Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Pentecost 2019, (year C)
Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8: 14-17 & St John 14:8-17
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
The Spirit of Liberation
‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind of God swept over the face of the waters’ (Genesis 1:1)
Since the beginning of time, the Spirit of God has moved upon our multiverse, bringing life out of chaos.
At the baptism of our Lord in the river Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove; and as we read in Acts 2: on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles and believers were gathered in one place, a rushing wind swept through the house where they were meeting, and tongues of fire rested on each one of them and they began to speak in different languages.
The birth of the Christian Church happened at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came, imparting many languages so that all gathered were speaking in different tongues; as a divine sign that God’s Kingdom of grace, justice, non-violence and peace was not meant to be confined to one people’s group; to one language or nation; but was meant for the whole world.
God’s purpose and plan was always to reach the whole world with His message of love and forgiveness. His desire was always that his kingdom would be one where all are welcome.
The OT records of how God chose the people of Israel through whom he would make himself known to the world. He chose and called the children of Israel to be a people through whom his love, justice and compassion would be revealed. Israel was chosen to be a light to the nations, a blessing to the world, a visible sign of the covenant of God between himself and humanity; but God’s plan was never to end there. His plan was always to reveal and open his love not only to the Jews, but to the whole of creation. This is what Pentecost signifies; the out-breaking of God’s spirit beyond the confines of one people; to embrace the world.
Pentecost turned the ancient world on its head, for the Apostles and disciples, empowered and emboldened by the resurrection and the out-pouring of God’s spirit into their hearts; now follow courageously in the footsteps of their Lord and Saviour, even to the point of death.
As church tradition tells us, all the apostles were martyred for their faith; the only exception was the apostle John; who was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil in Rome when he refused to renounce his faith, which he miraculously survived. Not knowing what to do with him, and slightly in fear at what had happened, he is banished to solitary confinement on the island of Patmos, where he writes the book of Revelation. Some say he got off lightly… I’ll leave that for you to decide…
But think about Peter. The disciple who had denied Jesus three times. The disciple who had fled the scene of the cross in fear of his life.
Post-resurrection Peter is a different man. He is emboldened and empowered; and travels round Asia Minor and Rome, enduring beatings, imprisonment and hardship for the gospel. In Acts 5:41 it says that Peter and his fellow apostles ‘rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the gospel’.
Peter is eventually crucified, but he asks to be crucified upside down, as he does not count himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner that his saviour was.
What a transformation.
Some years ago, whilst staying with some priests in El Salvador, I spent an evening talking and listening to their recollections of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was bishop during the tumultuous late 1970s, when the country was descending into brutal civil war. Oscar Romero had been put in place by the military junta, because he was well known as a conservative priest who would not cause too much trouble to the military government. At the time many Salvadoran priests were speaking out against the atrocities being inflicted by the military on its own people, but Oscar Romero was not one of them; until he began to meet families of those who had been torn apart by violence, when he began to talk and listen to those who were suffering under the crushing injustice and violence of military rule. When he saw the suffering of the Salvadoran people he began to speak up on their behalf, and from then on he was a marked man. On the 24th of March 1980, he was shot dead by a member of an extreme right-wing death squad whilst celebrating mass.
Oscar Romero had spoken up for those without voice, for those who had been tortured and imprisoned, he spoke up against poverty and injustice, seeing in the marginalised the very image of our God.
In his book Voice of the Voiceless he wrote: “when the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises”.
Oscar Romero’s eyes had been opened to the suffering of his people, and he had been set free from the mindset which had imprisoned him, when he did not speak up or use his influence to help the most vulnerable.
The Spirit of God always brings boldness. The Spirit of God always brings compassion and love for those around us. The Holy Spirit always opens our eyes to the suffering of others. The Spirit of God always draws us deeper into the heart of God, so that we are transformed from the inside.
Where the spirit of God is, there is liberty.
Where the spirit of God is, there is hope.
Where the spirit of God is, there is healing.
Where the spirit of God is, there is resurrection life.
And we are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that our lives and our world can be changed. And we are called to not only be filled with the Spirit, but to bear the fruits of the Spirit; which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Will you open your hearts up to the Holy Spirit afresh this morning?
Will you be renewed and transformed in your most inner being?
Will you allow the spirit of God to bring love in the place of fear, healing in the place of wounds, compassion instead of harshness; forgiveness for others instead of bitterness?
So, let us come to God anew, casting aside all that weighs us down, and opening our hearts to him, in the knowledge that He desires to send down his Spirit on us; the Spirit of truth. The Spirit of love.
Glory be to the father, and to the son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning was now, and evermore shall be. Amen.