Christ-Shaped Devotion - Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost - June 26, 2022
Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 19:15–16, 19–21 | Psalm 16 | Galatians 5:1, 13–25 | Luke 9:51–62
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14).
All our Scripture readings today, in one way or another, call us to contemplate devotion: to reflect on what it means to be completely committed to the Living God and His will for us. But more than that, they also highlight how the Living God is completely committed to us. Devoted to rescuing and re-creating His broken world, and drawing us who trust in Him deep into His blessed life.
But before jumping into our readings today, let’s remember that there are plenty of ways we can misunderstand devotion… plenty of ways we can get off track when we follow our assumptions about what the Lord wants of us, instead of looking intently to Jesus and following His lead.
Thankfully, our Gospel reading today invites us all to reflect on what a Christ-shaped devotion looks like, both back then, but also today:
St. Luke tells us that “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). This marks a clear change of direction in Jesus’ ministry. Up until now, He had been travelling through the northern region of Galilee, sharing the Good News of the Kingdom of God with all the countryside. But now, the time had come for Him to head South to the holy city… wholeheartedly determined to carry out His great rescue mission: to go to Jerusalem, to take up His cross, and give His life to save the world.
As the amazing culmination of the entire Scriptural story… the story of God’s faithful love for His stubborn, sinful people, and our whole broken world… Jesus, the Son of God was going to Jerusalem to die. To be betrayed and rejected by the ones He came to save, but then to turn that tragedy into a gift of New Life for all.
But long before He and His disciples even get close to Jerusalem, Luke tells us they faced resistance: Travelling through a Samaritan village, they were not welcomed.
Now Samaritans have a long and fraught history with Jews. Both communities have a shared ancestry, as the Samaritans were descendants of the remnant of the Northern tribes of Israel, who survived the Assyrian and Babylonian Exiles. Yet even so, both communities saw each other as ethnically and religiously compromised, to the end that Jews and Samaritans despised and avoided each other. And so, because Jesus was going to Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish religious and cultural life, the Samaritans wanted absolutely nothing to do with Him or His disciples. Despite Christ’s willingness to share God’s Kingdom work with them, they only saw an enemy… and so they rejected Him.
Of course there are lots of examples of this kind of dynamic at work in our world these days: of people who share so much in common… yet remain deeply divided over the few differences.
I’m not talking about the tensions that naturally rise from people holding conflicting values. Of course we won’t agree with everyone, and there will be times when we must stand firm and resist what we understand to be wrong.
But the question for us is: how are we to treat those who hold onto conflicting values? What do we do with the people we cannot seem to come to peace with? Can we deeply disagree about many things without demonizing… or trying to destroy the lives of those we disagree with?
As we heard today, the disciples didn’t seem to think so. At least two of them, James and John, thought their devotion to God’s Kingdom called for burning up those who were ‘opposed’ to them and their message. “Lord,” they said, “do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). In the back of there minds must have been the stories of the great prophet Elijah, who in 1 Kings had himself called down fire from heaven against soldiers of a wicked king.
But instead of unleashing fire against the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes His own students… and simply moves on. He doesn’t engage in debate. He doesn’t repay their unkindness with anger. Despite the rejection that Jesus faced, He does not let it deter Him from carrying out His mission. He remained devoted to laying down His life to save, not only His fellow Jews, but these Samaritans as well… and all peoples under heaven.
Christ-shaped devotion is not about winning every argument, or coming out on top of every conflict. Nor is it, for that matter, about keeping everyone happy… as if that were even possible. What Jesus did was to not let rejection or conflict distract Him from God’s great rescue mission… from devoting His life wholeheartedly to the life of the Kingdom that He had come to bring, even though this would mean walking the road of rejection and suffering.
As Christ’s followers today, will we walk this road with Him?
St. Luke goes on to introduce us to others, who wanted to follow Jesus… but who had their own visions, and assumptions of what it would look like to devote their lives to Him: One said “I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57), but Jesus then pointed out that His own life was one of never quite belonging… of never really settling down and fitting into society. A life of a pilgrim. A wandering misfit. Is that what you want?
