Sunday 5 June 2022: Day of Pentecost
Utterly amazed and perplexed
Context: a congregation of around 70 in the Northeast of England made up of first, second, third and fourth generations of migrants and working-class people
Aim: to demonstrate God amazed and perplexed people centuries ago and he is doing the same today
Today we revisit a familiar portion of Scripture informing us about the day of Pentecost.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke to his disciples about his execution and how he would be taken from the earth. Jesus comforted his sad and disheartened disciples by saying though he had to go he would not leave them comfortless. The Spirt of God, present at creation, instrumental in the forming of the earth, prophesied by the prophet Joel and who quickened the body of Jesus at the resurrection, would be with them forever. Jesus told them to meet and pray to usher in the full ministry of the Holy Spirit.
THE APPEARING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The disciples gathered. They prayed, waiting with open minds and expectancy. They may have been wondering what was going to happen, but they gathered, knowing and trusting the one whom they had followed would not lead them up the garden path. He was simply consistent, honest, reliable, and faithful when he was with them.
The Bible describes this divine event unfolding before the eyes of the disciples and other onlookers. As the Holy Spirit descended on the lives of the ordinary people, they were all ‘amazed and marvelled.’ ‘These Galileans, these poor and uneducated people, who are they to be speaking our language,’ the onlookers exclaimed. ‘Who are these migrants? Who are these working-class people who have no status, kudos, or image of any worth to be speaking to us about these strange happenings?’ There were cries of mockery. ‘They have had too much Guinness and it is still only morning. Shocking.’ The Scripture tells us the onlookers were all ‘amazed and marvelled,’ but it does not end there. A little later the author writes, ‘They were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean”?’
AMAZED AND PERPLEXED
Two thousand years ago people experienced the ushering in of the Holy Spirit with amazement. They did not have the knowledge to understand the workings of God in their time. It was bizarre, odd, strange. ‘We do not have the mechanism to understand what we see, so these folks must be mad.’
In 2015, I attended an academic conference organised by the Sociology of Religion Study Group (SOCREL). I presented a paper ‘Colonial Strangers: Purveyors of Religious “Reworlding” in a land of Religious Darkness.’ I was making a case that the Windrush generation who arrived during a dearth of Christianity in the UK, helped to bring revival in Britain. Walter Hollenweger, Pentecostal theologian, made the following comments in Roswith Gerloff’s classic text ‘A Plea for British Black Theologies’: ‘Christians in Britain prayed for many years for revival, and when it came, they did not recognise it because it was black. Nevertheless, it produced a religious, social, and intellectual vitality which is astonishing’ (Gerloff, 1992, p. ix).
After presenting the paper, a world-leading professor of the Sociology of Religion asked whether she could ask a question tangential to my paper, but a matter troubling her and many of her colleagues. After making four attempts to frame the question, she asked, ‘How do you explain the rise of Pentecostalism in the “developing nations”?’ I do not like the term ‘developing nations’ as it a loaded term making lots of assumptions, but I was able to use it nonetheless.
I told her about the prophecy of Joel and the notions of the end times according to Scripture and then I stopped. I said, ‘Let us be honest. You do not have the tools to understand the move of God taking place in those lands.’ I gave her a chance to comment. She admitted, it was clear something was happening, but the tools they had for understanding and analysing religious phenomena were inadequate to offer any interpretation.
Are there no man-made tools which exist to understand the workings of God? None. God is still working today in the lives of ordinary people, the marginalised, those on the edge of society. And he is still leaving the minds of others amazed and perplexed. He remains God working his purpose out as it pleases him amongst the marginalised. He always will.
Welcome to The College of Preachers
To explore the website fully, please sign in or subscribe.
Non-subscribers can read up to three articles a month for free. (You will need to register.)
This is the last of your 1 free articles this month.
Subscribe today for the full range of resources from The College of Preachers, including Lectionary sermons for every Sunday, book reviews and more.