Getting Fired Up

Acts 2.1-8

Galatians 3.26-4.7

pentecost

A minister put a job ad in the local paper. The plan was for an all-round handyman who could fix things around the church and do the routine maintenance.

The very next morning after the ad ran, a well-dressed young man came and asked to speak to the minister. The pastor “sized up” the chap… and then asked him a flurry of questions:

 

– Can you start the boiler? “Yes!” Can you be here by 7 a.m.  every morning? “Yes!”
– Can you polish the silver and do woodwork “Yes!”
– Can you keep things tidy and mow the grass? “Yes Sir!”

 

And the minister continued: “And, of course, there will be electrical problems and unexpected leaking pipes and toilets overflows and…

Wait a minute! The young man interrupted, “I came here to make arrangements for my wedding. But if it’s going to be like that, I think I’ll just forget the whole thing!”

 

Well, the Holy Spirit’s coming was a bit like that story. You knew there was a punchline coming, but not what it was.

 

So, my question – what was the Holy Spirit’s punchline?

 

Well, the day that the spirit came gives us a clue. For Pentecost was the Jewish festival of harvest long before it had Christian significance. The name itself means 50 days – or 50 days after the Passover. Let’s then look for a harvest within the punchline of the Spirit. Let us look for a good harvest after Easter.

 

Our reading today from the Book of Acts tells of one fruiting of the Spirits’ bestowal. It was the gift of languages. Of course, we cannot fully understand how all the various Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem could understand the words of the apostles. In fact, it would serve little value to speculate. Nevertheless, the why of the bestowal of tongues is obvious. Since, it was to show that the divisions in humanity were coming to an end. It was to illustrate that the message of the life of Jesus is of everyone. That the power of the risen Christ is available to all humanity. For, the spirit comes to aid, comfort and encourage all who is God-fearing. The tongues then of the Spirit are indeed of fire.

 

Certainly, this was the very type of language that Paul was using on the Galatians. As we have talked about over the last few weeks, this nascent Christian community was riven down the middle with the desire for rules and regulations. As a result, they were divided one from another. And so, Paul gives them a telling off as we heard last week. Because he writes to them – there is neither Jew or Greek, male or female or slave or free in Christianity only brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

And to make his case, Paul uses an argument that would have been strange to the pagan ears of 1st century. For they were used to gods being arbitrary, very human and decidedly unruly. This concept they used to explain the vagaries in their lives. Since, to them, this was the natural outcome of being the gods ‘playthings.

 

Even the Jewish people who knew the true God felt that there was a divine law had to be kept if they as a people were to show devotion.

 

Paul, however tells the Galatians the good news. For the gospel is always that we are not subject to any perceived divine law. We are not the slaves of a quixotic God. Instead we are a family under a God. Moreover, through his loving concern, we can call him – Abba – daddy in our parlance.

 

Why is that important. Because no truly loving parent constrains a child with silly boundaries. No mum or Dad express their power through insignificant rules. No father stifles their offspring with shackles simply to show their own control. No- every parent with their salt uses only rules for a child’s safety and well-being. They only direct for the benefit of whole family and its members.

 

So isn’t then a matter of ‘nanny knows best’ but the Spirit knows better than we do. Moreover, we usually need all the advice we can get.

 

What then might the Spirit be guiding us into today?

 

The well-known author and preacher Fred Craddock tells a thought-provoking story. A few years ago, he was a guest teacher at a theological college. Just before the first lecture, one of the students stood up and said, “Before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal.” The room grew silent. Craddock said he looked around for the Dean! He was nowhere to be found.
The student continued with his quiz right in front of everybody. Craddock was taken aback, and so he said, “Do you mean do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?” He said, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” Craddock said, “Are you asking me if I am charismatic?” the student said, “I am asking you if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” He said, “I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “I don’t know what your question is.” The student said as he stomped out, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal.”

