Pentecost ~ Tongues of Flame
Acts 2: 1-21
The former president of the USA, Calvin Coolidge was not known for being extrovert in nature. In fact he was such a quiet and unassuming sort of person that when his death was announced to the public, the question was asked "How can they tell?"
It could be said that the state of the church in some areas in this land is getting to the point where the same could be said about it. There are so many churches scattered throughout the UK which are somehow clinging on to life with a faithful gathering of a handful of aging folk. It begs the question - when those last few have gone and the doors close for the last time – will anyone notice and will they be mourned?
In fact there's only one thing worse than a church dying and that's a church dying and no one noticing. How can the world know that the church is alive? How can people see that the church is growing? How can we tell them that Christianity isn't dead, but is alive with the Spirit of God in our midst?
Here is the good news, now is the time to wake up, sit up and take notice.
Today is a great Christian Festival of Pentecost, a day that ranks with Christmas and Easter in its importance to the church. Pentecost is the birthday of the church. The church was born on that day so long ago when the followers of Jesus were meeting in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit descended upon them.
The Holy Spirit came from God like tongues of fire, and the fire rested on each one of them, and they were all filled with God's Spirit, and empowered for the great work of God, that is the sharing of the story of Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation. This is the good news of the gospel, this is why Jesus came. This is why Jesus died.
Sometimes God the Holy Spirit gets bad press, but we cannot have God the Father, and God the Son and ignore God the Holy Spirit, the part that energises us and gives us the power.
I am sure you know the old story of the vicar who visited a primary school where they were learning the Creed. The children lined up for the vicar and one by one recited a line of the Creed. Suddenly there was an embarrassing silence. Eventually, one child blurted out an explanation. “I’m sorry Sir, the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is off sick today
When the promised Holy Spirit came, and when they had recovered from the shock, what a birthday party that must have been. The people there were rejoicing, it was exciting as they were filled with the Spirit of God. Onlookers thought they were drunk with new wine - but it wasn't wine that made them so happy. It was joy they felt it was the birth pangs of God's church.
From the day of Pentecost, the church began to grow. As the followers of Jesus fulfilled his commission to go and spread the good news of the gospel throughout the world, into every valley and plain, across every mountain range, across the oceans, into every country, into suburbs and slums, into cities and countryside. This was the mission of the early church and everywhere they went they proclaimed Christ and the message of God's great love. Where this good news was received, gradually the world became a better place. Believing in Jesus, being filled with God’s Holy Spirit changed people's lives. It changed my life and I trust that it has changed your life.
And now we are faced with another challenge - it would appear to many that the church is beginning to outlive its usefulness in the light of all the other distractions which have become so important in people's lives. In the rush to fill every available moment of the week, even Sunday has no special place within our society.
I am sure that many believe that the church in the past and belonging in the past?
BUT, I know that the church is very much alive, and I know that the Spirit of God still fills the hearts of Christians, and I know that the promises made to those early followers of Jesus are still to be fulfilled. But why are there so many people around today who don't know these things?
Why don't they know that God's love is as real today as it was two thousand years ago when tongues of fire danced on the heads of those who had been filled with the Holy Spirit? Why do so many people not know that the church is alive and well?
How can they know unless we tell them?
Part of the legacy of Pentecost is prayer. The prayers of people like you and me keep the church alive. Do you believe in the power of your prayers? I hope you do. Prayer is restoring people to health in body mind and spirit, even if we can’t always see the evidence immediately. Prayer is meeting people in their moment of need, it is crucial to building and repairing work, prayer is essential in our fund raising, prayer is working right here.
It would be too risky to put it to the test and to stop prayers for a year, but I do believe that if we stopped praying this church would die very quickly.
We are very much alive and there are signs of health and vitality in the church. The church's well-being is evident wherever people care about each other. A vicar tells about a time when he was in the hospital with pneumonia. A visitor from the church called on him. When she stood up to go, shesaid, "I'd say a prayer for you, but I don't know how to pray. But I do love you."
Not know how to pray? She said the greatest prayer that has ever been prayed. She cared about him just as Christ cared about people. That is prayer in action, people loving one another as Christ loved us; that is the sign of life in the church. It is apparent in this church. I see it in many ways. I see it especially in the way individuals respond to another's need.
The greatest sign of a church's vitality is when that church understands its purpose. And our purpose here in Martham, is to look beyond the Sunday sermon, beyond the PCC meetings, beyond Messy Church, the coffee mornings, beyond the building projects and beyond all of the things we do in our times together; our purpose is ultimately to claim Martham for God, we are their Parish Church, they belong to us in Jesus Christ. Our purpose I is to show them Christ's love.
Through prayer, through our fellowship together and the ministry of caring, through offering Christ in everything we do, we say to the world that the church born on the day of Pentecost is not dead. The church that is built on the foundation of prayer, that cares for people in the Spirit in which Christ cared, that knows its purpose,that church is alive and will never die.
The thing that makes a church special today is exactly what made the first Pentecost special. Enthusiasm. I would go so far as to say that this is an enthusiastic church. Perhaps I'd better expand on that statement. The word enthusiasm, comes from two Greek words, in - theos, which translates in English to "God in you." When I say this is an enthusiastic church, I am not just saying that we are an active and happy bunch. Some of us are more active than others and we all have our ups and downs emotionally. What I am saying is that God is in you. Like the followers of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost, I see people who have been transformed by God's presence.
The church, planted on that first Pentecost, started small and we can learn from their experience. We can learn that numbers are not important. Money is not important. Buildings are not important. But enthusiasm is. Wherever people come to God in prayer, wherever compassion and caring are shared, wherever the love of Christ is proclaimed - there is God's Church.
How will the people know that your church is not dead? They will know because you will tell them. You who are enthused with the love of God, you who pray and care and proclaim Christ, you will tell them. You will tell them with your lives, with your deeds and with your words, that God came to earth and loved us, all of us, and that no matter what we've done, God will always love us, and that if we ask Him, God will live in us and we will live in him. That is what Pentecost is all about.
This is not just another day. This is our birthday. Celebrate it for God. Celebrate it for your church. Celebrate it for yourself. Go and be the people God has called you to be. Amen.