The More of Pentecost

by Joan Fanshawe

(Based on John 20:19-23; Acts 2:1-21)

I wanted to call this ‘the more’ of Pentecost, because parts have the “but wait, there’s more” aspect.
Pentecost is the culmination of the Christian season of Easter, but was originally a Jewish festival, which is why the Jewish followers of Jesus were gathered together in Jerusalem for its religious observance. Still recovering from their grief at the crucifixion, joy at the resurrection, and confusion at Jesus’s brief stay with them prior to ‘the ascension’ (according to Luke in his account in the Book of Acts), the disciples got the more of Pentecost surely! There was much more than a babble of words.
This was/is the day when the original disciples, and every generation of disciples since, were reminded that God still moves among us, and our calling is to follow the guidance of the Spirit.

The Pentecost story recounted in Acts is uniquely our story; our Christian tradition grew from here and each year at this time we celebrate the amazing narrative of wind, fire and the gift of languages. Words that breathed life and inspiration into Jesus’s followers, bringing them out from behind locked doors and giving them the power of language enabling them to tell all the people gathered – even the Gentiles – about God’s love, grace and mercy for all people – many there from far off parts of the known world.

They all heard what the spirit was saying.

Pentecost! Fifty days measured from the Passover. Previously known as Shavout, the Festival of Weeks: this ancient festival is still celebrated by Jewish people. It has a less agricultural focus now but the custom of reading the Book of Ruth is still followed.

Impressive as Luke’s account of Pentecostal inspiration is, when we claim this as a beginning of the Christian movement we still need to remember that this wasn’t the first time the Holy Spirit had made an appearance to God’s people. There are many references to God’s Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures. Most memorably, of course, at the beginning of Genesis in the creation stories when the Spirit of God “moved over the face of the waters”, and then God breathed life into the man made from dust.

More powerful spirit imagery.

And while we are back in that very beginning part of the story of God’s relationship with the Israelites – when many of the laws around worship, holy days, moral laws, harvest offerings, etc, were laid down by Moses, we find reference to the early celebration of Pentecost in Leviticus, marking that important harvest time.
In Leviticus 23 we read: “And from the day after the Sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation-offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord.
Then follow details of the types of offering required to be presented, concluding: “This is a statute forever in all your settlements throughout your generations. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.” 
The More in this is that Leviticus passage moving directly from an offering of thankfulness to justice, with the ethical demand not to harvest the fields to their fullest extent, but to leave the edges for the poor. (Hence the relevance of the Ruth story)

It’s good that we remember these roots – that Pentecost was essentially a celebration for those who had been lifted out of poverty and slavery; to remember that abundance and freedom obligate us to support those who continue to live in poverty and chains. 

For the disciples in Jerusalem, being fired up with the Spirit was the More they needed to go out and share the good news. Maybe we would all secretly like to have an experience like that. Maybe some of you have.

A story is told of a man who came to an Anglican church service, and who was enthusiastically waving his arms and speaking in tongues, rather disrupting the worship. After a while a welcomer approached him and asked him to desist, and the man said, “But I’ve got the Spirit!”. “That might be so, Sir,” the welcomer replied, “but you didn’t get it here!”

I haven’t had a Pentecostal experience like that in Acts. My experience of God has been more gentle, more the “still small voice”, or a dawning recognition, like the travellers on the road to Emmaus, renewing my hope and faith. And, occasionally, an “Aha!” moment.
If we are open to God’s Spirit then there will be many ways of experiencing that grace and peace in our lives.

This year the Gospel reading that accompanies the Pentecost story is that well known passage from John when Jesus appears to the disciples in a locked room later in the day of his resurrection. “Peace be with you” is his greeting, then he shows his hands and his side while the disciples see and rejoice. This is much more than Jesus proving his ID.  For the disciples it’s a profound moment of realisation that Jesus is with them despite all that has just happened. Jesus can defeat fear and bring hope.
Then he says “Peace be with you” again. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”

This is John’s account of the commissioning of the disciples and today Jesus still shows us the way of love, and sends us out too. Like the early disciples, we too may find ourselves hiding behind closed doors of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Yet the Holy Spirit invites us to open our hearts and embrace the peace of Christ, enabling us to be agents of love and justice in a broken world.

This brings me to the More of our greeting of peace. Shalom. It is much more than a “hello”, but can carry a deep sense trust in God’s presence, of hope and love, in the sense of “All will be well”.
The link with the Pentecost experience that we celebrate is that the Spirit urges us to be that peace bearer to all people, by the way we live.

Can we hear what the Spirit is saying to us, God’s people, this Pentecost?  God is doing something new, and we can be a part of it.  We can be on fire for the healing of what needs to be healed in this country and even the world.

Veni Spiritus Sanctus. Come Holy Spirit. 

