Pentecost: The Old Made New

Acts 2:1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Well, it’s 9:30-ish in the morning/6:00-ish in the evening, and we’re 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.

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.

It doesn’t matter how many times I read Acts 2, it always sounds crazy, chaotic and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I am sure a few people here this morning/evening who would love a little fire and wind to liven things up! I am equally sure that there are others who would prefer things a little more ordered.

I don’t think that being made to feel uncomfortable about this passage, or any other, is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t intend to leave you comfortable today either. 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.

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 to downright miserable while in it.

Unfortunately being a Christian was never meant to be convenient or wholly comfortable. But it was meant to be lived together in both the joys and the sufferings. We are not alone either. Jesus explained to 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 (Jesus) 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.

In John 14, Jesus explains that the Advocate, the Counsellor or the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said. 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 leads to 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; things ‘seem like’ and ‘sound like’ which indicates 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. It is not/was not a new thing but that 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 to Jesus is forming a people for himself; His church and we are that church.

Pentecost is not a random event! The feast was on the calendar and we see God take something old and familiar to the Jews to produce something new and fresh.

I now want to look at the 3 purposes of the Feasts of Weeks and Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit works and moves in the church today.

Firstly, the Feast of Pentecost is a time to remember and give thanks for what 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.

Looking back to the past to help explain a current situation is a very common Jewish method of interpretation or way of coming to a new understanding called ‘midrash’.

Peter is doing exactly that 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 and Peter is confirming that.

I think that it is important to remember where we have come from. But there is a caution when looking to the past; I am not suggesting we constantly rehash the past or not move on from it. Nor am I suggesting a rewriting or romanticising of the past either. We can remember again where we have come from, but we don’t live in that past anymore.

Secondly, the Feast of Pentecost was a time for great generosity; it was about generous grace and generous giving. The Jews of the day had a slightly different take on it. For the Feast, the Jews were not allowed to come to the Lord empty-handed. Deuteronomy 16:17 – ‘each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.’ (Read twice).

This actually makes me more uncomfortable than the wind and fire. I am not suggesting that we can out-give God, but we are to give him thanks and offer ourselves to Him and his service. We are called to be generous with our time, talents and possessions to meet the needs of others and the church.

Imagine for a second if our churches and we as 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 wouldn’t have budget shortfalls.

Rev Bill Albinger was an Episcopal priest in Hawaii whose small parish has a generous heart for the local people who face many social problems. I had a look at what Rev Bill had to say about Pentecost and giving. This is what he writes:

‘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 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 Feast of Pentecost is a corporate 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.

The harvest of people in the streets of Jerusalem who met Jesus 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.

But sometimes we don’t sow and therefore don’t see a harvest. Instead we tend to eat the seed. The American writer and bible teacher Beth Moore explained the principle of eating the seed after visiting villages in Kenya. Beth writes:

’One of the most frustrating things is that in the villages where they receive seed, they often eat the seed rather than planting and bringing forth the harvest. I couldn’t get that statement out of my mind and suddenly had an answer to the questions I most often ask God: Why do some people see the results of the Word and others don’t? Why do some study the Word of God yet remain in captivity?

Some just eat the seed and never sow it for a harvest. You want examples? Why have many of us read books on forgiving people, known the teachings were true and right, cried over them, marked them up with our highlighters, yet remain in our bitterness?

Because we ate the seed instead of sowing it.

We think we accepted the teachings because we were so moved by it. But you see, the seed of God’s Word can fill our stomachs and give us immediate satisfaction and still not produce a harvest – that is when we eat it but don’t sow it.

Many times we apply biblical truth to our theologies without applying it to the actual practicalities of life.’ God repeatedly says that a harvest is to be sown and not eaten as seed. We were meant to eat from the sheaves and not the seeds. God wants to sow into our lives so we can sow into the lives of others.


On this Feast of Pentecost as we pray Come, Holy Spirit, let us 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. Let’s also think about what it is to harvest. If we can’t seem to find anything to harvest, have we sown anything, or have we eaten the seed ourselves?

To ask for the Holy Spirit is a choice as is to do any of the above: to be thankful, to be generous and to be changed. Jesus sent the Advocate, the Spirit to help us, to guide us; we never have to do this alone.

Pentecost was a very public event and meant to be shared. Live beyond your convenience and comfort! The Holy Spirit came to change us, the church and the world – apologetically, wholly and completely. And uncomfortably when necessary. We are part of a greater story that involves the past, the present and the future; giving and receiving; sowing and harvesting.

