May 31, 2020
THEME: THE POWERFUL PRESENCE OF
THE HOLY SPIRIT
Preached for Ipswich City Uniting Churches online worship.
YouTube version can be found HERE
Good morning Church! What a great privilege it is to be sharing God’s word with you at this time of our Pentecost Celebration.
The story of Pentecost actually begins with the baptism of Jesus:
In Mark 1:9-12 we read:
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness.
The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at the time of his baptism, empowering him and equipping him. Jesus was empowered to withstand the temptation that he endured over the next forty days and forty nights.
The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to teach with authority. The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to heal and restore life. The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to minister God’s grace with deep compassion and to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples.
From John 20:21-22
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
Now Luke records it just a little differently in Acts 1:8 where Jesus is speaking to his disciples:
8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Holy Spirit has a key role in the events of Pentecost and in the 21st century church, even at a personal level in our own lives. Personally, the Holy Spirit grows in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When I speak about the fruit of the Spirit I often like to make the comparison between a Christmas tree and an orange tree. A Christmas tree may be decorated with all sorts of ornaments, but it’s actually lifeless. It may look pretty, but it has no life in, nor of, itself. The ornaments are merely hanging by an ornamental thread.
However, with an orange tree the fruit are innately a part of the tree. They are connected and have life and fullness and grow because of the sap that’s flowing into them from the tree itself.
The fruitfulness that Jesus is speaking about is from his indwelling in our lives. The fruit that the Holy Spirit brings is much more organic than a Christmas tree. Our lives are like an orange tree and the Holy Spirit is like the sap that flows through the tree filling us with that good fruit. Our lives being like the tree and the fruit that we bear being the very nature of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit empowers and equips us with Spiritual gifts. The divine ability to minister in ways beyond our normal human capacity.
This was evident on the day of Pentecost as the believers were enabled to speak in strange tongues that they had not learnt to speak. And yet the people in the crowd, from various parts of the world.
From Acts 2:5-12 we read:
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? We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
It is Peter who then bears witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ beginning with the prophets from the book of Joel.
From Acts 2:14-16
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.
He explains the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that those gathered there may understand something of the significance of what is happening:
the outpouring of God’s spirit upon those who believe in Jesus Christ.
The gifts of the Spirit are for the purpose of building up the church, nurturing one another in faith and Christian discipleship, reaching out to the world to declare God’s love and grace for all people. When we each utilise the gifts with which God has equipped us we are the fully functioning body of Christ with all its various parts, each part having a specific purpose to play.
I want to suggest that the body of Christ across Ipswich consists of all of the Christian churches. We are not in competition with each other, we are in partnership. It is on a day such as today that we remember and celebrate the unity of the Spirit that we share in Christ.
Even more especially than that, as the four Uniting Churches, those of us who are sharing together in this service, have a special sense of unity and understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ. Together we are recognising the gifting of one another and the complimentary nature of those gifts for us to serve the wider community of Ipswich in which we live.
As the four churches in the inner metropolitan region of the city of Ipswich we are on a journey of discovering what the Spirit of God is calling us to be. Last year we made the decision to share this journey with one another.
We are now in a new season of discernment to discover what God is calling the Uniting Church to be in the city of Ipswich. It is a challenging time in which we must rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is a vulnerable time for all of us because it means that we must let go of those aspects of congregational life that are holding us back from the shared future that God is calling us into.
We may often talk about ‘my ministry’. My ministry is this, or my ministry is that, and it’s probably a helpful reminder for us that, while we may have that sense of ownership and belonging by calling it mine, we recognise first and foremost that it is Christ’s ministry in which we are privileged to participate.
I have a friend living in Toowoomba and his three year old son was adamant that he was going to help his dad sweep the path from the front door to the front gate. Those of you who know Toowoomba well would know of the red soil. The path was covered with the red dirt.
Now despite the father knowing that it would be much quicker and easier for him to sweep the path on his own he enabled his son to join in. Holding the handle near the bottom of the broom the child was pushing and pulling the broom, often in the opposite direction to that of his father. But together they got that path swept. That’s something of the image of God inviting us to share with him in his ministry to this world. That, in spite of us and because of us, God invites us to share in the proclamation of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to our world.
We might say that this is ‘my church’, or that is ‘your church’, but in reality we know that we are a part of Christ’s church. It’s particularly important for us as ministers to recognise that it’s not my church or your church, but Christ’s church, and being ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are being called together to lead you, as God’s people, in this time of discernment.
So what are the things that may hold us back from fulfilling that which God is calling us to? Is it our hanging onto buildings and properties? Is it our concern over finances? Is it our ownership of significant ministries that we don’t want to let go of? Is it our pride, or perhaps our lack of trust in one another? Is it our fear of the unknown?
Over the last summer we experienced some incredibly bad bushfires right across our nation. So we’re only too familiar with the devastating power of bushfires, fire that is out of control.
It’s helpful to make that contrast, that when we speak of the fire of God’s spirit, it is not a fire that destroys and damages, or takes away life. It is a fire that inspires, it sparks a sense of inspiration and hope, it renews God’s purposes and it is for the good of God’s church.
We know that our current model of being church is not sustainable in the long term. It’s also helpful for us to be reminded of the way in which we seek to discover who we are as God’s people and to move forward.
It is not an autocracy in which one minister, or another, would dictate what’s going to happen. You may be surprised to know that it’s not a democracy either, in which we all want to have our say and protect our vested interests.
As the church of Jesus Christ we participate in a theocracy. A theocracy is God’s governance and our part is to discern together what God’s will is for us.
So I invite you to join with me in this continuing journey of discernment and discovery. That we may know what is God’s will for us as the Uniting Church across this city. I wonder, in twelve month’s time, what we will be celebrating that has taken place between now and then.
Some of us may already be feeling the flame of the Holy Spirit blazing brightly in our church community. Some of us may describe our sense of being church as being like smouldering coals.
I want to remind us that the only difference between a smouldering ember and a raging fire is the breath of wind that blows to reignite those embers into a flame. That the breath of God would blow through us as his church at this time, and bring to life a renewed sense of vision and purpose for which God is calling us
I pray that the wind of the Spirit may fan into flame all the potential that we hold, that we may bring honour and glory to God and bear witness to the grace of Jesus Christ throughout our community and beyond.
In that hope, let us sing together a song entitled Pentecost Prayer.
In the name of Christ. Amen.