Bible Text: Acts 1:1-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Don't You Have Work to Do? Acts 1:1-11 by William Klock This evening we’ve read the Ascension Gospel and we’ve just extinguished the Paschal Candle – the candle that symbolizes the light of the risen Christ here on earth – here with us.  What does it mean? It means that the Gospel story that started in Advent with the proclamation that the Messiah was coming and that God’s kingdom was soon to be at hand, doesn’t end with Christmas.  And it doesn’t end with him hanging on the cross or buried in the tomb on Good Friday.  It doesn’t even end with his resurrection on Easter.  Often times that’s as far as we take the story.  He came, he died in our place bringing victory over sin and death, and he rose to new life and takes us with him in that victory.  And that’s often as far as we go with the Gospel story.  But that’s not where it ends.  Maybe we talk about Pentecost, but without the Ascension, Pentecost doesn’t happen.  Between the Resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit sits the Ascension.  It’s as much a part of the Gospel as the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Think of it this way.  Jesus spent his earthly ministry talking about God’s Kingdom.  St. Matthew tells us that when his ministry began, he preached saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).  The purpose of his coming was to establish his kingdom. His kingdom is about life and about restored fellowship with God, but he came to a people dead in their sins and separated from God.  And so he came as one of us, he lived like one of us with the one exception that he did what none of us can ever do – he perfectly upheld God’s holy standard – he never sinned.  Where the first Adam failed, Jesus, the second Adam, was victorious in his obedience to God.  Being guiltless he died the death that we deserve that he might remove the penalty of our sin.  In his death he opened the way back to fellowship with the Father.  He rose from the dead so that those who are united to him in faith might rise to new life too.  He took a people who were enemies of God and turned their hearts away from sin, he changed their allegiance.  Where they were once people who had pledged their allegiance to the World, Jesus made a people who pledged their allegiance to God.  He created a kingdom people for himself.  And now as we remember and celebrate his Ascension, we celebrate his taking his throne – his coronation as King.  We celebrate the establishing of his Kingdom.  No longer is it merely “at hand.”  His kingdom is here, his kingdom is now, his kingdom is wherever men and women bought with his blood proclaim him as Saviour and Lord. In the lesson from Acts appointed for this evening’s Epistle we read St. Luke’s account of the Ascension.  The disciples had come together with Jesus.  Here he was, risen, perfected, amazing, and regal.  And yet the disciples still weren’t quite getting it.  They asked him, “Lord, now that you’ve conquered death and now that you’ve risen from the dead, now are you going to restore Israel?  Now are you going to finally give the Romans what-for?” They still didn’t get the whole “the kingdom is within you” thing.  And Jesus gives them a gentle reminder: “Friends, that’s not your worry.  God has his own timing for dealing with the powers of this world and that timing isn’t for you to know.  But here is what’s important for you: I’m going leave you, but when I leave you, I’m going to send my Holy Spirit and he’s going to empower you with my power.  He’s going to equip you to be my witnesses to Jerusalem, to all of Judea, and, believe it or not, to Samaria and eventually to all the world!” It was the same message he’d been telling them: “I can’t stay with you.  I have to go back to my Father, but I’m not going to leave you.  I may be going, but my Spirit will remain and will take up residence in you and empower you to do all the things I’ve told you to do.” And with that, St. Luke says, Jesus was lifted up.  Up he went until he was out of sight in the clouds.  And the disciples stood there watching as he ascended.  The text doesn’t say what they were thinking.  I have to think that it was a combination of awe and sorrow.  On the one hand, if they’d ever seen anything more amazing than that it could only have been seeing their Lord risen from the dead.  And yet I think this was even more amazing.  If there was any doubt before, here was evidence that he truly was God Incarnate.  But I have to think they were sorrowful too.  Think back to how despondent they were at his death and how happy they were to have him back.  Now he’d left again.  And so they stood there, staring up into the sky – in amazed awe, but probably a little shell-shocked too. I gather from the text that they stood there dazedly looking for quite a while.  But then Luke tells us that there were two men who appeared and stood there with them.  They all stood there for a minute and then one of those angels said, “Hey, guys!”  And I can see those dazed disciple sorting glancing over to see who spoke, but being so awed by what had just happened that they didn’t quite realize who was speaking to them.  And the angel said again, “Hey guys – yeah, you guys from Galilee.”  And now the angel had their attention and he asked, “What are you doing?  Are you just gonna keep staring into the sky all day?  You do realize, don’t you, that just as Jesus went up, he’s going to come back?” St. Luke doesn’t report Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples, but St. Matthew does.  At the end of his Gospel Jesus gives the disciples those familiar words: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them  to observe all that  I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20) The angels back in St. Luke’s account are saying, “Guys, don’t stand there staring into space.  Yes, Jesus is gone, but he’s going to come back.  In the meantime, didn’t he give you something important to do?  Don’t just stand there looking stupid: Get to work! Now, in between the Ascension and their getting to work came Pentecost.  Jesus had to give the gift of the Spirit to enable his kingdom people to fulfil that kingdom mission – and we’ll look at that aspect of it in about a week-and-a-half.  But we – you and I – live on this side of Pentecost.  Each of us has been united to Christ by his indwelling Spirit – and that means that each of us has been equipped and specifically gifted to go out and do that kingdom work. The Ascension is our commissioning.  Jesus calls us to go and out and to get busy about his work.  The question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not we’re doing it.  Sometimes we’re just like those disciples.  We’re standing around dumbly staring off into space.  Sometimes we get busy, but we get busy doing the work of this world instead of the kingdom.  Sometimes that worldly work even disguises itself. How often do we get bogged down doing “church work” that isn’t really true work for the Church – for the kingdom, but just “busy work.” The angel’s call to the disciples is a call to us too.  Jesus has said: “Go out and share the Good News.  Go out baptizing and making disciples!”  And now the angels stand next to us: “Hey!  Men (and women) of the Comox Valley!  Why are you standing around looking up into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.  In the meantime, don’t you have work to do?” He’s called us and by his Spirit he’s equipped and gifted us.  Remember the Parable of the Talents.  The man who took his money and buried it in the ground – who did nothing with it – remember that the master condemned him as wicked and slothful.  Sadly that’s going to be the condemnation of many Christians on the day that Jesus comes back.  But if we hear the angel’s call and if we live out Jesus commission, using the gifts, and proclaiming the message, we can take comfort in the words of the master to the servants who made good use the gifts he had entrusted to them: “Well, done, good and faithful servant.” John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Jesus came and proclaimed the same message as he announced that the Kingdom of God is a present reality.  He came and ushered it in.  In his death and resurrection he broke the power of Satan.  He kicked in the door of Satan’s house, bound him, and robbed him of everything he had.  Jesus crushed the enemy and has presented the Kingdom to his Father. But in all that, through is death and resurrection, Jesus makes us Kingdom people.  As his people he gives us authority to oppose the forces of Satan and to usher in the kingdom of God, and to show to the world the kingdom principles of righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and peace.  He calls us to proclaim boldly the kingdom message of the remission of sins and the gift of eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ, and to declare that Jesus has authority over everything in heaven and on earth.  He’s left, but he’s coming back.  In the meantime, we have work to do, so let’s get to it! Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to die and pay the penalty for our sins, then you put your Spirit in us to turn our hearts toward him that we might find the salvation he offers.  You have made us citizens of your kingdom.  We ask for the grace to live as the people you have made us.  Father, let us be faithful ambassadors for your Kingdom to all those around us until that day when we will reign with him before your heavenly throne.  We ask this through Jesus Christ.  Amen.
