St Michael & St Barnabas, 24th May 2015 – Pentecost

Readings – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:14-41


One thing we are very good at as Anglicans is responses. For example, if I were to say,

‘This is the word of the Lord … ‘

‘The peace of the Lord be with you …’

‘Lord in your mercy … ‘


Once we learn the responses by heart they are always there, and whether we learn them as children or later in life, whenever we hear the introduction, we automatically respond. And I expect most of us know the Lord’s prayer by heart … some of us may even be able to recite large chunks of the service from memory; the Creed, or confession, or my favourite, the Prayer of humble access.

Liturgy enables us to share together in the very fabric of worship. We are not passengers, being carried along by the minister who does everything for us. Through the liturgy, we all contribute, we all proclaim the word of God, and we all pray in unity … with one heart and mind.

The danger is that we get used to saying the words and so say them without thinking, without considering their meaning. So ponder a moment those responses we’ve just said together … what does it mean to say, This is the word of the Lord, and to give thanks for it; or the peace of the Lord be with you; or Lord, in your mercy … short little phrases, but with such depth of meaning and, if we say them intentionally, with profound impact on our lives. I could talk all day about the liturgy … coming from a Baptist background, the liturgy was a great discovery for me and had a powerful impact on my faith, and my understanding of worship.

But that’s not actually what I’m here to talk about today. I have one more response for you … each time we gather for communion we begin with the invitation, ‘The Lord is here …’

What are you thinking when you say that response? What do we understand it to mean, that His Spirit is with us?

On the day of Pentecost, which we celebrate today, the Holy Spirit came in power upon the disciples, just as Jesus had promised … look back at Acts 2:1-4 …

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

flames 3

Our reading this morning is Peter’s explanation of that event … look again at Acts 2:17-18, Peter is quoting the prophet Joel,

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

Peter is saying that the events of Pentecost were foretold by God, through the prophet Joel, some 700 years earlier. That shouldn’t surprise us … God is God, after all!

Joel’s message was quite simply that when God once again stepped into history, everything would change, that God would make his presence felt by everyone who wanted to be included …

I wonder, is that what we are saying when we proclaim together, His Spirit is with us?

Perhaps you have never experienced the presence of God in such a powerful, supernatural way … I would guess that’s true of many of us. What then does it mean to us that His Spirit is with us?

The Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit is not only present but active in the lives of those who know Jesus as both Lord and Saviour. It’s not always easy to be sure when someone begins the life of faith … but Peter tells us that baptism and repentance are sure signs of new life … look at Acts 2:38,

Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Some might say that the gift of the Spirit doesn’t necessarily take place immediately, but in Romans Paul says,

Romans 8:9 … And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

While in his letter to the chaotic church at Corinth, he wrote,

I Corinthians 12:3 … no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

So we can be sure, that if we have come to Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, the Holy Spirit is not only present with us, but lives within us.

And that must surely make a difference! For the Holy Spirit is the active presence of God himself, as both Father and Son … Jesus told us,

John 14:23 … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Next week is Trinity Sunday and we’ll hear more then about how God the Father, Jesus the Son (our saviour and Lord) and the Holy Spirit are three in one, together and apart God. And throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that we are only born again through the work of the Spirit … that is, that eternal life is only possible because the Spirit prompts us, directs us and then indwells us.

So then, our starting point is to be sure that our sins have been forgiven. When we say the confession week by week, do you find yourself casting round for misdemeanours to confess? Specific little things that you know you’ve done wrong, or negative thoughts about someone, that kind of thing? You know, that’s not quite what repentance is about, the details of particular things we might have done or thoughts we may have had … repentance means to turn around, to turn away … to turn away from living life our way, to living it for God. It’s about rejecting independence, and committing to being led by God in every detail, shaped by his purpose, seeing things his way.

I’ve always been such a good girl! When I first came to faith as a teenager I hadn’t done much wrong in my life, I wasn’t pregnant or on drugs or addicted to anything or into the occult, I hadn’t robbed anyone, didn’t really even dislike anyone very much, let alone hating someone … what was I supposed to repent of? Quite simply, that I did what I liked, when I liked, for myself. Whatever I did, good or bad, for myself or others, was my own choice. I was living as if God wasn’t there.

