The Power of Pentecost

Sunday, May 23rd is the Feast of Pentecost, a singularly significant event on the Church calendar. Originally it was part of a fifty-day celebration of the establishment of the Church, embracing the resurrection and ascension of our Lord and culminating in the coming of the Holy Spirit upon it on the Day of Pentecost; indeed the word itself means fiftieth day after Easter. Only in the fifth century were these three elements separated into distinct observances and holy days.

As for Pentecost, it can be confidently believed (with Luke, in his Gospel, 24.49 and in Acts 2.1-42) that the Holy Spirit indeed came upon Christ’s followers at the first Christian Pentecost according to his promise and formed his Church as he would have it. In the power of that Spirit his close followers declared the “mighty works of God” and Peter preached the first Christian sermon with such force and authority that “about three thousand souls” were added to the body of believers that single day, hence the birthday of the Church. In the strength of the same Spirit the apostles performed “many signs and wonders among the people”, as Stephen, who was said to have done so for Christ with “the face of an angel.”

It was the Spirit in the form of a light from heaven that converted Paul from being the chief persecutor of Christians to its chief preacher, transferring to him in turn the power to convert others throughout the eastern Mediterranean, especially Gentiles, so manifesting Christ for the world. The power received at Pentecost and thereafter was clearly a power to prevail, to succeed in the Lord’s Name.

On the other hand, success was by no means assured. From the beginning the apostles faced opposition, suffering, and death for the Lord, Paul indicating that he had had to endure more labors, imprisonments, and beatings unto death in his ministry than others (II Corinthians 11.23). At one point, he said, metaphorically, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2.20) – only to have such prophetically come to pass when imprisoned and apparently chained to a guard (Acts 28.20) he preached the Lord Christ in Caesar’s household in Rome until presumably his martyrdom for the same around A.D. 65. Even in this, however, Paul had already grasped the paradox, the mystery of the spiritual power promised by Christ and delivered at Pentecost, for as the Lord tells Paul in a vision, his “power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12.9).

Early on, in his first missionary journey, and after having been stoned and dragged about, Paul said, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14.22).

He grasped fully the power both to prevail and to persevere in the Lord’s Name.  We need to be ever mindful of this truth of truths with regard to the power of the Spirit given to the Church on Pentecost. Especially so today!

While, as Paul well shows, opposition to the Christian faith has been present from spiritual and secular realms from the beginning, it is particularly vexing now.

Revisionist forces within the Church seek to deny or dumb down timeless basic doctrine. The secular media delights in publicizing and mocking the Church for its faults, for its sins, even as it promotes every manner of sin. Secular and patently anti-spiritual enterprises seek to drive Bible reading and prayer from schools, sports teams, and government offices, all the while conducting business without moral or ethical principles.

If all this were not bad enough, just the past week a Christian street preacher in England was arrested and locked up on a charge of hate speech for quoting the Bible and saying that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God. Next, we can be sure, priests will be charged with discrimination for being unwilling to marry same sex couples in obedience to Scripture.

These are what they are! More tribulations through which Christians must pass to enter the kingdom of God!

– JR Hiles

On Giving to the Church

After warning people gathered at the temple in Jerusalem to be wary of the Scribes, who along with others gave seemingly large sums to its treasury, Jesus goes on immediately to praise a poor widow for her sacrificial contribution, “two mites” (as the King James Version has it), about an eighth of a laborer’s daily wage, or “her whole living.”

Just below the surface in this contrast is the apparent fact that the Scribes, the professional theologians who functioned there, and who presumably had defrauded worshippers (in something of a spiritual foreclosure) in order to perpetuate their cushy positions and enhance their showy religious wardrobes, gave but a pittance out of their abundant wealth. On the other hand, the poor widow, who had been victimized by those same Scribes, gave “out of her poverty… everything she had.”

Approaching the time when once again we’ll be asked to give for the work of the Church, it’s time to see our Lord’s teaching in this regard in the widow’s mite. As we seek to do so, bear in mind that this was not so much his teaching out of thin air, but rather spiritual instruction based on a real incident observed by him at the entrance to the temple.

First of all, it must be admitted that Jesus says very little about financial gifts, and actually seems personally to have cared nothing at all about material things. Yet, he uses this incident at the
temple gate to make a fundamental pronouncement to the effect that there is a connection between spiritual and material things in God’s overall economy.

Secondly, for Jesus the Church like the temple is God’s spiritual and material house amongst us. It is where God causes his Name to dwell – where he meets us in word, in prayer, and in the gift of his body and blood at the Altar for our redemption.

Thirdly, by extension, on analogy of exchanging currency between countries to transfer purchasing power, gifts to the Church are necessary – they are simply the means of exchanging heartfelt faith for concrete ministry in the Name of God and his Son Christ Jesus.

Finally, in such giving it’s the sacrificial heart behind it that is all-important: not something meagerly offered to God and his Christ boastfully while all the while but a pittance out of abundance, but rather that which is gladly presented out of our real poverty, i.e., a recognition that ‘everything we have, … our whole living’ comes from them.