Bible Text: Acts 2:1-11; John 15:26-16:15 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year When the Helper comes Acts 2:1-11 & St. John 15:26-16:15 by William Klock Today is the day when we draw to a close the first half of the Church Year.  If you notice, during the first half of the year the lessons take us through the life of Christ.  During the second half of the year they take us through the life of the believer – giving us a sort of overview of what it means to live the Christian life that comes as a result of the Gospel message we heard during the first half. So today, Whitsunday or Pentecost, we come to the story, as we just heard it read from Acts 2, where the Gospel story itself ends and the story of our life in that Gospel begins.  We started in Advent with the proclamation that the new life was going to come in the person of the Messiah.  At Christmas we heard the message that God had come himself – incarnate as one of us.  He lived like us with the one very important exception: where we are sinners, he was not.  He fulfilled the Law.  During Holy Week we followed him from the Upper Room to the Cross and finally to the Tomb – we followed him as he who knew no sin, became sin for us and bought our redemption.  He took God’s wrath and punishment for sin in our place.  And on Easter we followed his disciples to the tomb and found it empty – empty because God had raised him from the dead.  We received the message that we are raised to new life with him.  Good stuff!  But it didn’t end there.  A week-and-a-half-ago we followed Jesus and his disciples outside the city and heard those men receive their commission from him: Go out and share the good news.  Go out and baptize and make disciples!  And then he rose to heaven. The funny thing through all that is all along Jesus was preaching his message of the kingdom of God – that it wasn’t about a place, but about a person and was something that reigns in our hearts as we are joined to that person (to him).  And yet at every step the disciples kept stopping to ask him, “Yeah, Jesus, that’s great, but when are you going to work your Messiah stuff, throw off this poor itinerant preacher disguise, kick out the Romans and rebuild the great kingdom that we knew when David and Solomon were kings in Israel?”  They didn’t get it.  Even as he was preparing to ascend to heaven and take his throne, they were asking him when he was going to restore the “Kingdom of Israel.” And so last week we read the story of Jesus’ ascension – how he returned to heaven to sit down on his throne and rule his kingdom.  The disciples still didn’t get it.  And yet Jesus had told them before that he couldn’t stay – he had to go so that he could send another.  We read one of those passages in our Gospel this morning: John 15:26-27: But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. A few verses later, in Chapter 16, Jesus explains it to them in more detail. He says, I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.   Jesus has been providing the teaching, he’s done the work of redemption, but it’s the “Helper,” literally in Greek it’s the “one who is called alongside” is the one who has to come and put it all into action.  Each person of the Trinity has his own part in this whole work of restoration.  It was the Father who sent the Son.  It was the Son who died and rose again accomplishing the actual work of redemption.  And it’s then the Spirit who works in the hearts of men to turn them to Christ and to give them understanding.  Think about that.  Consider the fact that these guys had been following Christ around for three years, not just hearing him preach, but living with him and engaging in personal conversation with him – and yet they still didn’t have a clue as to what he was really all about.  They were still looking for an earthly conquering hero.  As much as they didn’t want their friend to leave, he needed to so that his Spirit – the Helper as St. John calls him – could be sent to complete the work.  Jesus goes on to say: And when [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The job of the Holy Spirit is to awaken the deadened hearts of men and women to their need for a Saviour.  Again, Jesus has to go so that he can send the Spirit.  Without the work of the Spirit those cold and stony hearts will never be turned to Jesus Christ.  Without the Spirit they will never be softened.  Without the Spirit we’ll never have those “hearts of flesh” God told Ezekiel about. From time to time we need this reminder of what the Spirit’s work is.  Sometimes we overstep our bounds.  Jesus calls us to proclaim the message of the Gospel, but  it’s the Spirit’s work to convict hearts and to make them understand the message we preach.  You and I can never move someone’s heart to believe the Good News, and yet throughout history we’ve seen Christian step over the line.  Our job is evangelism.  The Spirit’s job is to make it fruitful.  You can’t judge the work of an evangelist by the fruit, because the fruit isn’t something he has any control over.  It also means that we need to examine our evangelistic methods.  Are we pressuring, manipulating, and cajoling in order to force fruit ourselves, or are we sticking to our part – sharing the Good News – while relying on the Spirit to bear fruit? But there’s more to the Spirit’s work than convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgement in the world.  Jesus goes on: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [We’ve been seeing that all along through the story!] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:4-5, 7-15) The ministry of the Spirit is first and foremost to take what Jesus has said and apply it to our hearts as he gives us understanding.  This is what the disciples had been missing all along.  This is what the world is missing when it hears the Gospel message, but chalks it up as foolishness.  It’s the result of our fallen and sinful natures.  God created us to understand him, but because we have sinned, our understanding, our reason, our thought processes have all been tainted with sin.  Even with the Spirit dwelling in us, St. Paul says that even then we still see as through a darkened mirror.  Without the Spirit we can’t see at all.  Without the Spirit our hearts are naturally against God.  So the most important working of the Spirit is to open our eyes to God’s truth.  Jesus notes that the Spirit doesn’t speak on his own authority, but that the work of the Spirit is to declare – to make understood – to us the message of Jesus Christ. Notice also Jesus says that the function of the Spirit is to give him glory.  Even though there is equality within the Holy Trinity, there is still a hierarchy within the relationships of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  Jesus is subordinate to the Father, just as any son is subordinate to his earthly father.  Notice that throughout Jesus’ ministry he tells us that his purpose is to glorify the Father – never once does he bring glory on himself.  In fact, that was what Satan tempted him with in the wilderness.  And so with the Holy Spirit, except that the Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Christ.  The Spirit never glorifies himself.  Notice that the Spirit never attracts attention to himself.  His mission is to point us to Christ and Christ’s mission then is to point us to and reconcile us with the Father. All this is exactly what happened at Pentecost.  When Jesus ascended he commissioned his disciples, telling them that they were to go out to all the world to be his witnesses, first to Jerusalem and to Judea, but them to Samaria and eventually to the whole world.  But, he said, you need to go to Jerusalem and wait.  I need to return to my Father, but when I get there, I will send the Helper – my Spirit – who will indwell you and enable you to do all these things I’ve commissioned you to do. And that’s what they did.  They went back to Jerusalem.  St. Luke tells us that for the next week-and-a-half, they didn’t just sit on their hand waiting for the promised power to come, but spent their time in the temple praising and blessing God. And then Luke tells us that when the day of Pentecost had come – the second of the Jewish harvest festivals when the city of packed with Jews from all over the world – the disciples were all gathered in one place.  Presumably when he says “all,” he’s talking about the whole 120 of them.  Tradition says they were gathered in the same “upper room” where Jesus had instituted his Supper.  He says in Acts 2: And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and beganto speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (Acts 2:2-4) This was what they had been waiting for.  It’s appropriate that the Spirit came as it did.  Jesus had described the working of the Spirit as gentle breeze – and that’s very true – but here on the day when the Spirit was given to the Church – on the very birthday of the Church – he came with the sound not of a little rustling breeze, but with the sound of a storm.  And it’s interesting that St. Luke is specific.  It’s not that the Spirit came as a wind, but specifically that he came with the sound of a mighty wind, which tells us something about the way he works. And as something that looked like tongues of fire rested on their heads, that sound of the mighty wind broke into the sound of those 120 disciples suddenly speaking in other languages as the Spirit directed them.  What happened?  Luke doesn’t give full details.  All he says is that they started speaking in other languages.  The Greek word used refers specifically to known languages.  It was a reversal of what had happened at Babel, when God had confused and scattered the human race by confusing their languages.  Now at Pentecost he brings them back together – not by their own doing, but by the power of his Spirit and through unity in Jesus Christ.  For that reason it seems unlikely that they were all shouting at once.  This wasn’t a chaotic scene.  Luke says that they spoke in these languages as the Spirit gave them utterance – as the Spirit directed. Now remember that for the festival there were Jews in the city from all over the world.  If the disciples were in the Upper Room, they weren’t very far from the Temple.  