All a bit chaotic.

All true to the life and ministry of Jesus.

All true to the life and faith of Christians.


Few short minutes of asking ‘Come Holy Spirit’

Easter 7: Unity & Prayer

As the congregations move back to worshipping in the 6 churches across the Hambleden Valley from next week we need to stay united to Jesus and to each other.

St Matthias, the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot. The apostles began their search for a replacement with prayer, asking God to search their hearts. A lesson for us all.


16/05/21
Easter 7

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19


How are the fruit bearers doing this week? I loved Sue’s sense of urgency at the end of her sermon last week. There are just some things that cannot wait. Over the past two Sundays we have explored Jesus’ teaching in John 15 about abiding, pruning and being fruit-bearers. The take away messages (I hope!) were about being rooted in Jesus. This is where our love and hope is found.

The message of this morning is unity; being not only unified with Jesus, but also with each other. This is poignant today as many of us will be returning to worshipping in our church buildings from next Sunday. Zoom has unified people from across the Hambleden Valley over the past year in new and unexpected ways. This isn’t going to end of Zoom but it will be different as the mix of people we see on here will likely change.

Yet we will still need to be unified. We need to remember and remain rooted in Jesus and to each other. It may be tempting to flop back into our tribes and carry on as we scrabble for something that looks like the normal we once knew. But it would be unfortunate to lose what has been gained. I know there is a desire to ‘go back to the way things were’ – but friends we are not. Nothing in the world is. This is not all bad!

We have the opportunity through the Rural Review to look at how each church operates, how we operate as a larger benefice and where we sit within the Deanery. I sense a fresh energy in what might be possible going forward: new ideas for family services, lay-led services, a real determination to invite our villages into the church to see for themselves. Many people have been hurt, damaged over this past year by the consequences of lockdown; our families, friends and neighbours. Surely we want to bring them to a place where they can find love and hope again, find unity with Jesus that lasts for an eternity.

Where do we start?

Prayer.

What do you think you are doing when you pray?

I am making some assumptions here that I assume are right. Firstly is that you do – in fact – pray. Secondly that you think about prayer and praying. This is an important question to ask ourselves this morning.

Back to my original question: What do you think you are doing when you pray?

Are we telling God what to do?

Giving him information about a situation, a person or ourselves – information that he already knows and then offering suggestions on what the Almighty might like to do about it?

Are we presenting a laundry list of ills and complaints?

Are we praising and thanking?

Are we pleading and begging?

In the Acts and Gospel readings this morning we see examples of how the Apostles prayed in the early church and how Jesus prayed just before his death.

The Apostles (this is the new name of the Disciples – same people, different name) are getting on with the business of church. There is a vacancy to be filled; Barsabbas and Matthias are the proposed candidates. The Apostles begin the process with prayer and with a rather interesting opening line ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen.’ Notice that the Apostles don’t jump in with their requests or demands. They start by acknowledging God’s knowing.

God knows everyone’s heart. Every thought, the deepest secrets and hurts, the highest highs and joys, He knows every crack and break. God knows before we even utter a word from our mouths what the condition of our hearts are. There is no fooling him! As they were acknowledging that God knew their hearts and then they asked him to ‘show’ them which of the two should be chosen and God does. Matthias is chosen to take up the apostleship.

Do you expect an answer? Clearly the Apostles did; and they got one. I am not sure that I could pray with no expectation that God is going to do something. I have to be willing to wait and trust. Wait to see what the answer is and not rush off in the fear that I won’t get what I want or worse – no answer at all. I also have to trust that even if I don’t see a clear answer (ie: voice from heaven, message written in the clouds) that God has heard my prayer and will do as He sees fit. Even if – even if – I don’t get the answer that I want.

What do we learn about prayer here: God knows the condition of your heart, acknowledge this before you start, present your request, wait in trust for an answer.

The second example of prayer comes from Jesus himself. It might be helpful to keep in mind that this event was one of the last earthly things Jesus did before his crucifixion. He prayed. He prayed for his friends and he prayed for all of us.

He prayed out loud in front of his disciples; for his disciples. If I asked for someone to pray out loud, right now, at this moment in the service, how would you feel? Would you do it? Without a script, just off the cuff.

Fortunately Jesus is not awkward! Jesus prays for some very specific things for the disciples with the underlying message of unity in God and Jesus. We are all bound together in love.