After Jesus invites another to follow Him, the would-be disciple says: “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Luke 9:59). In other words, ‘Let me first fulfill my family obligations.’ Again, Jesus pushes for wholehearted devotion, saying to them: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).
Yet another says: “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:61-62).
All three of these would-be disciples wanted to take part in the Kingdom… but up to a point. They wanted to follow on their own terms… in ways that they were comfortable with… but Jesus pushed back on their assumptions… on their ideas of what wholehearted devotion means… not because He was cruel, or uncaring… not because He didn’t want them to follow Him… just the opposite! But He wanted them, and wants every would-be disciple to know what we’re getting into. Jesus was inviting them, as He invites us all to share wholeheartedly in His life… with all its challenges and struggles… and so to know what it means with Him to be devoted to God’s kingdom.
We all come with our own ideas about what it means to be a devoted Christian: what following this religion requires of us, and how our lives will be shaped by it (or not!). But Christ-shaped devotion isn’t bound by our own assumptions, or ideas… but by a whole new way of life given to us by the Living God. A life completely committed not to a religion, but to Jesus our Lord… and to one another!
As St. Paul points out in our reading today from Galatians, there’s no such thing for those who follow Jesus as private devotion. Our commitment to the Living God connects us to all His children… set free to share together in the life of Christ Jesus our Lord.
To the Christians in Galatia, divided by serious religious and cultural disagreements, St. Paul took great pains to point out that devotion to Christ Jesus is not just a bunch of rituals to practice, or rules to follow… and argue over. Truly Christ-shaped devotion, the fulfillment of the righteous law of God, is His holy love at work in us, setting us free from everything that keeps us from loving one another.
Galatians 5:13-15, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
St. Paul goes on to point out the destructive signs of what happens when we’re devoted to our own desires, which run in the opposite direction of the holy love of God: Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
But then St. Paul points us towards what it looks like when we are sharing in the new life Jesus gives us: what begins to take shape in our lives as those devoted to walking with Him. Galatians 5:22-25, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
Remember, all these things are the results of the Spirit of God at work in us. This isn’t a list of things we need to do or have in order to make ourselves holy, or prove we’re devoted to God. These are the signs of God’s new life that the Holy Spirit is devoted to bringing to life in us His people. The Living God Himself is wholeheartedly committed to re-creating us to be like Him! To be shaped by God’s own love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This is the gift that Christ won for us at the cross: to share in God’s new life, and through the Spirit, for His life to set us free to love Him and one another. This is what the Living God is devoted to doing in us and our world. Will we follow our Saviour and let His faithful love guide our way? Amen.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 19:1–15 | Psalm 42, 43 | Galatians 3:23–29 | Luke 8:26–39
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39).
Our Scripture readings today from 1 Kings and the Gospel of Luke may not seem all that similar, but in some key ways they are deeply connected… like two sides of a coin, they bear different images, but share a common theme: the stories of people whose lives were turned around by the Living God, only to be sent out again in unexpected directions.
In 1 Kings we jump right into the middle of the story of Elijah: the passionate and powerful prophet of Yahweh, the Living God, who had the audacity to confront Israel’s unfaithful King, Ahab, who with his wife Jezebel, had led God’s people to worship and serve Baal, a Canaanite deity.
Just before our reading today, Elijah had called for a dramatic duel, a showdown on Mt. Carmel before all the people of Israel between Yahweh, the LORD, and the popular prophets of Baal… to prove once and for all who was truly God Almighty.