The men outside heard the sound – presumably the sound that was like a mighty wind – and went to investigate, and when they got there, all these foreigners heard the gathered disciples speaking their own languages.  Jews from Rome heard men speaking in Latin and Jews from Greece heard men speaking in Greek, and they said, “What’s up with this?  These guys are all locals from Galilee – they’re yokels!  I mean, maybe we could expect them to speak Greek and some of them a little Latin, but they’re speaking in all sorts of languages!  Our languages!” Some of those who heard were convinced that those speaking in these other languages were drunk, but the speaking caught the attention of lots of them who listened and heard the disciples telling them of God’s mighty works.  As the crowd gathered the little group of 120 attracted thousands.  We don’t know how many thousands, just that the end result of what the Spirit did on that day was that three thousand came to faith in Christ. The only place in Jerusalem big enough to handle that kind of crowd was the temple environs.  St. Luke doesn’t say how they got there from the Upper Room, which was nearby, but one tradition describes the crowd growing as foreigners were attracted, hearing their own languages spoken, and that groups started forming outside the house, men from each province gathering around the disciples speaking their language, listening to them talk about God’s mighty works as they all made their way up to the temple.  However it happened, the temple has to be where they ended up. And when they got their St. Peter spoke up and began preaching to them.  And this to me is the most remarkable thing that happened on Pentecost – the thing that shows more than anything else that the Spirit was at work and that shows us what the primary ministry of the Spirit is.  Peter suddenly understood! Remember how all along Jesus preached about the kingdom of God, and all that time the disciples kept not getting it.  Even on the Mount of Olives, just before he ascended, the disciples were asking him, “Okay, Jesus, all this stuff you’ve done is really cool – especially the whole rising from the dead thing – but when are you going to do what you came here to do?  When are you going to defeat the Romans?  When are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel?  When are you going to make the Jews great again?”  Even at the very end, the disciples didn’t get it.  And now suddenly, Peter stand up before the crowd – and he gets it.  And he starts preaching to them the Good News – and the coolest part is that where before he was looking back at all those Old Testament prophecies that the Jews thought were about the restoration of an earthly kingdom, now suddenly he understands them.  He starts preaching Christ and the kingdom of God from those same passages he’d never understood before. At the same time the Spirit was at work in the people listening.  St. Luke says they were “cut to the heart.”  They ask Peter what they should do, and Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Luke says that three thousand did just that and as the weeks and months went by more and more did the same – and they did so as the Spirit did what he was sent to do: to turn our hearts toward Christ and to open eyes and ears to the truth of the Gospel. Of course, we can’t forget that the work of the Spirit goes beyond Pentecost.  The purpose of the Spirit is to unite us to Christ.  He’s the one who grafts us into Christ, the vine, so that we can have new life.  And of course St. Paul reminds us of the results of that change.  In Galatians he lists the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like those.  Those are the behaviours that describe our life before Christ, but as the Spirit indwells us our lives are changed, we receive life from Christ the vine and the Spirit causes us to bear his fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are the evidences of the indwelling Spirit.  Doing amazing things and working miracles, casting out demons and prophesying, speaking in tongues or healing, are often signs the Spirit works to validate the message, but even Jesus warns us that those things can be counterfeited and often will be – we saw that just a few weeks ago in the Sermon on the Mount.  The real evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is a changed life – a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit – and that’s the greatest miracle of all! If the Spirit chooses to work miracles sometimes to add extra weight to the Gospel message, that’s great, but the consistent message throughout Scripture, and especially the New Testament is that we are called to witness the Gospel by living it, by bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Where there is love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control you know you’re dealing with a person full of the Spirit and because of that a person who is grafted into Jesus Christ.  That’s what the world needs to see in us. I want to close with an example from the Old Testament. Samson was a man who had been gift by the Spirit.  In his case it was supernatural strength. The Spirit doesn’t give us gifts today for no reason and he didn’t then – in fact, when he did in those days it had to be for some reallyimportant purpose.  Samson was truly gifted in regard to his strength.  He was also called to exhibit godliness as one of God’s elect, but even more so because of his Nazirite vow.  He was to be especially dedicated to God and to his kingdom.  And yet throughout his life, despite his calling to holiness, he consistently lived in an unholy and ungodly way.  He lived in direct disobedience of not only his vows, but of the Law.  Samson took the gift of strength that God had given him to use for his kingdom and instead used it to take advantage of people and to basically be an all around jerk. Had Samson followed God closely it boggles the mind to think what he could have done to witness the glory of God, but instead he abused God’s gift.  In the end God used him for two things: first, to bring the house down with his strength and kill a whole bunch of Philistines, and second, to be a lesson to us: don’t’ be like Samson.  Don’t squander and abuse the gifts God gives.  I often wonder if some of the Philistines might somehow have had their eyes opened to God had Samson exhibited what the New Testament calls the fruit of the Spirit. Each of us is gifted by the Spirit.  Some of us having amazing gifts like Samson did and some of us have more mundane gifts, but the Spirit gives them to each of us for the purpose of building his kingdom and building up his body – no gift is more important than another.  But those gifts are only used appropriately as we live in the Spirit and bear Christ-like fruit.  The Corinthians were being kind of like Samson.  Some of them had been given amazing gifts by the Spirit, but instead of using them to build up the Body, they were using them to build up themselves, to show others their supposed superiority, and in many ways just being jerks.  And Paul wrote to them, showing them how they were abusing those gifts.  One person’s gift doesn’t make them any more special than someone else.  Just because your gift is a “wow” gift, doesn’t make it better than someone else’s gift that isn’t a “wow” gift.  Far more important than the gifts is the fruit.  And that’s where he goes on to talk about the supremacy of love – the foremost of the Spirit’s fruit.  The fruit, not these other gifts, is the most conclusive manifesting of the indwelling Spirit.  That fruit – that life lived with the indwelling Spirit – needs to be our primary focus because it’s only in combination with living that Spirit-filled life that our other gifts will build the kingdom of God and bless the Body. Please pray with me:  Heavenly Father, you not only sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to purchase our redemption from sin and death, but you sent your Spirit to turn our stony hearts into hearts of flesh, that we might understand and receive your Gospel. Today Father we ask again for your Spirit to do his work, that we might not merely believe your Gospel, but that we might also receive your power to live it, that we might bear the fruit of the Spirit and be living witnesses of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.
Bible Text: Acts 2:1-11; John 15:26-16:15 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year When the Helper Comes Acts 2:1-11 & St. John 15:26-16:15 by William Klock Today is the day when we draw to a close the first half of the Church Year.  If you notice, during the first half of the year the lessons take us through the life of Christ.  During the second half of the year they take us through the life of the believer—giving us a sort of overview of what it means to live the Christian life that comes as a result of the Gospel message we heard during the first half. So today, Whitsunday or Pentecost, we come to the story, as we just heard it read from Acts 2, where the Gospel story itself ends and the story of our life in that Gospel begins.  We started in Advent with the proclamation that the new life was going to come in the person of the Messiah.  At Christmas we heard the message that God had come himself—incarnate as one of us.  He lived like us with the one very important exception: where we are sinners, he was not.  He fulfilled the Law.  During Holy Week we followed him from the Upper Room to the Cross and finally to the Tomb—we followed him as he who knew no sin, became sin for us and bought our redemption.  He took God’s wrath and punishment for sin in our place.  And on Easter we followed his disciples to the tomb and found it empty—empty because God had raised him from the dead.  We received the message that we are raised to new life with him.  Good stuff!  But it didn’t end there.  