Sermon for Pentecost
John 7.37-39; Acts 2.1-21
There are a few more people here this week! Last week, some of our number were at the annual tent camp at Bigriggen, just down the road from Rathdowney. (And turn right, and then a left, and continue down the road, and if you’re lucky, it’s just… Well, you get the idea.)
The Jewish people have an annual tent camp too. It’s called the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths. It’s a harvest festival, and Jewish people are meant to live in a tent or a hut for the week of the festival. It’s not that easy sometimes to pitch a tent!—I read a fabulous book by AJ Jacobs earlier this year called The Year of Living Biblically. The author is a New Yorker who says that the book is
about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible—as literally as possible. I obey the famous ones:
• The Ten Commandments
• Love thy neighbor
• Be fruitful and multiply
But also, the hundreds of oft-ignored ones.
• Do not wear clothes of mixed fibers.
• Do not shave your beard
• Stone adulterers
When it came to October, time for the Feast of Tabernacles, Jacobs was in a fix. Where could he erect a tent to live in for a week in New York City? On the roof of his building? Central Park? Neither place seemed like a good idea. In the end, he set up a pup tent in the living room of his apartment, and at bedtime he tried to get as much of his body as he could into it.
It was the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7, and Jesus was in Jerusalem. During this week-long festival, the high priest would pour out bowls of water at the altar. So it comes as no surprise that Jesus uses the image of water:
‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’
What are these flowing, sparkling, living rivers of water? They are the Holy Spirit…
Now, our pew bibles translate this passage in a way that needs some explanation. John tells us that the rivers of living water refer to the Spirit,
which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
It sounds as though the Holy Spirit may not have existed at this time. That’s not right. What it means is this: the Spirit was not yet freely available. It wasn’t time for the Spirit. We could translate it as It wasn’t Spirit yet, just as we might say It’s not winter yet. The season of winter is coming; the season of the Spirit was also coming.
This season of the Spirit could only come when Jesus was glorified—which includes Jesus being ‘lifted up’ on the cross, as well as rising from the grave. It was the crucified and risen Lord who could pour out the Spirit upon all God’s people.
That’s what the prophet Joel was talking about:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters
shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
In the times of the Old Testament, the Spirit was given to particular people for a special reason—people like Moses, Elijah, Elisha. Now, the Spirit is within and among us, each one—Jesus has poured the Spirit upon the young as well as the old, women as well as men, slaves as well as free people. Now, the Spirit is given to all who turn to God—
…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
So when Jesus speaks of the coming of the season of the Spirit, it’s going to be fruitful and fertile! No water restrictions here! It will flow from the deepest places of our hearts, and keep on flowing for ever.
Acts 2 tells the story of how the Spirit season started. The believers were gathered together, waiting, and—on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter—the Spirit came.
The Spirit doesn’t always come quietly, though some of us would like it to! The bible uses images of the Spirit that we can’t pin down or control. The Spirit is water, wind, fire—all dangerous at times. And all unpredictable. We often think of the Spirit as the dove. But the ancient Celtic Christians of the British Isles had another idea—they pictured the Spirit as the wild goose, a far more unpredictable and noisy and untameable bird altogether!
However the Spirit comes, noisily or quietly, the Spirit wants every bit of us. The Spirit wants to change us, remake us so that we are more like our older brother, Jesus, who is also our Saviour and our Lord. And how can we know where that journey might take us?
The Spirit gives us gifts and excites new hopes and dreams within us so that we can move on that journey together, so that the living water might flow through each one of us, and through us together as one body in Christ!
The Spirit makes us one in Christ. The Spirit doesn’t make us into an organisation, no, the Spirit makes us one body. We had a review earlier this year. One of the recommendations was to get some help in getting a strategic plan together. John is helping us with this, and you’ll hear more soon. But we’re not going to go about it as if we are a business, in which people are expendable and efficiency is all. We’re asking the Spirit to guide us. And we don’t know in advance where the Spirit will lead us. The other parts of the body are not dispensable. We’ll do this together.
I began by talking about AJ Jacobs and his ‘Year of Living Biblically’. He learned some valuable things during his year. He became a better person. But I’m not sure whether he learned this one thing: Living biblically isn’t about obeying the laws perfectly. It’s about the Holy Spirit coming to our our spirit, and becoming one spirit with us. It’s about an intimate relationship. It’s about living water coming from within us, from a Source that never ends. Hallelujah!