SUN­DAY SER­VICE

The Church of England - - Sunday - Lee Gatiss is Edi­tor of the NIV Procla­ma­tion Bi­ble and Di­rec­tor of Church So­ci­ety (www.church­so­ci­ety.org)

Whit Sun­day (Pen­te­cost) - Sun­day 8th June 2014

Acts 2:1-21

1 Corinthi­ans 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

The read­ings for Whit Sun­day nat­u­rally have at their heart the com­ing of the Holy Spirit at Pen­te­cost, and the out­work­ing of that cru­cial mo­ment in sal­va­tion his­tory for the life of the church. The em­pha­sis falls on the im­pact it has on the out­ward-look­ing mis­sion of the church.

Acts 2 nar­rates what hap­pened as the Spirit came on the day of Pen­te­cost just as Je­sus had promised he would. The dis­ci­ples are all to­gether in one place, gath­ered, wait­ing. And sud­denly the Spirit ar­rives, not qui­etly and gen­tly, but “like the rush of a vi­o­lent wind” and with tongues of fire. It must have been an awe-in­spir­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, as Ba­bel is un­done and the Spirit gives them the abil­ity to speak in other lan­guages. They pro­claim to the Jews in Jerusalem, from all over the world, God’s mighty deeds.

It puz­zles and per­plexes the crowd. Yet, as al­ways when God is at work, oth­ers sneer and draw the wrong con­clu­sion. But this is not “new wine” as those dis­mis­sive crit­ics un­der­stood it, ine­bri­at­ing the dis­ci­ples so that they lose con­trol, but the new wine, spir­i­tual re­fresh­ment, which Je­sus had fore­told. Peter ex­plains it to the crowd as a ful­fil­ment of Scrip­ture. It is not drunk­en­ness but prophecy they are wit­ness­ing — the great and glo­ri­ous day of the Lord. It calls not for mere as­ton­ish­ment or de­ri­sion, but comes with an im­plicit chal­lenge for the whole world: “ev­ery­one who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Will you?

The Gospel read­ing takes us back a lit­tle in time be­fore Pen­te­cost, to a dif­fer­ent mo­ment, prior to Je­sus’ as­cen­sion. Fear is turned to joy when the risen Lord ap­pears. There can be no doubt about who he is and what he has done when he shows them his hands and his side, where the cruel nails and vi­cious spear had pierced him as he hung on our be­half from a cross.

The breath­ing of the Spirit upon the dis­ci­ples at this point is dif­fer­ent from the more dra­matic fill­ing with the Spirit nar­rated in Acts 2, but it is again linked to them be­ing sent out to pro­claim the gospel. As Je­sus had come at the Fa­ther’s bid­ding to live, die, and rise for our sal­va­tion, so they would also be sent to bring news of that sal­va­tion to oth­ers. Only through faith in that joy­ful procla­ma­tion will people have their sins for­given; with­out it, their sins are re­tained, un­for­given. A re­minder for us of the obli­ga­tion not to hoard the gospel, and that it comes with a com­mis­sion to pass it on.

Paul re­flects on the giv­ing of the Spirit in 1 Corinthi­ans 12, for the ed­i­fi­ca­tion of a church which ar­gued over who was most spir­i­tual. No one con­fesses Je­sus as Lord with­out the aid of the Spirit, and that same Spirit can­not lead people to curse Christ. He is the com­mon pos­ses­sion of all who pro­fess. Our re­la­tion­ship to him is be­gun and di­rected by him. The Fa­ther em­pow­ers us in all spir­i­tual ac­tiv­i­ties; the Lord Je­sus en­ables us in va­ri­eties of ser­vice; and the Spirit en­dows us with di­verse spir­i­tual gifts — but none of this is for our­selves alone, but for oth­ers.

Those who have come to know God in Christ were bap­tised in one Spirit into one un­di­vided body. Christ can­not be torn in pieces, and his Spirit is the in­ex­haustible foun­tain of all good things for all people, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. Those iden­tity mark­ers are no longer ba­sic or pri­mary for those who drink of the Spirit. Our re­la­tion­ship to Christ is all, and it im­pels us out­ward, to serve oth­ers as he did, not to rate or rank our­selves above them any­more.

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