The Miracle of Pentecost

My chosen Bible readings for Pentecost Sunday are Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21.

When Chichester Cathedral was being renovated in 1962, they found that the medieval builders had built a magnificent cathedral on poor land and hadn’t extended the foundations far enough. As a result of this oversight, the 20th Century renovators had far more work than anticipated.

We don’t need reminding of the parable of the house built on the sand and the one built on the rock. It’s so important that we build our lives upon Christ, getting the foundations right and then building in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But let’s go right back to the beginning to the Book of Genesis and the story of the Tower of Babel. Genesis means ‘beginnings’, it’s a book that deals with the beginning of everything, not in a scientific way, but in a far more profound way.

Genesis focuses our attention on certain aspects of life, the first eleven chapters paint a picture of the world as God meant it to be, but they also show the appalling mess we’ve made of it; the message is timeless, because we continue to make a mess of it.

In these opening chapters of the Bible, we have parables of immense significance. From there on, the rest of the Bible show us what God has done to get us out of the mess, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

We have the story of Noah and the Flood, the message being that the world merits nothing less than total destruction. The Flood symbolises God’s timeless judgement on humankind, as appropriate now as when it was written.

Noah wasn’t perfect, but he represents those in every age who walk with God. God always offers a way back to himself, if only we live our lives with reference to him.

Then we have the story of the Tower of Babel, a story that echoes the Fall: human defiance of God. But instead of the story being set in a garden with two people, the setting is bricks and mortar with a developing civilisation.

The age-old problem is that individuals and humankind as a whole build for their own glory rather than for the glory of God.

William Neil writes:
Man wants to run the world in his own way. He wants to put himself at the centre of his civilisation on a pedestal inscribed with the name: “Glory to MAN in the highest”.
Note how verse 4 says: “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for OURSELVES”.

This is the mistake we make repeatedly. There is only one God and Creator, we are created in his likeness, and our destiny is to know him, to live in fellowship with him, humbly seeking and obeying his will for our lives.

The builders’ desire for autonomy recalls the rebellion in the Garden of Eden, and establishes the need for Abraham’s redemptive faith in the midst of international disorder. Far from the original garden, the first cities in Genesis represent arrogance, tyranny, and wickedness. The city on the Babylonian plain was a magnet for human pride and idolatry, a tower that reaches into the sky. NLT Study Bible

When we put ourselves first, God comes and confounds our plans, and there is chaos and disorder. The confusion of tongues in the Tower of Babel story is but a symptom of a much deeper disharmony that prevents unity and mutual understanding.

We talk about people ‘not speaking the same language’, meaning that their positions are so far apart that they might as well be speaking a different language.

We see this between individuals, groups, and nations. Pride, injustice, and selfishness: all preventing meaningful communication and reconciliation.

But had you ever considered that the story of Pentecost balances the story of the Tower of Babel?

The divided language of Babel becomes the common language of Pentecost, the story is turned upside down, or more correctly the right way up.

The miracle of Pentecost was that a new language came with power, the language of love, the language of the Spirit, the language of unity, a language that all could understand; the love that God showed in sending his Son as Saviour and Lord, a suffering servant for all humankind.

God’s love in sending Jesus is something that speaks to the human heart far more eloquently than words could ever do. As we open our hearts and lives to God’s Holy Spirit he fills and empowers us to live this language of love in the world.

God can work in and through us when we’re open to God’s Holy Spirit, who takes our weaknesses and makes us strong, who takes our brokenness and makes us whole. Then the Holy Spirit can do the work of building the kingdom.

We can always move forward in his power and strength, building on the past, building in the present, and building for the future – especially in these new circumstances of coronavirus. Building, not for our own glory, but for God’s glory.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with thee I will one will
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Till I am wholly thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with thee the perfect life
Of thine eternity.

Grace (Jeff Buckley)

A Sunday devotional with a difference today, as it coincides with the anniversary of the death of singer Jeff Buckley in 1997 (25 years ago in 2022).

On this day (29 May 1997) Jeff Buckley died in a tragic swimming accident in the Mississippi River. He’s remembered for his classic 1994 album Grace that includes the definitive cover version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

It’s not a Christian album, although it does have Christian elements and references, including a song entitled Grace and a carol. Having said that, many would describe it as spiritual in a general sense, and I want to focus on the song Hallelujah.

As a Christian, it saddens me when I see expressions of Christianity that are unloving, uncaring, judgemental, and strident. Having said that, I don’t claim to be perfect, and I identify with the brokenness in Hallelujah. To me it represents the imperfect human world in which my faith must be effective if it’s to be authentic.

