Father Philip Sang: Pentecost Power From On High

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-11; Psalm 104.26-37; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-17, 25-27.

In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Why did Jesus tell the apostles to wait until the Holy Spirit fell upon them before carrying out the Great Commission?

The last sixty days before Pentecost must have been incredibly strange to the 12 apostles.
In that period one of them Judas Iscariot was replaced by another apostle, Matthias. It all started on what we call Palm Sunday.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey ahead of the most nationalistic feasts of Judaism, all eyes were on Him. They expected Jesus to rise up and throw the hated Romans out. But as he comes into Jerusalem, he turns towards the Temple rather than towards the Roman garrison in the town. And He then proceeds to cleanse the Temple (cf Mt 21 :12-17). And then we have the Last Supper and the Institution of the Holy Communion service on what we recall as Maundy Thursday.

And then the Disciples (and by Disciples I am including the women like Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus), had seen how suddenly public opinion had changed and Jesus had been crucified, as we recall on Good Friday each year.

And so far as the rulers in Jerusalem were concerned that SHOULD have been the end of this annoying little sect. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. And we celebrate this each year as Easter Day. And although we don’t know the exact year, most historians put it either as in 30 AD or in 33 AD. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one event that the early Church gave for its phenomenal success. We don’t know exactly how many people saw the risen Christ. However we are told the resurrected Jesus was seen by many.

And then within 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection he bodily ascended into heaven an event we remember on each year as Ascension Day, traditionally on a Thursday – 10 days before Pentecost. Which we moved to last week Sunday, that Father Wylie preached.

Now in that 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection to his Ascension, Jesus gave his Church what is known as the “Great Commission” just before he left this earth. He told them “ Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you till the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19 and 20).

However, it must have been bizarre to the disciples that Jesus gave them very clear instructions when they were to start fulfilling the Great Commission. In Acts 1, Jesus said “But you shall receive Power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1 v.8). So my first question is Why were they to WAIT rather than start evangelizing right away? One reason, I think was that the disciples’ minds were probably still scrambled by the events that had happened. It still would have been hard for them to think straight.

But the second more important reason was that they needed to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enable the disciples to fulfil the Great Commission. Bringing people to Christ is a spiritual battle. It is not simply an intellectual discussion – as you might have if you were discussing politics. The spiritual battle for people’s hearts can only be won on the spiritual battlefield – and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to succeed.

And note how much time, the disciples spent in prayer in Acts 1 and 2. The Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in a prayer meeting. It must have been very daunting for the disciples, when they first heard it. But what they also were learning was when Jesus asks us to do something – he provides us with the means to do it.

And so the second question I’d like to pose was WHY did God PICK Pentecost for the outpouring of His Spirit and the launch of the Christian mission to the world? Why did Jesus make such a fuss about the timing? There are a number of reasons but I believe the prime reason is that the actual meaning of the Feast explains to us much of what is going on.

Let me go a little into the background. The Jews had three major festivals in their calendar year, which all male Jews were expected to attend. Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) was the second major festival of the Jewish year – and always took place 50 days after Passover.

Pentecost is a harvest festival – at the beginning of the wheat harvest – when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to God. When the Power of God came down on the disciples at Pentecost, I believe God was saying that this is the beginning of the spiritual harvest – a harvest which is still going on today almost 2000 years later. The spiritual harvest is the building of Christ’s church here on earth, of which we are all called to be a part regardless of where we live.

From our reading this morning from the Book of Acts, we can see three principles for success in this spiritual harvest.
1. The disciples consulted with and obeyed Jesus
2. The disciples couldn’t do it in their own strength. They needed the Power from on high
3. The disciple’s message was founded in God’s word

The first principle for success in the spiritual harvest is listening to and obeying Jesus
After giving his disciples the Great Commission, Jesus told them to wait. He didn’t explain to them why – though we can now see why with hindsight. They were only going to be successful when they received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But there is a lesson for us too. The disciples had to learn simply to trust Jesus’ word. If we are going to be servants of Christ, we have to learn to trust in WHAT he tells us to do. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high comes upon them.

So what did they do? Did they spend their time watching TV? No, they spent their time in prayer – in preparation. In Acts 1:14 we read: “They all joined together, constantly in prayer.” They got ready for action. Prayer is the power-house of the Christian life. If we are despondent with the lack of response in our villages to our churches, we must start with prayer. Prayer is the preparation for everything that we wish to do in Christ. It puts us in touch with HQ – with our Commander in Chief.

The second principle for success in this spiritual harvest is the realization that we can only do it in the Power of the Holy Spirit. God asks us to be willing – but we don’t have to preach the Gospel in our own strength. The Church isn’t our worry – it’s God’s worry. It has been said: “Why pray when you can worry!!” If we are going to do God’s work, we need to do it in HIS strength and not our own. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. The Acts 2 experience changed the disciples. It gave them power and boldness.

The third principle for success in the spiritual harvest is that the disciples founded their message in the Scriptures. The only Scriptures that St. Peter has was the Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written. Yet Peter was well versed in his Scriptures. On the Day of Pentecost, he stands up to explain what is going on. Peter defended the event through Scripture – explaining that this event had been foretold 800 years earlier by one of the minor prophets – Joel. His quotation from the book of Joel shows that he knew his Bible well. He was able to find his experience and the experience of the other believers in Scripture, because he spent time with the Word of God.

Many of our modern day Sects get away with their false teaching because many don’t know the Word of God. God has revealed himself in the Scriptures and any genuine Christian experience will be biblically based. What is happening here Peter says conforms to Scripture. Joel prophesied it.

As I conclude, I find it of great comfort to know that growth in our church is not my worry. It’s God’s worry. However, we are called to work for and with God in the spiritual harvest and so we have responsibilities for the success of the operation.

Our first responsibility is that we need to hear what God is saying to us and obey him. The disciples were told to wait in Acts 1 – and that is what they did. This enabled God to release his power for them. And it is interesting to note that on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted. How did the disciples know the will of God – they spent a lot of time in prayer.

Our second responsibility is to ask for power to preach the Gospel. We need to ask for strength and boldness to proclaim Christ – at the right time.

Our third responsibility is to know our Scripture well. If we are going to preach the Gospel successfully, we need to be rooted or founded in Scripture.

May the Lord help us to be faithful followers of Christ 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Pentecost 2022: An Ancient Account of how Pentecost was Celebrated

From here.

But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord’s Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord’s Day, namely, the account of the Lord’s Resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis [the cross], just as throughout the whole year. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium [the church], and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord’s Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour [9am].

And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion—there is another church there now—where once, after the Lord’s Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: “Let us all be ready to day in Eleona, in the Imbomon [place of the Ascension], directly after the sixth hour [noon].”

So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord’s Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour [3pm], and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour [4pm] when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.

And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is agood distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis, where on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, and when they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalrns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight. Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria85-90