Repentance – turning to God and asking for forgiveness because you know that your sin was the reason Jesus had to die – repentance is the beginning of new life, eternal life … yet it’s not something that only happens once; we have to, we need to, live daily in repentance. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said,

Luke 2:23 … Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me …

Even as Christians, it’s easy to go our own way; we remember to pray, go to church, give regularly … and at the same time we live as if having God in our lives doesn’t really make any difference, we behave as if God isn’t there.

Repentance and the gift of the Holy Spirit go together … so just as you received the Holy Spirit when you first came to faith through repentance and forgiveness, so now, as disciples, we need to live in repentance to allow the Spirit the freedom to work in our lives.

As Paul said, in Galatians 5:25,

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

footprints shadow

Perhaps you are familiar with the presence of the Spirit, maybe you have experienced his power at work in some way, whether at the beginning of your relationship with God, or later on in your life as a disciple. As we read on in the story of Acts, it’s clear that, while the Holy Spirit was always with the disciples, there were times when his presence was particularly evident … in Acts 4, after the healing of the beggar at the Beautiful Gate, Peter and John are imprisoned by the Temple authorities. Eventually they are released, and when they rejoined the disciples they held a prayer meeting. They didn’t pray that the authorities would leave them alone, or for protection and peace. They prayed for power to speak boldly for Jesus … Acts 4:31,

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

They had been filled by the Spirit before, but our experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives isn’t a constant … he is always there, within, as we have seen, but our awareness of his presence will vary, and indeed, Paul tells us, in 1 Thessalonians, that it is possible for us to resist the work of the Spirit … it’s tucked away in what might be a familiar sounding passage, 1 Thessalonians 5,

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually,18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Do not quench the Spiritkeep in step with the Spiritto some extent, then, our experience of the Spirit depends on us. So what should we expect of the Spirit at work in our lives?

Let’s read again Joel’s prophecy as quoted by Peter in Acts 2,

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

Does the thought of prophesying scare you?! Prophecy is simply speaking out the truth about God. For some of us, that means taking the written word and proclaiming and explaining it, as I am doing today. For others, it may mean that God gives you a specific word for a specific person or situation, perhaps through visions or dreams. For all of us, it means telling others about the hope we have in Jesus.

But this is a truly exciting passage … given in an age and culture of inequality, the Spirit is given to everyone; even women are included, mentioned not once but twice! And young people … the gift of the Spirit is not limited to those of a certain age and maturity, or who have a calling to full time ministry. No, the gift of the Holy Spirit is to the church, and everyone who is a part of it … look at Acts 2:39,

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.

We often talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and his fruits, and we reassure ourselves that everyone has some gift or other, however menial … yet visions, dreams and prophecy are far more than simply being on the coffee rota, or being able to type up a notice sheet, or just being a nice person. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples (and through Peter and Joel to all those who would follow him in times to come), he spoke of the Holy Spirit coming with power.

What do you think of when you consider the power of the Holy Spirit?

None of us comes to faith, finding forgiveness and new life, without the work of the Holy Spirit. But just as our individual stories of meeting with Jesus will differ, so will the way each of us will experience the power of the Holy Spirit … He works in all of us

  • to bring us to repentance,
  • to change lives for the better,
  • to help us pass on the good news to others,
  • to heal us and others,
  • to give us gifts for the benefit of the people of God, the church family,
  • to make us more like Jesus.

Yet, just as we all come to Jesus by different routes, so the Holy Spirit meets with us as individuals: my experience of his presence will be different to yours.

So what is your experience of the Holy Spirit? What are your expectations when you proclaim, His Spirit is with us?

Today is Pentecost, sometimes called the birthday of the church because it was a new beginning, a new era in the life of God’s people. Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon a few individuals, for a specific time or purpose … the judges and prophets and occasionally a king or two. But now, says Joel (and Peter and Jesus), the Holy Spirit – the power of God and the presence of God – has and will come, not upon, but within the lives of everyone who, in the words of Acts 2:21, calls on the name of the Lord … everyone.


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