Hallelujah is full of biblical references and has a depth of meaning. It’s about death and life, sorrow and triumph, earthliness and transcendence, as well a brokenness that still has the strength to cry hallelujah, even though sometimes a broken hallelujah.

All human life is here and it can speak to us in times of doubt and struggle.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14

Gun crisis? What gun crisis?

“There’s nothing we can do to stop mass shootings”, says the only country in the world that suffers frequent and regular mass shootings.

Why, oh why, are so many Americans totally unwilling to accept the blindingly obvious truth that they have a gun problem? A blasphemous slaughter of innocents comparable with that of Herod. An obscenity that is heartbreakingly recognised by millions of compassionate Americans and the rest of the world. I’m sick of all the Republican and gun lobby ‘thoughts and prayers’ with their specious reasoning, while the rest of us dread the inevitability of the next slaughter and the constant traumatising of children with shooter drills. Jesus weeps!

America: You can’t worship God and guns. Repent of your obscene gun idolatry. It’s blasphemous, nauseating, and heartbreaking!

Would Jesus be called ‘woke’ today?

‘Woke’ has become a Marmite word, you either love it or hate it, embrace it or use it to insult.

It’s a word weapon in phoney political and cancel culture wars. It divides people and groups, yet it’s a word that speaks of thoughtfulness and empathy. A word to unite sadly divides.

So, before you use the word ‘woke’ in a pejorative sense, remember Jesus would probably be considered ‘woke’ today!

Jesus was thoughtful and empathic towards others. I follow Jesus and try to treat others thoughtfully and emphatically; be they white, black, male, female, straight, gay, transsexual, or whatever. That’s not something to be criticised using the word ‘woke’.

Jesus championed the disadvantaged and marginalised, and I try to do the same, because it’s the right thing to do as a human being, but also as a Christian. For me, it’s a double imperative, humanity and Christianity.

Let’s embrace the word and seek to understand others, helping to bring compassion and unity.

The Promise of Peace

I often use one or more Lectionary Bible readings in my Sunday devotionals, and this Sunday is no exception.

John 14:23-29 is the focus today as we move towards Ascension Day and Pentecost.

Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

‘You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

In this passage Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. He also promised his peace: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

This greeting of peace captured the spirit of Jesus’ work on earth to restore our relationship with God. The Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and Pentecost are instrumental in achieving his work of bringing peace.

We live in troubled times, but we can receive his Spirit and experience his peace.

Note: In 2022, Ascension Day is Thursday 26 May and Pentecost is Sunday 5 June.

OK Computer (Radiohead)

OK Computer (released on 21 May 1997) is an album by Radiohead that still inspires and takes my breath away. It’s a masterpiece, arguably the most significant album of the 1990s.

OK Computer has received widespread critical acclaim and has been cited by listeners, critics, and musicians as one of the greatest albums of all time. You could describe it as Radiohead’s Sgt. Pepper, released 30 years preciously in May 1967.

It’s their third studio album, and one in which they distanced themselves from their previous work, laying the groundwork for future, more experimental albums.

The album’s lyrics depict a world fraught with rampant consumerism, social alienation, emotional isolation and political malaise; in this capacity, OK Computer has been said to have prescient insight into the mood of 21st-century life. Source

If you’re not familiar with this influential album, do yourself a big favour and give it a listen today.

The Antikythera Mechanism (1902)

On this day (17 May) in 1902, a small piece of bronze caught the eye of archaeologist Valerios Stais.. He was examining artefacts from a wrecked Roman cargo ship off the island of Antikythera in Greece.

It looked like a small wheel or cog, in fact he had just discovered what has come to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first analogical computer.

This extraordinary two-thousand-year-old computer system was used by the ancient Greeks as an astronomical calculator, able to chart the planets and make predictions. The extraordinary device is believed to have been made on the island of Rhodes around 150 BC, and classical literature of the time does allude to mechanisms similar to this one, meaning this was unlikely to be the only one of its kind. Well over a hundred years after its discovery, the Antikythera mechanism is still being extensively researched, in an attempt to fully unlock an ancient piece of human ingenuity. Source

The Antikythera Mechanism is also a 2020 album by my friend Jack Hertz.

Thinking Allowed 17/05/22

With all the problems surrounding Boris Johnson’s oven-ready Brexit deal (that he was aware of when he signed it) it’s such a shame there’s no system of free trade and movement within Europe that would save the UK £billions, support British businesses, reduce red tape, and avoid the need for the government to break International law. Oh, wait a minute…