God, who as at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us your holy fire; strengthen your children with the gift of faith, revive your Church with the breath of love, and renew the face of the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
24 The sun rises and they are gone •
to lay themselves down in their dens.
25 People go forth to their work •
and to their labour until the evening.
26 O Lord, how manifold are your works! •
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
27 There is the sea, spread far and wide, •
and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.
28 There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan •
which you have made to play in the deep.
29 All of these look to you •
to give them their food in due season.
30 When you give it them, they gather it; •
you open your hand and they are filled with good.
31 When you hide your face they are troubled; •
when you take away their breath,
they die and return again to the dust.
32 When you send forth your spirit, they are created, •
and you renew the face of the earth.
33 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; •
may the Lord rejoice in his works;
34 He looks on the earth and it trembles; •
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
35 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; •
I will make music to my God while I have my being.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
‘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. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
Sermon on Pentecost
A long time ago Tom Paxton sang a song with this question as the title, “Wasn’t that a party?”
I was humming it to myself yesterday as I was mowing grass. “There’s a fella talking to the old tom-cat, and the cat was answering back, Could ‘a been the whiskey, might ‘a been the gin, could a been the six pack, oh what a mess I’‘m in… wasn’t it a party?” It goes on an on about this party, even someone wearing a melon for a hat, everything suggests a wild party with people out of control, and then the police turn up. But since he was in such a mess, he looked forward to the next thirty days – the price to pay for public drunkenness and all the rest – thirty days detention in jail. “I really could use those thirty days,” he sings, suggesting he could sober up and perhaps even go to another party, or maybe live “a quiet and sober life” as in the BCP.
Have we ever had such a party? My youth was not so wild, and I have never been in such a mess as Tom Paxton sings about. However, there are people out there who have been at such a party. I have heard about them, some of my friends have been to them. Whether it is a celebration of a wedding, the FA Cup or a birthday, such excess is part and parcel of life in the twenty-first century, don’t you agree?
I am speaking of parties today because this is party time for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Today is Pentecost, the biggest birthday celebration in the world. Today the Church was born over two thousand years ago. Fifty days from Easter, that time of dark despair yielding the brightest of lights to the world on that Sunday morning, comes Pentecost, the high point of our Easter celebrations, and this should be the greatest collective celebration the Church should know.
What do we normally do at our birthdays? I ask this question with an ulterior motive, for I want to ask you that old evangelical question, “Have you been born again?” Have you been slain by the Holy Spirit only to rise again to a new life in Christ? Have you spoken in tongues as the disciples did in Jerusalem all those years ago?
It is obvious I speak in tongues quite often, for many must have asked themselves “Has be been to Tom Paxton’s party?” Like the visitors to Jerusalem, people listen to me and wonder what I have been drinking, they wonder what I am talking about – theology is not the language many speak, is it? I am speaking in a tongue no one can understand easily. But in Jerusalem some people did hear their native tongue. They were amazed that they understood what these rude men from the back of beyond were saying.
I am wondering how we celebrate our birthdays. I would like to know if we celebrate our second births, the day we said “YES” to God, and experienced the infusion of the Holy Spirit in our living.
Today is the Church’s birthday, how are we marking it? I remember a scene from a film where someone is blindfolded and taken on a car journey. The character described the journey, the road noises, the incidental sounds along the road, going over a bridge, but then there was a party. The noise was loud gabbling, none of it making any sense. You might think the visitors to Jerusalem might have been listening to the same party which was in that film. That party in the film could have been any of the parties we might have attended throughout our lives, especially those where there was excess. The party in the film was revealed to be the roosting place of pelicans. The pelicans squawking sound just like some people under the influence as they talk at one another. They are not really listening, or they hear only what they want to hear. The birds are like people whom I do not understand. I stand outside the party and don’t comprehend anything because their language says nothing to me.
You might think the visitors to Jerusalem might have been listening to the same party which was in that film. However, there is a great difference. Through the din, all that gabbling, the strangers in Jerusalem heard something that made sense to them. They were not expecting to understand anything in that city so far away from their homes. However, through the noise, they heard their own language – they heard talk about “God’s acts of power”.
Just how do we celebrate Pentecost in these very sober times of the twenty-first century? Is there a street party, like so many of just yesterday? Do we hum a little more? Do we invite others to share a glass of sherry or a meal? Do our times say speaking in tongues is something quite foreign to our ordinary experience, well beyond the pale.
But speaking in tongues need not take the extraordinary manifestation of glossolalia. It could be that we use our native tongue in a way that is clear to someone who has never thought of something, as we have, before.
All the parties I go to are rather sober affairs. Even the most dissolute celebrations of my youth had no whiskey, no gin, not even a six pack. We may have indulged in a little too much wine, like those fellows in Jerusalem, but we were always intelligible – at least among ourselves, perhaps even to someone passing by – never did we overstep the mark, we were cheery and considerate, always thinking hard about something – even if befuddled by the agent of truth, which the Romans knew so well, in vino veritas.
As I have grown older, more and more my parties are places for conversations, with strangers, with friends, with family, ever talking about this or that where matters of moment are examined.
Yesterday, we heard something about love at that big, national party. Love is a language which crosses across all barriers, it enflames those who love and those who are loved. They comprehend one another perfectly. There is no language barrier, love is not a party of gabbling, squawking birds with no comprehension.
Let me invite everyone to this party of Pentecost: let’s celebrate this party with no end, where clear heads prevail and no one will ever have to say “Oh what a mess I’m in!” with Tom Paxton. We will always be able to say, “How good it is to be here!” and mean it like nothing else we have ever said.