Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14 | Psalm 104:24–37 | Acts 2:1–21 | John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
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. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
One of the joys of moving somewhere new is that you get to experience each season of the year with a renewed sense of adventure. What will winter feel like here? How hot will it be in August? What will the leaves look like in the Fall? What’s going to grow here come Spring?
This is our first Spring in our new house, and so far it’s been a great adventure… especially as the weather’s warmed up, and our yard’s begun to bloom. We’re practicing ‘No Mow May’, where people delay cutting the grass in their yards until June begins, to give the bees and other pollinators something to sustain themselves after the long wait of winter. We thought we’d just see dandelions having a field day, so to speak, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the variety of flowers… of new and unexpected life that has sprung up all around us.
Wide patches of white Canadian violets, and wild-strawberries… all sorts of scattered Johnny jump-ups, forget-me-nots, and daffodils, and not to mention the host of others whose names we don’t yet know, and whose shapes are unfamiliar. Together, along with the dandelions of course, they make a beautiful but unexpected garden… a blessing, both to us, and hopefully to the bees… and a reminder that new life often comes as a surprise.
Today the Church celebrates the holy day of Pentecost, which for thousands of years had been an ancient festival for Israel, but which had been given new life and meaning for those who trust in Jesus Christ, as this was the day God’s Holy Spirit was poured out into our lives. As we heard in our reading from Acts Chapter 2, at Pentecost, God was fulfilling His promise, made through the prophets long ago, to fill up His people… old and young, women and men, slaves and free… with His own Divine presence and power… so they could all together take their part in His great mission to bring salvation to our world. To reconcile and rescue us, to restore us in His righteousness… to share His life of holy love with all who will call on His name.
At Pentecost, the Spirit of God at work in the life of Jesus… from His birth and baptism, all throughout His faithful life, in his trials, suffering, and death, and in His rising from the dead… this same Spirit was given to us, to Christians… in order to fill, empower, and lead ordinary people like you and I. To bring God’s New Life in Jesus Christ to birth in and through believers… guiding us deeper into lives shaped by the truth of God’s Good News.
All this and more is packed into the meaning of Pentecost. It’s an unexpected, easy to misunderstand part of our story, one we might just be tempted to skip on past as soon as possible. But to do so cuts us off from seeing how God’s Spirit’s at work even today; bringing new life and power, and hope, both to and through His people.
Before our reading today taken from the book of Acts, the entire Christian movement could have fit inside this room (that is, St. Luke’s Church). Maybe not with COVID-19 social distancing measures in place, but in Acts 1:15 we’re told there were only about 120 believers at this point. Picture that for a second. All those who had come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Risen and Reigning King of heaven and earth… who were also called to share the Good News of Jesus with all the world… they could all fit inside these walls… with all the world outside their doors. Talk about a daunting, seemingly impossible task. How could a group of 120 ordinary men and women even start to take their message and share it in a meaningful way? Especially as they were still at risk of being arrested by the very same people who had arrested and crucified our Lord? All they had to go on was the promise Christ had given them: that He would send them an Advocate, Someone to take their side who would fill them with God’s power, and truly lead them on. In the mean-time, they were to wait, to trust the LORD, and seek His will. Which we’re told they did, gathered all together in constant prayer.
Throughout the centuries, this is what God’s people have been called to do: to gather together, to trust in the LORD, to wait, and to pray… not because there is nothing else to do, but in order to be prepared, ready to take our part when God’s unexpected, powerful New Life breaks through, even when it seems like the time for hope is over. When it seems like there’s no way forward, and that the end has come.
This was the kind of situation faced by the people of Judah when Jerusalem was conquered, and they were taken off into Exile. They had seen their entire homeland, their whole way of life, overthrown and ruined by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. Though the prophets of YHWH, the LORD, had long been warning that this would be the result if the kingdoms of Israel and Judah continued on in their unfaithfulness, God’s people had not turned back to Him, and so they lost everything. They were as good as dead. At least, that’s how they saw things: “Our bones are dried up,” they said “our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Yet the Living God was far from done with His beloved people. Despite their fears and failures, God would not abandon them, and as the vision of the prophet Ezekiel makes plain, God’s life-giving Spirit is full of powerful surprises.
Our reading today from Ezekiel 37 stands out as one of the most striking images of hope in the entire Bible, pointing us towards God’s faithfulness even beyond death… which would come fully to light in the resurrection of Jesus. Though the people had given up, God Himself would have the final say. The Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, sums up God’s response like this. “They feel like a people who are dead and buried. OK, says God, I shall open your graves and bring you back to life… When the people of God seems to be finished, it’s not finished.” Just as in the vision the dry and scattered bones were gathered together, and the Wind, the Breath, the Spirit of God restored the bones to full life, God promised to gather His people again, restore them to their homeland, and put His own Spirit within them, so they might truly live… that is, so that their lives might fully share in God’s own life… taking their part in His life-giving holy love for our world.
