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.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School