A week-and-a-half-ago we followed Jesus and his disciples outside the city and heard those men receive their commission from him: Go out and share the good news.  Go out and baptize and make disciples!  And then he rose to heaven. The funny thing through all that is all along Jesus was preaching his message of the kingdom of God—that it wasn’t about a place, but about a person and was something that reigns in our hearts as we are joined to that person (to him).  And yet at every step the disciples kept stopping to ask him, “Yeah, Jesus, that’s great, but when are you going to work your Messiah stuff, throw off this poor itinerant preacher disguise, kick out the Romans and rebuild the great kingdom that we knew when David and Solomon were kings in Israel?”  They didn’t get it.  Even as he was preparing to ascend to heaven and take his throne, they were asking him when he was going to restore the “Kingdom of Israel.” And so last week we read the story of Jesus’ ascension—how he returned to heaven to sit down on his throne and rule his kingdom.  The disciples still didn’t get it.  And yet Jesus had told them before that he couldn’t stay—he had to go so that he could send another.  We read one of those passages in our Gospel last Sunday: John 15:26-27: But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. A few verses later, in Chapter 16, Jesus explains it to them in more detail. He says, I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, forif I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.   Jesus has been providing the teaching, he’s done the work of redemption, but it’s the “Helper,” literally in Greek it’s the “one who is called alongside” is the one who has to come and put it all into action.  Each person of the Trinity has his own part in this whole work of restoration.  It was the Father who sent the Son.  It was the Son who died and rose again accomplishing the actual work of redemption.  And it’s then the Spirit who works in the hearts of men to turn them to Christ and to give them understanding.  Think about that.  Consider the fact that these guys had been following Christ around for three years, not just hearing him preach, but living with him and engaging in personal conversation with him—and yet they still didn’t have a clue as to what he was really all about.  They were still looking for an earthly conquering hero.  As much as they didn’t want their friend to leave, he needed to so that his Spirit—the Helper as St. John calls him—could be sent to complete the work.  Jesus goes on to say: And when [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The job of the Holy Spirit is to awaken the deadened hearts of men and women to their need for a Saviour.  Again, Jesus has to go so that he can send the Spirit.  Without the work of the Spirit those cold and stony hearts will never be turned to Jesus Christ.  Without the Spirit they will never be softened.  Without the Spirit we’ll never have those “hearts of flesh” God told Ezekiel about. From time to time we need this reminder of what the Spirit’s work is.  Sometimes we overstep our bounds.  Jesus calls us to proclaim the message of the Gospel, but it’s the Spirit’s work to convict hearts and to make them understand the message we preach.  I talked about this a couple of months ago when we looked at what it means to have a biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism.  Our job is to share the message.  The Spirit’s job is to change hearts.  We sow the seed.  The Spirit brings the fruit. But there’s more to the Spirit’s work than convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgement in the world.  Jesus goes on: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [We’ve been seeing that all along through the story!] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:4-5, 7-15) The ministry of the Spirit is first and foremost to take what Jesus has said and apply it to our hearts as he gives us understanding.  This is what the disciples had been missing all along.  This is what the world is missing when it hears the Gospel message, but chalks it up as foolishness.  It’s the result of our fallen and sinful natures.  God created us to understand him, but because we have sinned, our understanding, our reason, our thought processes have all been tainted with sin.  Even with the Spirit dwelling in us, St. Paul says that even then we still see as through a darkened mirror.  Without the Spirit we can’t see at all.  Without the Spirit our hearts are naturally against God.  So the most important working of the Spirit is to open our eyes to God’s truth.  Jesus notes that the Spirit doesn’t speak on his own authority, but that the work of the Spirit is to declare—to make understood—to us the message of Jesus Christ. Notice also Jesus says that the function of the Spirit is to give him glory.  Even though there is equality within the Holy Trinity, there is still a hierarchy within the relationships of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  Jesus is subordinate to the Father, just as any son is subordinate to his earthly father.  Notice that throughout Jesus’ ministry he tells us that his purpose is to glorify the Father—never once does he bring glory on himself.  In fact, that was what Satan tempted him with in the wilderness.  And so with the Holy Spirit, except that the Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Christ.  The Spirit never glorifies himself.  Notice that the Spirit never attracts attention to himself.  His mission is to point us to Christ and Christ’s mission then is to point us to and reconcile us with the Father. All this is exactly what happened at Pentecost.  When Jesus ascended he commissioned his disciples, telling them that they were to go out to all the world to be his witnesses, first to Jerusalem and to Judea, but them to Samaria and eventually to the whole world.  But, he said, you need to go to Jerusalem and wait.  I need to return to my Father, but when I get there, I will send the Helper—my Spirit—who will indwell you and enable you to do all these things I’ve commissioned you to do. And that’s what they did.  They went back to Jerusalem.  St. Luke tells us that for the next week-and-a-half, they didn’t just sit on their hands waiting for the promised power to come, but spent their time in the temple praising and blessing God. And then Luke tells us that when the day of Pentecost had come—the second of the Jewish harvest festivals when the city of packed with Jews from all over the world—the disciples were all gathered in one place.  Presumably when he says “all,” he’s talking about the whole 120 of them.  Tradition says they were gathered in the same “upper room” where Jesus had instituted his Supper.  He says in Acts 2: And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (Acts 2:2-4) This was what they had been waiting for.  It’s appropriate that the Spirit came as it did.  Jesus had described the working of the Spirit as gentle breeze—and that’s very true—but here on the day when the Spirit was given to the Church—on the very birthday of the Church—he came with the sound not of a little rustling breeze, but with the sound of a storm.  And it’s interesting that St. Luke is specific.  It’s not that the Spirit came as a wind, but specifically that he came with the sound of a mighty wind, which tells us something about the way he works. And as something that looked like tongues of fire rested on their heads, that sound of the mighty wind broke into the sound of those 120 disciples suddenly speaking in other languages as the Spirit directed them.  What happened?  Luke doesn’t give full details.  All he says is that they started speaking in other languages.  The Greek word used refers specifically to known languages.  It was a reversal of what had happened at Babel, when God had confused and scattered the human race by confusing their languages.  Now at Pentecost he brings them back together—not by their own doing, but by the power of his Spirit and through unity in Jesus Christ.  For that reason it seems unlikely that they were all shouting at once.  This wasn’t a chaotic scene.  Luke says that they spoke in these languages as the Spirit gave them utterance—as the Spirit directed. Now remember that for the festival there were Jews in the city from all over the world.  If the disciples were in the Upper Room, they weren’t very far from the Temple.  The men outside heard the sound—presumably the sound that was like a mighty wind—and went to investigate, and when they got there, all these foreigners heard the gathered disciples speaking their own languages.  Jews from Rome heard men speaking in Latin and Jews from Greece heard men speaking in Greek, and they said, “What’s up with this?  These guys are all locals from Galilee—they’re yokels!  I mean, maybe we could expect them to speak Greek and some of them a little Latin, but they’re speaking in all sorts of languages!  Our languages!” Some of those who heard were convinced that those speaking in these other languages were drunk, but the speaking caught the attention of lots of them who listened and heard the disciples telling them of God’s mighty works.  As the crowd gathered the little group of 120 attracted thousands.  We don’t know how many thousands, just that the end result of what the Spirit did on that day was that three thousand came to faith in Christ. The only place in Jerusalem big enough to handle that kind of crowd was the temple environs.  St. Luke doesn’t say how they got there from the Upper Room, which was nearby, but one tradition describes the crowd growing as foreigners were attracted, hearing their own languages spoken, and that groups started forming outside the house, men from each province gathering around the disciples speaking their language, listening to them talk about God’s mighty works as they all made their way up to the temple.  