Helpfully, if we find ourselves stuck on what to pray for, Jesus also gives us some ideas. In verse 12 he talks about protection. Jesus asks God to protect the disciples with the same power that God has already given to Jesus. This is what ‘in your name’ means. Jesus protected the disciples in his own name; he guarded them while he was with them. Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned to him: to keep and protect those God has given to him.

This is an important thing to do for those given to our care – pray for God’s protection on them. Not only from physical dangers, illness and all the other bad things that can happen. But they will stay under the spiritual protection of God that comes from staying close to Jesus.

The next thing that Jesus prays for is joy; this means rejoicing, celebrating, enjoyment, bliss. I remember going out for dinner with friends at a highly recommended restaurant in London a few years ago (can’t remember the name). The starters were fantastic, the wine list was fantastic, the main courses were all beautiful and the puddings were hugely disappointing!

My joy was so nearly complete but then disappointment resulted. I appreciate that this is a trivial example – but the point is that so often our joy in a worldly sense is never quite complete. It is only in Jesus that our joy will ever be complete. It is only the love of God that brings us joy, brings us salvation.

Thirdly, Jesus prayed that the disciples would know the truth and be sanctified by it. Sanctify here means to be set apart for God and God’s purposes alone. It does not mean that someone is better than anyone else, but they are different. Jesus is praying that the disciples will be set apart to do only what God wants them to do. Jesus was sanctified, set apart by God to fulfil his purposes.
For us, we can pray that our people will know the truth of God and go into the world to live and share it.
Of course there are many more ways and things to pray about for those we are called to pray for. I think that protection, joy and truth are very good places to start.

As we go from here today my prayer is that we will remain unified as a Benefice; loving and supporting our friends and neighbours in old and new ways. Old dogs can learn new tricks – it just takes longer!
Like the Apostles we start in a place of praise and acknowledging who God is and that He knows the condition of our hearts. We also need time and preparation for the answer even if it seems hard. God is faithful!
Jesus sets an example of how and what to pray as He prayed for his disciples right before his death. He prayed for protection, joy and truth.
Leave some space for you to think about the people who know and love who could use protection, joy and truth today.

Pentecost: The Uncomfortable Feast

Of all the Christian High Days, Pentecost has been the one that sits the least comfortably with me. Even now as one who has a solid understanding of the Holy Spirit as well as deep experience with and of it. I want others to understand the significance of Pentecost beyond the chaos that it often is presented as.

St Mary’s Langley Joint Pentecost Service

Acts 2:1-21
John 14: 8-17; 25-27

Well, it’s 11-ish in the morning, and we’re 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.

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.

It doesn’t matter how many times I read Acts 2, it always sounds crazy, chaotic and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I am sure a few people here this morning who would love a little fire and wind to liven things up! I am equally sure that there are others who would prefer things a little more ordered.

I don’t think that being made to feel uncomfortable about this passage, or any other, is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t intend to leave you comfortable today either. 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.

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 to downright miserable while in it. Unfortunately being a Christian was never meant to be convenient or wholly comfortable.

Philip, in the opening verses of the John reading wants a short-cut, easy way, the lazy way. ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Philip has missed the point; it is not just about being shown the Father. This is not possible in the way that Philip wants to be shown. Jesus says, ‘whoever has seen me has seen the Father’.

Jesus then points to the Holy Spirit to teach and remind the disciples everything that he (Jesus) 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.

Now I can’t say that I truly fault Philip for his ask. Who doesn’t want it a bit easier? I think there are lots of Christians, here and everywhere who are looking for an easy satisfaction, an easy faith. Turn up on Sunday, bit of money in the plate (enough to be satisfied), a short chat with a few people if one stays around and home in time for lunch. Church attendance equals faith.

It doesn’t.

There is a disconnect here. It is only the Holy Spirit that can make the connection between God the Father, Jesus the Son and us.

In John 14, Jesus explains that that the Advocate, the Counsellor or the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said. 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 leads to 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; things ‘seem like’ and ‘sound like’ which indicates he has never seen anything like what he is seeing before.

God is drawing a 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. We need to keep in mind that the Holy Spirit has been around from Genesis, it is not a new thing but this 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’.

To be clear, Pentecost was called Pentecost before Acts 2. The term Pentecost comes from the Greek and means fiftieth. The number 50 points to fullness, ripeness, to a time that is ready for something to happen. The Feast of Pentecost later became one of the 3 great Pilgrimage Feasts of Judaism. Three times a year the Jews were, by law, required to travel to Jerusalem to worship. Pentecost is the second of the three and happened in early summer. For centuries 50 days after the Passover, the Jews have celebrated with a feast, traditionally called ‘The Feast of Weeks.

