Friday, 10 June 2011

Pentecost: Sermon Preview

Peter Lockhart

A sermon based on Acts 2:1-21

The Holy Spirit descends and breathes into the disciples, and those listening, an amazing ability.

They are given the ability to speak and listen and understand languages other than the one that they speak.

At its base level I believe that this description of the day of Pentecost is a reversal of the confusion set upon human beings at the tower Babel, a story found in the book of Genesis Chapter 11.

In summary the story of the tower of Babel goes like this.

“Up until this point in the Bible, the whole world had one language - one common speech for all people. The people of the earth became skilled in construction and decided to build a city with a tower that would reach to heaven. By building the tower they wanted to make a name for themselves and also prevent their city from being scattered.

God came to see their city and the tower they were building. He perceived their intentions, and in His infinite wisdom, He knew this "stairway to heaven" would only lead the people away from God. He noted the powerful force within their unity of purpose. As a result, God confused their language, causing them to speak different languages so they would not understand each other. By doing this, God thwarted their plans. He also scattered the people of the city all over the face of the earth.”

In one sense then I see the Day of Pentecost as a reversal of this story. It is a sign that human beings are reconciled again to God. A reconciliation that is understood to occur by the disciples through what Jesus does. So whilst understanding comes through shared communication it is not the shared communication that draws human being back towards God and each other.

So, and this is a big so, whilst shared understanding is given as a sign of reconciliation with God, the reversal of the Tower of Babel, onlookers of the event fail to understand it, even though they can see and hear in their own language, “they must be filled with new wine!” In other words, “they are drunk!”

One of our greatest problems as humanity is our inability to understand one another, even when we speak the same language. You only have to observe politicians and the issues that humanity is confronting to understand this.

What I find particularly disturbing is our inability to hear those who may be speaking a word of prophecy amongst us. During the week I heard a report about the death threats being levelled at climate scientists in Australia.

These scientists are speaking the same language as those listening: but is the problem that people don’t want to listen? Is it because people cannot see beyond the meal on their table and the roof over their head?

The hopeful, yet naive, notion that J.F.K propounded in the 1960s was :

“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

When we as human beings fail to listen, to really listen, even when we are given a common language, how can we place so much faith in ourselves?

The Spirit was poured out to give an opportunity to witness to God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ. The shared language on that day was a sign of what God was doing, but what is clear to me is that even with a common language we as human beings are still confused and more often than not even selfish bunch, we are all at sea.

The witness of the disciples was that it was because of God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ that we have become reconciled to God and one another and it is only when we find some unity in this proclamation that it can make any sense. It is this which becomes our hope, not the amazing gifts we may have to share with one another, but the God who through the Spirit and in Christ is present at work in and through us giving us hope even when we are misunderstood and sneered at as drunkards.

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