Sunday 13th May – 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Acts / Pentecost
Theme: Pentecost Sunday
Bible Readings: Acts 2:1-21
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
As you might be starting to learn about me, I like telling stories about myself – I have lots of stories! This is a story which happened 16½ years ago on the night of my ordination.
I was standing up the front of my home church at Coolamon in the Riverina in my ordination robes and the presbytery minister had just started asking me a series of about 20 questions that they ask of you at an ordination. One of the first couple of questions is something like, “Do you believe that you are truly called by God to be a minister of the Word?” I am not sure what happened at that moment. Everyone is looking at me and the thought that went through my head was “I am not sure if I can do this”. And then I thought “It is probably too late to be thinking about these sort of questions”. I don’t know how, but it seemed that time had slowed down and in that fraction of a second after he had asked that question I had this whole freak out in my head.
My mind feeling totally overwhelmed. I really didn’t know how I was going to do this. Why did I think I could be a minister – Being a preacher, a carer, a prayer warrior, a leader, a friend, a helper … being a representative of Jesus to the church and to the world. I can’t do that.
But then I looked down at my order of service in my hand and my eyes fell on three first three words on a response to one of the other question. WITH GOD’s HELP. With God’s help, I will.
Apparently, no-one noticed the hesitation … but it was those three words that got me back. No – I couldn’t do this, BUT with God’s help, I could.
In the first chapter of the book of Acts – the chapter before our bible reading of today, Jesus physically leaves his disciples and in doing so, hands over the baton of his ministry to them. And I am sure that they would have been feeling totally overwhelmed too. They had seen the amazing impact and success of Jesus’ earthly ministry … and now it was over to them to continue it. I am sure that they probably also went, “Nope … we can’t do this”.
Jesus knew this, and in John 14 Jesus gave them an amazing promise. In John 14:14-16, Jesus said, 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commands [or follow in my way]. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you a helper, an advocate, to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.
And on this day of Pentecost we celebrate the fulfillment of that promise … that as we are disciples of Jesus – God has sent us the Holy Spirit to help us be followers of Jesus. The Spirit will help us bring life and love and hope to a hurting world…
My question for today is … how? Sure Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a helper … but how? How does the Holy Spirit help us?
How will the Holy Spirit help me in my ministry? Or help you as you continue the work of Jesus? Or help the kids and young people of this church grow as a child of God? How does the Holy Spirit help?
The answer to this question is huge … the Holy Spirit can help in so many ways! And it is also complex! I did a whole subject on Bible college on what the Holy Spirit is and how is can interact in our lives and help us. But today … I want to focus in on three simple yet profound answers to this question.
- The Spirit blesses us with POWER
Actually I am not overly happy with that word … I nearly used strength or gifts but I like the idea of being empowered, so I settled on power … but really, what I am trying to say is that the Spirit helps by giving us the power or strength or whatever we need to help us do what we need to do.
We are all different and God has called us to do different things, so the way that the Holy Spirit empowers us will also be different. You might be empowered with the right words to say. Or maybe when the kid keeps you up all night you are empowered with divine strength to get you through the next day. Or maybe you are empowered with the faith you need to believe, to the compassionate heart to keep caring, or the finances to bless someone with or the insight to know the right way forward or … you get the idea.
Jesus knew that we can’t do it in our own strength or power alone, so he promised that the Holy Spirit would come to us in power, to empower, to bless us with the help we need to keep going and to do what we need to do.
And, isn’t that what Pentecost is all about? God poured out his Spirit on all people. The sons and daughters prophesied, the young men saw visions and the old men dreamed dreams. Everyone spoke in other languages as the Spirit enabled them – or as the sprit helped them.
Pentecost is an affirmation that the Spirit empowers us, enables us, helps us to do what God calls us to do.
- The Spirit blesses us with PRESENCE
But it is more than being empowered. In my ordination when I glanced down, I knew that I could be a minister because God was helping me … but I wanted more than the gifts or help to do ministry … I wanted Jesus to be there with me as I did ministry.
Jesus knew this too, and if you go back to John 14 … numerous times when he mentions that he is going away, he also mentions that we will not be left alone, we will not be orphans (v18) but Jesus will come to us. In the confusing way that the Trinitarian God works, Jesus both says that he is going and that he will be with us forever. But that is true. The Holy Spirit is God, and when the Spirit comes to us, it is with more than just power … the spirit blesses us with PRESENCE.
I know that some of us here have had those moments of profoundness when we experience the deep reality that God is with us, surround us, holding us, never leaving us. It is something that is so special.
On that day in Pentecost, Luke described it like a strong wind that filled the house and tongues of fire that descended. Wind and Fire are two Old Testament images for the presence of God. Think about the pillar of fire in the desert, or the noise, and fire and smoke and wind that surrounded Mount Sinai when God descended on it. The Pentecost images of noise, wind and fire is another reminded that the presence of God has come … but the blessing of the Spirit means that the presence of God has come and … has stayed … and will stay with us forever.
So we have the Spirit blessing us with POWER and PRESENCE … I do have a third point … and no, it doesn’t start with the letter P!
- The Spirit blesses us with COMMUNITY
I know, I know … I could have said PEOPLE, but the Spirit blesses us with more than just people, the Spirit gives us a community.
In Acts 2:1 it is interesting that the Holy Spirit came “while they were all together in one place”. The Holy Spirit didn’t come while they were all individually at home by themselves but came to them when they were gathered in community. I think that this in intentional to highlight that we don’t do this alone … we shouldn’t do faith alone … we do it together in community. We all have been blessed with this amazing church family, with this community so that we don’t have to do faith alone.
I confessed before that I can’t do ministry alone. And just as I need the power of God and the presence of God to help me in my ministry … I also totally need you. I do ministry in, through and with the gathered faith community. One of the most powerful things that you have done for me was the time in my induction when you gathered around me to pray.
Pentecost shows us that:
- The Spirit blesses us with POWER (or strength or gifts or what we need)
- The Spirit blesses us with God’s PRESENCE
- The Spirit blesses us with a COMMUNITY
If I had more time, I would have included a fourth one about how the Spirit gives us a sense of URGENCY. Peter immediately stood up and started to proclaim the good news of Jesus. I want to say that in the same way as we have been blessed with power and presence and community … we also need to launch into being Jesus to a hurting word; standing for justice in the dark places; bring love to the hearts that have grown cold and bring light and hope and light to all. And the time is now.
But for now, I would like us to finish by just being open to the Spirit coming afresh on us today. We are going to sing a song … and I encourage you to use this song as a prayer …