 

Well that story reminds in this week, in particular, there are many who would seek to exploit our divisions. There are those who would rather drown out the quiet voice of sense with their own raucous tongue. Moreover, there are even some whose only message is to give a lie to us claiming we are living in a post-truth age.

 

So, let us again be energised by those tongues of fire. Let the Spirit guide us through the storm of noise to the voices of those who need us most to hear. Let the Spirit aid us to look beyond language, creed or race to what we, the Church, can do and be for them. Let the fiery spirit embolden us to speak for that truth which cannot be superseded; that gospel truth that under Christ we are not slaves but children of God and heirs to his kingdom.

 

Let then this week, each bare the fruit of our common language. Let each light up with the Spirit’s fire. Let us each be the gospel’s child.

 

Amen

 

Offering while Don plays

 

 

 

 

 

Safe home!

breakingGalatians 3.23-29

On Tuesday morning, one traumatized mother and daughter in Manchester said – they just wanted to get home where they would be safe. We too tend to think of home as a place of safety even of peace. It is our castle, refuge and fortress. Or as Mary Jac wrote:

 

May angels fly with you wherever you roam,

And guide you back safely to family and home.

 

 

Yet if we leave it as a citadel, we may find that we only have a house and not home.

Since a home is not directly equated to walls, roofs, patios and double glazing. In truth, we all know that our homes are much more than that. For we turn houses into our homes by making them places of happy memories. Places of growing and celebration and reunions.  Buildings usually become true homes where people feel included and include.

 

Paul knew that. And that is why he corrects the Galatians so firmly. Because not only were some needing utter obedience to the Jewish law to be a Christian, there also seems to have been racial and social barriers being thrown up as well. Put bluntly, their house was not a place of inclusion for all. It wasn’t a place of welcome for all. And so, it wasn’t a home to all.

 

Why?

 

Well, Paul mentions several divisions in his text. In Christianity, for him there are neither Greek nor Jew, male or female, free or slave.

 

Let’s think about the later – neither free or slave.

Now strange as it may seem to us today, Paul does not directly comment on his slave owning culture. In fact, we cannot be certain about his feelings towards slavery; it may well be he accepted it as just part of ancient Mediterranean life. But what he would not accept was that there was a different degree of humanity between free and slave. To him, Galatians whoever they were, had become one in Christ. They had been forged into one home congregation not by their rule keeping or social status but by including and being included by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone.

 

Well of course we do not live in a society with legal slavery nowadays.  Yet whilst we cannot see that extreme division in our community, there are many other divisions. There are many who are included and excluded due to various unspoken rules and regulations. There are many who do not feel hugely home across our nation.

What is to be done?

 

I don’t know about you, but I do feel God close by when I am in the countryside or some great cathedral. But it is at home that I feel most intimate with him. For there is a great truth in the tapestry sampler so often seen on the Victorian wall. It said – Jesus is the silent guest every room and witness to every conversation.

 

If then we are to make our community a home, we need to include and be included, we need to help others grow towards their celebrated reunion with their creator. Above all, we need to free the slaves of loneliness, fears and difference. And we do that by welcoming them into a building that Christ is not a guest but the home-owner.

 

Something of this sort of welcome can be envisaged by the response to Steve Jones, one of the two homeless men who rushed to the Arena in Manchester on Monday night to help the wounded and dying.

 

I am pleased to tell you not only has a public appeal raised £20,000 for him but the owner of West Ham Football Club is giving him 6 months’ rent-free accommodation and he has even had a job offer.

 

Let us then rebuild our common community with inclusion for all. Let’s not get bound up in rules and practices and offer a safe harbour to neighbours in Christ. Let us not wait until evil strikes again in any place before we are angels of good, apostles of welcome and heirs to another sampler saying – Home is where your day begins.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following Apple?

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With Apple reporting record profits, most commentators are asking just one question – what’s next? Since the legendary technology giant is faced with only two futures. One is coming up with a revolutionary new product which will again dominate the market. Or simply, going downwards. Tim Cook’s team then must be toiling 24/7 to find ‘what’s next’ or lose their position as King of the Castle. For, as Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates says – his fear is missing the next turn in the road.