However it happened, the temple has to be where they ended up. And when they got there St. Peter spoke up and began preaching to them.  And this to me is the most remarkable thing that happened on Pentecost—the thing that shows more than anything else that the Spirit was at work and that shows us what the primary ministry of the Spirit is.  Peter suddenly understood! Remember how all along Jesus preached about the kingdom of God, and all that time the disciples kept not getting it.  Even on the Mount of Olives, just before he ascended, the disciples were asking him, “Okay, Jesus, all this stuff you’ve done is really cool—especially the whole rising from the dead thing—but when are you going to do what you came here to do?  When are you going to defeat the Romans?  When are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel?  When are you going to make the Jews great again?”  Even at the very end, the disciples didn’t get it.  And now suddenly, Peter stands up before the crowd—and he gets it.  And he starts preaching to them the Good News—and the coolest part is that where before he was looking back at all those Old Testament prophecies that the Jews thought were about the restoration of an earthly kingdom, now suddenly he understands them.  He starts preaching Christ and the kingdom of God from those same passages he’d never understood before. At the same time the Spirit was at work in the people listening.  St. Luke says they were “cut to the heart.”  They ask Peter what they should do, and Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Luke says that three thousand did just that and as the weeks and months went by more and more did the same—and they did so as the Spirit did what he was sent to do: to turn our hearts toward Christ and to open eyes and ears to the truth of the Gospel. Of course, we can’t forget that the work of the Spirit goes beyond Pentecost.  The purpose of the Spirit is to unite us to Christ.  He’s the one who grafts us into Christ, the vine, so that we can have new life.  And of course St. Paul reminds us of the results of that change.  In Galatians he lists the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like those.  Those are the behaviours that describe our life before Christ, but as the Spirit indwells us our lives are changed, we receive life from Christ the vine and the Spirit causes us to bear his fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are the evidences of the indwelling Spirit.  Doing amazing things and working miracles, casting out demons and prophesying, speaking in tongues or healing, are often signs the Spirit works to validate the message, but even Jesus warns us that those things can be counterfeited and often will be.  We have all sorts of guys on TV that are poster children for this—guys who claim to be faith healers, working miracles, and yet their personal lives are dominated by greed, and dishonesty, and lust and adultery.  The real evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is a changed life—a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit and as I talked about last Sunday: that is every growing in holiness—and that’s the greatest miracle of all! If the Spirit chooses to work miracles sometimes to add extra weight to the Gospel message, that’s great, but the consistent message throughout Scripture, and especially the New Testament is that we are called to witness the Gospel by living it, by bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Where there is love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control you know you’re dealing with a person full of the Spirit and because of that a person who is grafted into Jesus Christ.  That’s what the world needs to see in us. I want to close with an example from the Old Testament. Samson was a man who had been gifted by the Spirit.  In his case it was supernatural strength. The Spirit doesn’t give us gifts today for no reason and he didn’t then—in fact, when he did in those days it had to be for some really important purpose.  Samson was truly gifted in regard to his strength.  He was also called to exhibit godliness as one of God’s elect, but even more so because of his Nazirite vow.  He was to be especially dedicated to God and to his kingdom.  And yet throughout his life, despite his calling to holiness, he consistently lived in an unholy and ungodly way.  He lived in direct disobedience of not only his vows, but of the Law.  Samson took the gift of strength that God had given him to use for his kingdom and instead used it to take advantage of people and to basically be an all around jerk. Had Samson followed God closely it boggles the mind to think what he could have done to witness the glory of God, but instead he abused God’s gift.  In the end God used him for two things: first, to bring the house down with his strength and kill a whole bunch of Philistines, and second, to be a lesson to us: don’t be like Samson.  Don’t squander and abuse the gifts God gives.  I often wonder if some of the Philistines might somehow have had their eyes opened to God had Samson exhibited what the New Testament calls the fruit of the Spirit. Each of us is gifted by the Spirit.  Some of us having amazing gifts like Samson did and some of us have more mundane gifts, but the Spirit gives them to each of us for the purpose of building his kingdom and building up his body—no gift is more important than another.  But those gifts are only used appropriately as we live in the Spirit and bear Christ-like fruit.  The Corinthians were being kind of like Samson.  Some of them had been given amazing gifts by the Spirit, but instead of using them to build up the Body, they were using them to build up themselves, to show others their supposed superiority, and in many ways just being jerks.  And Paul wrote to them, showing them how they were abusing those gifts.  One person’s gift doesn’t make them any more special than someone else.  Just because your gift is a “wow” gift, doesn’t make it better than someone else’s gift that isn’t a “wow” gift.  Far more important than the gifts is the fruit.  And that’s where Paul goes on to talk about the supremacy of love—the foremost of the Spirit’s fruit.  The fruit, not these other gifts, is the most conclusive manifesting of the indwelling Spirit.  That fruit—that life lived with the indwelling Spirit—needs to be our primary focus because it’s only in combination with living that Spirit-filled life that our other gifts will build the kingdom of God and bless the Body. Please pray with me:  Heavenly Father, you not only sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to purchase our redemption from sin and death, but you sent your Spirit to turn our stony hearts into hearts of flesh, that we might understand and receive your Gospel. Today Father we ask again for your Spirit to do his work, that we might not merely believe your Gospel, but that we might also receive your power to live it, that we might bear the fruit of the Spirit and be living witnesses of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.
Bible Text: Acts 7:55-60; Matthew 23:34-39 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for St. Stephen's Day Acts 7:55-60 & St. Matthew 23:34-39 by William Klock Throughout Advent the lessons reminded us that we need to be prepared—that we need to living and growing in the new life of grace that we have because of Jesus’ First Advent.  We’re reminded that he has given us work to do.  He’s called us to be salt and light to the world and to build his kingdom so that when he comes back, that at his Second Advent, he can present his kingdom to his Father.  But what does that work look like.  Sometimes we get the idea that it’s all “fun and games”.  But brothers and sisters, as much as our mission is a joyful one, kingdom work is still hard work.  Sometimes it’s even dangerous work.  In our Gospel lesson we read Jesus’ words of warning to the Jews: Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and  persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all  the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of  Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and  the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:34-36) Jesus takes us all the way back to Abel, who was killed by his brother Cain, not because he had done anything wrong, but because he had been faithful to God and Cain couldn’t stand to see that faithful witness.  Throughout the Old Testament we see the faithful persecuted and often even killed by the faithless.  But it’s not just an Old Testament phenomenon.  This is what men and women do in their natural and unredeemed state.  We don’t like our sins pointed out to us.  We manage to convince ourselves that we’re really not all that bad.  We work hard to justify our sins.  We find the really, really sinful people in history—men like Nero or Stalin—and we compare ourselves to them and actually start to feel pretty good about where we stand before God.  And that’s when one of God’s faithful workers comes along—someone who, while by no means perfect, is living a life renewed by grace and who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit—and suddenly all the illusions we’ve built up about our own goodness dissolve and we get angry.  Like Cain, instead of acknowledging our sins and instead of repenting, we torment, persecute, and sometimes even kill the God’s people when they show us up. In the Gospel Jesus weeps over Jews, knowing that they will continue to kill his messengers.  They’ll be killing Jesus himself in short order too.  They won’t heed the warnings.  But brothers and sisters, Jesus warns us—the faithful—too.  To his disciples he says:    Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.    Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. He prepares us for the fact that as we joyfully follow him, as we joyfully do the work of his kingdom, and as we witness the great Christmas joy we’ve found in the manger and at the cross—as we live a life of joy before our King—we will face the persecution of the world.  