What's the Big Deal?

This is a sermon draft based around the readings John 20:19-23, Acts 2:1-21, and 1 Corinthians 12:3-13. 

To my mind there are two great wonders in our Faith in God.

The first one is not that there is a God! The existence of God seems... a bit obvious to me. Anyone can have a God, and you can define God almost any way you want.

The first wonder is that we claim that in the man Jesus we have seen something of the essence of God.  As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, if you have seen me you have seen the Father

People can also meet God in other ways, but we claim to have met God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He shows us what God is like.

The second wonder is that our Faith is not a Once upon a time... story.

It's not just that  Jesus was here a long time ago. We claim that we still feel the same essence of God; we claim to feel the same love of God felt by those people who knew Jesus. God is with us in Spirit, now.

This is the scandal. Not many people argue that Jesus was not a real person. You can even say there was something odd about what happened after he died...  there was something... call it resurrection, if you like, some kind of effect of his death that let people see the world in a new way... Clearly, that all happened in some way or the church would not exist. But it's also not really a lot different from saying Jesus was another Ghandi, or Mandela, or St Francis, or some other person who really inspired others!

What we are saying is that He is in some sense here today, still with us, still alive, still loving.

That's why we make a big deal about Pentecost.
Christmas? Yep... he was born.
Easter? Yes... he was made a scapegoat, and he was murdered. And yes, some folk reckoned he was still around for a while despite that.

But Pentecost?
That's the big deal.
Pentecost says Jesus is still here.
God is still with us.
God is not an idea,
or off out there doing God's own thing.
Pentecost says God is with us, caring for us, suffering with us, loving us. We feel God now!

The stories say we have been given the Holy Spirit.
That  means we have been given the presence of God
within us and among us.
We are able to be opened and healed and transformed; made into new people.

John tells his gospel as a parallel to the creation story in Genesis. Both Genesis and John start with the words "In the beginning...."

And on the first day of the week in the new creation, Jesus the Light of the World comes to the disciples and breathes life into them. He breathes life into them just as God breathed life into Adam in the creation story. (Genesis 2:6) 

The staggering thing about all this is that in the story we are all guilty of killing an innocent man. We are meant to understand that we too stand in the crowd and cry "Crucify him!"

And the...  the Son of God comes back. He is not destroyed by death. And instead of seeking vengeance he says, "Peace be with you!" and breathes new life into people.

Luke, in the second chapter of Acts, tells the same story, the same new presence of the Spirit of God, in a different way. We get excited by the spectacle wind and the tongues that looked like fire, and the languages, but for the people of the time, those things had a very obvious message which goes over our heads.

The Harvest Festival Feast of Pentecost was also the time people celebrated the anniversary of God giving the Law to the people of Israel. And the old stories of the giving of the Law were all about wind and clouds, and tongues of fire. 

The experience of Acts Chapter 2 told people they were being given the Law— the way to live with God— again, in a new way.

They remembered the old stories of the Tower of Babel, where all the people were scattered apart by the differences of language, and now here... they were being gathered together, all able to hear in one language, the language of the Spirit.

And in 1 Corinthians 12 we hear of

varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
... varieties of services, but the same Lord
... varieties of activities, but ... the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.... [all] ...  by one and the same Spirit....

For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

This new spirit within us gathers us together for the common good. Not to agree on everything... but to have a common purpose...

... which is a problem, because not only do we not agree on everything—who does—but the idea that we have a common purpose is often.... well, questionable! How could that ever be!?

There's a verse at the beginning of the First Corinthians reading:

I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

I've known a few people who would never dream of saying "Jesus is cursed," who certainly did not act like Jesus was Lord. I've been there!

That statement is not about saying magic words. It is about how we seek to be Christian.

Will we seek to live like Jesus? Will we feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, seek justice for the poor, and love each other as He loved us? That's what it means to say "Jesus is Lord."

Or will we do things our way? Will we ignore the example of Jesus? Will we keep the people we don't like out of the church and out of our street, if we can?  That is to say "Jesus is cursed," because it means we don't care that he was an innocent man who suffered. We are saying he deserved it, and so do those who are sick and poor. So why should we listen to him, or care for them?

When we say Jesus is Lord, and when we seek to live like Jesus is Lord, it opens us. It lets the Spirit of God into our lives. It lets us discover common purpose. And it heals and renews us.

There are no rules that say "Do these five steps and you will get the Spirit." Jesus only said, in John 14:23, "those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

If we will trust him enough to live his way, we find his Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, within us. We find the experience of the same God who has always come to the church.

Trust him. Follow him.

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!




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