Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
The service video can currently only be viewed on Facebook because of their automatic copyright detection.
How many ways could Luke in writing the Acts of the Apostles think of to spell out the impossibly mind blowing unexplainable experience of the day of Pentecost? We have winds and flames; there are people acting in such an ecstatic way that they are accused of being drunk at 9am in the morning; and not only that, the behaviour of the ecstatic apostles is so over the top that it breaks through all the divisions of language and culture so that all these people from so many different parts of the then known world can catch on with what Peter is saying.
The Tower of Babel story in Genesis seeks to explain the many different languages in the world. The Babylonians wanted to make a name for themselves by building a mighty city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” God disrupted the work by so confusing the language of the workers that they could no longer understand one another. The city was never completed, and the people were dispersed over the face of the earth. In Luke’s portrayal of Pentecost the tower of Babel is turned upside down. All the people heard the voice of God in their own language. What is Luke telling us in this story? It is the stupendous truth that God breaks through all that divides us and brings all things into unity in Christ, and that this Christ is the energising life force which is transforming our world and each one of us. The very heart of our faith and the destiny of all - all that divides and separates and injures us human beings is and will be brought into the unity of love which has been made known to us in the life and on-going energy of love of Jesus Christ. This is no still small voice. God’s voice is heard despite the cacophony of voices.
So they thought the apostles were drunk – happy drunk of course, not belligerent or melancholic. Living with the Holy Spirit is not a sober option it seems. Can you imagine as we leave St Michael’s this morning passers by being amazed at seeing a load of drunk happy folk across the road from Riverside Market. And they all look so respectable!
On balance, we do like to be unassuming don’t we? There's something about routine and respectability that is very comforting. There's something about doing things the way they have always been done which is frankly re assuring, safe. There's something about not being surprised or disturbed [kind of keeping our heads down] which feels sensible, proper, wise, peaceful, things being as they should be, calm, unobtrusive, settled, predictable, solid…. And here's the word: Sober!
And when we get stuck in our ways, when we refuse to hear anything that may disrupt our peace or force us out of our comfort zone, then we can get angry and resistant. Look at the Pharisees – my God, the lengths they would go to keep their comfort zone. And what about you, and me!
Well, whether or not we experience the Spirit of God as a hurricane force wind, a blazing fire of intoxicating energy and vitality, or a still small voice in the midst of the hub hub, it will disturb us. The Spirit of God will and does disturb us. It tugs at us and will not let us go. ‘Where can I go from your spirit’ wails the psalmist in Psalm 139, ‘where can I flee from your presence?’. The answer is – nowhere!
So this is no new spirit we are talking about at Pentecost, no new energy that has just been invented by God to give a monumental kick up the proverbial to the hesitant disciples, those who in John's Gospel had locked themselves away in the upper room. Remember in John's version, it is Jesus who seeks them out, breaks through their locked doors of predictability and pours out the enlivening spirit of God upon them. He is the word made flesh which John tells us at the beginning his gospel has been since the beginning.
This is the Spirit of God which is the essence of God from the beginning. It is Sophia, Wisdom, she who plays and delights in God in the midst of God's creating.
This is the word who was in the beginning. And yet it is at Pentecost that the reality hits us. This Word of God, This spirit of God from the beginning is Jesus the risen Christ. If we hadn’t realised it before, now the connections are made and it all makes sense! John spells it out in the reading today and it is threaded through his Gospel. Jesus the risen Christ and the spirit are one and the same. Christ is the 'ruach' of God, the breath of God, the brooding energy of God over the waters of chaos at the beginning and over the waters of chaos in own time. This is the life energy of the universe from the beginning. And in him we now understand that he is the yearning and restlessness in us, the groaning inwardly, and is driving us towards fullness of life and love. And if we want to know what being fully alive and fully who we can be, then look at Jesus. he has shown us the way. In fact he is the way, the truth and the life. To embrace this and to be embraced by the risen Christ is what Pentecost is all about. At the transfiguration God says to the disciples, to us ‘this is my son, the beloved. Listen to him’.
This Spirit disturbs and challenges us to be all that we can be, to reach for the stars, to dream the impossible dream, to go where no one has gone before, to take up our crosses, to lay down our lives in the service of others, to protest against all that is ugly and unjust, to seek to understand those who are different from us and their needs and aspirations, to face the trials and tragedies of life in sickness and in our relationships, to reach out our empty hands in this awesome moment of the Mass and remember the power and the presence and the purpose of God in our love and the life of the world. With all our senses, listening to the voice of God
In the familiar is there not always a chance of something more? In the week by week recital of our faith as we worship, is there not the possibility of God again breaking through our familiarity and comfort ability to shake us yet again into new and amazing understanding and actions for good? Yes. Of course there is. God’s spirit groaning in us, calling us, speaking to us.
For in the ordinary rhythms of our lives, there is always the possibility of new insight and growth in our humanity and personhood, if we will be open to it.
I like my comfort zones. I need them. But I don't let them be a prison for me. I don't let myself be locked up in them as the disciples were locked in the upper room. Every mundane activity and moment has the potential to be an experience of new and extraordinary movements of grace and holiness and passion for love and life through the power and energy of God's intoxicating Spirit. Every terrifying moment in life, every trauma and every death dealing hand of fate is nevertheless filled with the incarnate Christ drawing us from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from death to life, to eternal life, to at one ness with God. ‘Listen to him’. This is the truth. This is our faith.
Wherever there is energy and a real trust in the intoxicating Spirit of God, coupled with a willingness to engage with the issues of the world in order to make a difference for good, there is life, relevance, and our heads are up!
If you want to be intoxicated by the spirit which intoxicated Peter and the others then come and take the bread of life offered to you in this Eucharist. But be prepared to be shaken out of your complacency and expectations. Indeed expect it and look forward to it with excitement and anticipation. For the risen living Christ is coming to you. Listen to him.