Pentecost: the decisive presence

1 Jun

I preached a sermon for Pentecost Sunday: Here are some of the key ideas: The scripture text was Acts 2. 1 – 24.

Pentecost is decisive for the life and mission of the church, and is in many ways the most important event in the church year.
We have journeyed through Advent and Epiphany, Lent and Easter, with the story of Jesus: his birth, ministry, death and resurrection.
But the great danger in all this is that it is a story of the past: a memory, a glorious memory, but still just a memory—unless we come to Pentecost.
Without Pentecost, the church tells a story of once upon a time.
Without Pentecost, the church is a community dedicated to the past: a Christian past, but nonetheless a very past past.
But with Pentecost, the church is a community orientated to what God is doing and will do in the wonderful, creative mission of the Spirit.

That is why this is decisive for us, this day: are we a community of the past, worshipping a God of once upon a time? 

Or are we a community drawn into the future of God, the living God who is Holy Spirit?

The unique thing the Spirit does, in every time and in every place, is to make Jesus present.

The Spirit presents Jesus: the Spirit makes Jesus present, for all peoples, in their places, and in their languages they hear him and see him and know him as the risen and living Lord.
To this bunch of Jews, from all over the known world, they hear the word of God in their own languages.
This Spirit makes Jesus present to them: he whose name means the Israel of God, the salvation of God, for all the people: he is now present with them and to them.

This is what Pentecost is: it is not just a day; it is not just an event, long ago: this is a process, in which the Spirit of God is continually involved.
Pentecost is a gift and promise, into which we can live. Pentecost gives them, and it gives us a future, to be lived into.

For thousands of years people have told the story of Babel. It’s a story, which tries to come to terms with the divisions of the human family. Why are we so divided?
And the question is, what can we do about it?
It seems that religion is always trying to go back to some supposed, glorious past:  Will there ever be a time when we get back to the beginning, to a glorious past, when everyone spoke the same language, and we were all one people, one nation, one people of God?
Is that what it’s about: ‘next year in Jerusalem’: getting back, behind Babel: or is there something else?
Pentecost, I believe, offers us something else.
God has done something else.
Pentecost is God’s answer to the story of Babel.
In the Pentecost vision, God brings all the dispersed nations of the world together, to hear, not in one language, not by making them all fit into one pattern, not by demanding that they all shape up or ship out: no, they each hear in their own tongue, in their own language.
God gathers their differences into one community of difference and yet unity. They all hear, but in their own tongues.
This is what Pentecost promises.
And thus it is that sons and daughters, older ones and younger ones are drawn into a new song, a new and richer life together, in spite of differences, in spite of the old rules which said the young must be quiet and women are not to be part of it: no, all that is broken open, when Pentecost makes Jesus present.
Here is the promise, the hope of a new community, which is decisive for the life of the church.
Here, generations and genders and gentiles are gathered in: all the differences are included, not negated but gathered in: here, there is a new community.
And this becomes the life of the church. The church is the people, people of all sorts, among whom the Spirit presents Jesus.

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