On 20th May, the Feast of Pentecost, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 104:26-35, Acts 2:1-21 and John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15.
Anyone who has contact with small children will soon find out that waiting is a very difficult thing for them to do. They live very much in the now and would much prefer that any special event could happen now, rather than some time in the future. Add to that the fact that the concept of time passing is often somewhat shaky in a child, and we soon have a rather difficult situation. Many parents (and grandparents) resort to saying how many ‘sleeps’ there will be until the special occasion. That works well with our granddaughter Emily because she can count accurately, forwards and backwards. Her latest question is about how long until she goes into the next class at school. As that’s going to be at the beginning of September, she’ll need to count down from about a hundred!
As we look back to that Feast of Pentecost described by Luke, we find the disciples in a state of waiting. According to Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven, he told the disciples to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high”. At the beginning of the book of Acts, the disciples were gathered in an upper room, perhaps THE upper room, in Jerusalem along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ brothers. We’re told that they spent their time in prayer.
The disciples had no idea how long they needed to wait. They hadn’t been given a number of sleeps to count down to the big day when the promised power would come to them. As it turns out, it was ten days and nights. Waiting, especially when there is no definite end in view, has a tension in it, a constant alertness for any change that might indicate something is happening. I imagine that time must have felt very long indeed.
Of course, for God for whom a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years a day, the time was not a problem at all. As time-bound humans we may struggle rather like small children when we are waiting for God to act, but God’s timing is perfect, as it was on this occasion. There couldn’t have been a better time for the Holy Spirit to come upon the apostles. The Feast of Weeks, as Pentecost was also called, was one of the three annual festivals of the Jews. It was a harvest festival and also celebrated the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. Every male Israelite was supposed to appear at the sanctuary on that day. This explains why people from many nations were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
If you read the story carefully, it was the very fact that people heard the disciples telling of God’s deeds of power in their various native languages which drew the crowd together. Only then did Peter have an opportunity to address that vast crowd, with the result that 3000 people were added to the brand-new church on its first day. God had got all the details right. Those three thousand were from all over the world and they took the Good News home with them. By the time of Paul’s missionary journeys, the Gospel message had already reached many of the places he visited.
Now here we are gathered, two thousand years later, the product of that first Christian Pentecost. As Joel prophesied, the Holy Spirit has been made available to everyone, not just to the Jews, or to men, or to the rich, or the educated, or the particularly pious, but to everybody, including us. As Peter quoted: ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Like the disciples in that period between Ascension Day and Pentecost we, the community which is Anglicans of Second Life, have been waiting. We’ve been waiting for 329 sleeps since I first told the Leadership Team that I was sure God had told me to step down from my role in AoSL. That’s a long time to wait and as the time has ticked, I think for many of us the tension has risen. We had no way of knowing what God had in mind as the next step, just as the disciples had no way to know quite what the future held for them. We could only trust that God is faithful. Like the disciples, we turned to prayer knowing that that was pretty much all we could do. God’s timing is still perfect, and he has brought new volunteers along to take this ministry into its next phase, albeit very much at the eleventh hour.
We too have a whole world, the virtual world of SL, which needs to hear us speaking about God’s deeds of power. Some of us may need to use our ability to speak other languages to share that Good News. We’re called to take the Good News to all the different cultures which make up SL. We must make no distinction between avatars, furry, tiny, child, adult; behind each is a person loved by God, who longs to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If we are to do this task, we will need as much of the Holy Spirit as God is prepared to give us. We need the Spirit’s wisdom and help to speak words of power and of comfort to those who need to hear them. We need the Spirit’s guidance as we develop this ministry. Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide the disciples into all truth and that’s essential so that we don’t take a wrong turn or mislead anyone.
As I said earlier, those who listened to Peter on that very special Day of Pentecost had a very important role to play in the growth of the church. Had all the work been left to the twelve apostles, or even the 120 who gathered in Jerusalem, the church would not have grown anything like as well as it did. It was those 3000 new converts who made all the difference. Every member of AoSL has a part to play, not just the Leadership Team, or Worship Leaders, or Pastoral Carers, or Technicians. Every member is needed.
I urge you in the days and weeks ahead to keep those in leadership on Epiphany Island in your prayers. Pray for an outpouring of the Spirit on each one. But keep yourself in your prayers too, that you also may experience the Holy Spirit in your life and be led to play your part in what God is doing through this ministry.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor