The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Paul writes in his letter to the Church at Corinth: ‘I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit.’
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God and Father, through your Holy Spirit you gather Christians who worship You with faith in your son Jesus Christ. A universal Christian Church made not of glass, wood and brick, but of people bound together in the Holy Spirit, even during this global isolation. We invite the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus on this Pentecost Sunday, to your glory and honour. Open our spirits to receive the fullness of your Spirit that we may dwell in your love and forgiveness, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome every obstacle in living for you. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
We read from Scripture last week that after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Disciples ‘worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.’
And from acts for this week, we read that when they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer.’ (Acts 1:14 NIV)
I can imagine what some of their prayers might have been: “Lord God, send us the helper Jesus told us about”; “Lord God, fulfil your promise that Jesus told us about”; “Lord God, let your living water flow around us”; and even “Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name”. They must have been in prayer almost with one mind. Sharing a common vision of Christ Jesus, and of who they were in Christ Jesus.
And just as Jesus promised, at the right time God responded to their prayers by pouring out his Holy Spirit upon them. It is pretty clear that they had no idea what to expect. And for a time after the wondrous gift, they didn’t really understand what they had been given. I always heard the saying, “be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it!” I can imagine their delight and their confusion of what was happening among them.
The message for us this morning, is if we want this same delight, we need to be open to the same confusion and the same blessing of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
In the upper room, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to the Disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22–23 NRSV)
They surely received the Holy Spirit with his words to them. And they surely received the ability to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness to those who believe. They also received the gift and responsibility to pass this gift of the Holy Spirit to all whom they baptised and said those same precious words, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Just as we received the Holy Spirit when we were baptised, whether this was when we were days old, or as children, or as adults.
As Peter spoke with new enthusiasm on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38–39 NIV)
We have also received the responsibility to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness. Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:16–17 ESV)
With the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can with true hearts and sincere determination declare that “Jesus is Lord” of our being and of our lives. And also, with the gift of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, Scripture encourages us to be led by the Spirit. Paul writes in Galatians, ‘if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:18–25 ESV)
Thank God for his gift of the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our spirit, and display our faith in Christ Jesus by our lives. If we live our entire life with the fruit of the Holy Spirit evident, it will be evidence enough for our eternal salvation. Scripture is clear that salvation comes by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone, as we discover in the Word of God alone, by God’s grace alone. All this by the work of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism.
And like the Disciples in the presence of Jesus in the upper room, we received at our baptism a part in God’s kingdom and life in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in the book of Romans, ‘We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Just love others.’ (Romans 12:5–9 NLT)
But like the Disciples in that upper room with Jesus; I am convinced that at our Baptism, we did not yet receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit living through us with spiritual gifts.
Gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of others, of the Church, and of the faith to be passed from generation to generation, by the laying on of hands.
Those gifts require a special anointing of the Holy Spirit with power. The Disciples received this in that same upper room when the time was right. Gifts that demonstrated to an obstinate people that Jesus is the Messiah, risen from the dead, and ‘that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’
As Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, ‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.’
From Apostle, to Bishop, to Pastor, Apostolic succession of the gift of the Holy Spirit are passed from generation to generation. The confusion we experience, like the disciples, descending from the upper room at Pentecost, is about what Spiritual gifts we are to receive and what gifts the Holy Spirit will display in our lives.
For some it is simply the truth “Jesus is Lord.” For others, at times and seasons of their lives, God sends a special anointing of his Holy Spirit to do special things for the building up of the Church.
I heard the witness of one Pastor who received a special intuition to leave his parish for a short time to visit India in mission. And God followed this with the witness of a parishioner who spoke of a message for him from the Lord. He had never thought of doing this before, but like Peter called to visit the house of Cornelius, this Pastor felt the urging, and made that visit.
It felt strange to him, because it seemed everything fell into place so easily. His transport was paid for, his visa was simplified, and he left Australia with the message already in his heart that he would spread. He arrived and was quickly drawn to an assembly of thousands, listening to his witness, and seeking his individual prayers. It was as though the Holy Spirit drew them together for just this reason.
He was there for weeks praying for the people of this place and seeing people healed, released from demons, declaring their faith in Christ Jesus, and leaving the prayers with joy in their hearts.
When this pastor boarded the plane to return to Australia, he was convinced that this anointing of the Holy Spirit would be a godsend for his small congregation. He would see it grow to thousands with the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly revealed in his ministry.
But this Pastor was greatly disappointed when none of this happened in Australia. He prayed, fasted, and eagerly sought the power of the Holy Spirit, but was bitterly disillusioned and ended up sadly abandoning his parish ministry. But God was compassionate toward this Pastor who repented of his presumption. He returned this compassion to care for other pastors who were suffering.
The Holy Spirit will not be controlled, confined, or commanded. We can only pray to God our Father for the gifts to be revealed with power, and give thanks and praise for the times and seasons that God blesses our lives with gifts of the Holy Spirt.
As Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians, ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3 NIV)
I know and I fully trust that God has touched our lives with his Holy Spirit. Our simple declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ proclaims the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our worshipping community. The love we have for one another witnesses the greatest of gift and fruit of the Spirit that nurtures our faith. And for that I am eternally grateful to God our Father, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour.
We have the example of Pentecost to encourage us as we hold steady to our confession of Christ Jesus. The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in our living Lord Christ Jesus, as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.