Notes for a more coherent sermon on Pentecost

11:00 AM., Sunday, June 12, 2011
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)

FIRST LESSON: Acts 2:1-11

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, “Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

GOSPEL OF THE DAY: John 14: 15 – 27
Jesus said unto his disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

Judas saith unto him, (not Iscariot), “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?”

Jesus answered and said unto him, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. “


I don’t always look at things the way that others do. I find hope in odd places, see positive signs in times of darkness. Thinking about Pentecost and the flames from above I took a look again at the words of the old spiritual Oh, Mary Don’t Your Weep, specifically the lines:

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!”

At the time of Noah people had turned away from God, becoming selfish and harsh towards each other, denying a relationship to the divine and other another.  God’s response was to restart everything.   He didn’t give up on humanity, indeed there were people trusted with the renewal of life on earth.

And God also did something new—he entered into a binding agreement with humanity that in the future, no matter what the provocation, would never be the universal target of divine wrath.   Individuals would still be held accountable for their action, but the possibility of collective responsibility was forever ended.

As a sign of this permanent and new relationship, a contractual one between two parties rather than the old relationship which more closely resembled the relationship between owner and property, God created the rainbow.  If God was going to intervene in creation in the future it would be done differently.

God continued to intervene with humanity after the flood.  Prophets were sent to call for a return to a right relationship with God and with one another.   And around 2,000 years ago, God entered directly into the human experience by becoming one of us, calling again for a loving relationship with God and with one another while learning in the most direct way about the strengths and frailties of humanity.

Christ came and destroyed the world.  He overturned laws and practices and expectations and unleashed forces of dramatic transformations that continue to echo to our times.   Its impact has been long term, but God’s incarnation was destructive of the old powers and principalities of the world.  And, like after the flood, we were given a chance to renew life, both as individuals and as communities sharing in creation.

Today, Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the ‘fire next time.’  In the upper room of Jerusalem, a short time after the ascension of Jesus, there was a small gathering of people who had just lost Jesus for the 2nd time.   They were men and women, young and old, rich and poor.  They were together in their grief but isolated in their understanding.  The world had been promised to them and the one who did the promising had been killed.  Jesus returned from the grave and, although he promised that they would not be alone, he left them.  Around them was a city full of people from across the Roman empire; in the room was a remnant people.  They had been promised that if they remained faithful they would be provided for.   The old world was to disappear, a new Jerusalem built and they were promised that they would be welcomed in it.

For those gathered in the upper room it didn’t look like the new Jerusalem was imminent.  Jesus has promised they would be sent a teacher, a guide, a comforter—someone who would take them on a new journey into a new life in a renewed world.  Yet he was gone and what they were left was each other.

And into this gathering of people on the edge came the most destructive force they could imagine—a rain of fire.  They were engulfed and their world was destroyed.  They became one with the divine and woke up in a different world.  Suddenly they were certain of things—that they were not alone, that they were a part of something greater than themselves as individuals, that they no longer needed a mediator between themselves and God, that love was in the world and would take no prisoners.

In that small room in a city on the fringes of an empire began a force that engulfed the world and destroyed the past.

It wasn’t a violence force, but it was powerful.  Like the global flood of Noah’s time, it continues to seek every corner of creation.   But where the flood left death in its wake, the flames of Pentecost leaves the possibility of a new life.   We are in a world where our ultimate judgement is to be based not on who our ancestors were or the rituals we practice but on whether or not we enter into right relationships with God and with one another.   At Pentecost we became the fuel for the divine fire to spread in the world.  We become the voice of compassion and hope, of love and transformation.  The old world was destroyed, the old way of living in creation put aside.  With the coming of the fire God became a living presence within creation, accessible to all.

The rainbow still graces the sky as a reminder that God is in a covenant relationship with us.    Since the first Pentecost there has been another sign, the divine flame, that casts new light on a new world.   God has again destroyed the world, but this time has stayed with us while the renewal of creation occurred.   God’s covenant still stands, but now there is a new principle that overwhelms all past relationships.  God is with us, in us and around us.  Everything has been destroyed.  Everything is made new.


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