1 Kings 18:21 says that “Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word.” What follows this call to wholehearted faithfulness was a dramatic display of Yahweh’s unrivaled power. I’ll leave it to you to read over 1 Kings Chapter 18 this week to get all the details, but the pastor and scholar Peter Leithart summarizes the outcome well: “Yahweh wins a decisive victory over Baal at Carmel, and the people who bowed to golden calves and kissed the Baals fall on their faces to declare, “Yahweh is God! Yahweh is God!”” It seems that Israel had finally turned back to the Living God for good, and Leithart goes on to capture what must have been the faithful prophet’s dream come true: “Yahweh’s victory over Baal is so public that the people obey Elijah’s command to slaughter the prophets of Baal, none of whom return from Carmel… It seems possible that Ahab will follow Elijah as his lead prophet, that Elijah will shape the future of Israel from a position of prominence. The covenant renewed, Israel is back on the right track.
It is not to be.”
Instead, Queen Jezebel seeks to strike back… and instead of leading God’s people back to their LORD, Elijah becomes Israel’s most wanted. Despondent, he heads south, to Mt. Sinai, also called Horeb, where God had once met with Moses long ago… leaving behind the people he once sought to save, who he now felt had all abandoned him.
Along the way, we hear how the LORD had provided for and sustained his faithful prophet, but Elijah could only see tragedy, loss, and utter failure: “It is enough;” he prays, “now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4). Leithart points out that “Elijah wishes to die, but this is not simple despair. He realizes that he is no more effective than his prophetic fathers in calling Israel back to the covenant. Israel’s renewal is not going to take place, at least not the way that Elijah envisions.” His great hopes and dreams for his people were shattered, and it’s more than he thinks he can bare. And so when he finally arrives and Mt. Sinai, he brings this complaint: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:10).
Perhaps we can relate to Elijah sometimes: When our hopes and dreams fall apart. When the good work we pour ourselves into seems wasted. When we see those we love heading for disaster, and feel helpless to turn things around. When we feel like no one is there for us… like it’s just us against the world.
Everything Elijah had worked for, and risked his life for, seems to have come to nothing. Elijah was at the end of his rope, and ready to give it all up.
But God had not given up on Elijah. Or for that matter, on His people. So Yahweh sends Elijah back out into the world on an unexpected mission: 1 Kings 19:15-18, “Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Despite how things seemed, Elijah was not alone. The LORD still had thousands who had remained faithful to Him, and the enemies seeking Elijah’s life would be delt with in God’s due time. Though in his own eyes, there had been no hope left, no future worth fighting for, the LORD told Elijah to go… and invite others to share in the work of God’s Kingdom.
Turning now to our reading from the Gospel of Luke, and the strange story of a man rescued from the powers of darkness… and pigs drowned in the sea.
We know very little about this man, aside from the ways his life had become a symbol of devastation. Driven into the wild by demonic forces, naked and living among the dead in the tombs… unable to be restrained… this man’s life had been completely overwhelmed by forces far beyond his, or anyone else’s control. In this state, he had no hope, no future. He was all alone with the darkness.
But then, a boat pulls onto the shore, and Jesus of Nazareth steps out. And immediately, this man falls at His feet, and the demons within start to panic: Luke 8:28, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” This man no one could master now cowered in fear… and for good reason. The unclean spirits understood all too well that they were in the presence power.
In short order, Jesus casts out the legion of demons, who enter into the nearby heard of pigs, and who then drive themselves to destruction, drowned in the sea. The neighbours nearby, and witnesses of this dramatic display of spiritual authority and power beg Jesus to go away. To get back into His boat, and leave them (and their pigs) alone.
And our Lord doesn’t argue with them. He doesn’t demand they let Him and His disciples stay. He doesn’t get drawn into debates, and force His way into their lives. Even though He had travelled all that way to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom with them, Jesus does not use His great power to coerce anyone to accept Him. His power brings freedom, and wholeness, and life, but we can refuse to receive this gracious gift. And that’s what they do: they turn away Jesus.
But even as He prepares to leave, Jesus does not turn away from them. Instead, He sends out someone else to share the Good News with them.
Luke tells us the man who had now been freed from the demons begged to remain with Jesus… to stay close to the One who had given him back his life. Now this seems like a totally reasonable request, as N.T. Wright points out: “The man, quite understandably, wants to be allowed to stay with Jesus. Not only is he now bonded to him by the astonishing rescue he has experienced; he may well assume that things would not be easy back in his home territory, where everyone knew the tragic tale of his recent life. There might be considerable reluctance to accept him again as a member of a family or a village.”  In that moment, moving on and following Jesus must have seemed like the most obvious option.
