One Family

Come Holy Spirit, come like a fire and burn. Come like a wind and cleanse. Convict, convert, and consecrate our hearts to our great good and to your great glory. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.[1]

One of the things that I love and appreciate about the Anglican Communion is the great diversity of people that call this particular church home. Do you know, for example, that the Anglican Communion is the third-largest tradition in Christianity with over 85 million worldwide members? This is kind of amazing if you think about the fact that all of this grew out of what was in the 16th century simply the Church of England. A few things were central to this growth not least of which was a focus on mission and the Bible.

For example, the Englishman John Wycliffe first translated the Bible into English in the C14th. Suddenly for the first time the English people were able to hear the Bible read in a language they understood. This became a hallmark of the English Church and as the British Empire spread throughout the world there was the Church of England preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and labouring to do so in a language that the people were able to hear and understand.

The complicated history of colonialism notwithstanding, today the Anglican Communion is represented on every continent and as a result the shape of global Anglicanism has shifted dramatically over the last couple of centuries. Now, for the first time ever, more Anglicans live in the so-called Global South (Africa, Asia, and Latin America) than in the Western world. In Canada, for example, there are ~700,000 Anglicans whereas in Nigeria there are ~22,000,000. It has been said that today the average Anglican is a young sub-Saharan African woman. Remarkable.

In Canada one of the places where the Anglican Church is growing is in the north amongst our Indigenous brothers and sisters. A work that began with Anglican missionaries like James Hunter and others in the 19th century and continues today in the ministry of Indigenous Anglican bishops like Chris Harper, Lydia Mamakwa, Adam Halkett and others who labour faithfully to communicate the gospel to their people in their language.

Of course, all of this is to speak only of the Anglican Communion. But I mention it because as a microcosm of the whole Church it gives us a glimpse into the meaning of the Day of Pentecost which we celebrate today, and thus insight into the ongoing mission and ministry of the Church.

Before he ascended Jesus told his disciples “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father,” (1:4a) by which he meant the gift of the Holy Spirit. A gift that would empower these ordinary people to be witnesses for Jesus “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (1:8).

The first thing to notice about the Day of Pentecost then is that it is the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus promised that he and the Father would send the Holy Spirit so that the disciples would be empowered to bring the gospel to the whole world. A promise that Peter and the early Christians understood was rooted in the Old Testament. 

So, when Peter begins to explain the meaning of what happened on Pentecost he turns to the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” (2:17, 21). What’s happening now, says Peter, is what God, speaking through Joel and the prophets, promised he would do. Namely, pour out his Spirit and gather for himself a people from every nation.

This is why Luke places such emphasis on the different languages that were being spoken. Jews from “every nation under heaven” were gathered there in Jerusalem and they heard these simple Galileans proclaiming the gospel in their own native languages. 

Luke doesn’t tell us the content of the disciples’ speech only that they were “speaking about God’s deeds of power,” (2:11). At any rate, those who heard the disciples speaking in these languages were astounded, amazed, and perplexed! And Luke goes on to tell us in the very next verse that some of them asked, “what does this mean?” (2:12). A question that results in Peter’s proclamation of the gospel. Beginning with Joel he continues on to speak of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. This same Jesus, says Peter, has now poured out his Spirit that others might both see and hear God’s deeds of power (2:33).

The crowd who heard Peter preach were cut to the heart and repented and were baptized and received the gift of the Holy Spirit themselves (2:37-41). And the Church grew, and the Holy Spirit gathered and formed a community around the risen Jesus whose common life was marked by devotion to the teaching of the apostles’, to daily prayer, to the Eucharist, and to sharing their possessions and their lives with one another. And day by day the Church grew (2:47b). To be a member of the Church is to be a member of this people, whom God is calling together from all the ends of the earth to be his children.

And this morning the living God is calling little Olive and Benjamin along with their families to the font where they will receive the sacrament of holy baptism. For most of us this will all appear fairly ordinary. We’ll say some prayers, they’ll get wet, and so on. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

But, something extraordinary will happen, something hid from our sight but nevertheless true, what the Prayer Book calls an “inner and spiritual grace.” And that something is that God is going to claim Olive and Benjamin for himself. From here on out their lives will be joined to the life of Jesus Christ and they will be marked – branded! – by the Cross and by Christ’s saving love. And that, nothing can undo. Olive and Benjamin are by nature children of their parents but this morning they will become by grace children of God. And two more people will be joined to that communion of saints that has been growing since the first Pentecost and the light of Christ will shine a little bit brighter.

And this is good news not just for the Church but for the world! As William Temple once put it, “The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” That’s why the Parish of Craighurst and Midhurst exists, not for ourselves but so that by the power of the Holy Spirit the good news of God’s great love in Christ might shine through us into the world.

From the Day of Pentecost onwards the Holy Spirit empowered mission of the Church has been to make the risen and living Jesus seen and heard and to call people from all walks to life to come and follow him and know his love. May we be just such a Spirit filled, Jesus following, one-another loving, family-of-all-nations here where God has planted us so that the world might see and hear and wonder, “what does this mean?”


[1] Prayer used by Fleming Rutledge

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