do something very special on Mount Zion (which is in Jerusalem). Peter is reminding and confirming that.

This is not about rewriting history or romanticising the good old days. We can remember again where we have come from, but we do not live in that past anymore.

Secondly: The feast was a time for great generosity; think generous grace and generous giving. The Jews were not allowed to come to the Lord empty-handed. Deuteronomy 16:17 states that ‘each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.’ (Read twice).

Imagine for a second if our churches (meaning we the people) gave to God in proportion to the way He has blessed us? We would live and love in a completely different world and probably would not have budget shortfalls.

Reverend Bill Albinger was an Episcopalian priest in Hawaii whose small parish has a generous heart for the local people who face many social problems. Revd Bill wrote this about Pentecost:

‘This is where the power of the church is – the Spirit is not a power to boost us up and make us feel good, but it is the power and presence of God to bring a wholly new perspective in the way we live and love. It doesn’t matter so much if we are ‘slain in the spirit’ and knocked to the ground – what matters is the kind of changed person you are when you are on your feet.

What matters are the gifts you bring to the building up of community and the gifts you bring to the healing and repair of the world. This is where the power of the church is.’

At Pentecost we need to remember where we have come from and give thanks. By way of thanks we are to be generous with our time, talents and possessions for the benefit of the church and others.

Thirdly: The Feasts of Weeks and Pentecost are a harvest, the first fruits of church. The specific time of this event on Pentecost offers little doubt that God intended a highly significant feast of harvest.

This harvest is not wheat or barley. It started with the harvest of people in the streets of Jerusalem who encountered the Holy Spirit and went away changed. They went back to their towns and villages and they began to sow what they had learned and seen in Jerusalem, a call to a life in Jesus. We know they did as the church still exists today.

If the Jews are simply said, ‘well that was interesting, Peter spoke well, etc…’ and went on their way without being changed, who knows what would have happened. But they went and sowed. There was an article in a newspaper this week about 40% of British Christian being reluctant to share their faith.

Then we wonder why churches are closing and there are no young people in the church. It is not a great mystery. We have lost the spirit of that first Pentecost. Are we really too concerned about what other people think or of offending? Acts 2:21, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How can anyone be saved if they do not know?

This is why we need the Holy Spirit; to intercede for us, to be invited to work in us and through us. To give us strength and conviction so that everyone will be saved. To lead and guide us in this life and into the next one.

On this Feast of Pentecost we can remember what God has already done for us, show our thanks for what He has done by being generous to others and to the church. We can think about what it is to be part of the harvest. We can ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we can become more fully the people we have been created to be. This is a choice. Jesus sent the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit to help us, to guide us; we never have to do this alone.

The Holy Spirit came to change us, the church and the world unapologetically, wholly and completely. And uncomfortably when necessary. We are part of a greater story that involves the past, the present and the future.

All a bit chaotic.

All true to the life and ministry of Jesus.

All true to the life and faith of Christians.

Author: Sue Lepp

I am currently the Lead Chaplain of Gatwick Airport and the Priest-in-Charge of Charlwood St Nicholas and Sidlow Bridge Emmanuel in the Diocese of Southwark. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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