Sunday, June 8, 2014

Restoration and Renewal - a Pentecost Sermon

Someone who can write a book called Reclaiming the Sealskin has to be worth listening to.

I guess I first started having Bible reading notes when I was at Junior Church – we had a lovely little lapel badge which as I was a little older I was proud to wear.

The International Bible Reading Association is still going strong … and once again this year I find myself using their Bible reading notes.  They have taken on a new format this year – Fresh from the Word has the sub-title the Bible for a change.

And a wonderful foreword by Desmond Tutu

The Bible, he writes, is not some dry and dusty list of rules.  It is the story of how we are created good in God’s eyes, how that goodness was damaged, and ho wwholeness is ours with God.  Depravity came into the world through individual choices, drip by drip. The Bible is an invitation to wholeness instead of brokenees.  We can choose wholeness and a life of beauty.  We can choose to work for peace in the small choices that face us each day.  Each of us has the dignity fo these choices, whether we are rich or poor, from the global North or South, in prios onr not.  The Bible shows us how.   It is about peace and reconcliaion.  It is about jstice in your neighbourhood. It is about joy and laughter.

The IBRA, Desdmond Tutu goes on to say has a rich history.  It goes all the way back to the evangelical revival in the nineteenth century and the creation of Sunday schools and public education for all.

We are created by God to be a blessing.

The key word for Desomnd tut is association – we need each other.

And so it is that this last week Annie Heppenstall, author of Reclaiming the Seal skin has been the writer of our Bible reading notes/  Her books are published by the Iona community’s Wild Goose publications, she lives and works in Birmingham and is a teacher and counsellor.

Her readings have been around the theme of ‘the Greening Spirit’  An intriguing title.

The Spirit restores life to decaying creation.

Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit is all about new life, restoration of things that hage fallen apart.

It has a power on a collective scale – on the level of us coming together in association with each other.

it is about the beginnings of the church – how great to celebrate birthdays today!

On the day of Pentecost the followers of Jesus are behind locked doors because they are living in a destructive time and are in fear for their lives.

They are fearful.

They are on their own.

And then there comes upon them this power, this strength,  from God.  And somehow it recreates them, it restores them.  It puts them together again.

The pour down on to the streets, are accused of drunken behaviour – but nothing of the sotrt is going on as Peter explains.

He then draws on those wonderful words of Joel to show the new thing that is happening.

 What intrigued m ein the IBRA Bible readings this week was that we were invited to read the words that go before these words.

They come out of a period of destruction for the Jewish people and they figure large in the Jewish reading of the Scriptures on a special Sabbath day that falls between the solemn holy days of the new year and the Day of Atonement – this ‘special Sabbath emphasises the process of repentance, lamentation, forgiveness by God and restoration to relationship.

The whole passage in Joel is about the need when things have gone wrong for restoration to happen …

It’s a passage full of promise and hope …

Do not fear, O soil;
   be glad and rejoice,
   for the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,
   for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
   the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

23 O children of Zion, be glad
   and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
   he has poured down for you abundant rain,
   the early and the later rain, as before.
24 The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
   the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25 I will repay you for the years
   that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
   my great army, which I sent against you.

26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
   and praise the name of the Lord your God,
   who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
   and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
   be put to shame.

God’s Spirit Poured Out

People will need to be part of that process of resoration … and so Joel moves on to say that that can happen only by the strength of God …

28 Then afterwards
   I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   your old men shall dream dreams,
   and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
   in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

These are the words taken up by Peter.

It is as if the sotry of Christ is a story of restoration – putting things together again after a destructive time.

Christ comes to bring wholeness.

A whole new way of thinking about the world, a whole new way of looking at the world, a whole new world-view – that amounts to his msessage.

Believe in the Gospel – be part of the kingdom – on the road to the cross.

We each have a part to play in that process.

Each of us a part to play.

We can think of brokenness but then we need to think of the part we have to play in restoration.

We can only do that as we have a stgrength from beyond ourselves – and be people of vision.

Moving on 6th June to visit John Lewis – still a bit fragile after his long stay in hospital.

He was watching the D Day commemorations – I joined him – it was the major event of the day with the world’s leaders together.

We were watching the event – a long speech by M Hollande of France.  And then the BBC cut away – but we could switch to the red button.  John being a French teacher, we did.

Then we watched the very moving pageant that followed – a bit like the opening ceremony o fhte Olympic  Games and in its own way as moving.

Well choreographed with big screen recording of the events – on an enormous circular map of Europe spread out on the beach we had a presentation of the story of the war – the occupation by the forces of fascism taking the continent over.  The resistance of mny.  The D Day landings.  The reconquest of Europe.  The celebrations …  but still the darkness of the atomic bomb of the awfulness of the death camps of the holocaust.  And then the building of Europe again.

A wonderful picture of the young Princess Elizabeth on one screen and next to her the Queen of today.

And as the actors came to an end they turned to the screens and there were pictures of the veterans who were actually there.

Then they came out – and it was a German veteran and a French man.  They shook hands

The arena filled with children.

The hope of the future.

And the beginnings of what has become the European Union – the obligation is to make Europe work – an alternative to the warring imperial powers that had been at war for centuries – and the hope of Europe.   Our obligation is to work at making it work with the commitment of those who went to war.

It was moving stuff.

How you do that we will have differing views on.   It was powerful stuff.

I thought of the way the churches responded – by doing things – the beginnings of Chrsitian Aid.  Of the way my father’s church twinned with Germanyand Hans Werner Bartsch – a friendship.

The twinning that has gone on.,

We all have a part to play in the restoration.

That is the vision of Pentecost – sons, daughters, young men, old men, even slaves, men and women – the Spirit shall be upon them and they have a jtask to do – to declare God’s word to make this restoration a reality.

And that is the task we do.

We need to draw on the Spirit’s strength to do just that.

What strength do we need?

Our prayer exercise …

Focus your thoughts on your life of Faith and Prayer.

Think of the way you are called to be a disciple of Christ.  You may think of wonderful blessings you have experi-enced, of things to give thanks for.  You may be con-scious of weaknesses, things that you would love to be different.

In your mind’s eye, picture a flower or maybe more than one.  Flowers need leaves to enable them to flourish and roots to enable them to grow.

Think about what you would like your life of faith and prayer, your life of discipleship, to grow into.  How would you like to see it flower and flourish?

You may find it helpful to write your thoughts down around the flower.

Now think of the things you need to draw on for those flowers to grow - and write your thoughts on the leaves.

Finally, think of the roots.  And delight in the way the roots that have given us that life of faith and prayer are deep in the love of God the Father, as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and as we draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit.

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