Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
Whitsun - Pentecost. Acts 2:1-21
Hand’s up if you remember when this time of year was called Whitsun? Thought so!
Well, let’s get the history lesson out of the way first. The proper name for this season is Pentecost – it means the 50th day – after the Passover and now after Easter. For those of us who are older, we remember it being called Whitsun/Whit Sunday/ Whitsuntide. That old name has been lost, and it’s meaning has gone with it. “Whit” may be a derivation of white – the colour (or lack of colour) of the Holy Ghost, and the traditional colour of the robes worn by those being baptised, which would be appropriate for this new baptism; others say it is derived the word for wit and wisdom. We cannot be sure, and as Pentecost is more correct, that is what we call it now. Although if you are in the UK, where the religious meaning has disappeared in multi-culturalism; you are probably just saying, “Spring Bank Holiday”.
It is 50 days, 7 weeks, since Easter – but I want us to consider the 8 weeks since Palm Sunday. I want us to imagine how the lives of the disciples changed in that period. Remember this land, Israel, was a conquered nation. They were subject to Roman rule and Romans were ruthless about stopping any kind of revolution.
Eight weeks ago, they followed Jesus into Jerusalem where he got a king’s welcome. He rode into the city, on a donkey, to crowds who cheered and strewed his path with palm leaves and hailed him as the saviour of the people. Less than a week later, one of his followers, disappointed that nothing revolutionary was happening, betrayed him to his enemies, and he was arrested.
Still imagining yourself one of the disciples – how do you feel now? Are you also waiting for the revolution, as Jesus creates a ‘new’ kingdom of Israel starting in Jerusalem? Or have you got the message that God’s kingdom is within you and the revolution is a personal one?
Even Peter was not sure – he followed the arresting party and tried to find out what was going on. Did he secretly expect some more fighting, or some bolts of lightning or an earthquake? Then Jesus went before Pilate; and the crowds, that a week before had called him a King, had changed and wanted him strung up like a common criminal. What despair those disciples felt as they slunk away into the shadows; hiding in case their turn to be arrested was next.
It was one of the women – don’t be afraid to include the women in the Easter message, they were there, watching with the others, waiting and afraid – just like the men folk. One of the women went to the tomb early and was the first to see the risen Jesus. What a joy – from the darkest despair to – well, what? Yes, happiness, he is alive, but also fear, (will he be taken again), relief (was it all a nightmare), anticipation (now will they see some action)? Certainly not any fighting and killing; that is not the way of Jesus. Jesus took ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds and he changed them from the inside out. He prepared them for what they would become.
Forty days after this miraculous resurrection from the grave; he rose again, he rose even more, and went up to – what we call – heaven. Heaven is not some mystical place above the sky, but that sort of image is something we poor human beings can understand. Jesus used those 40 days to consolidate his teaching; and he promised his followers help from God - the spirit, the counsellor, the advocate in heaven. Now, don’t forget, they were still the same mixture of fishermen, tax collectors, etc that they had always been. They did not suddenly get university degrees, or take a course on public speaking. The difference between the before and after picture, was the Holy Spirit. The spirit was sent by God the Father to replace God the Son on earth; and because the spirit works through people, it is not constrained by time and place the way that Jesus, in the form of a man, was. The Holy Spirit was not a new thing. The Spirit has always been around, it is first mentioned in Genesis and there are more than 2 dozen other references in the Old Testament. But it seems that this new outpouring of the Spirit was to be slightly different than previously.
Something else you need to know about Pentecost. It is a Jewish festival. Just as Easter took place at Passover – a Jewish festival which meant that Jerusalem was teeming with people from all over the known world; so also was Pentecost a major Jewish festival – some call it the festival of weeks, the harvest festival – but it also commemorated the giving of the Old Testament law what we call the 10 commandments. A nice roundness to that, I think. As Jesus replace the Passover lamb that protected the Jewish people at the first Passover; so he replaced the old legalistic system –the Law – with his saving grace.
Jerusalem was filled with Jewish people from around the world again – celebrating. Early one morning the disciples came out of a building, speaking to people in their own language. What a gift. Living here in France, we listen to people and if you don’t speak French very well, it’s lovely to hear your own language. Or if you are French and come to this church, lovely when part of the service is in your language. It was like that for the people that day; they heard their own language being spoken.
Who was in that room at Pentecost? Certainly the 11 remaining apostles plus the extra one selected to replace Judas; but Acts 1:15 tells us there were about 120 believers (plus women) who met together for prayer, so it is more than likely that more than just the 12 received this gift, even though Peter stood up to address the crowd with the 11 other main leaders.
Well, they were all very excited; words were spilling out from them. They had so much to say, and were so joyful, that some people thought they were drunk – probably not uncommon at a time of celebration. But no, it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning – the party was not that good!
Do you ever get like that when you are telling someone about your faith? Sometimes I do – words fall out of my mouth – peoples eyes usually glaze over at that point – but it is exciting to know and love Jesus. Really exciting and we need to carry that level of excitement with us when we tell people about our faith.
Now, there is a lot of debate in modern times as to whether the Holy Spirit still comes to people today. Many believe that this was a first century phenomenon, and is not repeated now. Others believe that people are still baptised in the Holy Spirit. I admit right now that I do believe that it still happens. Maybe we do not see tongues of flame – but we do get what I call, the ‘Ready Brek’ feeling (remember those old adverts for Ready Brek where the kids have a sort of warm orange glow around them from eating the right breakfast cereal?) I find the gift of the spirit like that, a warm glow. And that gift is so much more than just speaking in foreign languages, there are lists within Paul’s letters of all the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, the subject of many sermons!
I also believe that you can all get it. And it is quite easy. You need to come before God, say sorry for your wrongdoings (and mean it), and ask him to forgive you. Then tell him how much you love him, and ask him to fill you with his spirit.
This comes with a warning – being filled with the spirit gives you amazing power. Look at those of us who started this church. None of us very young, certainly not experienced at running a church, but God gave us his power and look where we are today. I could go on, the world, luckily, is full of people, ordinary people just like those men in the upper room; ordinary people filled with extraordinary power. I said that the revolution was personal; I said that Jesus prepared them for what was to come; I said that he gave them a promise.
Well this is true today; Whit Sunday - I mentioned that this name reminded us of the white of the baptismal robe? Well today could be the day of your new baptism - in the Holy Spirit. Don’t be scared, we all need extraordinary gifts to do God’s work; the spirit within you will give you not only the power and strength to do what God wants, but will give you the confidence and the energy. God can use the weakest and the oldest just as he can use the strongest and youngest. As Peter said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.
Pray with me now,
Father, I am sorry I do things wrong, please forgive me.
Father I love you, fill me with your spirit. Amen