The Church’s Spirit

Pentecost Sunday –5th June 2022

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is a Jewish festival that celebrates when the Law was given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. It is now also connected to the Christian Church. That is because it was during Pentecost that the Holy Spirit breathed life into the Church. Up to that point, the Church was more of an organisation set up by Jesus during his earthly ministry. When he ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit came down and the Church became a living organism.

Jesus created the church much like God formed Adam from the dust of the ground. But Adam did not become a living soul until God’s Spirit breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life. So too it is with the Church, it became a living organism at the first Pentecost celebrated after Jesus ascended into heaven.

At St Johns Papatoetoe, I have been taking each season of the lectionary and preaching through the scripture texts with a theme. The theme for Pentecost and the Sunday’s leading up Advent is: Practicing our Faith with Christ’s Spirit. There are many tools God has given us to practice our faith but by far the most important one is God’s own Spirit.

Today’s message is titled, “The Church’s Spirit”. I want to go through the lectionary texts to understand two things:

  • Purposeful Unity
  • Peaceful Teaching

Purposeful Unity

Our reading from Acts 2 informs us that “they were all together in one place.” The Old Testament reading for Pentecost Sunday is from Genesis 11 where “the whole earth had one language and the same words” and determined to remain in one place and not “be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

We often speak of unity as the highest ideal. But unity is not godly in and of itself. The purpose of unity makes all the difference.

In Genesis, the purpose of their unity was to disobey God. The story of The Tower of Babel is connected to Noah’s Flood. God restarted the human race. Noah and his family were given the same commission as Adam & Eve: multiply and replenish the earth.

From the beginning, God knew the power of human unity. Humanity has a power to perform anything it imagines. That power, however, is often exercised in rebellion to their Creator. God created humanity to multiply and replenish the earth. Humanity is responsible for taking care of the entire globe. Yet collective human thought seeks to congregate and leave Nature to care for itself. That is why God was forced to create languages. Languages are a divine barrier between cultures that encourage God’s work through the Holy Spirit.

Like humanity in Babel, the Early Church was gathered together as one people. However, they were doing so under instruction from Jesus. He told them to wait together for the Holy Spirit. After that, Jesus commissioned them to disperse the Gospel throughout the world. 

The Church’s Spirit is God’s Spirit. It was given to comfort us through persecutions. It was given to comfort us through loneliness as we disperse into the world. Unity is wonderful, but we cannot be in a worship service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We must disperse and go out into our workplaces, schools, and neighbourhoods.

Often Pentecost emphasises the power we have from God through His Spirit. John Calvin reminds us that “men have no taste for (God’s power) till they are convinced of their need of it and they immediately forget its value unless they are conditionally reminded by awareness of their own weakness.”

The disciples had to be reminded of their need for God’s power. They remained in Jerusalem, like the ancients at Babel. The persecution from Stephen forced believers out of Jerusalem, but the disciples remained behind. That was one reason why God had to raise up Paul the Apostle—to take the Gospel throughout the world.

Eventually, the disciples did disperse. Tradition tells us they went afar, including Thomas to India and Peter to Rome. But they had to learn that the Holy Spirit is a long-burning energy source beyond the explosive ignition.

Power can be used in at least two ways: it can be unleashed, or it can be harnessed. The energy in ten gallons of gasoline, for instance, can be released explosively by dropping a lighted match into the can. Or it can be channeled through the engine of a Datsun in a controlled burn and used to transport a person 350 miles. Explosions are spectacular, but controlled burns have lasting effect, staying power. The Holy Spirit works both ways. At Pentecost, he exploded on the scene; His presence was like “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). Thousands were affected by one burst of God’s power. But He also works through the church–the institution God began to tap the Holy Spirit’s power for the long haul. Through worship, fellowship, and service, Christians are provided with staying power.