Back in the book of Acts, at Pentecost, over 500 years later, God’s promise through Ezekiel was bearing surprising fruit. Those 120 believers, waiting and praying together, found themselves caught up in God’s New Life breaking out, both for Israel, and for all nations.
“[S]uddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” In an instant, waiting gives way to God’s Spirit filling Christ’s followers, enabling them to speak in tongues they did not know before. This would no doubt be a blessed, unforgettable experience, one which would strengthen their faith, and draw them closer to God and each other, even if it only involved the 120 gathered together. But of course, the whole point was God’s Spirit was moving in their midst to empower them to share the Good News of Jesus with the world! And that is exactly what happened… which is why we’re here today.
After the Exile, Israelites and Jews were scattered all through the ancient world; living among all sorts of communities, speaking all sorts of languages, far from their homeland, but holding onto God’s promise to restore them. Many would come on the holy festivals, like Passover, and Pentecost, to worship at the rebuilt Temple of God in Jerusalem. And suddenly, this multitude of pilgrims, gathered in their homeland once again, heard this small group of believers sharing the Good News of God in their own scattered languages... reaching out to each of them in ways they could clearly understand. And though our reading today doesn’t let us hear the whole story of Pentecost, Act 2:41 tells us the message was received: “So those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”
From 120 to over 3,000… a surprising new community made up of Jews from Galilee, Jerusalem, and all over the ancient world… and this was just the beginning, the first-fruits of God’s rescue mission to reach out to all people with the Good News of Jesus… so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21). The book of Acts recounts how this community grows, gathering together Jews and Gentiles, and spreads throughout the world. And over the centuries, it’s still growing! The Good News of Jesus is still reaching out and transforming our world today, renewing lives, restoring hope, and reconciling us with God and each other… bringing God’s New Life to birth even here in Gondola Point.
You and I are part of the evidence of God’s faithfulness and power, gathered together in worship, prayer, and holy love in Jesus’ name, thousands of years after the Spirit was given at Pentecost, and part of a worldwide family, the Church, with billions of sisters and brothers!
I don’t know if any of the 120 believers who had got up that Pentecost morning could have possibly imagined what God’s Holy Spirit was about to begin through them, but you and I have plenty of reasons to hold onto hope in what God is up to. Not because there are no challenges ahead, or failures behind us. Not because we have it all figured out, or have all the needed expertise. No, our hope is that the Living God we’ve come to know in Jesus Christ, loves to draw ordinary people like us into His own surprising story of worldwide salvation, through His Holy Spirit at work in us.
The Anglican priest and theologian John Stott sums up how indispensable the Holy Spirit is for the life of the Church with a particularly forceful point: “Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible. There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.” The Holy Spirit isn’t an extra, optional part of the Christian faith. The Spirit is God’s own life giving presence and power among us, and out in our world… drawing us into the resurrection life of Jesus our Lord, and working through us in surprising ways to share His saving love with all.
Here at St. Luke’s, may God’s Holy Spirit come powerfully among us. May He share God’s hope with us when we are feeling broken, lost, and alone. May He draw us deeper in our devotion to Jesus, helping us seek His face in prayer, and follow in His ways. May the Holy Spirit convict and challenge us when we need it, leading us back to the truth, and restoring us in God’s mercy. And may He open our hearts to be ready and able to take our part in Christ’s mission, to share the New Life of God… even in ways that might be full of beautiful surprises. Amen.
 John Goldingay, Lamentations and Ezekiel for Everyone, Old Testament for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 184.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 60.
Alleluia! The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth:
O come, let us worship
Today we celebrate the coming of God's Holy Spirit at Pentecost, filling the Church with God's presence and power to share in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.
On this sacred day, and in the days to come I invite your prayers for our Parish of Gondola Point:
That the Holy Spirit would guide us in our life together as His Church, and as we discern how best to share in God's loving care in our community.
For those of us unsure of what the Spirit is all about, here is a great video from the Bible Project to help us explore how the Holy Scriptures speak about the Holy Spirit of God.
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 | 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 | John 20:19-23
“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21
It is amazing how suddenly our plans can change.
This week many of us were looking forward to gathering for the first time in months to worship the Lord at St. Luke’s Church, celebrating Holy Communion together on the feast of Pentecost. We were excitedly anticipating this step towards a new beginning; a return to our familiar sacred space and spiritual pattern of life… even if that meant making some adjustments, and doing some things quite differently. But on Friday afternoon, we began to hear the news that we must all wait a little bit longer. For now, we must be patient and look forward in hope for when that day will finally come, as much as we want to gather together as Christ’s Church today.
Interestingly enough, our Scripture reading this week from the book of Acts also has to do with gatherings and anticipation for a day that’s to come. Not to mention sudden disruptions that call for action as well.
Our reading begins with the disciples “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1), somewhere in Jerusalem, fifty days after Jesus Christ’s resurrection, and a mere ten days after He had ascended to heaven. Before His ascension, the Lord had told them to wait there in Jerusalem until they were filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. They weren’t given much more details that we know of, or any sort of a timeline, and yet they faithfully gathered and waited for what God had in store for them.
