Pentecost — May 24, 2015
TEXT: Acts 2:1-21
I am reminded at this time of year of my maternal grandfather who was a Presbyterian missionaries in Korea in the early twentieth century. My mother often talked of her father’s stories of their time in Korea and one of the ones that I remember on Pentecost Sunday is how important it was to my grandfather that the church was unified and worked together. It distressed him greatly at how easily we split apart and started new denominations and movements.
My grandfather actually went to Korea as a Presbyterian missionary but switched to the United Church of Canada when most of his denomination merged with two others to form this new church. He believed it was a wonderful forward looking movement that denominations came together rather than split apart.
You see my grandfather witnessed that the most difficult obstacle that the Church had to overcome in communicating the good news of Jesus Christ to the Korean people was the number of Christian denominations vying for the souls of the Korean people. The Koreans could not understand how a people who professed one faith in a loving and sovereign God could be so nasty to one another and so dis-unified. It made no sense to them. Many Korean people would use the words of scripture that talk of unity and oneness to show how hypocritical the Christian missionaries were. My grandfather was deeply challenged by the Korean peoples observation and was a passionate advocate of ecumenism the rest of his life.
I know he was so hopeful in the mid 1970’s when the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada were going to merge to become the Church of Christ in Canada. The whole thing fell apart when the House of Bishops vetoed the whole arrangement. I remember writing a paper on it in seminary. There was great sadness in many parts of the church when we were unable to merge. You may remember a red hymn produced around that time. It was produced hoping it would be the hymnal of this new church.
There have been lot of changes in the world since my grandparents left Korea, but last year over there were over 500 new denominations created in the world and this year there is expected to be even more new denominations formed. In case we think this is due to successful evangelistic campaigns, it is not; It has everything to do with Christians breaking fellowship with other Christians; all done in the name of Jesus.
The events of the beginning of the church are strange and odd and perhaps one of the reasons Pentecost hasn’t caught on in our culture the way Easter and Christmas has is because it is so incredibly hard to relate to what happened.
Experiences of God can be dramatic, can be more subtle, but they most often surprising, unexpected and sometimes not even asked for. Pentecost is about the power and grace of God being spread widely and almost indiscriminately. Jesus chose ordinary folks to be his first followers, people who by no means had it all together, disciples who sometimes seemed to have an incredible ability to not get the message and need Jesus to illustrate and re-illustrate what he meant. Pentecost is the beginning of these ordinary people becoming extraordinary Christians, indeed people that we hold up 2000 years later as some of the best examples of faithfulness and insight.
What happened at Pentecost was the discovery of a promise made and a promise kept. The Holy Spirit came with incredible power that day to confirm the power of the incarnation and the power of the resurrection. They had been witness to God’s greatest acts since creation and there was going to be one more act of power to confirm the message that God has not left us orphaned, the Holy Spirit is here working wonders, providing comfort, granting wisdom, and most importantly gathering the new believers as one, in a new unity because together we are strong.
The unity that the Holy Spirit gives the Church is not a unity for the sake of unity. The Holy Spirit is given to the world to witness to what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ and to draw people into a living faith in Jesus Christ. It is rooted in the promise of Jesus that he will not leave us orphaned, the Holy Spirit is none other than God , present and active in the world, working through the people who call upon God’s name. Thus unity and oneness are simply expressions of the presence of God, the Holy Spirit in the lives of His people. This unity of the Spirit enables us to cry out to our broken world the message of peace and life and healing that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. This is the great gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
As human beings we still have a great ability to mess up the unity God gives us. Our selfish, sinful natures can still do damage by building up walls where God would have us tear them down. That is why, I believe, the Holy Spirit is primarily about mission, about enabling the people of God to reach out to God’s world with a message of hope and promise. Just like those first disciples who went from being ordinary to becoming extraordinary, we too are people who try to faithfully followed Jesus. People who have witnessed the life that he gives through his resurrection. We know that there are people out there who need to know of that life. But what can we do. In many ways we have lost the ability to even communicate to our world, to our culture. We no longer speak their language, and they certainly don’t understand ours.
Well the Holy Spirit didn’t stop moving after the first twelve disciples died, it moves and breathes today like it did back then. We too, need to seek God in prayer and to pray for our world in our time. And we, those who witnessed the first Pentecost, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, can continue the movement that shook up the world, proclaiming hope and life and love to a world that so desperately needs to hear the message again.
Today, Pentecost, is a time for celebration, a time to celebrate that God, the Holy Spirit is with us in this place, transforming us into the kind of people God willed for us to be. It is a time to celebrate that the Holy Spirit grafts us into God’s great story and reminds us that we have a part to play in taking the story forward.