Sermon for Sunday, 28 May 2023 – Pentecost
By Revd George Mwaura[Bible readings: Acts 2: 1–21 and John 20: 19–23]
Every preacher would love to have the kind of response to a sermon that Peter had on the Day of Pentecost. Three thousand people had their lives profoundly changed and were added to the Church. For most of them, it was a change that would make them a pariah in their communities, some, would go on to die for their faith. Their faith was not a wishy-washy affair; oh no, it involved a complete commitment to the Word of God.
There is a gravestone in the churchyard of a congregational church in Bolton on which are carved these words about a man named Allan Jolley: ‘He was not a particularly religious man, but in all other respects he was an ideal churchman.’ How do you do that? I mean, how can you be an ideal churchperson without being particularly religious? I am not sure exactly, but I suspect that could be said of many people who attend Christian churches these days.
I take it you are familiar with the leaning tower of Pisa, yes? It leans almost twenty feet out of perpendicular. Somehow, when the architect was planning that tower, he designed a l79-foot tall structure, that had only a ten-foot foundation. No wonder it leans! To me, the tower of Pisa is like a person who is not particularly religious, but in all other respects, an ideal churchwoman or churchman. He or she has an inadequate foundation.
The three thousand people who heard Peter preach that day went to the disciples and asked, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ This was a critical point in their lives. Would they be ideal church women and men, but not particularly religious? Would they have a tiny foundation under a tall structure? ‘What shall we do?’ they asked. ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ These concrete steps constitute a proper response to the good news of Jesus Christ. They are the vital signs for a healthy faith. Let’s begin with repentance.
In our world today, many people don’t want to hear about repentance, somehow; it’s for others and not for them. They are like the young girl who said to her mother, ‘Mom, the number-one problem in the world today is climate change. Everybody knows that, except our preacher; he thinks the number-one problem is sin.’ I disagree, young lady, and in support of your preacher, let me point out that the human contribution to global warming is as a result of sin. God has made us stewards of this earth, but we have been abundantly careless. It is sin that leads us to consume without care and to kill the biotic creatures who share this earth with us. The sad thing is that some of us do not want to acknowledge our need of repenting this sin. And yet, as we look in horror at the climate crisis, the destruction of life by alcohol and drugs, the scandals that have come from our churches, businesses and government, we are led to believe that repentance is indeed a universal need.
I read recently about the death of a gigantic tree in North America. It was such an old tree that some experts believe it was probably a seedling when Christopher Columbus first saw the Americas in 1492. A close study revealed that the tree was struck by lightning some fourteen times. However, lightning did not burn that tree down. Cold winters did not destroy it. Age did not kill it. Fires did not consume it. No, according to the news report, this enormous tree was finally overcome by beetles. Tiny bugs that anyone could crush ten of them between your fingers. And yet, these little unobserved beetles brought down this mighty tree.
That is a parable of our times. As Solomon wrote in his second song, it is the little foxes that eat the vines. There is a universal need for repentance because those tiny, tiny sins build up. Perhaps repentance is your need this morning. I don’t know! The people who heard Peter’s sermon asked, ‘What shall we do?’ He responded, ‘Repent!’ That is always the first step in Christian faith.
The second step in Christian faith is to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. For those of us who have already been baptised, Peter might say to us that our great need is to reaffirm our baptism daily. You may know the story of Constantine, the Roman Emperor who became a Christian in 312 ad. Having taken this step, he wanted all his soldiers to become Christians and he took them out into the river to be baptised. As they were baptised, however, he told them to hold their right hand out of the water. He wanted them to become Christians, but he didn’t want them to become such good Christians that they would stop killing enemies with their swords. Is that the kind of baptism that defines your life? Has something in your life been held out? Do you need to make a reaffirmation of your faith? Talk to me or Ernesto about it…
Finally, Peter says to the new believers, ‘Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ We all need the power to make the changes necessary for us to be everything God created us to be; and for that, we need the gift of the Holy Spirit. Usually, there are three reasons why people change. First, people change when it is more painful to remain as they are than to change. Second, we change when we find ourselves at the point of despair. You have heard people say, ‘I had to reach rock bottom before I could take hold of my life.’ At that point we change.
But there is a third motive for change known as the Eureka moment. That is, some people change because they discover much to their surprise that there is something better they have been missing. And this, my dear friends, is the message of the Gospel. There is a richer and fuller life that is available to all who will receive it. Those who heard Peter preach his great sermon knew that they had found something that would make their lives more joyous, more purposeful, and more liveable. Eureka! This is it. ‘What we shall do?’ they asked. ‘Repent’, Peter answered, ‘Be baptised. Receive the Holy Spirit’. You and I need to take each of those steps daily in our Christian walk. Why? Because they are the key to a life that is full, rich, and eternal.
May the Spirit be with us all as we sing together ‘Happy Birthday, dear Church’.