Posted by: mikebackup | May 18, 2013

God – where on Earth are you?

Acts 2:1-21
New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’

Peter addresses the crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 ‘“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit (John 14.15-18, 25-27)
15 ‘If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 25 ‘All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Pentecost is one of those celebrations that haven’t caught on in wider society. Everyone does Christmas, Easter, but ‘Pente –what?’. If you know what Pentecost is and can explain it, it means one thing – you’re a regular church goer and have been for some years. It’s a real shame that because people only know part of the story and understanding Pentecost makes all the difference to how we understand our lives, the world at large and how God is at work in both.

Before we get onto that, I found it useful, looking at the history behind it. So here in a ‘Kevin Bacon, 6 degrees of seperation’ type way how a number of things connect together. The Jewish ‘festival of weeks, the first fruits of the wheat harvest’ (Exodus 34.22) was given the Greek name Pentecost (‘fiftieth’) because it took place fifty days after the end of the spring Passover festival (Leviticus 23.16). Jesus observed Passover with his disciples before Easter (Luke 22.15), and the first Christians continued to observe Pentecost (Acts 20.16; 1 Corinthians 16.8), which fell on the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday. In Luke-Acts, at Easter Jesus ordered his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for ‘what my Father promised’, and Pentecost saw the fulfilment of that promise of ‘power from on high’ (Luke 24.49; Acts 1.4,8; Acts 2). This is seen as the Birthday of the Christian year.

Deuteronomy connected Pentecost to Passover. Offering the first fruits of the wheat harvest, the people were to remember that they had cried to the Lord, who heard their voice and brought them out of Egypt into this land (26.7-9). In Egypt, ‘their cry for help rose up to God’, who called to Moses from the burning bush, ‘I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them’ (Exodus 2.23-25; 3.7-8), and who led the people with pillars of cloud and fire on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Exodus 13.21-22).

On their journey, Moses brought the people to the foot of Mount Sinai, wrapped in smoke, when the Lord descended to give the law (Exodus 19.16-25). From the first century, the giving of the tablets of the law on Sinai was celebrated at the Jewish Pentecost, and the Christian Pentecost celebrates what is ‘written… with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts’ (2 Corinthians 3.3; see Jeremiah 31.33 and Ezekiel 36.26).

Knowing that is useful but you know what, those details didn’t help me this past week when I was lost for words at some of the evil and suffering presented on the news. The murder of late aborted babies by an American Doctor and the horrific actions of a Syrian rebel on the body of a dead soldier left me numb and feeling sick. God – where on Earth are you?

An answer to that is in Pentecost and particularly in what Jesus said 15 ‘If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

God is at work in us if we let him. If we don’t then we can create a living hell for ourselves and others. A key understanding of the Trinity is that God has worked in different ways through history and that now it is through the Spirit that the whole of God works. The revered 15th century Spanish Mystic Teresa of Avila got it spot on when she said:

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Don’t miss the importance of what is being said here – God’s action in the world is only through you and me. God is not at work outside of us. This is profound for everyone. For the Christian, don’t pray for anything that you know can’t be done without a person doing it, acting on an inner prompt on the heart by God. For anyone who blames God for lack of action or believes he can’t be there because of the state the world is in – look at what this means. It is we without God that can create Hell and it is we with God that can create Heaven. We are called to work with God in the on-going open story of the universe.

So how can we do that? There’s lots of ways, but one that I’ve been trying to do right for a number of years now is what Celtic Christians call ‘the sacraments of the present moment’. We can be so consumed by our thoughts of the past, or of the future that we miss the only thing we actually have and that’s the gift if the present. It takes real effort to be fully present in all things as it needs concentration which will allow the meaning, energy, colour and adventure that every moment is crammed with to become available to us. How many times have you had a conversation to think afterwards, I can’t remember what we just spoke about. Rarely is our forgetful nature down to a poor mind, it’s down to not living fully in each moment. It’s when we live fully in each moment that we begin to see the world as God wants us to see it and how together by his Spirit we work together to make it on earth as it is in heaven.

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