It isn’t often that the Feast of Pentecost coincides with Mother’s Day. All week long I debated to myself whether I would rather talk about and extol the virtues, duties, privileges and trials of being a mother, or whether I would rather talk about the incomparable riches, grace and mercy given to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But, given that the thing Every Mother Needs Most is the Holy Spirit, I think we’ll have a dip into Pentecost this morning.
So what is Pentecost? Or, as some Anglicans like to say, Whitsunday? Whitsunday comes from both ‘White’ Sunday, because of the vestments and clothes of new converts—white—and also ‘wit’ Sunday, as in ‘wisdom’ such as that received by the disciples on this day. That was just a little something for some of the altar guild.
Pentecost, actually, was, well, is, a Jewish Festival celebrated 50 days after Passover. If we had more time, I’d go into all about it. But instead, turn with me to Acts Chapter Two. You can also have a finger in 1 Corinthians 12. The disciples, at the time of the Jewish Pentecost, were waiting in Jerusalem, as they had been told to do, crammed together in the upper room, basically afraid, insecure, completely unclear about what their future would look like. Their decision to be obedient and sit in Jerusalem and wait is a model for us. Think of all the unhelpful things they could have done, roving over the known world, telling people about Jesus without the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, consider the many times in Scripture that God has asked someone to wait, even a very long time, before he acted, and that in waiting the person was able to participate in a key way in God’s Work in the World. Sarah springs to mind, Hannah, Ruth, Elizabeth, just to name some important mothers. The waiting of he disciples in the upper room is no different that the waiting you do in your every day life for God. God is patient. He’s not in a hurry. Neither need you be.
If you look down at your text, you’ll see also that the disciples were all together. It may be that it was only the 12, or rather, the 11, but I think it included a lot more people than that—all the people who had been with Jesus along the way, all the people, in fact, who would make up the Church. If you’re looking to be filled by the Holy Spirit, I don’t recommend going off into the forest by yourself. You want to be with other believers, you may even want to be doing actual work. And as you are with the church, during the work of the church, the Holy Spirit will enter your life in a powerful way, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
And while they are all together, waiting, the Holy Spirit manifests himself to them, descends on them Powerfully in two visible ways. There is a mighty Rushing Wind, and tongues of fire. The wind is a sermon all by itself—the Breath of God, the life giving breath that brought creation into being and sustains it. This morning I want to talk a little bit about the Fire.
As they heard the Mighty Rushing Wind, waking them up, enlivening them, alerting them to the presence of God in the room, Fire descended from Heaven and individual flames of fire separated and rested on each of their heads.
Let’s look at the properties of real Biblical Fire for a moment. Fire, in the Bible, is the visible sign of God’s perfect holiness. The First Great Fire of Holiness, apart from the flaming sword in Genesis, blocking the entrance to the Garden of Eden, is the Burning Bush. Moses, by no means a model of holiness and goodness, is by himself in the wilderness and God breaks apart his whole world by Burning a Bush, and yet the bush does not burn up, it is not destroyed. The fire of the Burning Bush later translates to the Pillar of Fire by Night, showing the people of Israel when to go forward, when to stop and wait. The fire was God’s direction and presence with the people. Then, there is the Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, and later the Temple, full of fire—the fire of hundreds of sacrifices being burned by which the atonement or forgiveness of the sins of the people was applied ultimately through the complete sacrifice of Christ. Some of the sacrifices would be obliterated, destroyed by the fire. Others were cooked in the fire and then eaten. And how can we not mention Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego, walking around in a blazing fire, completely unscathed, not a hair on their head burned, or their clothes singed, not even the smell of smoke.
God is Holy. He is so Holy, so Perfect, so Full of Righteousness, so Completely Good, that evil cannot exist in his presence. It just burns up. There are some interesting moments of people dropping dead in the Old Testament, having come in contact with the Holiness of God, they just don’t survive. But for the most part God protects his people from being annihilated 1. by not letting them see his actual face 2. by giving them the law so that they can understand who he is without seeing him and 3. by giving them the Sacrificial System by which they could be forgiven of their sins, and then come and be in his presence without dying.