But even so, Jesus had another important mission in mind: Luke tells us Christ “sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:38-39). He’s sent away not because Christ doesn’t care about the man. No, he is sent back so that those in his neighbourhood could see in him a living sign of God’s life-giving, saving power up close and personal. In other words, Christ was inviting this man to share in the work of God’s kingdom. As N.T. Wright puts it “Having experienced the good news in action, he must now tell it himself.” 
His life turned upside down by the grace and power of God, this man follows Jesus’ word to him… going about telling all his neighbours all that Jesus had done for him, and inviting them to believe the Good News that had transformed his story for good.
Today we heard two stories of people whose lives were changed by encountering the Living God and experiencing His power… and were both sent out again to invite others to turn to God too.
Elijah came in search of the LORD, despairing and ready to give up on himself and his people, but God sent him back knowing he was not alone, to help others join in God’s work in the world.
The man freed from demonic forces came to Jesus full of gratitude and hope, seeking simply to be close to the One who had rescued him, but Jesus sent him back to show all those nearby what God’s kingdom really looks like, and to invite them to believe, and experience it for themselves.
Maybe we are coming to God today discouraged, convinced that we are all alone, and that we cannot make a difference. Maybe we’re coming to God with gratitude and hope in our hearts… eager to be in His presence and to experience His life-giving power.
However we’re coming to the Living God today, are we willing to go where He wants to send us? Even if it is surprising, unexpected… or not what we asked for?
Our readings today remind us that though God’s ways are often not what we imagined, His life-giving, sustaining, saving power remains at work in us His people. God sends us out into our world, but He also goes with us always. Empowering us by His Holy Spirit to carry out whatever He asks of us.
So may we take heart, and go… sharing with others all that Jesus has done for us, and inviting them also to turn to the Living God and share in His good Kingdom. Amen.
 Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 138.
 Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 140–141.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 101–102.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 101–102.
Today is Father's Day in Canada, and so many will mark this day by remembering and honouring their fathers who have loved, cared for, guided, and raised them up. For many of us, this is a day of deep gratitude, and it is right that we give thanks along with them for those who truly embodied the gift of fatherhood.
For some of us today is less straightforward, and perhaps more of a struggle... perhaps due to difficulties or losses in one's parental relationships, or for those whom the experience of pursuing fatherhood has been one of sorrow and disappointment. Along with them, we do well to acknowledge that family life is often a challenging road, and to listen to and honour their sufferings, which are also known and shared by our loving God.
Whether today is a day of celebration for you, or a day of difficulty, or some mixture of both: may you receive God's blessing today exactly as it is needed. May God surround you and those you love, as well as all those who have loved and supported you, with peace, hope, fellowship, kindness, and understanding.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, & Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Stay Curious; Search for Truth; God is with us - Sermon for Trinity Sunday - June 12, 2022
Scripture Readings: Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31 | Psalm 8 | Romans 5:1–5 | John 16:12–15
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:12-13.
Congratulations again to our graduating students: as a Parish family we are so proud of you, and all that you have accomplished.
As one chapter of your life draws to a close, and another begins I’d like to offer you, along with all of us here today a simple suggestion: stay curious. Stay curious. Stay open to learning new and surprising things about our world… about the people all around you… and even about yourself. Things that may challenge you… things that may encourage you… but most of all, things that draw you closer and closer to truth.
Don’t settle for easy answers if they do not lead to truth. And be willing to dig, and search, and seek out truth… even if it’s a struggle. For as St. Paul pointed out in our reading today from Romans, we know “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5). In other words, sometimes the right path can be hard… but it’s also well worth it in the end. And we can believe that through the Holy Spirit, God’s love will be with us through it all.
So stay curious. Search for truth. And may God be with you always.
But saying all this might raise the question: Who is God anyway? Who exactly are we talking about when we speak of God?
