The Sunday Sermon: The Feast of Pentecost
Sermon for The Feast of Pentecost, June 8, A.D. 2014
The Rev’d Thomas J. Pettigrew
+ IN the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I wouldn’t normally preach at a service like this, which is elongated by the insertion of the Sacrament of Baptism. Normally, I believe that on days like this, the very acts that we undertake act as a sort of sermon. We encounter the Good News of God in Christ not out of the mouth of the preacher, but in the very act of God making a person, who was dead in sin, alive in Christ through the rebirth by Water and the Holy Spirit.
But today, I see a lot of old friends who are long overdue for a proper sermon. So buckle up and get comfy.
This morning we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost commemorating the Day that we read about in the First lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. The day in which was fulfilled our Lord’s promise to send the Holy Ghost, the Comforter and Paraclete, to empower us to live out the life which is our in the Body of Christ.
But this morning is also about much more than just that one event. We hear, in fact, three distinct voices talking about the Holy Spirit and what it meant for them and therefore, what it means for you and for me.
The first voice we hear is that of Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. There, as I’ve said, we’ve got the Apostles and others in the upper room, with the Holy Spirit coming down like “divided tongues, as of fire.” And we have the bazaar story of how those who had been filled with the Holy Spirit were able to speak in other languages and how everyone in the crowd was able to hear these Galilean Fishermen speaking to their own native language.
What is the meaning of this event? The answer to your question is actually a simple one. It goes back to the very beginnings of the Bible – to before the promises made to Abraham, before God chose one single people, of one language to be his own. The Day of Pentecost reverses the curse of disunity, which occurred in the story of Babel. Remember, in that Old Testament story, mankind was trying to build a tower, which could reach into the heavens, and in order to stop this, God divided humanity, which at that time spoke all one common language, into many different languages.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, more than the amazing expression of how the Holy Spirit was manifested, is about the idea of unity. It’s about the truth that God’s promise of salvation in Christ open to all people regardless of cultural, ethnic boundaries, and not just one selected group.
So that’s the first voice, and I would have much more to say about it, but we must move on.
The Third voice, and I’m skipping the second, until last, is the voice of Saint John in the Gospel. John tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit, not in general, but for a particular purpose: The giving of the Holy Spirit to be the ordination of the Apostles by Jesus for the purpose of forgiving sins.
Sin is what separates us from God, and through the gift of ordination, God offers to those who confess their sins the assurance of forgiveness, thereby taking away that which separates us from him.
But what I want to focus on for just a few minutes is Saint Paul and what we have heard from him about the Holy Spirit. When Paul talks about the Spirit in First Corinthians, he speaks particularly about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Through out the chapter he names a lot of those gifts: Wisdom, Knowledge, healing, prophecy, discernment, various tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Even the talents of helping and administration are gifts of the Spirit of God.
Paul was writing to the Corinthians to deal with a particular problem of Spiritual Pride: Some people were claiming to be more important than others because the gifts they had received, and others were becoming jealous of certain spiritual gifts which others had received but they had not. He tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, that the Gifts of God are for the building up the Body of Christ. Indeed, Paul had this thought in his mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church which was being torn apart by strife.
Paul exhorts the Corinthian Church, and indeed us, to aspire for the greatest of the Spiritual Gifts, which is Love. In that wonderful passage which we all probably know best from weddings: “If I speak in tongues of men and of angels but have not love I am like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbol.”
Why does Paul exhort them to seek the gift of love from God?
Love is that gift which endures beyond all other gifts. The power of God’s love and the gift of that love draw us together and build us up into the Body of Christ. And that after all, is the whole purpose of being the Church: To be the Body of Christ and we are to use those gifts which we are given by the Spirit of God for the well being of the Body.
This morning, we celebrate the Sacrament of baptism, when two people, who have been dead in sin, will go down under the waters of Baptism, into an abyss where they cannot live – and they will come through those waters a new creation, a new person, united to Christ in his death and his resurrection.
Today, the gift of the Holy Spirit, power of God’s love, will be poured out upon drawing them into the body of Christ, uniting them into our Christian fellowship, of which they are even now still strangers. Now they are citizens of this world, but then they will be citizens of God’s Kingdom, heirs of the promises of God in Christ – the promise of the forgiveness of sins, the promise of new life, the promise of eternal life with the Father in and through Christ. And all this is made possible by the outpouring of the same Holy Spirit witnessed at Pentecost, and which we are about to witness, even here, in little old Warrensburg.