May 27, 2018

Pentecost 1  May 27, 2018    Psalm 29, Isaiah 61:1-4, Acts 2:14a, 22-28, 36-47

Pentecost, continued…

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Disciples of Jesus are all together in one place on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit fills the room, and all speak languages they didn’t know they knew – as we pick up where we left off last week in the book of Acts – our earliest account of the growth and spread of the faith – as we go from 120 disciples huddled together in an upper room – into a movement spreading to the far ends of the earth in what feels like just a few minutes… (though several decades actually pass by the time Acts ends… as if in the middle of a sentence…To be continued…)

Now, still on the day of Pentecost where we left off, the apostle Peter continues the teaching sermon we began last week…

And the same Spirit that entered the room as a roaring-rushing-wind blows and breathes now through Peter – who, like a jazz musician takes the old melody of Psalm 16 and weaves it into a new song of Jesus, whose death and resurrection fulfills the psalm and all the scriptures of Israel – fulfilling especially the biblical year of Jubilee, in which all debts are forgiven, all slaves released, workers and the land alike get rest, and all creation gets a new start in the Jubilee, which, fulfilled now in Christ, is no longer time-bound, but for all who come to Jesus, anytime – as Peter with the Spirit’s guidance, preaches Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel to the city that executed Jesus just 50 days ago.

The first appearance of the Spirit here in Acts is equal parts awesome – scary – mysterious – and – wow… As Peter, who famously denied three times in one night that he even knew Jesus, now not only proclaims Jesus boldly, but also lays responsibility for his death at the feet of all the Jerusalemites gathered around him. (Talk about born-again holy chutzpah.) Preaching an indictment that could get him killed on the spot – but under the Spirit’s power, with the Spirit’s influence, his preaching instead brings thousands into the arms of Jesus.

When we paused last week, Peter was quoting the prophet Joel, ending with the phrase –  “then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved…”

Now Peter sketches how to get there, saying – “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins” – then –  “you will receive the Holy Spirit” – then ‘salvation and new life in Christ is for you and your children – and for all whom God is calling.’

(Jesus says ‘when I’m lifted up I will draw all people to myself’ in John’s gospel, and the letter to the Romans tells us ‘God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that God may show mercy to all.’ God’s all means all. God calls all of us everywhere without exception to Jesus and salvation…)

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Some members of the global church celebrate today formally as Trinity Sunday. We too are  celebrating the Blessed Trinity… just a little less formally. Noticing God in three persons, blessed Trinity is still a mystery we’ll never come to the end of, but…  Noticing also it’s no coincidence the transformation of the church from a tiny band of Galilean disciples with checkered pasts into a rapidly growing movement of diverse peoples from all over the world – coincides perfectly with the giving of the Holy Spirit…

As we see the early Jesus movement, transformed… Gathering together daily now for prayers and fellowship and praising God – sharing meals together – studying the gospel together – sharing all things together in common…

Taking up a lifestyle the church has seldom been willing or able to maintain in centuries since – monasteries and other religious communities being the main exceptions. Meeting together every day as church, sharing everything in common is admittedly a radical life-style-make-over choice. A choice that, should we choose to make it in our day, will likely cause some to call us a cult. And there’s no denying – the early church is looking pretty extreme here, life-style-wise, in the early chapters of Acts. It can be tempting to dismiss this entire passage as a one-time oddity, not to be replicated… No longer relevant today…

Except – we can’t help noticing…

The church is growing like topsy… As three thousand are added in one day. The Christian movement enjoys the favor all people around them as the Lord keeps adding to their numbers day to day…

So perhaps the Word of God is counseling us to suspend disbelief… And ask the Spirit’s help with interpretation, translation, and application (all of which the Spirit excels in)…

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This week, after a long time of not seeing anything growing in my garden (other than a few seedlings I’d started indoors and transplanted)… Suddenly Friday morning little seedling sprouts were poking up all over. When I watered again later in the afternoon, some had grown half an inch. I could almost see little plants growing in front of my eyes…

This growth came suddenly. But it wasn’t magic. I’d spent hours breaking up the ground, turning it over… digging in compost… clearing rocks… Planting and watering… And…

The early church’s growth was a bit like that of my garden. On the day of Pentecost we see the wondrous first fruits of the gospel harvest. But we shouldn’t stop remembering… all the hours over the years that have gone into preparation for this harvest…

We should always remember Jesus teaching disciples how to pray – teaching us to ask God to meet every need. Teaching us to know God loves us, each of us, better than we can imagine. Ask God for all you need, like a little child keeps asking a loving parent who knows our every need and gives only good gifts, Jesus says.

(We were blessed in our Prayer Group this week to have a first-time attender who wanted to learn more about how to pray… We all said ‘we’re glad you’re here… And… we’ve all learned to pray mostly by doing prayer… We’re all still learning to pray, even as we keep praying. So we’re glad you’re here to learn with us…)

Learning by doing, looking to Jesus and helping one another, is how disciples learn. Jesus taught his disciples to cultivate gratitude towards God. Taught his followers to love one another, and express love in active fellowship with each other. Working together – eating and conversing together – studying God’s ways together – sharing resources together. So –

The lifestyle of the early church was, in one sense, simply continuation of everything Jesus taught and did. Except now Jesus is on high, and the Holy Spirit is here with us, reminding us of everything Jesus did and taught… Empowering us to continue the work of Jesus, together.

Now, with the help of the Holy Spirit, here’s previously problematic disciples like Peter proclaiming the good news of Jesus powerfully… The same Holy Spirit’s still working with us today. Still working on problematic disciples like me today…

True, our results usually seem quite small in comparison with that day of Pentecost… But remember again the church before Pentecost – and all the preparation that came before that day… Remember also –

Whenever we share our experience of God’s grace with others lovingly, God can use even our smallest efforts and offerings to plant, water, and nurture seeds of faith…

Often all we need to say is – God is real – God is good – Jesus loves us, this we know…Which can be enough to open up a conversation that goes longer and deeper, now or later… for…

It’s mostly through small acts of daily faithfulness…that God brings about large harvests of faith and grace such as on the day of Pentecost – the first-fruits of a thousand previous small acts of faith…And…

As the coming of Jesus in the flesh reveals the depth of God’s love for this world…

As the giving of the Spirit reveals yet another deeper-than- we-can-imagine dimension of God’s love…

As the holy mystery of God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one God forever demonstrates God’s holy community of Being…

So too, as people made in the image of God we’re made for holy community…

And community takes practice…

All the spiritual gifts and all spiritual growth are given freely by God.

Learning to receive these gifts takes daily practice.

So here we are, together –

Learning together, with God and each other’s help…

Learning to forgive, as we are forgiven…

Learning to be patient with one another, as God is patient with us…

Learning to help God set slaves and prisoners free, as we ourselves are set free from slavery to death and sin and released from prisons of fear and doubt…

Here we are, learning together, to live for others –

as God, Author of life, has given himself for us –

who, by grace, are members together in God’s beloved community –

Learning to love as we have been loved – together – forever – by God’s grace.

Thanks be to God. Amen.