So, when the disciples are altogether in one place, waiting for God to show them what to do, and individual tongues of fire come and rest on each of their heads, they do not, sensibly, think that this is a nice warm cuddly time whereby they are affirmed for who they are by God. No, God’s very holiness is resting on them, indeed is Indwelling them, is Filling them.
How is this even possible? Because Jesus has died, risen, and is seated at the right hand of the Father doing two things 1. Interceding for them, that is, bringing them before God’s face, their needs, desires, hopes, problems. They are in the very presence of God, through Jesus. But 2. Very Importantly, Jesus is covering them with himself. His death is sufficient for the forgiveness and obliteration of their sin, his blood covers them. So when God looks at a Christian, at a believer, he does not see the mire and coldness of sin, that person doesn’t fall down dead in his presence. No, God sees the pure, holy, righteousness of Christ.
We are reading, in the Ladies’ Bible Study, the book of Job. It’s been a real trial for us. We enjoy moments of it, but basically it’s a hard slog. We can’t wait until it’s over and we can read something more fun. I don’t have time to tell you the story of Job, but at one point, his “friend” Zophar, in an attempt to get Job to admit what an awful person he is, says this about God’s relationship to the wicked (that would be everyone not found in Christ), “To fill his belly to the full God will send his burning anger against him and rain it upon him into his body”, one translation read, “to rain it upon him, as his food”.
Apart from Christ you can expect the holiness of God, the Fire of God’s Justice and perfection to bring you to death, to destroy you. But, but, In Christ, With Christ, if you are found in him and know him and believe in him, the Very Fire of God comes to live in you. The fire of wrath that the wicked are made to ‘eat’, now is the fire of cleansing, the sanctifying Fire of the Holy Spirit actually living in you, in your very flesh.
Which is why, if you are living a real, honest Christian life, you will find, at moments, that is I not at all a comfortable experience. At times it may actually be painful. How could it not be? The fire of God, the Holy Spirit, is alive in you burning away the dross, the sin, the parts of you that are not wholly devoted to him. And not only that, but this Spirit that is sanctifying you, that is making you holy, is also bringing you into the church, into the body of believers, the Body of Christ. You do not live for yourself or your own To Do List any more. You live for the sake of Christ, for the Church. And you are equipped, enlivened, directed in this Life by the Holy Spirit. Do you find that you’re here every day scrubbing floors? You can thank the Holy Spirit. Are you serving on Vestry? Do you listen, carefully, to the Bible, and understand, for the most part, what it says? Are you out in the world, telling everyone you meet about Jesus? Are you in school bringing every thought and moment captive to Christ? Do you cut hair after church? Are you in Bible Study during the week? Are you serving meals, organizing Rummage, marinating chicken, praying every day, forgiving those who have offended you, seeking the forgiveness of others, of Christ? I know you are. This church is on Fire. The Holy Spirit is making Christ present Here, is making you into the Image of Christ, is building us into the very Body of Christ, that is the church.
If you want to take stock of your life as a Christian, if you want to be sure that the Holy Spirit is working in you and through you, your first step is not to look inside yourself and see how you feel, or if you’re becoming a nicer person (although that may play a part), but Rather to evaluate and consider your life in the church. I’m sorry to say it, because I know it’s terribly inconvenient, but the Church is the center of the Christian’s life. All the gifts the Holy Spirit gives you are for the building up of the Church, the body. Now, that doesn’t mean spending every waking minute here. That would be great, but it’s not practical. It does mean ordering your priorities rightly. If you want God to use you, to fill you with the Holy Spirit, to give you all the gifts and riches of his grace, you have to come to church and order your life with church at the center. I’m hoping very much that Matt will talk about what exactly this looks like next week when he talks about the Holy Spirit. In the meantime, this week take a few moments to look at your life, your routine, your priorities, both for the purpose of being encouraged by all the things that God is doing, and to be challenged to find if things are in order.
Heavenly Father, fill us with your Holy Spirit, this morning, show us your power, and presence and glory. Build your Kingdom, here in this place. Build us into the Body of your Son Jesus. Amen.