Sunday, May 11, 2008

Getting out of the Ghetto

Pentecost Sunday is celebrated by Christians throughout the world - but Pentecost did not begin as a Christian festival.

Pentecost was originally an Old Testament festival called the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. This was a Spring festival that took place 50 days after Passover – therefore the Greek Pente for 50. This was a thanksgiving for the "first fruits" of the early harvest. It was a moment when the community affirmed their trust in God as the provider of Life. And this was done in two ways:
1. People brought the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple. This was an act of trust: you brought the first of the harvest – as an act of trust that there would be a completed harvest.
2. You did not harvest the whole field: the edges were left for the widows and orphans. These signs of generosity spoke about a generous God who gives the harvest.

By the time of Jesus, Pentecost had gradually lost its association with agriculture - and became a celebration of Jewish religious history and the gift of the Torah (the "Law") on Mount Sinai. This was the moment when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments – and the people became a nation under God.

With time the people of God had forgotten to use Pentecost as a witness to the generosity of God – and had instead allowed this to become a time of religious pride: which sometimes led to poor people (like the widows and the orphans) being excluded, because they did not have the education or the money for the religious rituals. So here was a festival that should have spoken about God’s generosity, being subverted to become a time of pride in the achievement of a nation.

I do not believe that it was accidental that the Holy Spirit’s blessing should come on the festival of Shavuot. Here we see a renewal of the festival of Pentecost... this is a moment when God comes to this festival and reminds people of things that they have forgotten.

Acts Chapter 2 uses very specific language to describe this event: The Spirit of God brings renewal in a number of different ways:
1. A wind: this is an ancient sign called Ruach in the Old Testament: which can be translated as “Wind” – and also as “Breath” and as “Spirit”. So we see God deciding to breathe new breath into Pentecost / blow a fresh wind through the cobwebs of a stale religious ritual and bring fresh air.
2. A fire: again this is an ancient sign of the presence of God: Moses knew that he stood in God’s presence because he saw a fire burning a bush, or saw a pillar of fire leading the people. So we see God sending his fire - perhaps a fire that could melt cold, hardened hearts that have forgotten Pentecost as a time of generosity to the poor.
3. Many tongues spoken: this is a reminder that God is not the exclusive property of one culture: here is the reminder that God comes for people of all the languages of the earth.

So we celebrate Pentecost.... along with millions of other Christian people .... and along with millions of God’s people from before the time of Jesus.
I am inviting us to discover the wind, and the fire and the tongues of the Pentecostal renewal as it is described in the book of Acts:

1. Wind
Hear the invitation to allow the Spirit of God to blow the religious cobwebs away:
It is so easy to become like the people of God in the time of Jesus – easy to take on the form of religion that has lost the life renewing joy of religion.... where our beliefs have become religious habits.
We can become religious experts that are not open to the promptings of a God who takes us into new places.

Use today to ask: “I wonder where God is prompting me to change?”

2. Fire
Hear the invitation to allow the Spirit of God to soften our hearts.
Again it is so easy to become like the people of God in the time of Jesus – easy for us to be religious people without loving hearts.

Use today to ask “I wonder where the Spirit of God needs to soften my hard heart”

3. Tongue
Hear the invitation to allow the Spirit of God to gather together a variety of tongues. We live in a suburb that speaks many different languages: and the Spirit of God calls us to reach out to all who live here – English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Portugese, Shona......

Use today to ask: “I wonder what language the Spirit asks me to encounter”

In Conclusion
In north Yorkshire in England is a place called Robin Hood’s Bay:
An ancient church lies on the brow of the hill above the village.
It was built at a time that smugglers wrecked ships on the coast.
It was built at a time when the church owned the whole hill.
And I wondered if the smugglers ever got into church?

If they did I know exactly where they sat: because
Inside the church the wealthy people bought boxes of seats for their families:
And right at the back are two rows marked as “sinner’s seats”.

Today the church stands empty....
Except that right at the back hangs a cobweb laden object from the roof: it is a funeral wreath from the funeral of a virgin.
Symbolic of the need for the wind of the holy spirit to blow away the cobwebs and bring new life...
- to bring a church that welcomes all people – even those who do not have the money to pay pew rent
- to bring a church that does not need a funeral wreath to remember a time when there were young people.

Hear in this our own warning:
• Beware the moment when we fret about who sits in what pew on a Sunday, or who has use of what hall in the week – the wind of God’s Spirit might just blow us out of our seats and put other people here.
• Beware the day that our church organisations and our church rituals are more important than the people who are to be found in and around our buildings: the fire of the Spirit might just melt our cold hearts.... and send us to people we do not yet know.
• Beware the day we think that we are a one language, one culture church... the power of the Spirit might just give us many other tongues instead.

So let me invite us to be open to the moving of the Spirit in our lives, in the life of our church, and in the world where the church has died.

1 comment:

Scout with the Cross said...

Rock on Pete!!