There are all sorts of ideas out there about God… some ideas we might find easy enough to get behind… others are more of a struggle… and still others frankly seem outrageous… incompatible with One worthy of worship. With so many different ideas about God out there, sometimes it’s a struggle to know what we should believe.
And not only that, but for a whole lot of reasons, over the course of our lives, our own ideas about God keep on shifting and changing as well. With all this debate and uncertainty, sometimes it might just seem easier to give up trying to figure out God.
But what if, instead of it being a matter of sorting out our own ideas, or the ideas of others… of trying to figure God out for ourselves… what if God showed up in such a way so that we could come to know the truth? What if God wants to be known, and shows up in ways we can actually understand?
Maybe ‘understand’ is the wrong word. ‘Understand’ implies complete comprehension… like when we master a subject or skill… being able to explain all the ins and outs… that’s how we know many things about our world… but there are also other ways to know… even if we don’t completely ‘understand’.
Think of a child. A toddler, gradually coming to ‘know’ their family: unconsciously building up a picture of their parents over the years… through seeing their actions… hearing their words, experiencing the ups and downs of daily life together… and learning a lot about themselves and who they are through these relationships.
At what point would we say a child knows their parents? When they understand everything about them? Probably not. When the child can express in words and ideas their parent’s complex personalities? I wouldn’t go that far either. Wouldn’t we be able to say a child who merely recognizes their mother’s voice, their father’s smile, their family’s faces has in some way come to know them? Incompletely, of course, but truly… as best they can. And if they stay curious… if they keep paying attention, and seeking to grow in understanding, they’ll get to know their family members more and more. Even if they never ever completely understand them.
Another example is love: we can come to understand the chemical reactions in our brains and bodies that take place when we share in deep human connections… but that doesn’t mean that we’ve ‘explained’ what it means to love. There’s still a deep mystery about it… one we’re invited, and even created to experience, to offer, and to receive.
In other words, we come to know what it means to love not by observing it from a safe distance, but by sharing it. By stepping into it. And by receiving it.
Coming to know the Living God is more like this: not simply studying a subject or skill, or solving a puzzle, and then moving on to something else… but gradually growing closer to Someone we can’t completely understand… but who is actually longing for us to experience their love… to share their life… to know freedom… connection… justice… mercy… forgiveness… truth. Not only for one season of life, but for all eternity.
How do we know this? Because we believe the Living God has spoken… God has showed up… and has shown Himself to the world.
We believe God has been doing this for quite some time now… thousands of years in fact… through the story of Abraham’s family… the people of Israel, who were set aside to get to know God up close and personal, so that all the world might come to know and share God’s love along with them.
We believe God speaks to us today through this story… a story of blessing, of failure, of forgiveness, and finding new life… a story of our whole human family… and that at the climax of the story of Israel… we meet Jesus of Nazareth: someone who’s words and actions, whose entire life reflects the love of God; someone who gave His life on the cross in order to bring God’s new life to our broken world; someone who, against all expectations, rose again from the grave, and started off God’s hope-filled New Creation; someone who claimed to share full communion with God, and who invites everyone to share that connection as well.
And we believe because Jesus has given His Holy Spirit to dwell inside us… to bring God’s New Life to take root within us so we too can experience God’s love, and let His love, freedom… connection… justice… mercy… forgiveness… and truth grow in us every day, and bring His healing to our broken world.
In the Christian calendar, today is Trinity Sunday: a day that Christians remember that the Living God is not a logical puzzle to solve, or an abstract idea of the divine, or an irrelevant footnote in the history of human religious thoughts… but Someone who knows us all, and wants us to come to know them too. Someone who is the source of our longings for love… for freedom… for connection… for justice… for mercy… for forgiveness… for truth… and who’s also the only Someone who can fulfill all of these longings. Someone who has made themselves known most clearly in the face of Jesus Christ, and someone who invites us all to have their life fill and fulfill all that we are.