 

So, which turn did the Church miss? Was it the increase in Sunday activities, s decline in organised religion or even the blossoming in options for entertainment? Well, it could have been much earlier. It could have been when television mushroomed from a one-channel wonder into the all-encompassing communication platform it is today. In short, the Church did and does not do TV well!

 

From the very beginning the Church has tried to meld television onto its existing ways of doing business. As a result, we are usually offered mildly patronising congregational services spiced up by breathlessly excited presenters. Worst still, are high-brow discussion programmes where some non-media savvy cleric gets trounced by eminent humanists bent on taking chunks out of religious belief in any form.

 

Even the idea of one congregation sending SMS comments to the preacher during the sermon misses the point. Because it is not the interactivity that is misplaced, it is the concept of the sermon itself. Where else would people sit through a lengthy monologue without visual aids other than the odd political meeting or in lecture theatre?

 

Let’s then consider how we use the huge opportunities of social and multimedia for their own strengths and not cobble them on our own cherished if outmoded worship practices. This means using words, images, audio and video in a coherent and stimulating whole that communicates the gospel concisely. As an illustration, I give you the many outstanding documentaries now being shown on such difficult topics as cosmology, physics and ecology.

Is this means of communication easy? – no it isn’t! However, neither is foreseeing the next bend in the road; a bend if missed could mean the Church coming off humanity’s superhighway entirely.

 

 

 

 

How did Poloroid do it?

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Do you remember the Polaroid camera?

This amazing invention by Edwin Land that gave photographs in 60 seconds.  In fact, my school friend’s father had one for his business.  I still remember the thrill of peeling back the paper cover to see the image taken a few moments before.  Of course, the film’s cost was horrendous. Yet those acrid smelling pictures were truly magical. This technology is gone however; overtaken like most film cameras by the digital revolution.

And so, just as I asked recently about the fate of Kodak, I wondered too of Polaroid? Then I realised that my cell phone charger was made by none other than Polaroid.  Thinking about it, I realised that there were many of their products in my supermarket’s gadget isle. So, Polaroid has survived when other others such as Ilford and Agfa had not.

 

Good on them, but how?

 

Well, Polaroid’s mission statement explains:

Polaroid has been a trusted global brand for 80 years and is best known for pioneering instant photography. We embrace the nostalgia inherent in our past, allowing us to embrace old technologies through new technologies and beyond.

 

I rather like the idea of embracing the past but then using it to make things new in the future. The Church could learn from this vision. For, if we wish to bring people and Christ’s Kingdom closer together, then our ’products’ need to be constantly evolving. Put more brutally, gone should be panics over finding new members, more off-the-self services and fund-raising to be replaced with styles of worship and community that are radically more suited to the digital 21st Century. Since an openness to new ways of working would free us up to do better with less. It would help us give priority to the ‘why’ instead of the ‘how’.

 

So, what did for the instant Land camera? Ultimately the smartphone with its lens that gives truly instant images. The irony is that it could well be powered with a Polaroid charger.

That’s how they did it!

 

Do you understand?

Do you understand?

 

Acts 8.26-40

 

One of my favourite visits when we are on holiday in Durham is the local air museum. Very much a self-help operation, there is a certain air of how things used to be before electronic screens. This sense is heightened by their reconstruction of a wartime street. In a kitchen, an aproned woman is baking with earthenware bowls and an enamelled gas cooker. The air raid warden’s hut and Anderson Shelter give a reminder of the nation being ‘all together’ facing a common foe. And the toyshop’s window displays metal Meccano – now there’s memory from the past!

 

i12011And after a few moments, it is easy to say – those were simpler times, those were better times and then the real clanger –those were safer times. For one door lies ajar and it tempts you to push it open – only to find the undertaker on the other side. Those war years then were not safer times – they were indeed very dangerous times. This however doesn’t stop us from searching for that cheapest item of eye wear – rose-tinted spectacles.

