Friday, 22 May 2015

Pentecost Acts 2:1-21


Pentecost (Shavuot) was an agricultural festival during which the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the Temple. Pentecost comes from the fact that there are seven full weeks, 49 days, from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot. The 50th day is Pentecost (fiftieth). The festival is associated in the Old Testament with the giving of the Law, Torah at Mount Sinai.

So since it was the day of Pentecost, the disciples were all together. Suddenly, unexpectedly there was a sound of a roaring sea, a wind-like, vibrating. It filled the room, possibly somewhere in the temple precinct where they were sitting. They saw fire shaped like tongues separated on each of the disciples. They began to speak out aloud, forcefully in other tongues- ecstatic prophecy.

There were staying in the area Jewish pilgrims from the Roman provinces visiting Jerusalem for the festival. When they heard the disciples they were shocked at hearing their own language. “Galileans”, they said- What identified them as Galileans? Their accent, which meant it showed through even in their ecstatic prophecy. Then we are given a list of countries and races present representing the Jewish disporia. There were visitors from Rome both Jews and converts to Judaism temporarily resident in Jerusalem.  They were puzzled. Some people thought the disciples were drunk.

So for Jews Pentecost meant the birth of Judaism, for Christians it means the birth of the Church. Luke describes 120 people present, men and women. 

So what exactly happened? Wind and fire, two of the elements of the ancient world’s cosmology, are mentioned. Fire is associated in the Old Testament with God's presence. Wind is described as one of the instruments through which God acts. The sound of the wind was only heard by those gathered in the house. What the crowd heard was not the sound of the wind but the sound of the voices speaking in tongues. The tongues here are not the ecstatic speech of the Corinthian church, a kind of spiritual language. Here it is the languages of the onlookers, a reverse of Babel!  This is the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise that they would be Jesus’ witnesses to the entire world. Here they are, in Jerusalem, but the church will rapidly move into Judea, Samaria, and eventually, the whole of the then known world to the ends of the earth.

Peter says that they were not filled with wine, but with the Spirit, as the prophet Joel had promised. For Luke the outpouring of the Spirit demonstrated the re-establishment of the prophetic role, which was believed to have been discontinued after the last great prophet, Malachi, had spoken.

Luke’s describes the early church as a community where distinctions of gender, ethnicity, and social status were erased. From the point of view of God's plan of salvation, all are equal before God. The effect of Pentecost was to de-stigmatize people: Jews, gentiles, barbarians, women, all now stand on an equal footing under God.

Without the Spirit we are just ritualistic followers of religion. It is the Spirit that marks us out, inspires us and gives us that 5th dimension. It is the Spirit that gives life to us and the churches and without it we are like hollow shells (white anted see Mike Riddell). So pray for God's Spirit in your life and others. We need it!

"If you believe and I believe and we together pray
the Holy Spirit must come down and set Gods people free..." African hymn

Friday, 15 May 2015

Ascension Luke 24:44-53

The time between the resurrection and Pentecost is interrupted by Ascension, in the traditional church calendar, the time when Jesus was taken into heaven. Before this we have had many resurrection appearances and rumours. 

In Mathew it is as if the forty days are condensed between Easter and Pentecost. The disciples are told to go to Galilee, where Jesus blesses and commissions them, as witnesses to the ends of the earth, to make disciples and to teach. The promise is given that Jesus will be with them always.

In Mark there is a similar commission and a resurrection appearance when the eleven disciples were eating. Miracles will accompany them. Then Jesus was taken from them.

The story is similar at the end of Luke and again the commission to preach to the ends of the earth and the promise of the Holy Spirit. He disappeared from them at Bethany and they returned to Jerusalem praising God.

In John there is no account of the ascension, only the commission to Peter and the promise to the beloved disciple John

At the beginning of Acts the disciples are waiting in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has rejected the earthly physical restoration of Israel and is building a new spiritual Israel. Again there is the commission to be witnesses. And then he was taken from them by a cloud. Two angels told them to return to Jerusalem a sabbath’s days journey. And there’s the promise of Jesus return.

After the Ascension the disciples and go back to the upper room, a familiar place, a place of security at a strange and unsettling time. Peter takes on the yoke of leadership and Matthias joins the apostles as they have now become.

The stories are linked by key points, the commissioning to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, the promise that Jesus is with them, the promise of the Holy Spirit when they return and wait in Jerusalem and the promise of a return. During the time of waiting the motley band are united and unified.

What does the story mean for us? There are many times in our lives when we lose what is most precious to us. At these times we go back to old haunts, to people we trust to find our bearings. We feel life has taken a wrong turn. There is a profound loss, an absence, a grieving and a return. In these times we reevaluate what is important and these times shake up our value system, shaking out hopefully what is not good for us or even destructive.

In our story however there is the loss of Jesus in bodily form. His resurrection appearances are both a comfort and a shock to the disciples, then his loss again and the charge to wait. I would be confused-wouldnt you? Then there is the commission, to tell the story, to baptize to make disciples, when they are in a state of shock. They have the promise that he is with them however and that they are to be “clothed on high”. And so they do wait. They can do little else. They put their house in order and they wait. Its the same for us after times of loss, we need to draw strength from the familiar but also reevaluate, and wait for that re-energising, that second wind.

The lifting up of Jesus on the cross is symbolic of a healing for the nations and so we enter a new time in the life of Jesus. Through his death and resurrection he represented God to us and became the mediator between God and us, healing interceding, redeeming. So now on his journey he is on his way to heaven and to a share in Gods authority. So what does the story of ascension have to teach us?

Its difficult to look up and down together. We have glimpses of heaven, which lift us and remind us of our heavenly calling. This ensures we don’t get bogged down by what’s happening to us, that we cant see the wood for the trees. We need to take time to look up otherwise we will get bogged down with the mundane and petty, but also the mindless, dreadful meaningless events of life, the tragedies . We need to create spaces where we look up otherwise we cant reflect that higher calling on our lives.  and we need to take time to recover from loss, to grieve.

As a church we too need to look up, to let go off the things which drag us down to earth and to look to God, to grasp the commission we have been given to make disciples, teach and heal.  We need also to put our house in order and then we need to wait for God, to be clothed from on high, in the certainty that God's Spirit will help us and -we need to be always praying.  

jasper

jasper
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