Who is God? Christians have come to know the Living God as the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… the Three-in-One and One-in-Three we worship, serve, and share our lives with. We know this is a mystery… not a riddle to solve, or a subject to master, but a family to gradually come to trust… a communion of love to experience… a story to step into and follow into new adventures… and so find new life again and again.
The Christian Church believes in the Trinity because throughout the centuries and even today, we keep encountering Jesus Christ the Risen Son of God, who makes known to us the loving heart of God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit keeps drawing us into their fellowship. Though we don’t understand it all, and we often struggle along the way, this Triune God keeps working in and through us: through our words and our actions, so His freedom… connection… justice… mercy… forgiveness… and truth can flow into our broken world, and all might come to experience and know His love.
This is what the Church teaches and believes… but rather than settling the matter, this great mystery invites us all to stay curious. To keep on searching for deeper understanding… to be open to new discoveries as we seek to know God better that will challenge and encourage us. And as we do so, we can trust that God Himself is at work in and through us to draw us closer and closer to the truth.
So may we all stay curious, search for truth, and find God with us always. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday, in which we Christians reflect with wonder upon the revelation of the Living God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: One God, Three Persons.
Explaining the depths of the Trinity is not the point. Instead, we are invited to come to know this Triune God, who has offered this self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and who draws us into God's love through the Holy Spirit at work in us.
Here is a great video by the Bible Project exploring how God has come to be known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1–21 | Psalm 104:24–35 | Romans 8:14–17 | John 14:8–17, 25–27
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14).
Happy Pentecost! The day we Christians celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit of God onto the first disciples of Jesus, filling them with God’s own personal presence and power. Last week, we reflected on the Ascension of the Risen Jesus, and the hope that comes from knowing that He’s the one on the throne of both heaven and earth, reigning even now as the eternal King of Kings. Today, we’re going to explore the power of God at guiding His people: it’s source, it’s character, and it’s intended purposes… all of which invite us to reflect on Pentecost and see this surprising power at work in St. Peter, and his fellow Apostles… fishermen, tax collectors and nobodies, turned into ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
But before we turn straight to Acts Chapter 2, it might help us to remember that Pentecost was first of all an ancient Jewish festival, deeply rooted in the story of the Living God’s rescue of Israel, in order for them to become a people transformed by His holy love.
Pentecost, which derives its name from the Greek word for ‘fiftieth’, was celebrated by the Israelites giving back to the LORD the first-fruits of their harvests… sort of like a more explicitly religious Thanksgiving. But it was also much more than a festival marking the start of the harvest: it marked the beginning of Israel’s new life as God’s family, as they entered into God’s covenant, and received His holy Law to guide them.
Speaking about the story of Exodus, the Anglican Bishop and scholar, N.T. Wright, reminds us that, “50 days after Passover, they came to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law. Pentecost, the fiftieth day, isn’t (in other words) just about the ‘first fruits’, the sheaf which says the harvest has begun. It’s about God giving to his redeemed people the way of life by which they must now carry out his purposes.” In other words, Pentecost marked how God gave Israel a whole new way to live in the world… one which would help them remember the LORD who had rescued, and sustains them by His power, and that He desires to dwell among them in fellowship and peace.
After all, much of the Law given at Sinai was working out the guidelines for how the holy God of all would graciously live among His chosen children: there were laws given for how to build the Tabernacle, the sacred tent where God let His divine presence and glory reside in the midst of the people… laws for the priests to offer sacrifices of atonement, and bring God’s mercy and forgiveness to the people when they sinned, and turned back to Him… and laws for how Israelites were to live with one another, and those around them… pursuing justice and mercy, and so to make known the character of their LORD. These laws laid out for Israel what it meant to share in God’s own life: how to be His faithful people, and follow in His holy ways.
And centuries after Sinai, on the first Pentecost after Jesus rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven the Living God was at it again: offering a whole new way of life shaped by His ongoing presence and power, and made possible, and available through the victory of the Risen Christ. N.T. Wright goes on to say: “When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, Moses went up the mountain, and then came down again with the law. Here, Jesus has gone up into heaven in the ascension, and—so Luke wants us to understand—he is now coming down again, not with a written law carved on tablets of stone, but with the dynamic energy of the law, designed to be written on human hearts.”
