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Pentecost and the New Normal

In this post, I offer Simon Gardner's sermon from St Paul's Dorking for last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday. Simon took the opportunity to look at the Church's response to the COVID19 pandemic and look forward to the the New Normal which we might expect from here forward. Simon runs the Step Up Consultancy and was former President of the European Division of Hasbro Inc. (the games/toymakers). One of the comments about him on his website is that "he is the best communicator and presenter I have seen" - and this sermon really confirmed that. See what you think as you ponder his words here.

If you want to see the sermon presented, you can find it on St Paul Dorking's Youtube site at this link: - it starts at 33:30 with the reading from Acts 2:1-4.

I've included Simon's slides as we go along...

"Good morning - it’s a great privilege to be sharing with you this morning. For those who don’t know me- I am Simon Gardner - I am a member of St Paul’s church and one of the occasional speakers. This week we’ll be doing something a bit different …. I’ll basing my thoughts around three moments in history….

Firstly, we travel back to May 22nd AD 33 – New beginnings - the first Pentecost

Then we come to May 22nd AD 2020 – New paradigm- the re-shaping of our world

And, finally, May 22nd AD 2021 – New Wineskins -the future of church in the new norm!

Firstly then, let’s go back to May 22nd AD 33 - the most likely date of the first Pentecost - 50 days after the Jewish festival of Passover and the crucifixion of Christ. At this time in Jerusalem, the Jews were celebrating another festival - The feast of new grain – A sort of harvest festival - 1000’s were gathered in and around the temple.

There was however, another, much smaller gathering as the disciples of Jesus were praying in a private room nearby, following Jesus’ instruction to them, to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them. But think for a moment how they must have felt …

They had a followed a messiah for 3 years…. But He had socialised with the wrong people, championed the wrong causes, attracted the wrong kind of supporters, wound up the wrong politicians, and ultimately had died the wrong type of death – a humiliating death of a criminal, certainly not the fitting ending of a victor

BUT the story had not ended there - after 3 days, Jesus had risen from the dead and for 40 days he had appeared to them, validating his life beyond the grave.

WOW - they must have been confused -they simply could not join up the dots of all they had been through

- the emotional roller coaster, the dashing of expectations and then the extraordinary death-defying feats…. and then the final disappearance of their master

Was this all a bad dream, or was this just misplaced hope?

….Some, I am sure were thinking how much longer have we got to wait in this hot upper room!!

Around 9.00 am that morning, in a private place near the temple, they suddenly experienced a phenomena - that we now understand as the coming of the holy spirit and the birth of the church.

But for them, in that moment, it was a violent rushing of wind, and something like tongues of fire resting upon each of one them

Acts 2: 5 suggests that they immediately rushed out of the building as they were then seen and heard by the crowds.

As the Spirit moved them, (and to their complete surprise) they were heard to be talking in many different languages that amazed the international crowd. Some mocked and jeered and called them drunk - Others wanted to know more of what was going on.

So, Peter the leader, stands up and addresses the crowd - identifying this event as the sign of a promised age to come - as foretold in Joel 2 - The outpouring of the Spirit for all. Peter goes on … and does not pull his punches- as he explains how it was that the Jewish elite and the Roman Authorities who had crucified God’s chosen Messiah.

From the very start, this message of the early church is both provocative and radical. The message of Christ and His Spirit are for everyone - No matter what class, status, religion, or background. His Spirit is going to empower them, fill them, and inspire them to live lives counter to the political, social and religious norms. The rest as they say is history:

From day 1, the Spirit was a mover and a shaker…He moved them from the upper room in a private place to the public forum of the crowd. He moved them from their Jewish centric faith to an all-encompassing passion for everyone.. He moved them from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth But not just that……The spirit - shakes up all the norms. He turns things upside down, shakes up all barriers, and all the brick-walls. On that first Pentecost they were crowded around the temple -but His Temple is not a building - His temple is the very heart of all who would follow Him

Now let’s fast forward in history to MAY 22nd AD 2020 and explore the new paradigm.

So as we sit here today in May 2020 - we, like those first disciples are “dazed and confused” - struggling to join up the dots of what is happening in our world and trying to piece together the implications that Covid 19 will have on our lives today and tomorrow

Let me explore these shifts in 3 areas; Societal, Economic, Personal.

Firstly our Society- for many years we had been living under the mantra “You’ve never had it so good….Live and let live ”- Life was powering along under the presumption that everything is possible, everything is achievable and everything is fine - just fine! Our main concern was … How are were going to fit everything in, and take best advantage of this bountiful life.

But as we sit here today- In the blink of an eye, the world got sick, our life got locked down, and all our certainties ….. became uncertainty.

This is real, and ongoing – Not everything will be for ever… but it IS a re-calibration.

The ongoing threat of the virus, and way we interact together may re-shape us for years to come

Secondly economically… Again “we’ve never had it so good”! Global economies were either booming or at least self-sustaining. The stock markets were up at all-time highs, and unemployment at record lows. This is not to underestimate the challenges and the awful inequalities – but there was at least a sure and reliable economic environment to address these matters within.

But today, we face a story of global economic crisis- trillions of debt, millions of unemployed, and millions of households thrown into economic uncertainty.

The economic ramifications will severely impact businesses, pensions, taxes, church finances, charities and personal finances for many years to come –

Latest estimates suggest up to 6 million could unemployed in the UK alone, with particular impact on the low paid and young

Thirdly personally…We have all had an unexpected, and for many, crisis- fuelled journey in the last 10 weeks.

Some of us live in a nice little bubble - Not a lot has really changed -it’s like a strange “holiday at home” - for others its chaotic and painful. For some, they have experienced new positive steps, more time, more space, more creativity -for others it has just been more hassle, more fear, more grief, and more physical and mental deprivation and a MASSIVE hit to well-being

In short -whether its society, the economy or our own personal journey- life changed in the blink of an eye… but the new norm will be here to stay

So then …. How are we to think about the future?

How might today’s church develop within the new norm?

So let’s now look forward to May 22nd AD 2021 and think how church might be in the future?

Let me start by exploring the passage we had read earlier- Jesus gives us insight as to how we might live in a world of change from his story of the wineskins…

Jesus says in Mathew 9.. “People do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.

The traditional understanding of this parable is straightforward … Partially fermented new wine was stored in wineskins, but as the fermentation process continued, it produced more gases and so stretched the wineskin which was made from the hide of a goat. An old skin, which was no longer elastic could not stretch for this new wine, so you needed to use new skins for the current years’ wine production.

A simple picture …. but what is Jesus saying? The usual understanding of this parable can be summed up in the idea “Out with the old…In with the new”. If you want to take advantage of the new possibilities, you can’t put them inside old structures and old formats. These verses have often been the calling card for many new Christian movements seeking to break away from the traditional structures.

But maybe what Jesus is in fact saying … Is that He can’t pour his new wine, into our fixed, rigid, brittle and immovable hearts, minds and pre-dispositions

Instead we need to be pliable, adaptable and capable of allowing the fizz & power of the Spirit to transform us, & take us onwards to a new place. He can’t move, and shake us, if we are rigid, and fixed in our thinking!

So, the global church is facing a new situation - and we specifically at St Paul’s face a new season as Ruth leaves us.

A quick aside here …We have been so privileged to have Ruth as our leader for 6 years She is has been amazing and has prepared us for this future She has moved us forward, shaken us up, and prepared the way for this new season. I have done my own little tribute for her for today.. RUTH BUSHYAGER - MOVER AND SHAKER!

So … to conclude …I think we can actually be excited about where we now find ourselves as a church. I am excited about being a people of faith

We can spread faith, love and hope not germs!

I think we are getting ready to become a newly shaped church…… for a new norm.

So here I am in an empty church - Currently we cannot gather - we are all dispersed, or on the internet!

But…in a strange way-

I saw a great poster the other day it read “The church has left the building!”

Clearly in the future we will meet again in some way (!) - but maybe our outlook and mindset will shift a bit. Some of it forced upon us by social distancing - but perhaps some of it will be that we become an even more outwardly facing church

We have sought to be a growing community of grace – but as we look forward it might be that we will serving several more loosely-connected and socially-distanced communities - Both inside, and outside the church….

Making a difference beyond the walls - Serving different communities with grace”

Whether it’s through ongoing on-line services, through neighbourly care, through social enterprise, a new focus on the vulnerable, a new work for the economically challenged, new support for the local church network – we can be stepping forwards into the new needs - Being Christ’s hands and feet here in Dorking

Maybe we will have less emphasis on large gatherings, and less big celebrations……. but maybe we will more church in the home,

More church beyond the walls and have more love and time for our neighbour.

Whatever it might be, let’s have the willingness and openness to explore!

So let us enter into this next season of our church life – with our eyeswide open to the signs of the times, with our hearts and minds agile and responsive to where the spirit is moving us towards, and be ready to be shaken up a bit!!



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