– JR Hiles
Adapted from a sermon on Mark 12.38-44 – November 8, 2009

For All the Saints

November 1st is All Saints’ Day, a principal holy day on the Church Calendar. Indeed, it is a day of obligation in catholic tradition.  This year, quite happily, it falls on a Sunday, allowing participation by the largest number of people on the day itself.

The day and its octave commemorate the saints who have passed from earthly life into the land of life and joy. While we truly rejoice in those super star believers of Scripture and Church history that are often depicted in stained glass, we commemorate too all the people of God who have been sanctified by the Spirit and gone from this world to the next.

And although from the middle ages on the Church saw fit to remember the two separately, i.e., the greater from the lesser known, the latter being given a day of their own, November 2nd, we will do so jointly on Sunday, the 1st . We will recount by name at the Altar those  who have passed from the Parish family in the past year as well as all those indicated on the inserted form.

All Saints’ Day is also one of four customary days for baptism by the Church. Ritually, then, the saints who have gone before are connected to those beginning their journey of
faith. This gives the day and the season a unique drama and color, declaring as it does
something of the length and breadth and depth of the Church of Christ.

In keeping with the festival nature of All Saints’ Day, a Reception Luncheon in honor of both the faithful departed and the faithful newly arrived by baptism will follow the ten-thirty service in the Foyer at noontime. Everyone is invited, and contributions of favorite dishes will be gratefully received.

– JR Hiles

On a Feast of Dedication

On a visit to Jerusalem, Jesus was present for the annual Hannukkah, a festival of lights, marking victories by Judas Maccabeaus over a Syrian king who sought to destroy the faith of the Jews and turn their temple into a pagan shrine.

Judas’ heroic exploits were celebrated because he had restored Old Testament faith in the land, returned a proper Altar to its central place in the temple, and restated that sacrifices there were to be made only “as the law commands.”

In this setting – that of the Feast of Dedication – Jesus points to the fact that he himself is to be understood and celebrated as one designated, set apart, consecrated as the means of proper approach to God. Indeed, he says flat out, “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30). For this, the Jews thought him guilty of blasphemy and took up stones against him. Never the less, he later declares
even more boldly, “I am the way, the truth, the life” (John 14.6).

The long anticipated Dedication/Consecration of our new house of God, New Parish Hall, is scheduled for Sunday, September 27th, when Archbishop Kolini, our own two bishops, MacBurney and Rodgers, together with a host of other distinguished guests will be here for that purpose.

A preliminary announcement of the festivities was included in the last Messenger, and full and final details of the two-day event will be mailed separately in late August. Whatever, save the day and the Saturday before so that the Parish may be totally prepared to receive the panoply of spirits God is sending into our midst and to celebrate all that he intends for us in these things.

It will be in every sense “a festival of lights” for the Parish: it will make clear to us that New Parish Hall is God’s temple amongst us until an even grander one can be erected to his glory, which is our intent; it will celebrate that therein is where God himself dwells and meets us when we come properly prepared to meet him; it will vindicate our determination of some sixteen that our place of
worship ought at all times be cleansed of every pagan teaching and observance that hinders divine fellowship; it will confess; again that our Lord himself has been consecrated both Shepherd yet Lamb for our salvation.

– JR Hiles
Adapted from a sermon, 4/29/07

Advent “Watch”

Just prior to his crucifixion, Jesus indicated that the initial stage in God’s creation was coming to an end, that He would come again in order to establish a new order of God’s reign, and that God would “repay every (faithful) man for what he has done” since the beginning.

All this would be signaled by destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and preceded by wars, natural disasters, persecution, idolatry, even in the temple, with stars falling from the sky.

It stirred fear!

Understandably, the disciples wanted to know “when” all this would occur and how they would fair. Warning against false teaching on the matter, He said that only the Father knew the time but that upon his return he would “send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds.”

In the meanwhile, He had this word for his disciples – then and now: “Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come!”

Inasmuch as Jesus speaks of His second coming frequently in terms of ‘night watch’, ‘wakefulness’, and ‘alertness’ (see Matthew 24.42; 25.13; Luke 12.38)

  • He is clearly giving his close followers something other than calendar information;
  • He is calling them – and right down to believers today, us – to perpetual readiness in His Name and for God’s new creation in Him.
  • He is calling them to a clear vision of who they are and to what they have been called, so away from apathy, stupor, and weariness.
  • He is calling them to spiritual wisdom, to openness to his word, so not taken in by false teaching, however pious is seems.
  • He is calling them to spiritual courage, so not giving in under the most arduous trials and difficulties for His Name’s sake
  • He is calling them to earnest prayer, so not being silent toward God in thoughtless preoccupation.

In all, He, calling them to be ever on their tip toes, hence prepared to spring forth and meet the Lord upon his return and when the angels sound the call.

In largely bygone days, railroad crossings were marked by signs that read STOP / LOOK / LISTEN for oncoming trains. The Gospel reading for this first Sunday in Advent, from Mark, has our Lord saying TAKE HEED / WATCH / PRAY!

He is coming again! Of course, he will be with us anew spiritually as we remember his first coming in another Christmas season. He speaks here, however, of his physical coming again at the end of present time, at an ultimate Christmas.

Let us indeed be perpetually ready!

– JR Hiles
Adapted from a Sermon on Mark 13.24-27 / 11/30/08