Pentecost (Whitsun) sermon by The Very Reverend Roger Dawson,
Bishop of St. Mary’s Anglican Catholic Cathedral, Caracas
I watched the film ‘A beautiful mind’ the other night. Its subject is John Nash who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. His mathematic insights and theories are the basis for modern economic negotiations. He has become the twenty-first century equivalent of Adam Smith, but most people would say he was mad. He suffers from schizophrenia and has delusions. For example when he went to Princeton University he believed he shared his room as many students did, but in fact he lived alone; his roommate he lived with was entirely within his own mind.
Such people are scary and in them madness and genius exist side by side in a very close proximity, especially when they see life from a completely different angle that is hidden to the rest of us.
The Israelites were also aware of certain people who lived among them who exhibited unpredictable behavior. I don’t mean that they were necessarily schizophrenic or that you have to be schizoid to be clever or a genius but these were people who were untamable and it was in these people, they believed, that the Spirit of their God YHWH dwelt. They spoke his word and they led his people. They prayed for them and agonized over them, praising them one minute and rebuking them the next. They were in many instances, wild men or recluses, but they all had presence. They were charismatic, they were people of whom everyone took notice whether you liked what they said or not. In them was seen the sign of God’s care and concern for his chosen people – and then a new idea crept in to the message that was to revolutionize the religion of the world, God also loved his whole creation including the people of other races.
In the very early days of the Israelites as a discernable collective group, it did not occur to them that their God might be God of all people. Indeed they recognized the gods of the other nations as belonging to these other people. When or if they came into conflict with them it was seen as a battle between the gods as to which was the strongest as much as whose strategy or army was the most experienced. By the time we get to Jeremiah, that most controversial of all the prophets, we hear that God would come to rule all the people of the earth from greatest to least. Isaiah too had something to say on the subject and he verbally threw open the Davidic Covenant to anyone who honestly came to seek the Lord. Joel, quoted by Peter in Acts, declared that the Spirit of YHWH would be poured out on everyone no matter who they were. There was to be no special elite, it was for all young or old, rich or poor, slave or free — they would be caught up by this rushing wind of the prophetic Spirit.
The death and resurrection of Jesus had ushered in a new age and the outpouring of the Spirit was the confirmation that it had happened. Pentecost becomes the declaration of a new spiritual reality that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone. It may also be a new spiritual experience but that is not its main point. Many people, and in particular some churches, have missed this important moment when God’s history of the world turned a decisive corner. They see Pentecost as a personal spiritual experience of jabbering incoherently through the excitement of being in the Spirit and although this may be a personally rewarding occurrence it is not what Pentecost is about.
Pentecost is the start of a new era to put the world to rights in which people of every nation have a role to play; it is not a sign that we have arrived and have been saved to the exclusion of others, as some would have you believe. To prove my point just look at the language used in the New Testament. Here the newly forming church went back to the greatest of the Jewish stories, that of the Exodus. Note how Paul deliberately uses the Exodus-language to describe where Christians are in God’s story and how he emphasizes how much work there is to be done and not that we have arrived in the new age so everything is ok from now on without any input from us.
The Church was seen as being in the same position as were the Israelites when they left Egypt and were struggling through the wilderness. Here was a people led by the Spirit and assured of adoption as God’s children who have made the required effort of leaving the slavery of their past to walk towards their new inheritance. It means suffering now but they are confident that they will gain the inheritance that God has promised. Paul tells them and us that this future inheritance is not a single promised land but the whole of the redeemed creation.
All the sayings of Jesus that appear to be complex and difficult for us to understand begin to make some sense in the fact of Pentecost, ‘Whatever you ask for will be granted,’ ‘Keep my commandments,’ The Spirit of truth that the world finds incomprehensible, will be with you and in you, so that you can be sent into the world as re-embodiments of the incarnate Son, a sign of God’s care and love for the wayward world.’
With the Spirit’s personal indwelling and the fact that the world has, so to speak has, ‘turned the corner’ into a new era of God’s grace, we can know that we are on the road to the kingdom, or our inheritance, or the promised land, whichever phrase best fits your understanding.
I am sure that in the first century Jesus and his disciples appeared to others as mad as John Nash has done to his contemporaries in this century and Jeremiah and Isaiah did in theirs. Yet it is to such people that we owe the knowledge that we are children of God, loved and cared for and sustained by a Spirit that is so powerful it can only be described in words like wind and fire.