Scripture: Acts 2:1-39, John 14:8-17, (25-27)
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
– Acts 2:32
Today we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the church, the coming of Jesus’ promised gift of the Holy Spirit and the moment which led to the transformation of a small group of disciples almost two thousand years ago, into the Christian movement which spans the globe and numbers over 2 billion to this day.
Pentecost is a joyous celebration and a joyous time of worship where we can dress up in our bright reds, oranges and yellow – filling the church with the colours of the tongues of fire; it is a joyous celebration where we can celebrate the diversity of the church around the world through the songs we sing and through the various breads we will break together later this morning. We are here this morning because of what happened on Pentecost, we are here worshipping God, we are here having encountered Jesus, we know who he is and what he did, because of that fateful day long ago.
Now while we might enjoy the celebration of Pentecost, the pageantry and the colour which the feast brings, I think that we as a church, as Anglicans, are all too quick to distance ourselves from the implications of Pentecost. For many Anglicans, ‘Pentecostal’ is probably one of the scariest church words around – it brings to mind the charismatic congregations filled with people speaking in tongues, people shouting out in worship, people raising their hands to glorify God – things that no self-respecting Anglican would ever want to be accused of! For us Anglicans our faith is reasonable, it’s respectable, we like order, we like beauty, we like to know what’s coming.
I remember late last year when I first brought up the idea of sharing our Stories of Grace during the service, the time where people have been sharing their experiences of God’s Grace with us – their testimonies so to speak – a number of people commented that this wasn’t’ a very Anglican thing to do, and then in jest (or at least I think it was in jest) they all said that this was going to make us “Pentecostal” – oh the horror! And you know what? They were right, it is going to make us “pentecostal”…. just maybe not in the way you think. I think it’s about time that we reclaim the word pentecostal for ourselves, that we reclaim what it means to be a Church that is shaped by the experience of Pentecost, a Church that is shaped by God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s time that we think of ourselves as the pentecostal Grace Church (Anglican), in Scarborough – and no that doesn’t mean you will start speaking in tongues! (but never say never, or God just might have a bit of fun with you!)
Pentecost is at the heart of who we are as a Church – no matter what denomination we are. Pentecost is the moment which gives us a window into what is important for the church, what is at the heart of the Church’s role in the world, and the story we have to share with the world. And so to get at the heart of what it means to be “pentecostal” let us dive into the story of Pentecost and to do so let us reflect on the story which led up to reading that we heard today:
See Luke 24 and Acts 1 for the immediate context
Image Credits – Title: Pentecost, Date: 1973, Artist: Jesus Mafa, Country: Cameroon
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” Acts 2:32
Typically our reading for Pentecost ends after Peter’s quotation from the book of Joel – verse 21 for those of you following along. When we end there it can be very easy to think of Pentecost as a purely physical experience, as the physical manifestation of the gift and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples – they were speaking in other languages, they were understood by all those Parthians, those Medes, those Elamites and the whole lot of peoples from around the known world, tongues of fire rested upon their heads, the sound of rushing wind filled the room. If this is what we think it means to be ‘pentecostal’ then it’s understandable we don’t identify with it, since many if not all of us, have never experienced the extraordinary power of God in this way. But that is not the end of the story of Pentecost – even if our lectionary would like us to believe so! – no, the story continues with Peter’s sermon to the gathered crowd (verses 22-36 for those following) and his declaring God’s action in Jesus.
At the heart of Pentecost, behind the extraordinary actions of the coming of the Holy Spirit in wind and flame is the simple yet powerful statement, in verse 36, “that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” While we might like to focus on the divided tongues of fire, on the rushing wind and the disciples speaking in many tongues – at the heart of the Pentecost story, in fact the great strength of the Pentecost story, is the simplicity with which Peter declares the truth of the Good News of God, the simplicity with which Peter declares the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Yes Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit, yes it is about the birth of this thing we now call the church, yes it is about God’s action but it is God’s action in Jesus that takes centre stage at Pentecost. Our reading from the Gospel of John this morning, reminds us that the Holy Spirit is given to “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) The role of the Holy Spirit is to point to Jesus, to teach us everything and to remind of us all that Jesus said and taught, and so too, Pentecost does not stand on it’s own, but it points to Good Friday, it points to Easter – it points to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Those are “God’s great deeds of power” that have defeated the power of sin and death and opened for us the path to eternal and abundant life with God as his children.
