The Spirit completes the work of creation (Pentecost sermon)


Acts 2:1-11     John 14:15-27


Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind!


Fifty days ago that we celebrated Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter.  We are like the Apostles, gathered in a room with others, on this fiftieth day in expectation.  For them, the Spirit descended like a mighty rushing wind and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them – and they began to speak different languages.  We don’t know precisely what God has in store for us today, but we are full of expectation!

That first Pentecost for the Church, was a Jewish holiday, prescribed under the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy [16:9-12] and Leviticus [23:11], 50 days after “the offering of the barley sheaf at the beginning of the Passover”.  It marked the end of the barley harvest and people gathered in Jerusalem with thank offerings for the harvest and offered peace and sin offerings.

Sometime between the last prophet Malachi, around 450 BC and the time of Christ, the Feast also became a celebration for Jews of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.  God chose this feast day to pour out his Spirit, so Jews would see the connection between the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and the establishment of a new Covenant.  God had promised through the prophets that he would write the Law in the hearts of his people through the pouring out his Spirit.  And indeed, in his first sermon Peter ever gave, he quotes from the Prophet Joel to explain what was taking place.  [New Bible Dictionary, Pentecost]

The Spirit was poured out and the Church was born.  And the Spirit continues to be poured out through the ages.

How does this happen?

When people gathered around the Apostles, and Peter spoke his first sermon, they were cut to the heart and asked, “What shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is to you and to your children.”  [Acts 2:27-39]  It is through baptism that God has chosen to pour out his Spirit.  The Spirit does work in hearts before baptism to draw people to desire baptism, but the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit comes, we are promised, through this sacrament.

On that day of Pentecost, 3000 were baptized.  The pouring out of the Spirit that began in that small room, on a select few, was poured out more fully on all who desired it and the Church was born.  The early Church soon took on the practice of having baptisms on the day of Pentecost. Tertullian, a theologian of the early 3rd century, describes Pentecost as, after Easter, the most joyous time for baptisms.  In the English Church, this day is also called Whitsunday – believed to be so called because it refers to the white garments worn by those to be baptized.  And some connected the prefix "whit" to "wit", the wisdom conferred by the Holy Spirit in baptism.

Maria-Susanna, Matteo and Luca are the latest to ask for this gift, and they can be assured that they are joining with many others this day, around the world, who will be going under the waters of baptism and becoming “members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.” [BCP, Catechism, p. 289]

Will you feel different today?  We don’t know.  Will you be different? Faith says, yes.

When we think of the pouring out of the Spirit, we might imagine particularly spectacular charismatic gifts, like the apostles experienced on that first Pentecost in the Church.  Or manifestations seen in Pentecostal churches – people prophesying, speaking in tongues, people slain in the Spirit, miraculous healings.  And I would not want to deny these as true manifestations of the Spirit.  But the work of the Spirit is more profound and more long-lasting in each soul.

The disciples heard the sound like a mighty rushing wind, and saw, flames of fire, but they were not blown around the room!  It was an experience exhilarating and full of wonder, but for them there was a calm – it says that “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared to them and rested on each of them.”  Jesus says in the Gospel today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”  There was an ecstatic element – they spoke in other languages.  But the Spirit did not drive them out of their minds, but brought them a unity of purpose and meaning to all that they had experienced in the presence of Jesus.  Peter stood up and spoke with profound clarity of mind and with authority for the first time in his life.  People in Jerusalem that day were not heading for cover, terrified of the sound or of a physical disturbance, but rather were drawn by curiosity and, no doubt, by an unseen mysterious pull in their hearts, drawn by the manifestations of God’s Love in their midst.  It was completely unusual, but it was by no means chaotic.

Maria-Susanna, Matteo and Luca, God brings order and life, out of chaos and darkness, as He did in the beginning when He created the world, sending the Holy Spirit over the waters of creation.  And today over the waters of Baptism, God promises to continue that work of creation in your souls, the restoration of his image and likeness.  God’s Gift does not replace or destroy your nature but perfects it.  He works with the clay that you are, bringing about your full beauty in time.  The Holy Spirit will create and nurture order and fruitfulness in your hearts.

Second, the gift of the Spirit brings about a unity of purpose to all the powers of our soul.  We can be very united in purpose by a disordered passion, but that would lead to our destruction.  For example, the love of money, or the coveting what others have, could unite our soul to figuring out how to take what they have, but it would destroy our souls.  God brings a unity of purpose to our souls – but that purpose is the love of God and our neighbour - and that brings life.  More and more aspects of our life are happily brought under orbit of this new centre beyond ourselves, God.  We will be experiencing a unity of purpose and strengthening, because we are fighting less and less within and against our true selves, and growing in fruitfulness.  And as we follow in the Way, we discover ourselves to be more infilled with the Spirit.

Jesus repeats three times in the Gospel today the way for the baptized to receive more fully the gift of the Spirit.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever,… He dwells with you and will be in you.”

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” The illumination in the soul by His Spirit.

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

As we step out in love, which, Jesus says, is keeping the commandments, the Spirit, comes alongside us, taking our feeble efforts and strengthening them, so we find it easier and more desirable all the time to do what is right.  We become holy over time by this daily habit of doing what is right and no longer doing what is wrong.

The Spirit unites us within, but also draws us more deeply into union with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  The new perspective, the new unifying experience inwardly, does not lead us off on our own private journey – me and the Spirit!  Rather, it leads to a journey with others who are also catching glimpses and being united personally to this same Universal Truth - the one true God.  On the day of Pentecost, people of different cultures and races and backgrounds were all led to the same action: together they repented and were baptised into the one faith in Jesus Christ.  Three thousand souls were baptised and they were further united, we are told, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, and day by day, attending the temple together – as we are doing here this morning. [Acts 2:42,46]  The Spirit leads you into the Church, not off on your own.

Today we celebrate this great feast of Pentecost, the birth of the Church, and two thousand years later, we celebrate that the work of the Spirit continues growing the Church around the world, and in our hearts this morning.

That unity which began in our baptism, is strengthened in Holy Communion, instituted by our Lord Himself – also called the "Sacrament of unity" – where we receive, together, the Bread which comes down from heaven, and of the one cup, the Blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins after baptism.  Today Maria-Susanna, Matteo and Luca will receive this sacrament also for the first time.

Let us prepare ourselves now to be witnesses to the faith of these young people in our midst and see God’s response with these great sacraments for the increase of our joy on earth and of the whole company in heaven.

Amen +


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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2