To submit ourselves to that seems nonsensical.  How can we find joy in persecution?  We find it there, because when we make Christ our Lord, he gives us that eternal perspective we’ve been hearing about through Advent.  Suddenly the things of the world are so much less important.  Our focus is on Jesus and on building his kingdom.  Our focus is on being witnesses of his new life and taking his Good News to the world.  And that change in perspective means that if we can effectively communicate the Gospel to someone while being tormented or even killed, well then, so be it.  Our joy in living in and sharing Christ is greater than our joy in the things of this world—even in life itself, because we know that our share in eternal life is so much greater.  But it’s not just about joy.  It’s about love too.  That’s another theme that carried through Advent.  We saw Love Incarnate in the manger yesterday.  And now because God has so changed our perspective by loving us, we start loving as he did—we can’t help it!  And it’s not just that we love God’s Church or that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but that we even love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.  That’s the hardest command of all for us to obey, but the reason it’s so hard is because we haven’t been perfect in love ourselves.  The closer we grow to Christ, the better able we’ll be to live it.  But it’s also true that the better we live it, the closer we will be to Christ! Living that way is hard.  We so often get bogged down in the world.  We focus more on life here than we do on life in the New Jerusalem.  We fall back into living in fear instead of living in faith.  The witness of St. Stephen should focus our eyes on our Lord and Saviour and on living the life he has given us.  No one knows for sure why this feast falls on the day after Christmas, but one thing I’ve realised is that it’s easy to be excited about grace and to live as Christmas people on Christmas Day.  But friends, we’re incredibly fickle, and the next day we forget about being Christmas people and go back to living in fear and faithlessness.  We forget our witness.  How often do you come to worship God on a Sunday morning, getting excited about grace, and yet even as you drive home someone on the road does something that makes you angry and you forget all about grace; or you get bad service while you’re out having lunch, and you forget all about grace; or you get a bad news the next morning about your job, and you forget all about grace.  The Church reminds us today that being Christmas people requires real commitment on our part and that as much as it’s joyful work, it’s hard work and work that requires real faith in the promises of God. The story of Stephen actually begins in Chapter 6.  He was among the group of seven men appointed the first deacons by the apostles.  They were the servant-ministers of the Church in Jerusalem.  Stephen was excited about his work.  Acts 6:8 tells us: Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. He was doing what he was supposed to do as a Christmas person and he attracted attention.  The problem was that he attracted the attention of Jews who didn’t like what he was doing.  Now, I say “the problem”.  That just shows how our perspective isn’t fully where it should be.  We see it as a “problem” when we face persecution.  We forget that God is sovereign and that he’s working everything out for the good of his people and the spread of his kingdom.  Persecution is hard and painful, but it’s still “good”.  Remember, Jesus tells us that we find blessing in it.  So it was a “problem” that the Jews were upset by what Stephen was doing, but it wasn’t really a problem.  God was still in control.  We need to keep that in mind in our own lives: Christians don’t have “problems”, we have “opportunities” to exercise our faith. And Stephen knew that, even as these angry men dragged him before the Sanhedrin and produced all sorts of false witnesses who attested that he was as a blasphemer.  He was on trial and it wasn’t going in his favour.  And yet even as these men told lies about him, St. Luke tells us that Stephen sat there with the face of an angel—he was peaceful even in the face of condemnation.  The one other place in Scripture we hear a description like this is of the face of Moses after he had been with God.  Stephen was close to his Saviour and was experiencing the “peace of the Lord”. In fact, when the high priest gave Stephen a chance to defend himself, what did Stephen do?  He didn’t try to explain away the things he had said and done that he got him into trouble in the first place.  No.  He took the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the whole Sanhedrin!  He addressed them and started with Abraham and told the story of redemption down through Joseph and Moses.  He told them the stories of their fathers who were rescued from slavery in Egypt and then again how God cared for them in the wilderness and drove out their enemies in Canaan to give them a home—and he stressed how all these things were made possible by God and were his gifts.  And as he told the story, he noted how over and over the people rejected God—gladly claiming the great things he gave them, but never truly receiving God himself.  And with that Stephen brings them right down to Jesus and he says: You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.  (Acts 7:51-53) He doesn’t pull any punches.  He tells them that in rejecting Christ, they’re doing the same things that their fathers had done before them in rejecting the grace of God and in being disobedient.  We don’t have time this morning to read Stephen’s full sermon, but I urge you to read through it—Acts 7—sometime this next week.  This was a man who was full of passion for his Lord.  He was full of passion to share the Good News, even when he was in the lion’s den.  What strikes me is how what Stephen does here runs counter to so much of what the Church today tells us to do in terms of evangelism.  We’re told today not to be confrontational; we’re told not to talk too much about sin—or not to talk about it all—because that might turn people off; we’re told to focus on the positive; we’re told to witness the Gospel with our lives and that we might get into trouble sharing it with our mouths.  Look at what Stephen does!  Not only does he live the Gospel, but he speaks it out loud and clear!  He confronts these men right for being the religious hypocrites they are.  Stephen didn’t just sit there, quietly and say to himself: “I’m not going to bother with these guys.  I’d just be casting my pearls before swine.”  No, he shared the Good News with them and he did it peacefully and joyfully.  And he did it because he was living in the grace and love of Christmas.  He knew that these men might never come to know the Saviour but for his witness, but he also knew that if they were truly reprobate, their rejection of his Gospel sermon would simply confirm to them and to the world their rejection of the Saviour, and God would have greater glory in their condemnation.  God’s Word never returns void.  Stephen knew that. St. Luke continues the story and tells us their response: Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.  Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice,  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60) We might read that story and think, “Wow.  Stephen certainly had a bad day!”  Our eyes are blind to God at his work.  Stephen took a faithful stand for his Lord, and even as they got ready to drag him out to be stoned, God granted him a vision of his own glory and of Jesus enthroned beside him.  Stephen’s “bad day” was a good day for the Church, because on that day God set Stephen before the rest of us as a witness—a lesson as to what it means to be Christmas people—people of his grace and his love and his power.  He showed himself to Stephen so that Stephen could show himself and his faith in Christ to the rest of us. But Stephen’s story does more than just encourage us to share the Good News and to stand firm in our faith.  He reminds us what it means to witness the Gospel in our deeds.  Stephen had that vision of the Lord Jesus before his eyes, and so even as these evil men started hurling stones at him, he responded with Christlike love.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, do you remember what he prayed?  He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.”  To the last Jesus was concerned with the souls and with the eternal state of the people around him—even his enemies.  He was an evangelist to the end, even when there were no more words to say to his persecutors and murderers, he was praying for them.  And Stephen, with his eyes on Jesus, does the same.  There was nothing left to say to these men and there was nothing left for him to do, and so he prayed for them: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Luke tells us that St. Paul was there that day.  He was holding coats so that people could do a better job throwing rocks at Stephen.  Of course, this is when he was known as Saul—before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road and had his life changed forever.  The next verse, 8:1, tells us that Paul approved of Stephen’s execution.  What we don’t know is what impact Stephen’s loving and gracious response had on Paul’s future conversion.  But Luke certainly included this detail for a reason. Brothers and sisters, Stephen reminds us that we need to be living as Christmas people, not just on Christmas, but every day.  But he also shows us very dramatically what it means to live in the life and grace of Christmas—especially in light of St. Luke’s note that Paul was there that day.  We never know who is witnessing us and how those around us may, or may not, be impacted for the Gospel by what we say and what we do and by how we deal with the circumstances of life.  