That ‘dynamic energy’ or power is God Himself pouring out His own Spirit into His people… dwelling with them not just through the Tabernacle, or its replacement, the Temple, but dwelling in their very lives. As St. Paul would later put it in 1 Corinthians 6:19, the very bodies of believers were now the “temple of the Holy Spirit”, the place where God’s eternal power and glory has chosen to take up space.
What had before been only a foretaste, a foreshadowing of God’s full plan for His people was finally taking form: because of what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, and in His resurrection, every barrier between us and the Living God was coming down. Jesus had made a way for God and humanity to live in harmony… for us to finally share in His full fellowship. To share His peace. This is the purpose behind the power of God given at Pentecost: the reunion and reconciliation of all things in Jesus Christ. God’s new Creation coming to life through His Holy Spirit at work in us. Or as the scholar Craig Keener puts it, we see what Pentecost is all about when “God’s people live in unity, sacrificing for one another’s needs and living in such a faithful way that the world around gets a foretaste of the future kingdom.”
This is why, in order to describe the surprising ability of the Apostles to suddenly speak in languages they had never before understood, St. Peter can point to the words of the prophet Joel, who spoke of the coming Day of the LORD, depicted with vivid, world-shattering signs, proclaiming that God’s good Kingdom was arriving, and was now changing everything. What was happening in Jerusalem that day, St. Peter proclaimed, was nothing less then the end of the world breaking into the middle of history: God’s glorious future, His New Creation where heaven and earth are again at one, has now begun in Jesus, the Risen Lord, and through His Holy Spirit this New Creation has already started to re-create us, His people… starting off by reuniting the scattered people of Israel, cut off from each other by their differences in language and culture, but now suddenly they’re all equally able to hear the Good News and believe.
As the rest of St. Peter’s message goes on to say, the Spirit of God was at work in them that day to help Israel, and eventually the wider world, to respond to God’s gift of rescuing love through the resurrection of Jesus… to repent, turn around and turn back to God, believe in Christ, and be baptized into a whole new way of life… as God’s new family… not separated by race, or culture, or language, but equally invited to live God’s way in the world as children led, no longer by fear, but by God’s own life-giving Spirit.
This would be the character of the power of God the Spirit gives us: not fear-driven, slavish devotion, or the ability to endlessly pursue our own self-centred desires… but the power of the unbreakable bond between our Divine Parent and a child who Jesus shows us is loved even more than life itself.
This is how St. Paul speaks of God’s power at work in us in our reading today from his letter to the Christian Church in Rome: God’s Spirit connects us to our Heavenly Father, in the bonds of faith and love. Romans 8:15-17 “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:15-17)
Wait a minute. “if we suffer with him”??? Why does Paul insert the “s” word here? I mean, if God is our loving Father, and the Holy Spirit is His own presence and power dwelling inside of us His children… why must we suffer? Shouldn’t God’s power keep us from suffering?
Well, Paul says it all in verse 17: we don’t suffer because God doesn’t care about us… or because His power is not strong enough to stop the forces of darkness. Remember, we’re talking about the One who already conquered the grave… who in His death on the cross defeated death for us, trampled the devil, and shattered the chains of sin and shame that held us tight.
Then why do we suffer? Paul says, we Christians are to share in Christ’s sufferings, so that we’ll share in His glory… the glory of the One who gave His life to save us all.
In other words, if we are to share in the genuine life of God through His Spirit… if we are to walk in the ways of His holy love, that means bearing with our broken world… it means suffering along with others, and for the sake of others, just like Jesus does, so that His New Creation can bear fruit in us through the Holy Spirit… so that God’s joy, peace, generosity, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, patience, and love at work in us can help to heal His hurting world… which is often a painful process.
