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Sermon and Reflections For Pentecost Sunday - Year A
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34,35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 7:37-39
"Public Speaking"

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson

Pentecost Sunday - Year A
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34,35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 7:37-39
"Public Speaking"

	
      '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.'

There once was a church in need of a new pastor, the old one having 
reached that age when he could finally go out to pasture. They did their 
goodbyes well by him, serving up a $10 a plate dinner in the church 
basement to add to his retirement fund. They barbershopped "For He's a 
Jolly Good Fellow" and told nice stories about him. They gave him a new 
fly rod and reel with instructions on how to get lost in the wilderness. 
And he went on his way.

Then they invoked section 6.4.13 of their By-Laws and started the process 
to look for a new leader. The first meeting of the new search committee 
met in the parlour one evening soon after the minister's departure. It was 
chaired by an enthusiastic laywoman who impressed upon the group that a 
picnic this was not. In looking for a new minister they were charting 
their church's destiny. God was depending on them to put all other agendas 
in their lives secondary to this God-given task; and heaven help them if 
they didn't rise to the occasion. She did such a superb job that four 
members of the committee resigned on the spot. So madam chair backpaddled. 
What she really meant to say was that she hoped they would do their best 
by the great employment officer in the sky. Then the fainthearted stayed 
on to consider the next item on the agenda. "What do you want in a new 
minister?"

There was splendid participation at that point. Every last person spoke 
with a voice of authority on the subject and the scribe for the evening 
noted all their points on a blackboard until an image began to emerge. 
Then they all agreed to some modifications since neither Moses nor Jesus 
was available for call. Then, it was cookie time and, while refreshing 
themselves for the task at hand, some started talking about their former 
minister. "You know, after all is said and done he really was a pretty 
good guy. But we took advantage of him. We let him carry our bucket. 
Whenever things needed doing, we left it up to him."

One by one the others voiced similar sentiments. And it was if the 
heavens opened. Suddenly it came to them that they would never ever expect 
everything to come from their minister again. They would take their 
responsibility from now on and take their part in giving direction to 
their church. And the more they thought about it, the warmer their hearts 
became not only toward their old minister but to one another as well. And 
the more they talked about it, the hotter their enthusiasm became until 
their voices became like a rush of mighty wind filling the room.

Word of this great moment quickly spread to the entire congregation. And 
there was a great and most spontaneous "Amen!" to this new spirit. "Find 
us a minister and things will be different this time," everyone said. 
And the search began.

Now, it was shortly after this that a group of concerned citizens asked 
the church to join a movement to ask for an international inquiry into the 
Pentagon's treatment of detainees at Guantanimo Bay. It was a matter of 
justice they said, human rights, and they thought the church would 
naturally have something to say about that. So the church held a meeting 
about it and discussed the controversial matter at great length. Then 
someone said, "Let's table the matter for now until the new minister gets 
here. Let him or her decide."