Who would have thought on that day that Saul of Tarsus—Hebrew of Hebrews and member of the Sanhedrin, the man who hunted down Christians and brought them to trial before the Jewish authorities—who would have thought that Stephen’s witness of love and grace that day might change the whole course of Church history as Saul later became Paul, the apostle to the gentiles. And lastly, Stephen teaches us something about the extreme nature of grace and love and forgiveness.  These men were more than just run-of-the-mill enemies.  These weren’t just men who didn’t like him or were just angry with him.  These were men who saw him as a threat to their existence and wanted to kill him—who did kill him.  Stephen didn’t reciprocate their anger.  No, he saw them as Jesus saw them: sinful men whom he loved and who would face eternal damnation without the Gospel of love and grace.  Stephen knew the love that overcomes a multitude of sins and he knew it because he had experienced it himself through Jesus Christ.  St. John reminds us that anyone who claims to love God, but hates his brother is a liar—that you can’t have experienced the redeeming love of God and still hold grudges and hate in your heart against those who have wronged you.  Friends, to hold a grudge, to resent the sins of others, to fail to show a forgiving spirit, is to be self-righteous—it’s to ignore what God had done for you! Stephen could look on these angry men with love, precisely because he had himself experienced the love of Christ and God’s forgiveness—and he knew that there was nothing these men could do to him that was as bad as even his own smallest offences against God.  God had forgiven him so much—and he realise that so well—that it was a “small” thing for him to forgive these men and to show them love.  Lest we think that Jesus and John are just speaking in hyperbole when they tell us to love our enemies, St. Stephen shows us how the love of Christ really does work out in our lives—or at least how it should, if we truly claim to love God and to have experienced his grace and forgiveness. So remember today: We are a Christmas people, living in the grace and love of God.  But remember too that God calls us to be Christmas people every day.  The joy of Christmas is something that should permeate every aspect of our lives that we might be witnesses, even to our enemies and even to those who would kill us, of the love and grace that God has shown us through his Son.  And so we pray, “Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings for the testimony of your truth we may look up steadfastly to heaven and see by faith the glory that is to be revealed and, filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and pray for our persecutors as St. Stephen your first martyr prayed for his murderers to you, blessed Jesus, where you stand at the right hand of God to help all who suffer for you, our only mediator and advocate.  Amen.”
Bible Text: Acts 2:1-11; John 14:15-31 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Life in the Spirit Acts 2:1-11 & St. John 14:15-31 by William Klock Think back over the Church year so far.  We started in Advent with the proclamation that new life was going to come in the person of the Messiah.  At Christmas we heard the message that God had come himself—incarnate as one of us.  He lived like us with the one very important exception: where we are sinners, he was not.  He fulfilled the Law.  During Holy Week we followed him from the Upper Room to the Cross and finally to the Tomb—we followed him as he who knew no sin, became sin for us and bought our redemption.  He took God’s wrath and punishment for sin in our place.  And on Easter we followed his disciples to the tomb and found it empty—empty because God had raised him from the dead.  We received the message that we are raised to new life with him.  Then, a week-and-a-half-ago, we followed Jesus and his disciples outside the city and heard those men receive their commission from him: Go out and share the good news.  Go out and baptize and make disciples!  And then he rose to heaven. It’s interesting that all through all these events and as Jesus was preaching his message of the kingdom of God—that it wasn’t about a place, but about a person and was something that reigns in our hearts as we are joined to that person (to him)—through all these things the disciples never really “got it”.  At every step they stop him to ask, “Yeah, Jesus, that’s great, but when are you going to work your Messiah stuff, throw off this poor itinerant preacher disguise, kick out the Romans and rebuild the great kingdom that we knew when David and Solomon were kings in Israel?”  They didn’t get it.  Even as he was preparing to ascend to heaven and take his throne, they were asking him when he was going to restore the “Kingdom of Israel.” Even as Jesus was getting ready to ascend to heaven, to sit down on his throne and rule his kingdom, the disciples still didn’t get it. Jesus had even told them that he couldn’t stay—he had to go so that he could send another.  We read one of those passages in our Gospel this morning: John 15:26-27: But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. A few verses later, in Chapter 16, Jesus explains it to them in more detail. He says, I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me… I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.   Jesus has been providing the teaching, he’s done the work of redemption, but it’s the “Helper,” literally in Greek it’s the “one who is called alongside” is the one who has to come and put it all into action.  Each person of the Trinity has his own part in this whole work of restoration.  It was the Father who sent the Son.  It was the Son who died and rose again accomplishing the actual work of redemption.  And it’s then the Spirit who works in the hearts of men to turn them to Christ, to give them understanding, and finally to knit them together into the Body of Christ.  Think about that.  Consider the fact that these guys had been following Christ around for three years, not just hearing him preach, but living with him and engaging in personal conversation with him—and yet they still didn’t understand what he was really all about.  They were still looking for an earthly conquering hero.  As much as they didn’t want their friend to leave, he needed to so that his Spirit—the one St. John calls the “Helper”—could be sent to complete the work.  Jesus goes on to say: And when [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The job of the Holy Spirit is to awaken the deadened hearts of men and women to their need for a Saviour and to bring Jesus’ kingdom into being.  Again, Jesus had to go back to his Father so that he could then send the Spirit.  In the Old Testament the prophet Ezekiel wrote about the coming day when hearts of stone would be turned into hearts of flesh.  Brothers and sisters, Jesus makes that transformation possible, but without the work of the Holy Spirit, our cold and stony hearts will never be turned to Jesus Christ.  Without the Spirit they will never be softened.  Without the Spirit we’ll never have those “hearts of flesh”. From time to time we need this reminder of what the Spirit’s work is.  Sometimes we overstep our bounds.  Jesus calls us to proclaim the message of the Gospel, but it’s the Spirit’s work to convict hearts and to make them understand the message we preach.  Our job is to share the message.  The Spirit’s job is to change hearts.  We sow the seed.  The Spirit brings the fruit. But there’s more to the Spirit’s work than convicting people of sin, righteousness, and judgement.  Jesus goes on: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.(John 16:4-5, 7-15) The ministry of the Spirit is first and foremost to take what Jesus has said and apply it to our hearts as he gives us understanding.  This is what the disciples had been missing all along.  This is what the world is missing when it hears the Gospel message, but chalks it up as foolishness.  It’s the result of our fallen and sinful natures.  God created us to understand him, but because we have sinned, our understanding, our reason, our thought processes have all been tainted with sin.  Even with the Spirit dwelling in us, St. Paul says that we still see as through a darkened mirror.  Without the Spirit we can’t see at all.  Without the Spirit our hearts are naturally against God.  So the most important working of the Spirit is to open our eyes to God’s truth.  Jesus notes that the Spirit doesn’t speak on his own authority, but that the work of the Spirit is to declare—to make understood—to us the message of Jesus Christ. Notice also Jesus says that the function of the Spirit is to give him glory.  Even though there is equality within the Holy Trinity, there is still a hierarchy within the relationships of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  Jesus is subordinate to the Father, just as any son is subordinate to his earthly father.  Notice that throughout Jesus’ ministry he tells us that his purpose is to glorify the Father—never once does he seek his own glory.  In fact, that was what Satan tempted him to do in the wilderness.  And so with the Holy Spirit, except that the Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Christ.  The Spirit never glorifies himself.  Notice that the Spirit never attracts attention to himself.  His mission is to point us to Christ and Christ’s mission then is to point us to and reconcile us with the Father. All this is exactly what happened at Pentecost.  When Jesus ascended he commissioned his disciples, telling them that they were to go out to all the world to be his witnesses, first to Jerusalem and to Judea, then to Samaria, and eventually to the whole world.  But, he said, you need to go to Jerusalem and wait.  