I appreciate how the scholar Charles Bartow talks about what it means to suffer with Christ: “The suffering Paul speaks of in this text does not have to do with suffering in silence in the face of injustice instead of combating it… It is not a matter of putting up with the immorality of imposed poverty, or the neglect or abuse of the earth and of those who inhabit it either.” Rather, it means staying true to the way of Jesus, to our Heavenly Father’s calling on our lives, even when that means our lives get harder as a result. It means following God’s Spirit even as He lead us into the dark, because that is where the light of Jesus Christ is needed the most.
As I thought about the power of God at work in His children today… drawing them into a whole new way of life, and helping them stay true, even when that might very well mean suffering, a little French village called Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon came to mind.
In his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, the author Malcolm Gladwell sets the scene for us nicely: “Le Chambon is one of a dozen villages on the Vivrarais Plateau, a mountainous region not far from the Italian and Swiss borders in south-central France. The winters are snowy and harsh. The area is remote, and the closest large towns are well down the mountain, miles away. The region is heavily agricultural, with farms tucked away in and around piney woods. For several centuries, Le Chambon had been home to a variety of dissident Protestant sects, chief among them the Huguenots. The local Huguenot pastor was a man named André Trocmé. He was a pacifist. On the Sunday after France fell to the Germans, Trocmé preached a sermon at the Protestant temple of Le Chambon. ‘Loving, forgiving, and doing good to our adversaries is our duty,” he said. “Yet we must do this without giving up, and without being cowardly. We shall resist whenever our adversaries demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel. We shall do so without fear, but also without pride and without hate.”
Inspiring words. But much more than that, these words were backed up by faithful action. Not long afterwards, desperate refugees, many of them Jewish, began arriving at Le Chambon, and the people did everything in their power to shelter them, to provide for them, to help them find safety… in short, to save them… putting themselves and their village in danger, time and again, in order to care for the strangers at their door, who they knew Christ the Lord had called them to love.
These were just ordinary people. Farmers, homemakers, tradesmen, regular folk, but their lives had been shaped by the Gospel of Jesus in such a way, that they were ready to do what was called for without hesitation… ready even to suffer with Jesus for the sake of their neighbours, and as a result over 3,000 Jews were rescued from the Holocaust.
This is what the power of God poured out at Pentecost looks like: preparing ordinary people… like the villagers of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon… like St. Peter, the unlearned fishermen turned Apostle and Martyr… preparing people like you and I to live as God’s people… as loyal subjects of Jesus Christ, the Risen King of Kings… who Himself is the source of this power working in us through His Spirit at work in us.
Again, it’s not about us, and our own capabilities… it’s God’s gracious gift… ‘His power working in us, which can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.’ Craig Keener puts this nicely: “The first disciples Jesus recruited in Luke were hardly the models of power we would expect when they began following him... The entire point of Pentecost is that God will accomplish his purposes through us, not because we are powerful in ourselves, but because he will show his power through us.”
The Living God Himself is the source of our ability to believe… to stay true to Jesus and even to suffer with Him as we walk in His ways. It is the Living God’s own inner life, His character that the Spirit is drawing us into: filling us with His joy, peace, patience, self-control, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and holy love… so that we can take part in the purpose of His power: God’s new Creation… the reconciliation of all things in Jesus Christ, so that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved… safe in the arms of our Heavenly Father.
In short, Pentecost is all about sharing in the New Life of the Living God. Holy Spirit, come and share this life with us. Amen.
 Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), 21.
 Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), 22.
 Craig S. Keener, “Day of Pentecost, Years A, B, C,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume One (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 527.
 Charles L. Bartow, “Day of Pentecost, Year C,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Two, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 90.
 Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 2013), 264.
 Craig S. Keener, “Day of Pentecost, Years A, B, C,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume One (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 527–528.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit of God to dwell with us in power, filling us with His Holy presence, and preparing us to live as His people in the world, faithfully following Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.
To explore what it means for God's presence to dwell with us, check out this short video by the Bible Project called the Temple. And to learn a bit more about the Holy Spirit, check out this video on the same theme:
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School