+
One of the things to notice about the sudden out-pouring of God's grace on the day of Pentecost is that it was a very inclusive moment. Unlike other moments in the history of God's powerful interventions in human history - like Jesus' baptism or his transfiguration - where only a few people were witnesses of what happened, everyone was included at Pentecost. The tongues of fire come to rest upon each and every one of the disciples who were gathered together, and a moment later the crowd gathered outside the house comes surging forward because ...each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. And just to make sure that even the slowest among us doesn't miss his point, Luke lists all the nations of the Greco-Roman Diaspora who were represented there that day. What happened at Pentecost was no mystical, inner, personal experience of the Spirit. It was an outpouring of God's energy that touched every life that was present. Even Peter. You remember Peter. He's the one who, the last time Jesus met with his friends, was saying, "No matter who else heads for the hills when things start to get tough, I'll be right there behind you, Jesus." When things got tough for Jesus, Peter was behind Jesus all right, a long way behind him! Like everybody else, he ran away into the darkness. "Weren't you with that group from Galilee?" somebody asked him outside of Herod's palace on that awful night and Peter couldn't deny Jesus fast enough. He simply could not find it in himself to admit that he even knew Jesus. Peter. On the day of Pentecost there he was out in front of everybody speaking to a crowd of people! Peter, the one who could never seem to get one foot out of his mouth without exchanging it for another. The one who denied having known Jesus - preaching about Jesus to a crowd in Jerusalem! Whether or not it was the best sermon he ever preached, it certainly seems to have been one of the most effective. It only lasted about three minutes, according to Luke; but about three thousand people got saved by it. (Some of you have been trying to tell your preachers something about that, haven't you!?) The Holy Spirit, in other words, was given to a very ordinary man and it turned him into a public speaker just like that. And you thought it was all about going to seminary, learning Hebrew and Greek, getting your theology down pat and being trained in "voice management"! Nope. At least, not this kind of public speaking that we also call preaching. Remember what Jesus said when he preached his first sermon back in Nazareth? "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me..." He was quoting Isaiah, of course, who said about somebody else who stood up to speak to a crowd one day, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners... Because in Luke and in Luke's book of Acts, people get the Holy Spirit in order to speak up publicly so that everybody can hear. You know me. You know that I talk for a living. You know that I've been a preacher for many years. Did you know that I'm just as nervous now when I preach as I was on the day I first began. I get this churning in my stomach. My hands begin to shake. Fear will do that to you. Does that surprise you? That after all these years and after all these sermons I'm still afraid to speak to a crowd? Speaking to a crowd is bad enough. Speaking to a crowd about God is even worse. Imagine the nerve. Imagine the arrogance. I sometimes think that's one of the reasons the church gives us robes and stoles to wear, a funny kind of armour to protect us so to speak. They even give us a pulpit behind which we can duck if necessary! Because the only thing that would make a sane person put himself or herself at such risk is the Spirit of God. That's why I've kept doing it. And if I can do it, you can do it. That's got to be one of the most important lessons of Pentecost. If people like me can do it, people like Peter, then people like you can do it too. You don't have to wear robes to do it; and you certainly don't have to do it from a pulpit. You might be on the phone to somebody who is down on their luck. What on earth do you say to someone like that? It's a scary thing, isn't it? But, The spirit of the Lord... is upon me to bring good news to the oppressed... Or you find out somebody's marriage has just come to an end. What possible comfort could you offer somebody like that. The Spirit of the Lord ... is upon me... to bind up the broken-hearted... Or somebody who thinks she has nobody finds also that she has no where to turn. The Spirit of the Lord... is upon me ... to proclaim liberty to captives... That's what Pentecost is about as much as it is about anybody speaking from a pulpit. It's the very public speech ordinary people like you and me find ourselves giving to others, because even though we didn't know how we were going to do it, the Holy Spirit descends and gives us the power to speak. It is what the prophet Joel meant when he said that in former days, God's word was given only to prophets, a few charismatic, leader types who managed to speak up for God. But he said that a day would come when God said, "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." Everybody gets to speak up for God; because church is the place where the power to speak belongs, not just to a few, but to all.
+
Acts 2:1-21 - Pentecost is a pregnant moment in the life of the people of God. Something has been promised. Something has been stirring for some time now. Suddenly, at Pentecost - new life bursts forth in the most unlikely of places - in the midst of a group of frightened, ordinary men and women. The vivid language and symbols of the story are a literary device to remind us of one salient fact: on the day of Pentecost the friends of Jesus became religious enthusiasts. For the first time in their lives they listened to the best, the bravest, the most human part of themselves and found themselves saying and doing things they never thought possible. Jesus had promised that he would indeed send them such power "from above" but nothing could have prepared them for the magnificent outpouring of God's grace that the day of Pentecost became. 1. Not everyone responds in a positive way to what happened on Pentecost day. Why not? 2. Suppose you were a person in the crowd that day who knew how Peter had betrayed and abandoned Jesus. What would you have been thinking and feeling? 3. What old expectations might have been shattered in some people's minds after they witnessed the events of Pentecost? 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 - Paul is addressing a variety of issues concerning the corporate worship of the church. There had been problems at Corinth, notably the problem of those who assumed that their spiritual gifts gave them superiority over everyone else. Paul confronts this attitude with a reminder that all spiritual gifts come from the same Spirit and that what matters most is the common good of the church. There is no room in church for the attitude that people can use their gifts however they please. The gifts of the Spirit must be exercised within and for the church. John 7:37-39 - Rather than repeating the gospel selection for the second Sunday of Easter, we are looking at the alternative reading from John, which is a kind of flashback. Jesus is speaking at the festival of Booths (or Tabernacles), where one of the rituals to be performed was the daily libation of water brought to the Temple from the Pool of Siloam. Against such a backdrop, Jesus says that he will give the gift of living water to anyone who comes to him. What Jesus promises, in other words, is not more of the same - religion, piety, ritual - but something transforming and life giving, the gift of the Spirit who produces new life within everyone who believes in him. 1. What happens to the crowd that is listening to what Jesus has to say? 2. Notice what those who reject Jesus words want to do (verse 44)? 3. What does this tell you about the importance of Jesus' gift? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "In all these instances the Greek word we translate as ‘power’ is the same: the word we carry into English when we say ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamism’, ‘dynamo’, ‘dynamite’. The Holy Spirit is dynamite... Dynamized by this Spirit, Peter and John, ‘uneducated, common men’, preached Christ crucified and risen with ‘boldness’ (Acts 4.13), defiant of death itself; ‘for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4.20)’. - Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. HYMN: Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness (Voices United 375)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2005
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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