In the face of Peter’s declaration that “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified”, the gathered crowd is cut to their hearts and ask Peter “Brother, what should we do?” and his simple answer is “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise of God is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (v. 38-39) What a powerful statement of God’s grace! At the heart of Pentecost, at heart of it all is this declaration that all are welcome to repent and believe that Jesus is Lord: at the heart of Pentecost is Peter’s witness to the fact that God’s promise is for you, God’s promise is for me; that God’s promise is for your children – yes even your children who have fallen away from the church; that God’s promise is even for those who are far away, even those who are far off from God’s grace, even for those who are outsiders, outcasts. This is the powerful witness of Pentecost, this is the powerful heart of the ‘pentecostal’ church of Acts. Witness, witness to Jesus, witness to God’s Story of Salvation, witness through the power of the Holy Spirit is at the core of Pentecost.
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” Acts 2:32
And so if this is what Pentecost is about, if Pentecost is ultimately about Peter’s simple declaration and witness to the Lordship of Jesus, to the fact that all are free to come before God in repentance to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, then what it means to be ‘pentecostal’ is to be a church shaped by this witness; it means to be a church committed to this witness by word and deed. Being a ‘pentecostal’ church does not depend on extraordinary manifestations of the gifts of the spirit, it does not depend on us speaking in tongues, it does not depend on us displaying wonderful gifts of power – no…. being a ‘pentecostal’ church is about the simple yet powerful witness to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus – by the way we live our common life together, by the way we share our own experiences with the Good News of God’s Story, by the way we tell people about the God we have come to know in Jesus.
Pentecost is not just an event that we commemorate; Pentecost did not just happen once and for all, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection – no Pentecost happens each and every day. The Father pours forth the Holy Spirit upon all those who are cut to the heart by the Gospel, upon all those who come to repent and believe that Jesus is Lord; in our baptisms the Holy Spirit is poured out, in our life together as the Church the Holy Spirit is poured out, in our meditation on Scripture the Holy Spirit is poured out, in our lives of private and corporate prayer the Holy Spirit is poured out, at this table the Holy Spirit is poured out, as we go out into the world as witnesses to Jesus the Holy Spirit is poured out. Let us embrace our identity as a ‘pentecostal’ people, let us embrace our identity as a ‘pentecostal’ church.
Coming together over the last five years is a testament to work of the Holy Spirit here at Grace, a testament to the desire of this church to witness to Jesus Christ, to be a church shaped by Pentecost, a church shaped for witness to this area of south Scarborough. But…. we cannot stop there, we cannot think that we have arrived, that we can rest from the labours that God has set before us, we cannot think that our witness has ended. We need to continue be a church shaped by Pentecost, we need to be a church that is willing to witness to the power of God we have come to know in the crucified and risen Jesus. Each of us has a part to play in witnessing to Jesus, each of us bears a responsibility for sharing God’s story. If we want to be part of God’s thriving church here in South Scarborough – I say part of it, because there will be a Church whether we are part of it or not – then we have to ready to share our stories of God’s Grace, we all have to be ready to share by word and deed our faith, to share our faith with those outside this church, with our friends and families, with our neighbours, with strangers we meet.
All of us – that includes Andrew, Ron and I, but each and every one of us here shares the responsibility equally – are called, as our Scriptures say to “always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have” (1 Peter 3:15). I’m sorry to say, but none of us are exempt – right in the middle of our Baptismal covenant (a covenant we reaffirm throughout the year) we affirm, that we will “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ”. And while that can seem like a daunting task, God also promises in Scripture that at that time “the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say.” (Luke 12:12) And perhaps the best way to learn the virtue and practice of Christian witness is practice amongst ourselves, to share our stories with one another to witness to one another the great deeds of power that we have experienced at the hands of God, to witness to one another the faith we share (or perhaps want to share) in Jesus Christ.
When I said earlier that the Stories of Grace that members of our congregation have been sharing would make us ‘pentecostal’ this is what I meant – the act of sharing our stories together, in hearing stories of faith from one another can change our DNA, can make our witness to Jesus second nature, can make it almost reflexive to “give the reason for our hope.” And so I hope that you relish the opportunity to hear the witness of our fellow members of Grace Church today, I hope that those of you who have not come forward will be encouraged to share your stories with us. And my challenge to you all today, on this day where remember the simple power of Peter’s witness to Jesus, I challenge you all during coffee hour, during the week, to share with someone else in this community a part of your faith – one of the great or small deeds of power that God has wrought in your life.
Let our church be a community centred on Jesus, centred on our witness to God who can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Let us be a church that can stand with Peter and the Apostles and declare “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses and God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah.” When we do this we will truly become a Church of Pentecost!
Let us pray
Almighty God, who by your Son Jesus Christ did give commandment to the Apostles that they should go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to all nations: Grant to us who you have called into your Church, a ready will to obey your Word; and fill us with a hearty desire to make your ways known upon earth, your saving health among all nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
“Prayer for the Extension of the Church”
Book of Common Prayer, 1962