Sunday, 4 June 2017

Breathe In

This sermon was preached on Sunday 4th June - Pentecost Sunday, a few days before 2017's General Election. The main reading for the day was from Acts 2:1-21. I did not have time to edit it to reflect yesterday's attack in London, but all those affected by that horrible event were (and are) in our prayers this morning.

Are you ready for the world to change this week? For a change in our nation? Have you felt it in the air? Something stirring within you?

Can you feel it? The sense of anticipation? Excitement? Maybe even a sense of fear around what might happen next?

Don’t worry; I’m not talking about the election. This is not a party political broadcast on behalf of any prospective government; you can relax! But not too much – don’t get too comfy. There’s no time for that.

Today, we celebrate Pentecost, and if you’re comfortable with that, it’s possible you’re thinking that today is a commemoration, an anniversary, a birthday, a historical event, and nothing more.

But it’s not.

Pentecost is more than that.

Personally, I don’t really like the name. It’s fairly meaningless – it literally means 50th, and refers to the fact it’s 50 days after Easter. Big whoop. It’s a tame name for a wild day.

We also sometimes call it Whitsun, or Whit Sunday, probably because of the white robes worn by those who were going to be baptised today. Again, though, that name means very little. Calling the day after the colour of someone’s clothes does nothing to attest to the power – and the danger – of this day.

‘Pentecost’ is how the Greeks translated the Jewish festival of Shavuot – the Feast of Weeks, celebrated seven weeks after the Passover. Now… now we’re looking at the Jewish name for the day, we’re getting somewhere, and maybe starting to find some of the significance in the timing of what happened back then, 2000 years ago. This day marked the anniversary of God giving the 10 Commandments to the nation of Israel, but also it was the day of harvest. In the book of Exodus, this day is called the Festival of Reaping, and, later in the Bible, it is called the Day of the First Fruits.

The Festival of Reaping, and the Day of the First Fruits. Those are names I like. Those are names that tell us something about today.

I think Luke had these names in mind when he sat down to document what happened on that day of Pentecost. We heard today in our reading from Acts how all Christ’s followers were huddled together, in the same room. Maybe it was the same room that Jesus broke into after his resurrection, where the disciples were all gathered, in fear for their lives? Either way, they’re in the same situation, safe in their own holy huddle, doors locked, quietly praising God amongst themselves – just carrying on.

And then – WHOOOOOOSH!  A rushing, violent wind fills their house. I’ve talked already a bit about the meaning of words today. The word used in the Old Testament for the Spirit of God is Ruach, and it means, amongst other things, wind. Once more, God has broken into their house. Last time God did that, he left them with Peace. But today, she (Ruach is a female word) is doing something different. The scene God leaves in her wake is not peaceful this time. The force of that wind was heard throughout Jerusalem, and people came running. God knows what that rushing wind did to the disciples in that house; Luke gives us a tantalising glimpse, saying something like fire suddenly sprang up amongst each of them, and they started shouting out in foreign languages they did not know. And then, in that sacred chaos, everyone must have spilled out of the house, because the scene shifts to Peter addressing the assembled, astonished crowds outside, with the other disciples around him. God broke in, and she kicked them all out.

That was the beginning. That was the idea. The Ruach, the spirit of God who stirs us up out of our comfort zones and our safe places needed those first Christians to get outside so they could change the world. So she gave them power, and some fire in their mouths and in their bellies, and blew their safe-house down.

And that’s why we should feel uncomfortable today; that’s why we should feel a bit of divine disturbance.

Because it’s not just history. That reading from Acts is not just a story about the spirit of God first being gifted to the Church; it’s a reminder that the spirit of God is with us now. Later today, after the service, we have the privilege, and the divine responsibility, of baptising two children into the faith of the Church. Baptism symbolises the rebirth – in water and spirit – of those who wish to follow Christ. The Ruach, the spirit of God, is with each of us who are baptised, and, although I do not expect a mighty wind to rush through this church here today, I do know that the divine disturber is here amongst us. Here amongst her people.

You may not be able to see her, or feel her presence, but take a deep breath – breathe in.

Air filling lungs

As well as meaning ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’, Ruach has another meaning: breath.

She is the mighty wind; she is the very breath we breathe. She is the essence of life itself. At the very beginning of the world, she hovered over the waters and brought forth life. Two thousand years ago, she descended onto her Church, and today, we still breathe her in. She is our every breath.

And just like that day, two thousand years ago, she brings change. It’s uncomfortable, but God is not a sofa! That day, two thousand years ago marked the descent of the Holy Spirit unto God’s church – The Day of First Fruits – and also the day the Church was kicked out into the world, to bring forth God’s kingdom, to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the captives, and sight for the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. It was the day of the first harvest – the Festival of Reaping. And it is still our work today.

It’s still happening today. It’s happening in our congregation. The equipping, and the sending out. It’s not for the select few; for the people you see up front. The reading from Acts shows that the spirit of God is non-discriminatory; tongues of fire spread evenly on all who were present; men, women, adults, children, slave, free, local and foreign, people of all abilities. They were all empowered, and they were all sent out.

God’s spirit was with each and every one of them. God’s spirit is with Each And Every One of Us.

And that – if you really think about it – is the most exciting, and most discomforting thought.

So, to finish with, I’ll ask my first question again – are you ready for the world to change this week? Are you ready to change it? Can you feel something stirring inside you?

It’s time. God has empowered each and every one of us to change the world for the better. There’s just one thing to do before we take that leap.

Are you ready? Take a deep breath…

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