Peaceful Teaching

Jesus promised his disciples that in his absence the Father would send forth a Comforter, another Advocate, a Helper. The Spirit of God is one and the same as the Spirit of Christ. That Spirit comforts, helps, and advocates on our behalf during this life. That Spirit circumcises our human spirit from its earthly soul and seals us in Christ’s Universal Body. That Church’s Spirit is a Holy Comforter without whom we have no hope.

Often Pentecost emphasises the power we have from God through His Spirit. Yet today, we often feel powerless when hear news of drive-by shootings, gang violence, and Covid cases.

The early disciples witnessed the resurrected Jesus. That gave them hope. They saw him ascend. That left them weak and vulnerable, but they waited for his promise in Jerusalem as we today wait for his promise anew. 

But, many of us wait with nagging doubts, warranted fears, and emotional pain borne from the griefs we have experienced in the endless tragedies of the last few weeks, months, and years. We know that the Spirit of God is living and among us, but do not always feel his presence. Powerlessness was the feeling of the church then as it is now. 

On a day in which we wait in powerlessness of mind, body, and soul, ravished by and reeling from the tragic turn of events, may we not forget that Job thus waded into his own suffering in his search to understand, to know, to see, to speak with God, to find the One with power to answer for our powerlessness. The church waited in powerlessness in the dark corners of Jerusalem in fear of repercussion, persecution, and death, to find the One with power to answer for our powerlessness. 

This Pentecost, by all means, celebrate the power of the Spirit from on high, but please do so in full recognition of the powerlessness that many of us experience in this moment, remembering the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The Pastor’s Workshop

The first Christians were Jews. They followed God’s word as revealed to them. They would later learn that Christ was the mediator of a New Testament. The transition required to shed traditions and adopt new religious practices and was only possible with Holy Help.

If people would have been asked in 1968 which nation would dominate the world in watch making during the 1990s and into the twenty-first century the answer would have been uniform: Switzerland. Why? Because Switzerland had dominated the world of watch making for the previous sixty years.

The Swiss made the best watches in the world and were committed to constant refinement of their expertise. It was the Swiss who came forward with the minute hand and the second hand. They led the world in discovering better ways to manufacture the gears, hearings, and mainsprings of watches. They even led the way in waterproofing techniques and self-winding models. By 1968, the Swiss made 65 percent of all watches sold in the world and laid claim to as much as 90 percent of the profits.

By 1980, however, they had laid off thousands of watch-makers and controlled less than 10 percent of the world market. Their profit domination dropped to less than 20 percent. Between 1979 and 1981, fifty thousand of the sixty-two thou-sand Swiss watchmakers lost their jobs. Why? The Swiss had refused to consider a new development—the—the Quartz movement—ironically, invented by a Swiss. Because it had no main-spring or knob, it was rejected. It was too much of a paradigm shift for them to embrace. Seiko, on the other hand, accepted it and, along with a few other companies, became the leader in the watch industry.

The lesson of the Swiss watchmakers is profound. A past that was so secure, so profitable, so dominant was destroyed by an unwillingness to consider the future. It was more than not being able to make predictions—it was an inability to re-think how they did business. Past success had blinded them to the importance of seeing the implications of the changing world and to admit that past accomplishment was no guarantee of future success. James White

Today’s Pentecost passage tells the story of what we consider the birth of the church. Weary and mournful, the disciples gathered early in the morning for worship. A religious minority at the time, they were easily persecuted for their strange beliefs. They gathered for support, comfort and accountability. They would remain faithful, they promised each other during worship. They would not let the good news go unproclaimed.

Pentecost Sunday is our chance to pause and celebrate the faithful who still gather, week after week, month after month, in our community and around the world, to meet the Spirit of Christ. Jesus meets us in Christian community. We experience the risen Christ through our gathering and the spiritual rituals – baptism, communion, communal prayer, singing of hymns – that hold the heft of a tradition passed on from generation to generation. As the pandemic forced us into isolation, we have recognised now, more than ever, how good it is to gather as Christian community.

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