A sermon preached
Readings: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11; Acts 1:6-14
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you ….” (Acts 1:8)
You come home late to you house or flat –
the whole place is pitch dark.
You put out your hand and at the flick of a switch,
all is bathed in light.
A teacher goes into a classroom full of young children,
all shouting and laughing and screaming
He taps the desk with a ruler and says “Quiet everyone”
And suddenly – if he is lucky - there is quiet.
To greater or lesser extent, we all enjoy the
to control our physical environment and control other people.
Lack of control -
when the car won’t start,
when the lights fuse and the switch won’t work,
when people ignore what I say or
don’t hear what I ask of them –
that can be frustrating and dispiriting.
Tony Blair and Michael Howard,
Gerry Adams and David Trimble,
know the difference between gaining power and being denied power.
WE all seek if not crave power and influence –
But of course power and control can be dangerous
things which can be abused as well as used well.
If you know the story of “Lord of the Rings”
you will know all about the Ring which conveys immense power to its wearer –
but ends up controlling and destroying those who seek to use it –
Power tends to Corrupt.
Mediaeval Military might
(wielded in the name of the Gospel)
became at so many points during the crusades
a means of achieving selfish and evil ends.
weekend when we remember the end of the 2nd World war in Europe,
we recall Hitler and see how in every generation
the greater the power the greater the scope to abuse it.
Power corrupts – absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.
And so to our text:
Jesus is about to ascend to heaven.
Is this when your Kingdom will come? the disciples ask.
It is not for you to know when, says Jesus,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you”
And I wonder if the disciples pondered on this power
did they imagine the power of a crusading army,
crushing the Roman legions and imposing the way of Christ?
But that is not the sort of power which Jesus offered.
The power we are given as Christians is
· The power to speak the truth
· The power to persevere in the face of persecution
The power to keep on loving
even when that love is thrown back in our face
· The power to risk rejection and never retaliate with hate
· It is in short the power to carry a cross.
We in the Church live between the times -
Jesus has risen and ascended to Heaven
But the final Kingdom has yet to come -
Until then, he is to work through us, the Church.
By worldly standards what can we do?
We don’t have a helicopter gun ship between us!
But says Jesus, Pentecost is coming –
I will send you the power of love –
This is the true power –the power of sacrificial love.
you really want to change the world, don’t buy a gun,
rather ask the Spirit of Love to work within you.
our reading from 1 Peter talks about persecution –
fire and lions –
and we can imagine that for the readers of 1 Peter
these were no idle bits of poetic imagery –
they were a persecuted Church.
But God does not promise them machine guns –
he offers them the power to endure,
knowing that ultimately love can work where brute force and coercion fails.
is World Church Sunday
when we are thinking particularly about South America,
but also more generally giving thanks for all those
from the day of Pentecost down to this day
who have struggled and worked for the spread of the Gospel
in the power of the Spirit.
the many many tales I could tell,
let me remind of you of the well known story of Jim and Elizabeth Elliot.
In 1956 Jim Elliot was one of 5 US missionaries
who went into the jungle of Ecuador
to preach to a particularly violent tribe of native Indians, the Auca.
When the search helicopter went in to search for them,
their spear riddled bodies were found on the river bank.
Elizabeth Eliot was the wife of one of the men.
She had a three year old daughter.
Rather than fly home to the USA, she decided to stay on in the jungle.
To cut a long story short, she finally made contact with the Auca,
and went to live with her young daughter in one of their villages.
She did not set about aggressively evangelising –
just tried to get them to understand that her husband had come in love,
as she did, and that she forgave them.
She was not killed, indeed she was accepted,
and some of the Auca eventually accepted the Christian Gospel.
an era of “War against Terror” it is a complex political question
how best we fight evil at the international level.
the politicians may say,
we as Christian witnesses know where the real power lies.
is not in the helicopter gun ship, or napalm strikes or rocket grenades
Rather it is in a vulnerable woman with the God given courage and power
to walk into the lion’s den
World Church Sunday
we look to spread the Good News of God’s love amongst all people.
Sunday before Pentecost
is a good Sunday to think about the Mission of the Church
because it reminds us of the power which God promises.
Divine power purifies
Human power wins easy short term victories
Divine power often seems to lead on to a martyr’s grave
Human power ultimately
crumbles and fades
Divine power knows no end, and ultimately no defeat,
for the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,
it is love which makes the world go around
it is life which is stronger than death,
and the Cross which is the route to the Resurrection.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you.”
That is Jesus promise to all of us
who live between the ascension and the final coming of the Kingdom.
Let him loose that power of love in your life,
and who knows then what miracles
God may yet work amongst us!!!