Then came the Jewish festival of Pentecost, where devout Jews would gather from all over the Roman Empire and beyond to worship Yahweh, the Living God, in joyful celebration and offering the first fruits of their harvests. It was also a time they would celebrate God’s giving to Israel the Tablets of the Law through Moses at Mt. Sinai: remembering, as one scholar words it, the way God gave “to his redeemed people the way of life by which they must now carry out his purposes.” So as the disciples sat and waited, Jewish pilgrims from far and wide were gathering right outside their door for one of their yearly festivals… completely unaware of the surprising new thing Yahweh, the Living God, had in store for them too.
Suddenly, we hear of the rushing wind, and the flames of fire from on high: the Holy Spirit of God fills up the house where the disciples were waiting, and He goes on to fills all those people who gathered there as well. We hear how they all begin proclaiming God’s Good News with surprising power, in ways far beyond their own abilities or imaginations… speaking to those gathering in Jerusalem, not in their own familiar ways, but in the diverse languages of the world they had never uttered before. God’s Spirit was doing something new in and through Jesus’ followers, and He wanted the world to know about it.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when those words are unfamiliar and hard to pronounce. When we hear the list of the names of the languages being miraculously used by the disciples, our minds might drift a bit if our ancient history and geography are a little rusty. Hopefully this picture can help us New Brunswickers get a clearer sense of what was happening, and just how diverse the disciple’s audience was on that day.
Represented among that crowd were people from all parts of the known world, and though religiously Jewish, these pilgrims would have had many significant cultural differences from one another, including their languages. Yet as they gathered together in Jerusalem, God’s Spirit filled up St. Peter and the other disciples in such a way that all were able to hear and understand, despite their differences. The Lord was at work uniting those who had gathered by the Good News of Jesus, making one a divided people by reaching out to all. As the same scholar points out, this was no accident or random event: “God is dramatically signaling that his promises to Abraham” (that through his family, Israel, all the families of the world would be blessed. See Genesis 12:1-4) “are being fulfilled, and the whole human race is going to be addressed with the good news of what has happened in and through Jesus.” This is in line with what St. Paul would one day proclaim in his letter to the Corinthian Christians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
We go on to hear how St. Peter begins to unpack the real significance of this surprising moment: Claiming that Israel’s Lord, Yahweh, the Living God, was now fulfilling the promises made through the prophets long ago, pouring out His own Spirit upon us humans, so that we all might be rescued… saved to share in God’s divine life through Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. “This work of God is wonderfully inclusive,” this same scholar writes, “because there is no category of people which is left out… But it is wonderfully focused, because it happens to all ‘who call on the name of the Lord’”. This Good News, this message is meant for everyone… for every-one. Rich and poor... women and men… slaves and masters… everyone. No distinctions hold, all are invited: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).
And just like how centuries earlier, when God had given Israel the Law at Mt. Sinai, calling them into a new way of life aligned with His holy love, God was now pouring out His Holy Spirit, inviting all to call on Him and be saved, while also calling them (and us too!) into a radically different form of life: forgiven, united, inspired, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to reflect into and share the goodness and holy love of God with this broken world, which the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again to save.
Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the Church, for it was then that God created this new community shaped by and for His Good News. And right from its birth, from its very first moment, we hear something vital about who we are, and who we are meant to be: the Living God created us in Christ by the Holy Spirit… for everyone. Filled with the same Holy Spirit, and set apart as His holy people, the Church gathers together in order to share God’s holy love... with our world. We are not the only ones God is working to gather in… we’re simply the first fruits of the Lord’s worldwide harvest.
This means that Pentecost is not simply something strange and wonderful that happened once long ago, it is a pivotal event that tells us contemporary disciples of Jesus Christ something absolutely vital about the shape of our own lives, both when we’re together and when we’re apart: we have been gathered together into one family by the Living God, saved by God’s Son Jesus Christ, and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to share in God’s great rescue mission… as the Spirit equips each one of us individually “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).
It will be wonderful when we can gather together again at St. Luke’s Church, and I am looking forward to that day with eager expectation. But that cannot really be our primary focus or goal. Yes, we look forward to that day… but let us also be urgently looking into how the Living God is calling us to take our part in what He is doing today, and let us be prayerfully listening to where His Spirit may be leading us, as individuals and also as a Parish in the days to come. We have all been drawn together here in Gondola Point, as part of the one Church of God… drawn together from all the nations and peoples of the earth… to be filled, and nourished, equipped, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and to be sent back out into the world as living signs and messengers of God’s ongoing, rescuing work in the world… so that everyone might call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
May this Pentecost-shaped mission transform our hopes and actions as a Parish. May the Holy Spirit fill us with all we need to do God’s will, and may He work in us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ through all we do. Amen. Alleluia.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 21). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 27). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 29). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 34). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.