 

Now nostalgia fuel myopia was certainly a risk facing the early apostles.

 

For, with the death of Christ, our faith’s ancestors faced a cross roads. They could have sought the apparent safety of a socially walled-off group within their exclusive parent religion. They could have cultivated the delicious ‘them and us’ syndrome that effects all sects.  They could indeed have run back to the known and possibly safer past.

 

Or – or they could grasp the alternative. They could break out into the risks of a new world; a future of hostility and opportunity. Put more directly, they could step out bravely into tomorrow.

Obviously, this would mean a geographical journey across the lands of the ancient Roman world. But it also meant a sociological journey across the boundaries between peoples, life styles, personalities and attributes. It meant, in fact, finding new ways of worshipping, living and witnessing.

 

Since – you see – the Ethiopian official in Acts would have been a different race, culture and class than Philip. It would therefore have been very easy for him to have seen this rather exotic character at a distance and let him pass. But he did not, he took courage from the spirit and did the right thing. He leapt the wall that divided them and ask the question – do you understand what you are reading?

In return, and to the Ethiopian’s credit, he pushed his pride to one side and asked for help from a foreigner. Help to understand the prediction of the good news of Jesus Christ for all peoples.  And so, the outcome of this interchange was a baptism and the message carried outward – carried forward into the future; the future where we live now.

 

We too can blind ourselves with rose-tinted spectacles and hanker for a past of packed churches complete with overflowing Sunday Schools.  We can hunger for everyone wanting to do church in the same way. And many Christian communities still look to this reminiscence as safe and sure and cosy.

 

However, it no longer exists any more than the whole family sitting around the steam radio listening to news from foreign fronts. Instead, our world today is multi-screened, multi-coloured and multi-choice – so let’s embrace it with the Spirit – let’s step out with courage – let’s get on with the job of being the future.

 

Yet even if we want to modern day Philips, we are unsure how to access this future. And the answer lies in those questions – do you understand what you are reading?  And, can you explain it to me?

 

A first-year student in a seminary was told by the dean that he should plan to preach the sermon in chapel the following day. He had never preached a sermon before, he was nervous and afraid, and he stayed up all night, but in the morning, he didn’t have a sermon. He stood in the pulpit, looked out at his classmates and said, “Do you know what I am going to say?” All of them shook their heads “no” and he said “Neither do I. The service has ended. Go in peace.”

The dean was not happy. “I’ll give you another chance tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, he stayed up all night; and again he couldn’t come up with a sermon. Next morning, he stood in the pulpit and asked, “Do you know what I am going to say?” The students all nodded their heads “yes.” “Then there is no need to tell you” he said. “The service has ended. Go in peace.”

Now the dean was angry. “I’ll give you one more chance; if you don’t have a sermon tomorrow, you will be asked to leave.” Again, no sermon came. He stood in the pulpit the next day and asked, “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of the students nodded “yes” and the other half shook their heads “no.” The student preacher then announced “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended. Go in peace.”

The seminary dean walked over to the student, put his arm over the student’s shoulders, and said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. Well done!”

 

Here then is how to spread the good news of Jesus Christ today. Here is how we can break down the barriers of difference that so many are rushing to build up. Here indeed is how to make our faith live in this 21sr Century.

 

For we need to ask each other – do you understand? And where we hear ‘yes’ let us hear a resounding proclamation of the gospel’s experience. But where we hear ‘No’ – let us give witness from the depths of our own understanding. Our knowledge that Christ came for all humanity and creation. That Christ lives so that his presence can guide and sustain even when life is flinging its worst at us. That Christ is alive, that his church is not a museum and his people are moving forward.

 

So, this day – if you do not understand, then ask.

 

If you know, then say.

 

For then the gospel is preached, the kingdom is brought near and the past is made fresh for the future.

 

The sermon is ended – now, preach one to another.