A word to the Wise: Teach the hearts of thy faithful people

Readings for Morning Prayer Pentecost, Year A

Genesis 11:1-9

Acts 10:34-48

Today is Pentecost or in old language ‘Whitsun’

So called because the coming of the holy spirit was associated with baptism and this was a great day for baptism – when of course those to be baptised wore white.

Indeed, we have had a baptism here this morning

‘But why then’, you may say, ‘is the liturgical colour red?’

The colour of fire but also the colour of blood – the colour associated with a saint who dies a martyr’s death.

And there is an alternative etymology for Whitsun

That the word comes not from white but rather from ‘wit’

Meaning wisdom –vision –skill

For the feast of Pentecost is when wisdom and vision and skill came to the Apostles.

The disciples were gathered together to celebrate the Festival of Weeks or Shavuot – when the Jews celebrated the first fruits of the harvest but also the giving of the law to the Jews on Mt Sinai.   This day fell 50 days after Passover so penteconta (Greek for 50) became our Pentecost.

This was the day when the Apostles went from being a bunch of talentless and despised no hopers – fishermen, tax collectors and tentmakers to be Saints Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew and Paul

Lives which would, by tradition, at least all end in a violent death.  Preaching the Gospel of peace handed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, has always been hazardous undertaking.

 

Earlier this morning we had a geography lesson and looked at how the Jews from all over the eastern Mediterranean were gathered in Jerusalem and could understand the Gospel message as spoken by Peter (Acts 2)

It was the very opposite of Babel

Instead of a loss of knowledge and communication – there was an explanation for the meaning of the history of Israel from the time of Moses and the giving of the first law through to the Joel and the prophets

There was the ability to communicate that meaning to all

It seems to me that we are at a point where we have a decision to make: whether to put up our walls and to stop talking to people of other nations, or else to listen to them and try to understand them

We see today the issues which arise when people see the world in a different way

It was no different when it was the IRA, the Red Brigades, the Baader -Meinhof Gang – people who saw the world in a different way

How do we remove such communication issues?

We must surely talk, not close ourselves off

We must inter-act

We must not allow a return to Babel

But rather proclaim a new Pentecost when people hear anew the message of peace and equality of all before God which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ

This is a universal truth outside of all doctrine, all ritual – outside of issues of infant versus adult baptism, outside of different versions of baptismal vows, outside of all ritual liturgy and liturgical colours.  As we learned in our reading from Acts:

the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’

We who have received that baptism should be mindful that the spirit is available to all

So let’s be inclusive – open to all – looking for the spirit in all whom we meet

For those of us who are baptised, let us use the water in the font today to remember our own baptism

Remember those whom we have brought to baptism – children, god-children

Remember too the lessons of the complex imagery of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

  • We might need a bit of new fire – of kindling the flame, breathing on the embers of our hearts
  • A new wind to give us a new direction- breathing of new life into our lungs and our lives
  • Water to wash away our transgressions and refresh our lips to sing new praise
  • A new light to show us the way in the dark recesses of our lives
  • A fire to melt our hard hearts and forge them into one in strength and solidarity removing the dross of our lives so that we might live in the spirit with good ‘wit’ and right judgement

As our Collect has it:

O God, who on this day
didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people
by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit:
Grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgment in all things,
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the same Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

(BCP Collect for Whitsun)

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Martin’s Epsom,
Choral Mattins on the Feast of Pentecost, 4th June, 2017