The Other Lord’s Prayer

by Ken Francis

(Based on John 17:1-26)
[Entrée: For max benefit from this reflection, first read the ‘other’ Lord’s Prayer here at John 17]

So, Jesus was in the habit of praying.

What about you?  How does praying work for you?  Do you have a set time?  A set place?  A set routine?  Or are you more free-form?!  More random?  Perhaps you’re someone who is constantly in prayer, moment by moment, as Paul the Apostle seemed to be.  How important is a regular prayer routine?

Well, Jesus was in the habit of praying.  For example, in Luke 5 we get: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Luke 11:1: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.”  Mark 1:35: “Jesus got up very early in the morning to pray.”  Matthew 14:23: “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”

So, again, Jesus was in the habit of praying.  It was an anchor for him.  So when came his greatest time of greatest testing it was perfectly natural for him to default to prayer mode, as we have read in the entrée.  He prays intimately, and with familiarity.  And with confidence that he really is talking to his Father God. 
And he really was confident.  There’s a very telling incident in John 11.  This is where Jesus has arrived after the death of Lazarus – four days after the death of Lazarus – and he prays – out loud – for Lazarus’s recovery.  It says here, “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe …’”
Wouldn’t you like to have been there!

Jesus was in the habit of praying.  This too should be our easy default when we’re stretched, challenged, troubled …

This is the Lord’s prayer.  When we think of the Lord’s Prayer, we usually think of, “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy be your name …”  Etc.  But I think of this, in John 17, as truly the Lord’s prayer.  It’s the only actual prayer we have of Jesus longer than a sentence or two.  It’s a beautiful prayer, for all sorts of reasons, and I hope you find it so. 

It’s common to think this is the actual prayer he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, before his execution.  But I’m not so sure.  For one thing, although we’re told it happened just after the last supper, after this prayer, says John 18:1, they then walked to the Garden.  Also, when he was praying in the Garden, the other Gospels tell us, he moved away a little, and the disciples went to sleep!  So, how did John know what he prayed, and so record it, if this was that prayer?  How would he have heard it if he was asleep?  So, was this actually the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane?! 

Who knows?

Anyway, did you notice the shape of this great prayer?  First Jesus prays for himself – an intimate, loving exchange between him and Abba, his Father.  He’s troubled, he almost seems to need some encouragement that he’s on the right track.  Then he prays for others: his disciples initially: an amazing prayer, focussing on unity.  And the third stanza has him praying for us!  For those, he says, who will come later.  Us!

I find this very moving!

Our granddaughter rang us during the week – she quite often does, which is pretty wonderful.  She’s seventeen.  Usually her chatter is trivial and teenage girly stuff.  But this time I felt bold enough to ask her, “well that’s all the good stuff going on in your life – anything getting you down at all?”  And surprisingly she did share a couple of things, and one of them was that she was trying to get back to her Bible, and was frustrated that she couldn’t get a routine going, and she knew she had to.  We chatted about the practicalities of that, but next day, thinking about it, I realised this was not so much about Bible reading routine but more about … a weakening faith.  With all sorts of teenage things going on in her life, relationships and media and stuff, impossible teenage temptations, she’s struggling with her faith, and she realises she has to stay connected … anchored … with God’s Word, if she’s going to hang in there.
This realisation has caused me some concern since, and I’ve been praying for her – that, Father, “… please watch over her … protect her by your sovereign power …” “She belongs to you, so make yourself known to her.”  “Convince her of the truth … your word is truth.”  And at the same time I’ve been preparing this reflection, and it’s struck me that this is exactly what Jesus was praying for his disciples, and us, here in John 17.  ‘Abba, guard them, don’t let them be snatched away!’  A prayer we might be praying for our own children and grandchildren, and those descendants who come further down the century.  And for each other.

My point is, let’s make parts of this, the Lord’s prayer, our prayer.

Just a couple of other things before we, now having a better big picture, read it again:

  • At the time he prayed this, just consider Jesus’s mental/emotional state. He was within twenty four hours of his execution, and he knew what was coming.  So the prayer is tense, and comes from a deep emotional reservoir as he prays for us.
  • Do you realise Jesus is still praying for us? It’s stated in three places in the New Testament.  Heb 7:24, for example, says “… he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he’s always interceding for them.”  Jesus is always interceding for us!

Indeed, Abba. Thy will be done – on earth, as it is in heaven!

[Epilogue: To read again this ‘other Lord’s Prayer’. Here it is: Link]

A Healthy Suspicion

A little girl I know, I’ll call her Alice, believes in the tooth fairy.  No, I mean, really believes in the tooth fairy.  I know, everybody believes in the tooth fairy, don’t they, but Alice is next level.  She won’t be shaken.  Because she’s been told by her parents that the tooth fairy comes and – well – the evidence is overwhelming: she put her tooth under the pillow and there was money there in the morning.  What more proof could you want?  Like the biscuit crumbs and empty glass and reindeer kibble that are left beside the fire place on Christmas morning.
There’s also the Easter bunny.  I mean, nobody really believes in the Easter bunny, do they?
Well, Alice does.  Because her teacher told her so; and if anyone is to be trusted, and who knows everything, it is the teacher.  So I can’t shake this innocent’s unshakeable belief in the bunny.

