You may well be familiar with the story of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came and empowered the disciples of Jesus to go and spread the wonderful message of salvation throughout the world. On that day they were enabled to speak in the languages of many from other countries, amazing all who listened. It was a wonderful Birth Day party for the Church.
God is good at throwing parties and at encouraging us to celebrate also. Each time we meet for worship we are celebrating together. As the Cathedral draws members from many countries to worship together, it is like a little Pentecost, with people who speak several languages being enabled to hear the Word of God through translator programs if necessary. The Holy Spirit is still very much at work as we continue to spread the same message of hope.
The readings at the 2pm SLT service were Psalm 59 and Acts 2:1-21. The reflection follows.
Just over a year ago it was our son-in-law’s thirtieth birthday. The big 3 zero could not be allowed to pass without a suitable celebration. For many weeks before the event there was plotting going on. The idea was to have a surprise party that Justin didn’t know anything about.
Our daughter contacted friends and family, sometimes having to work very hard indeed to get the contact details she needed. She found it was extremely difficult to find a chance to steal Justin’s mobile phone in order to get some of the numbers she needed! Everyone was sworn to secrecy about the event. Justin was to be out of the house from early in the day, enjoying go-karting with my husband and sons and a few others. Meanwhile I and several others were party making at the house. Hundreds of balloons were blown up, banners were strung up, cake was baked, food prepared. We were very very busy. There were gazebos in the back garden and a huge bouncy castle in the front garden.
As the time drew near for Justin to arrive, we got the warning by phone and all gathered to greet him. By this time most of the guests had arrived. There was no way Justin would be able to miss seeing the bouncy castle as he approached so we all went out to stand near it and cheer. He seemed suitably surprised and climbed out of the car in something of a daze, hugging those who had come to celebrate his big day with him. It was a wonderful day that everyone remembered. We had people of all ages there. There was lots of fun and many good conversations. A great deal of food was eaten and a fair bit of wine was drunk. It was certainly worth all the effort.
Parties, celebrations, remembering, are special to us as human beings. We really don’t need much of an excuse to party. As we are made in the image of God, we have to believe that he also likes to celebrate and remember. When you read the Bible there is evidence for this. God instituted special feast days when families came together and remembered things God had done for them. The Passover reminded them of when the angel of death passed over their homes in Egypt before they escaped. Purim recalls when Esther saved the Jewish people by her bravery with the help of Mordecai. The Feast of Tabernacles was a joyful harvest festival for the fruit harvest. The festival of Pentecost was the final celebration of the seven week grain harvest, the 50th day of the season.
Today we have the reading from Acts which shows the time when Pentecost gained a new meaning. It was the birthday of the Church as the Holy Spirit came with power on those gathered in the upper room. The group of frightened followers whom Jesus had left behind became a world changing force as a result of that day. All in all, it was a pretty good party and a huge number of people wanted to join in.
Just as we did for Justin’s birthday party, God had been planning for a long time to make this party go well. The planning goes way back almost to the beginning of the Bible. God called a special people to be his chosen people. He did great things for them and he taught them to mark these special events by remembering with feasts and family gatherings. The traditions became so strong in this special people that even when they were living away from their homeland, they still returned if possible to celebrate together. A bit like the invitations which went out to friends and family to come to Justin’s birthday party, invitations had gone out as a result of tradition to the Jews all over the world and they gathered in Jerusalem.
So God had planned the party and he had invited the guests. He had chosen the venue and that’s where the guests gathered. Of course, unlike those gathering for Justin’s party, they didn’t know who would turn up. God’s meticulous planning ensured that people from all over the world were together on the day of Pentecost. Only in this way would the gift of speaking in tongues be noticed.
God didn’t just plan the place and the guest list, he also sorted out the journey for the guests. By having this party at a time of Roman occupation when the Romans were at the height of their powers, God ensured that the people who wanted to be in Jerusalem could travel safely to Jerusalem on the Roman road system and that they could travel safely home again to spread the news. One thing God did not put in place, which we did for our party, was the wine. That didn’t stop some who were there from thinking that the disciples were drunk, though if they had been the party would have had to have an early start!
God is certainly good at throwing surprise parties. His planning is brilliant and the entertainment is second to none.
As God made sure that his message was spread by all who were present that wonderful Birth Day of the Church, we have of course heard it. It has come down the years to a very different world which still needs the same message. I heard at the Christianity in the Digital Space Symposium that the first groups of peoples mentioned in this passage of Acts actually didn’t exist at the time. It was suggested that this shows that the message was spoken for people of all times as well as of all places.
I’m convinced that the existence of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life is another example of God’s brilliant planning. Like Jerusalem two millennia ago, it is a place where people of all parts of the world gather, people who speak many different languages. I know that at yesterday’s service at least three people present were using translators to follow what was going on and three people were working in English which is their second not first language. God allows his message to be shared with all those present in a language they can understand.
Every time we gather here it’s like a little Pentecost, a time of celebration of God’s goodness. Like those people who were present in Jerusalem for that first Pentecost, we each go out from here to different places in the world, whether in Second Life or Real Life. Each of us carries the message we have heard and has a responsibility to share it. Each of us is empowered by the Holy Spirit in our task just as the apostles were.
The Bible may not have any more books added to it now, but we are all part of its continuing story which began when God called Abraham to leave his home and go to a land that God would show him. Like Abraham, we don’t know where we will end up but we know who is leading us and that’s all that matters.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor