A Golden Age that might not have been, or was, but could be anyway. Unpreached for Pentecost 2024.

 Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

I will show wonders in the heavens above

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

+In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

but to be young was very heaven.

Wm Wordsworth, The Prelude, concerning the French Revolution.

When youngsters (that’s pretty well everyone not staggering around with a wheelie walker) ask me do I recall a Golden Age, well yes, it has spanned decades. The 60s and early 70s were fab for, er, look, this is a family blog, use your imagination. That period also included times of, if not derring-do, at least escapades with Her Majesty’s armed forces in assorted theatres where not all the locals wished me well. It overlapped with academic gloss to anecdotal faith. As time moved on - it does! - a couple of significant faith communities marked the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some folk reading this will be or will have been part of an Open Brethren community, Chawn Hill Church, in the West Midlands of UK. A Golden Age. Others will have more (comparatively) recently worshipped and been formed by All Souls Church, Langham Place in London’s West End. Another Golden Age, especially when it recalled an earlier Golden Age of Tallis and Byrd and Purcell and Bach. And without any diminishing of that time or its accompanying lifelong loves, subsequent life in Australia has been an ongoing Golden Age, with a Golden lifelong love ❤️

From the sacred to the profane, schooldays (OK, holidays and weekends) spent trainspotting as the Royal Scot came steaming up the West Coast Mainline at ten past four (not that we knew the time, none of us had watches) each afternoon. Cricket on the BBC Third Programme, listening to John Arlott’s mellifluous Channel Island tones or Brian Johnstone’s dad jokes. May they rest in peace and rise in Glory. Truly, a cricket Golden Age (or it would have been if Illingworth and Gooch had been banished to outer darkness, replaced by Brearley and Gower). And don't get me going on the Golden Ages of crooning, Jim Reeves and Elvis, or of rock, Status Quo, Creedence, Queen, Dire Straits ...

Golden Ages were at the back of the minds of the disciples and followers as Pentecost morning dawned. Eden. God walked and talked, intimately, with His creation in Eden. Then the Old Testament records failure after failure of God’s people, resulting in forty years of desert wandering. Even then, they misremember a time in Egypt when they had lots to eat and drink (as slaves!) Even as God provides manna from heaven in their escaped status, they look back to slavery as a Golden Age! How often do we misremember a supposed Golden Age which, on closer examination, was a time preceding exile. The great psalms and prophetic books were compiled during these exiles. By Jesus’ time on earth, the Temples of King David’s and Solomon’s Golden Ages was hardly a replica, proffered by Herod as a sop. On the mount of transfiguration, Peter wanted to keep Jesus, Moses and Elijah as mementoes of a Golden Age. But when push came to shove, the Golden Age of Peter’s and all of the disciples’ memory of their Golden three years with the Master melted while they desperately distanced themselves from Jesus.

And now we look back to that Pentecost day as a Golden day. It surely was. Not, however, as so many misrepresent it. It is not recorded in scripture that Jesus’ followers *spoke* in foreign languages, but that they *heard and understood* each other’s strange languages. And by hearing, by listening, the Holy Spirit convicted them that they had to differentiate themselves from any imagined Golden Age, that they were pioneers in a New Age of sharing God’s goodness in practical ways as well as preaching the Word.

Look, Acts 2 is wonderful, it speaks of power to serve, just when the disciples thought that they were powerless. But arguably Acts 11 has even more force. There, in Antioch, not in Jerusalem of Acts 2’s Golden Age, the disciples were first known as Christians. Hellenists, Gentiles, become important players. Barnabas and Paul start to feature, supplementing and eventually supplanting Peter and James. The plot of the New Testament, whether it’s the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again, or that the then known world will learn this good news, is that the Golden Age is now. For millennia since then, martyrs and evangelists and “ordinary” Christians, you and me, have held that Age before us even as we look for the Age to come.


Popular posts from this blog

Ramble for Good Shepherd Sunday 21st April 2024

Ramble for Kirwan Uniting Church Keeping in Touch pew sheet 25 June 2023.

Ramble for Kirwan Uniting Church Keeping in Touch pew sheet 1 January 2023