I need to return to my Father, but when I get there, I will send the Helper—my Spirit—who will indwell you and enable you to do all these things I’ve commissioned you to do. And that’s what they did.  They went back to Jerusalem.  St. Luke tells us that for the next week-and-a-half, they didn’t just sit on their hands waiting for the promised power to come, but spent their time in the temple praising and blessing God. And then Luke tells us that when the day of Pentecost had come—the second of the Jewish harvest festivals when the city was packed with Jews from all over the world—the disciples were all gathered in one place.  Presumably when he says “all,” he’s talking about the whole 120 of them.  Tradition says they were gathered in the same “upper room” where Jesus had instituted his Supper.  He says in Acts 2: And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (Acts 2:2-4) This was what they had been waiting for.  It’s appropriate that the Spirit came as he did.  Jesus had described the working of the Spirit as a gentle breeze—and that’s very true—but here on the day when the Spirit was given to the Church—on the very birthday of the Church—he came with the sound not of a little rustling breeze, but with the sound of a storm. And as something that looked like tongues of fire rested on their heads, that sound of the mighty wind broke into the sound of those 120 disciples suddenly speaking in other languages as the Spirit directed them.  What happened?  Luke doesn’t give full details.  All he says is that they started speaking in other languages.  The Greek word used refers specifically to known languages.  It was a reversal of what had happened at Babel, when God had confused and scattered the human race by confusing their languages.  Now at Pentecost he brings them back together—not by their own doing, but by the power of his Spirit and through unity in Jesus Christ.  For that reason it seems unlikely that they were all shouting at once.  This wasn’t a chaotic scene.  Luke says that they spoke in these languages as the Spirit gave them utterance—as the Spirit directed. Now remember that for the festival there were Jews in the city from all over the world.  If the disciples were in the Upper Room, they weren’t very far from the Temple.  The men outside heard the sound and went to investigate.  When they got there, all these foreigners heard the gathered disciples speaking their own languages.  Jews from Rome heard men speaking in Latin and Jews from Greece heard men speaking in Greek, and they said, “What’s up with this?  These guys are all uneducated rednecks from Galilee!  Sure, maybe a few of them speak a little Greek and one or two a little Latin, but these men are speaking in all sorts of languages!  Our languages!” Some of those who heard were convinced that those speaking in these other languages were drunk, but the speaking caught the attention of lots of them who listened and heard the disciples telling them of God’s mighty works.  As the crowd gathered the little group of 120 attracted thousands.  We don’t know how many thousands, just that the end result of what the Spirit did on that day was that three thousand came to faith in Christ. The only place in Jerusalem big enough to handle that kind of crowd was the temple environs.  St. Luke doesn’t say how they got there from the Upper Room, which was nearby, but one tradition describes the crowd growing as foreigners were attracted, hearing their own languages spoken, and that groups started forming outside the house, men from each province gathering around the disciples speaking their language, listening to them talk about God’s mighty works as they all made their way up to the temple.  However it happened, the temple has to be where they ended up. And when they got there St. Peter spoke up and began preaching to them.  And this to me is the most remarkable thing that happened on Pentecost—the thing that shows more than anything else that the Spirit was at work and that shows us what the first ministry of the Spirit is.  Peter suddenly understood! Remember how all along Jesus preached about the kingdom of God, and all that time the disciples kept not getting it.  Even on the Mount of Olives, just before he ascended, the disciples were asking him, “Okay, Jesus, all this stuff you’ve done is great—especially that whole rising from the dead thing—but when are you going to do what you came here to do?  When are you going to defeat the Romans?  When are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel?  When are you going to make the Jews great again?”  Even at the very end, the disciples didn’t get it.  And now suddenly, Peter stands up before the crowd—and he gets it.  And he starts preaching to them the Good News—and the most wonderful part is that where before he was looking back at all those Old Testament prophecies that the Jews thought were about the restoration of an earthly kingdom, now suddenly he understands them.  He starts preaching Christ and the kingdom of God from those same passages he’d never understood before. At the same time the Spirit was at work in the people listening.  St. Luke says they were “cut to the heart.”  They ask Peter what they should do, and Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Luke says that three thousand did just that and as the weeks and months went by more and more did the same—and they did so as the Spirit did what he was sent to do: to turn hearts toward Christ and to open eyes and ears to the truth of the Gospel. Of course, we can’t forget that the work of the Spirit goes beyond Pentecost.  The purpose of the Spirit is to unite us to Christ.  He’s the one who grafts us into Christ, the vine, so that we can have new life.  And of course St. Paul reminds us of the results of that change.  In Galatians he lists the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like those.  Those are the behaviours that describe our life before Christ, but as the Spirit indwells us our lives are changed, we receive life from Christ the vine and the Spirit causes us to bear his fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are the evidences of the indwelling Spirit.  Doing amazing things and working miracles, casting out demons and prophesying, speaking in tongues or healing, can be signs the Spirit works to validate the message, but those aren’t what we look for as proof of the Spirit’s presence.  Jesus even warns us that those things can be counterfeited and often will be.  We have all sorts of guys on TV that are poster children for this—guys who claim to be faith healers, working miracles, and yet their gospel is a false one and their personal lives are dominated by greed, and dishonesty, lust and adultery.  The real evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is a changed life—a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit and that is growing in holiness—and that’s the greatest miracle of all! If the Spirit chooses to work miracles sometimes to add extra weight to the Gospel message, that’s great, but the consistent message throughout Scripture, and especially the New Testament is that we are called to witness the Gospel by living it, by bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Where there is love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control you know you’re dealing with a person full of the Spirit, and because of that, a person who is grafted into Jesus Christ.  That’s what the world needs to see in us. I want to close with an example from the Old Testament. Samson was a man who had been gifted by the Spirit.  In his case it was supernatural strength. The Spirit doesn’t give us gifts today for no reason and he didn’t then—in fact, when he did in those days it had to be for some really important purpose.  Samson was truly gifted in regard to his strength.  He was also called to exhibit godliness as one of God’s elect, but even more so because of his Nazirite vow.  He was to be especially dedicated to God and to his kingdom.  And yet throughout his life, despite his calling to holiness, he consistently lived in an unholy and ungodly way.  He lived in direct disobedience of not only his vows, but of the Law.  Samson took the gift of strength that God had given him to use for his kingdom and instead used it to take advantage of people—basically to be a jerk. Had Samson followed God closely it boggles the mind to think what he could have done to witness the glory of God, but instead he abused God’s gift.  In the end God used him for two things: first, to bring the house down with his strength and kill a whole bunch of Philistines, and second, to be a lesson to us: don’t be like Samson.  Don’t squander and abuse the gifts God gives.  I often wonder if some of the Philistines might somehow have had their eyes opened to God had Samson exhibited what the New Testament calls the fruit of the Spirit. Brothers and sisters, each of us is gifted by the Spirit too.  As St. Paul reminded the Corinthians, these gifts aren’t for us personally; they’re for the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ.  If we are to be faithful to Jesus, who has given us his Spirit, we need to be faithful in using our gifts.  We need to remember that even though we work in different parts of the kingdom and in different ways, we’re all called to be faithful workers and faithful builders of God’s kingdom.  But we also need to remember that as we use the gifts the Spirit has given us, we need to be living the Spirit’s fruit too.  St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that greater than any spiritual gift is love, and close behind love are the other fruits of the Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Love is what moves us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and of his death and resurrection with people who are spiritually dying.  And it’s as we live out the fruit of the Spirit that we shine the light of Christ into the world’s darkness.