Pentecost – Easter 3

Sermon Title: Easter 3
Date: 4th June 2017
Preacher: Roxanne Addley
Church Calendar Date: Pentecost Easter 3
Lectionary Reading: John 20: 19-23, Acts 2:1-21, 1Cor 12:1-13, Psalm 104

May our meditations be pleasing to you, O Lord, as we sing praises and rejoice in you. Amen.

It’s Pentecost! A day of celebration! Our vestments are red and I’m also noticing quite a few red jackets and scarves among you today.  Pentecost is often referred to as the church’s birthday, the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the gathered community, 50 days after Christ’s resurrection and 10 days after his ascension.  And the Jewish community was gathered on this day because it was the festival of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  So in one way, Pentecost celebrates the movement of our faith from that of a chosen people in covenant with God, to a universal faith open to everyone, wherever they come from, Parthians, Medes or Elamites!

Luke, the writer of Acts, gives us a detailed and dramatic account of the events at Pentecost. There was a violent wind, there were tongues of fire, there was speaking in many languages. And there is even humour! In response to the accusation of these people being drunk, Peter says it can’t be so, it’s not yet 9 o’clock in the morning!

So, today, I want us to focus on this Holy Spirit that came down but let’s do this through the lens of our Gospel reading from John.  These five verses don’t make for a long reading but are profound within themselves and, put together, provide us with a very clear direction about our mission as Christ’s disciples, as his gathered and sent out church.

Well, many commentators say that chapter 20 of John’s Gospel is actually his original conclusion and that chapter 21 was subsequently added. And if you read through to the end of chapter 20, verses 30 and 31 certainly sound like the conclusion. And our reading today is also the Johannine equivalent of Matthew’s final verses, the “Great Commissioning”, that we heard of last week.  But John also includes his theology of the Holy Spirit and these 5 verses provide us with three key learnings: that the Holy Spirit is with us in the most difficult times, that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ breath, and thirdly that we are sent out, equipped with the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a closer look.

Our reading opens on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection with the disciples locking themselves inside a house in fear.  They are in a state of anxiety and confusion. The man whom they had lived with, prayed with, journeyed with over this three-year period of ministry, has died a very inglorious death, through the conniving of the religious authorities. When close friends or family die, it’s hard not to confront our own mortality, and bring up so many mixed emotions.  Added to this, some of the women had reported seeing Jesus this very morning, which only added to the confusion.  Into this very human, insecure mess, steps Jesus. “Peace be with you”, he says, not once but twice. And he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit”.  The Holy Spirit comes to us in our frail humanness, in our fear, our confusion and anxiety.  Jesus gets through those locked doors, he gets through the locked doors that we create within ourselves, and as his disciples, in whatever state we are, we receive the Holy Spirit.

So, in this rendering of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ breath.  It is his presence in his physical absence.  When I read this passage earlier this week, it reminded me of that other passage in Genesis in which God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the first man, and he became a living being.  God’s breath is the source of life and on this first day of Jesus’ resurrected life, on this first day of new creation, Jesus’ breath offers a new life to the disciples, in all their pain and confusion, a restoration and peace with God.  This breath is the giving of life, the giving of love.  Jesus died for us, that great sacrifice of love, and then rose again, giving us new life.  Jesus’ breath, his holy presence in his physical absence.

And then of course there is the punchline. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. Well, that’s a pretty clear mandate. And it’s a mandate for all of us disciples.  We are to continue Jesus’ ministry as the body of Christ; we are sent out, empowered by his breath, the Holy Spirit.  We are sent out to make peace and bring reconciliation to the world.  You only have to read the papers or watch the news to know that we live in a broken, despairing world, a world disconnected from God, a sinful world, a world that is probably not too dissimilar to the world in which Jesus lived, albeit with a few more technological enhancements!

And this is, of course, what Paul is speaking about in his letter to the Corinthians.  He says “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  He describes various gifts such as wisdom, faith, healing, prophesy.  And he says that there are varieties of gifts, varieties of activities and varieties of services, but all are given by the Holy Spirit for the common good.  So, it’s up to us as the body of Christ, as disciples of Jesus, to go out into our worlds and spread that good news of the love, life and reconciliation given to us by Jesus Christ.  And we are empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit.

Well, perhaps that sounds a bit daunting?  I remember me 15 years ago.  I was someone who went to church on Sundays.  But I didn’t talk to people outside of church about my faith. My life was fairly partitioned. How things have changed!  And as I was reflecting on my own journey towards understanding my God given gifts and how I am being called to use them, I realized that God has given me some wonderfully wise people along the way, in home groups, bible study groups and other mentors, who have encouraged me and challenged me and supported me to this place that I am today.  And I have indeed been emboldened by the Holy Spirit.

How do we take ourselves out into the world as sent and action oriented disciples?  One of the things I’ve been doing recently, is smiling at people on my walks around my neighbourhood. I even greet people. This is my version of spreading some love and joy around. We can do more than that of course.  We can invite people into our community. We have our annual dinner coming up. That‘s a great opportunity. All we need to do is invite people in, encourage them and God will do the rest.

We are the body of Christ.  And there are many members of that body, each with their different gifts, united by and given through the Holy Spirit.  Are you discerning your gifts? How has the Holy Spirit empowered you to do the common good? Let’s challenge each other over coffee today to ask what are your gifts and how can you take these into your worlds to live and enact the Gospel message of love, peace and reconciliation. Let’s talk about these things today within the comfort of our own church community, and then let’s take the next step into our broader communities.

Shall we end in prayer?

Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the Holy Spirit breathed into us, giving us strength in our weakness to do your will in this world.  We pray that as we discern our God given gifts, that you will guide us in spreading your peace, love and joy among our