In the Feast of Weeks, God was creating for himself a new people. Similarly, after Jesus went up to heaven, the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. When the disciples received the Spirit, they became witnesses for Christ. This event happened 50 days after the death of Jesus. Here to Jesus is forming a people for himself; His church and we are that church. Pentecost is not a random event! The feast was on the calendar and we see God take something old and familiar to the Jews to produce something new and fresh.

I now want to look at the 3 purposes of the Feast of Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit works and moves in the church today.

Firstly, the Feast of Pentecost is a time to remember and give thanks for what 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.

Looking back to the past to help explain a current situation is a very common Jewish method of interpretation or way of coming to a new understanding called ‘midrash’.

Peter is doing exactly that in Acts 2 when he refers to the prophesy 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 and Peter is confirming that.

I think that it is important to remember where we have come from. But there is a caution when looking to the past; I am not suggesting we constantly rehash the past or not move on from it. Nor am I suggesting a rewriting or romanticising of the past either. We can remember again where we have come from, but we don’t live in that past anymore.

Secondly, the Feast of Pentecost was a time for great generosity; it was about generous grace and generous giving.

The Jews of the day had a slightly different take on it. For the Feast, the Jews were not allowed to come to the Lord empty-handed. Deuteronomy 16:17 – ‘each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.’ (Read twice).

This actually makes me more uncomfortable than the wind and fire. I am not suggesting that we can out-give God, but we are to give him thanks and offer ourselves to Him and his service. We are called to be generous with our time, talents and possessions to meet the needs of others and the church.

Imagine for a second if this church and we as 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 wouldn’t have a budget shortfall.

Rev Bill Albinger was an Episcopal priest in Hawaii whose small parish has a generous heart for the local people who face many social problems. I had a look at what Rev Bill had to say about Pentecost and giving. This is what he writes:

‘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 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 Feast of Pentecost is a corporate 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.

The harvest of people in the streets of Jerusalem who met Jesus 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.

But sometimes we don’t sow and therefore don’t see a harvest. Instead we tend to eat the seed. The American writer and bible teacher Beth Moore explained the principle of eating the seed after visiting villages in Kenya. Beth writes:

’One of the most frustrating things is that in the villages where they receive seed, they often eat the seed rather than planting and bringing forth the harvest. I couldn’t get that statement out of my mind and suddenly had an answer to the questions I most often ask God: Why do some people see the results of the Word and others don’t? Why do some study the Word of God yet remain in captivity?

Some just eat the seed and never sow it for a harvest. You want examples? Why have many of us read books on forgiving people, known the teachings were true and right, cried over them, marked them up with our highlighters, yet remain in our bitterness? Because we ate the seed instead of sowing it.

Why have we repeatedly heard how Christ has forgiven our sinful past and sobbed with gratitude over the grace of it, yet we remain in bondage to condemnation? Because we ate the seed instead of sowing it. Sometimes we don’t even realise the difference. We think we accepted the teachings because we were so moved by it. But you see, the seed of God’s Word can fill our stomachs and give us immediate satisfaction and still not produce a harvest – that is when we eat it but don’t sow it. Many times we apply biblical truth to our theologies without applying it to the actual practicalities of life.’

God repeatedly says that a harvest is to be sown and not eaten as seed. We were meant to eat from the sheaves and not the seeds. God wants to sow into our lives so we can sow into the lives of others.

On this Feast of Pentecost as we pray come Holy Spirit, let us 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. Let’s also think about what it is to harvest. If we can’t seem to find anything to harvest, have we sown anything, or have we eaten the seed ourselves?

To ask for the Holy Spirit is a choice as is to do any of the above. If we want to sow into the lives of others, we are using the Talking Jesus course as a means of helping us get better at that. It starts this week and the groups are open. If you want to.

If this isn’t your cup of tea then please consider what else you might do to share your faith with other people. ‘If you love me,’ says Jesus, ‘you will keep my commandments.’ If we love other people, then surely we must love then enough to tell them the Good News?

Pentecost was a very public event and meant to be shared. Live beyond your convenience and comfort! 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; giving and receiving; sowing and harvesting.

All a bit chaotic.

All true to the life and ministry of Jesus.

All true to the life and faith of Christians.

Few short minutes of asking ‘Come Holy Spirit’