Sunday, 4 June 2017

Can't make it to church - Sunday 4th June 2017

It's Pentecost and along with the two contrasting readings today - the John reading (Easter Sunday) and the Acts reading (Pentecost - fiftieth day) fifty days later' both in 'that same place: The Upper Room - I find myself with some interesting and (personally challenging) thinking.

We usually get the John in two parts, the second being the account of Thomas 'seeing and believing'.

The upper room, that place where Jesus shares the Passover meal, appears to His disciples (twice, a week apart) and where after His Ascension they wait to be clothed with 'power from upon high', is today a place where that promise is fulfilled. It is the place where the 'Age of the Spirit' becomes our reality!

I've always been a little surprised at Jesus' followers. I can understand them hiding in the upper room because they fear that they will be visited by the same people who crucified their teacher and put to death too! I think I'd be hiding in the light of the previous few days of trial, beating and death - from a triumphal entry to a complete disaster in just a few short days, who wouldn't be hiding with them But to still be hiding in the (still locked) upper room a week later after Jesus had appeared and shown them the scars and shared His peace - His inspirational 'shalom' with them - they might have been overjoyed, but it didn't stop them also being hidden for another week, did it?  These were, with good reason, frightened people! Rebels without a leader - hiding in the place people in the know would expect them to be - pathetic, beaten, confused, frightened: They were perhaps (in the eyes of the authorities and in their own minds too perhaps) a spent force.

But the presence of Jesus, His peace and His breathing on them - imparting His Spirit - empowering the dry bones before Him, shouldn't this have seen a changed people? I could have to say a resounding 'Yes' - bur the evidence is to the contrary. Perhaps Jesus arrives really late at night and I've done them a disservice or misunderstood them and the Holy Spirit bit? The issue could be that I, like many Christians,  have merely gone with the Holy Spirit and power - after all the Holy Spirit is dunamis (the word we get 'dynamite' from) and the upper room is a trauma care unit - because it must certainly have been traumatic!

Perhaps I, like many in the Church have made the Holy Spirit more about 'bang' rather than 'enabling and inner peace' - A thought for me, and others, to take away and consider perhaps?

But here we are fifty days earlier and the receiving of the Holy Spirit (that's what He says isn't it?) - the source of life, enabling, and peace - doesn't seem to change the outward appearance or actions but perhaps changes the inner person and begin to steady the boat a bit. At least the Captain's obviously back on board!

What comes next in the John passage is something interesting for those present are told that 'if they forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if they do not forgive them, they are not forgiven'. What does this mean and who is this passage for? I've heard many sermons where I've been told that this is a word for us today: We can decide that sin ain't sin and in the same breathe decide that which we dislike is sin even if others assume otherwise because we don't like it!

This is not the ground rules of an emerging move of God, it is anarchy - or is it? Those gathered were to be the driving force and the people who were to take the first few faltering steps that would eventually see 'the way' (Christianity) reach the ends of the earth. These are the people who would set the pattern and so these words, to them, make sense. In these words I hear Jesus say "You need to set some order in place and build a structure based on me and who you have known me to be: reconcile, heal, forgive and bring discipline and direction."

I think we need to read this in the light of it being meant for those who heard it in that place at that time rather than grasp it for ourselves today. After all, many of those I hear claim this for themselves appear to legitimise what the words of my Bible say is wrong and worse still, these same people, label those who appear to have an 'orthodox' (right thinking) take on things as 'despicable and destructive' and label them as sin itself. If these words are for us today then they are a recipe for something at odds with itself that is so divided that it is destined to fail!

And moving on fifty days, here we are in that same upper room - the disciples have seen Jesus ascend into heaven and have been praying for this 'power from on high' - the redemptive work is done and Jesus has returned to base for tea and medals. We are one with God and the power of sin is broken. What's going to come next?

Let's read Acts 2.1-21:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 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. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

"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. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

This is that day when 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved' - it is the day when the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, that brooded over creation, that is Jesus, can be our inner inspiration, peace and enabling. This is that day when we can, without fear make Jesus the Christ, known in our lives and in the world around us and looking at the disciples, they really make this true - and this truth is for us also.

Cool, innit?

John 20.19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Post Communion Prayer
Faithful God, who fulfilled the promises of Easter by sending us your Holy Spirit and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal: open our lips by your Spirit, that every tongue may tell of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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