Would we call it gullibility?
I don’t think so.  Gullibility is a misplaced, foolish belief and trust by someone who should know better.  That doesn’t really describe this six-year-old.  How could she know better when people she justifiably trusts assert something with a straight face?
When does innocent trust become gullibility?  When should a person wake up to foolish belief?  There’s a group of adults in Kenya who’ve been told that if they starve themselves to death they’ll pass quickly and painlessly into heaven; even better if they starve their children first.  At time of writing, the death toll has surpassed 200, and more than 600 people are reported missing.
There’s a group of adults in free Europe (not just in Russia itself, where Putin controls information) who believe that Putin really is defending the freedom of Russia.  See, for example,
There’s a group of adults in America who really do believe there’s a conspiracy of prominent and highly influential men running a global paedophile ring.
Some people will believe anything. How do grown-ups fall for these things?

Yes, some people resolutely believe what they’re told.  Not just six-year-olds.  Uncritical, unquestioning, undiscerning people.  If someone they respect says something, they will buy it without investigation.
We need to question everything we receive and believe.  We need to cultivate a hedge of healthy suspicion!  What I believe is not a given.  It’s open to exploration.  I need to stay awake, not drift cosily along with the half-baked opinions and third-hand messages on my Facebook group.

Religion can deceive people, don’t you know.  The faithful need to be critical and discerning too.  What ‘truth’ is actually true?  Not just, what does the preacher, the priest or the imam say? 
In contrast to the gullibles listed above, there was a group of adults in a city called Berea, in first century Macedonia, who had the right posture.  Acts 17:11 reports that “the Bereans … received the message … and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  St Paul himself later wrote, “Prove [weigh, judge, discern] all things; hold fast that which is good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Alice would do well to learn from the Bereans, and soon.  Before her bunny belief pops and her adamancy about the tooth fairy leaves her embarrassed, or worse.

Rocks and Stones

by Bruce Gilberd

(Based on John 14:1-14; Ps 31:1-5; Acts 7:55-60; I Peter 2:2-10)

In today’s readings there are references to stones, mansions and buildings … and, living faith communities of people – the Christian church.

Pat and I noticed when living in – and visiting – Britain, almost every church – Celtic, Saxon, Norman, Gothic, Victorian and contemporary – was made of stone.  Westminster Abbey, seen by hundreds of millions this past week, is/was made of stone – in the thirteenth century!  Not so here in Aotearoa NZ where most, except our cathedrals, are made of wood.

A church building provides sacred space for the church people to gather to be graced, to worship, to be equipped for service and witness when we are not gathered here – for twenty four/seven discipleship.

Place and People:  they go together.  From the time of Solomon’s Temple three thousand years ago, hosting the Jewish church, to St Francis Tairua of the Christian church here this morning.

A reflection on all this from today’s readings:

  • From Psalm 31: the writer – probably David – says God is his fortress and his rock.
  • In the Acts reading: Dr Luke gives us the end of Stephen’s speech to the Jewish Council, and his prayer, as he dies from stoning, with rocks, a prayer similar to Jesus’s on the cross.  Stephen prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  He then dies, and Saul – later Paul – approves of his killing.
  • Peter – the ‘rock’ and apostle – the rock on whose faith Jesus was to build his church – speaks of Christ as the “cornerstone” on which people build, or over which they stumble.  He then describes in eloquent language the community of faith – the church, God’s divine creation, purposed to carry on the work of the risen Lord.  The church, he writes, is “God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”  The church has inherited the calling Israel failed to fulfil.  We are chosen not for privilege but for costly service and witness, joyfully offered.
  • Then John writes of Jesus telling ‘the eleven’, on the night before he died, after the exit of Judas, “not to be troubled”; “to believe”; and that they have places in “the Father’s house”.  And he will return to bring them home.
    ‘Questioning Thomas’ evokes Jesus’s telling statement:
    * I am the way (to God)
    * I am the truth (of God)
    * I am the life (of God)
    * And, most challengingly, “No one comes to the Father except through me …”

    Then he replies (this time to Philip’s question), in essence saying, “God the Father is like me” (I ‘abide’ in him …).

Well … quite a lot to take in here, and ponder about.

The contemporary universal church, across God’s world and in every nation, whether meeting secretly in small groups, perhaps in a persecuting environment, or publicly in great buildings – or one like ours – is called to be a presence of Christ, and to hold and share the Gospel of forgiveness and new life in trust for present and future generations.  The church is not something early Christians established: it was divinely established and is divinely sustained.

The church is us.  People anchored in God our Rock, and his purposes.