From Acts of the Apostles
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
26 O Lord,
how manifold are your works! •
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
27 There is the sea, spread far and wide, •
and there move creatures beyond number, both small and great.
28 There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan •
which you have made to play in the deep.
29 All of these look to you •
to give them their food in due season.
30 When you give it them, they gather it; •
you open your hand and they are filled with good.
31 When you hide your face they are troubled; •
when you take away their breath,
they die and return again to the dust.
32 When you send forth your spirit, they are created, •
and you renew the face of the earth.
33 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; •
may the Lord rejoice in his works;
34 He looks on the earth and it trembles; •
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
35 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; •
I will make music to my God while I have my being.
36 So shall my song please him •
while I rejoice in the Lord.
37 Let sinners be consumed out of the earth
and the wicked be no more. •
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me* for anything, I will do it.
‘If you love me, you will keep* my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in* you.[
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.]
John 14:8-17 [25-27]
Sermon for Pentecost
For this 21st century schizoid man, Paul’s ruminations we read today are difficult to understand, let alone allow us to make them our own in any easy way. Paul talks about being led by the Spirit of God, receiving a spirit of adoption as opposed to a spirit of slavery to fear.
How many people hear that sort of talk and run away? How many people just don’t see their lives in those terms at all? Maybe that is why the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church has lost its influence in the world in which it finds itself. – But I digress into that dangerous region of mission. We all need to think about mission once in a while so that when we talk about being led by the Spirit, we may actually pique curiosity and bring people with us as we wander in the wilderness of the Spirit’s procession. We need to talk of being in the Spirit as a place where we find our feet, where no one is lost for forty years, unlike the world we find ourselves day by day.
When we speak of following Christ we should enthral our listeners, not “bore” them, nor should we scare them away. Our discourse should lift their hearts, just as we have been uplifted. We have escaped the spirit of slavery, when we enter the Church, this realm of freedom. When we see ourselves as adopted in this Spirit which Christ promised at his departure on Ascension, don’t we escape all constraint?
In the Spirit we wander freely. We, however, are not aimless as we make our way in the world. We have a destination and we have set our course. Because it is not aimless, not everyone can understand our destination. The goal of our journey is quite other than that toward which the world gallops. We have taken what the philosopher calls, “an abstract turn” toward our destination.
Can anyone today truly comprehend this direction in which we move? Does anyone see our existence as the exposing the destination of our being? Does our goal make sense to our contemporaries or, even at times, to ourselves? We plot our course using a very different star from our neighbours often, and it can be very uncomfortable, if we are judged by the norms of the world.
I have just started reading At the Existentialist Café, having heard a chapter read on the radio. In the first chapter, there was a characterisation of Angst – that very beat word which describes how many feel in the very real existence which Sartre advocated. Angst was “the dizziness of absolute freedom” – not the ennui of being completely determined. Sartre’s en soi and pour soi are the two poles of all existence. The rock is the en soi, where all possibilities are closed off, as opposed to the infinite possibility which is human existence. – Sartre tells us that only the human being is not determined by anything, humanity is only defined by its own choices as individuals. This is the authentic state of being towards which Sartre exhorted all.
Doesn’t this sound like Paul? Doesn’t Paul commend greater and greater things, to be glorified with Jesus Christ, the Lord of sea and sky as the modern hymn has it, our Lord of all hopefulness as another sings. I would say that hope is the condition of infinite freedom, all possibilities are ours by our human existence. That dizziness is the intoxication of the Spirit, which can do two things to us. We can be pinned into a lethargy, that existentialist ennui which Sartre described and so many thought was the final end of humanity, and so there was the paralysis of “absurdity” within existentialist circles, espeically in the art of the time, the poetry, prose and plays.
But the drunkenness of a happy man is so very different to that – the happy drunk is the one who sees lots of possibilities in life, he sees that his glass is always half full with ever more to experience as his very own, ever more choices to make life his own. The happy drunk fears nothing, aspiring to greater and greater experience, especially with the ever-half-full glass in hand. We should welcome this dizziness of infinite possibility, shouldn’t we?
No longer is Angst anything akin to fear. No longer is the human being oppressed by a paralysing dread as he is about to choose between the alternatives of the either–or. We need not panic and freeze because of the choices we must make. Rather, we should leap into our decision and lay hold of life in all its glory. We need to journey with Christ through the desert like the Hebrews did with Moses in order to live that enriched existence which we are promised.
At The Existentialist Café, we are told how the phrase, “to the things themselves” became the watchword for Sartre and the existentialists who followed after him. Perhaps we christians should be energised by that slogan, so that the things we move toward release us from any constriction whatsoever. Perhaps the movement to the things themselves will free us from prejudice and blinkered thought.
However, what are these things themselves to which we move in this Café? What has woken us to the dizziness of absolute freedom in the Spirit?
I would say, let us like the existentialists in their Café, fix our course on the things themselves of the tradition handed down from the event of salvation, for instance the preaching of Jesus and the exposition of Paul. Let us find words which energise us and move us to that ultimate goal of life in all its fullness, that authentic existence which the existentialists extolled.
Perhaps we can begin with the phrase Paul uses to begin our journey in the Spirit – Paul uses “Abba, Father!” as the slogan to which he rallies, the word which distinguishes Christians from all others. We children of God live productive lives moving toward the Kingdom, where the values of this world are overturned and we find our final goal.
Perhaps we can experience life in all its fullness here and now, just as Jesus promised and as Paul explained. Both teach that the Spirit enlivens in a way which brings us to a new birth even if we are old. Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit there is a new life of freedom from the slavery of sin, life in all its fullness of possibility. That is the thing itself to which we should be moving and have our being.