The Sunday Sermon: Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017
Scripture: Acts 2:1-12
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The Blessed Church of Love
Well, here we are … Pentecost Sunday. Since the Sunday after Easter we have been waiting for this day and its celebration. Since we first experienced the Resurrection of Jesus this year and began our all too human attempts to express the possibilities and promise of our own new life, we have been proclaiming death did not, cannot, and will never conquer the love of God we have been given in Christ Jesus and life itself. We have “waited” for the arrival of the “other,” the “Advocate, “ the “Spirit of Truth” (as John calls it) that abides with us and is in us as Christians. John 14:17
We’ve spent most of our Sunday since Easter in the Gospel of John, most recently in the strange appendix, the odd epilogue, that is the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel. We learned (or remembered) three key elements of our faith and the life it calls us to through the lessons of this chapter:
First, though we have returned to our “ordinary lives” after Easter, nothing is as it was for us. Because of the experience of the Risen Christ, God, Love incarnate, is in the world for good, because Christ is alive in us. Nothing is the same.
Second, we, like Peter, must never put ourselves higher than anyone else in our community. We are all to tend, feed, shepherd, and find our place in the community alongside, not above, everyone else.
And finally we learned that we, like the mysterious figure in John’s gospel, are the Beloved Disciples and we testify with our very lives the truth of the Gospel message: God is here and we need not be afraid.
That’s not an easy thing to do, to testify to, in our time – in any time, but our time includes so much fear – terror again in London, economic uncertainty here at home, and ecological anxieties about our entire planet. We need some help. So, since the Sunday after Easter we have been waiting for this day and its celebration – marking as it does, the arrival of an Advocate, namely the Holy Spirit that births “the church” and empowers our mission for the world. So let us pray …
Take out your pew bible, if you have a mind to, and turn to the Book of Acts. We’ve been reading mostly from the Gospel of John since Easter, and his “arrival of the Holy Spirit” is on Easter day when Jesus breathes on the disciples, locked as they are in a room. The Pentecost we commemorate on this day comes from the timeline in the Luke-Acts chronology. The Book of Acts is Luke’s “second volume,” and the opening verses of chapter two relate the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise from the “first volume,” Luke’s Gospel account.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Acts 2:1-11. The Word of the Lord …
With the arrival on this day of that which Jesus promised “all who were together in one place” were filled with the Holy Spirit.(Acts 2:1-4) “All” in this case refers to the one hundred and twenty believers (at least) gathered back in chapter one, verse fifteen, not just the eleven plus the newly chosen Matthias. There are a fair amount of tongues on fire, here.
Those that heard the very first words of these newly baptized are (in verse 5) “devout Jews from every nation under heaven.” (2:5) These are Jews from the Diaspora, those who live outside of Jerusalem and whose business has brought them and kept them in Jerusalem. The inclusion of the Gentiles within the Church doesn’t occur, according to the timetable of the book of Acts, until the conversion of Cornelius in chapters ten and eleven. Those present right now are carefully identified as Jewish. They come from many different countries and speak many different languages, each hearing of God’s deeds of power in their own language, but they are all Jewish (“devout” ones at that!).
It is Peter’s Pentecost speech, beginning with verse fourteen in chapter two, that signals the beginning of a distinct Christian witness, the story of God told through the life, work, teachings, death, and resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth. But before all that came the experience of this “Holy Spirit.” All who witnessed its arrival were amazed and perplexed and the first Christian theological question is asked: “What does this mean?”(2:12) A question we’ve not stopped asking since. I pray we never will.
If it’s not exactly clear historically when we should start using the words Christian and Christianity, a “parting of the ways” between Judaism and this new Jesus movement does become visible near the end of the first century. The conversion of Gentiles around the time the Book of Acts was written, 80-90 CE, was surely one of the factors in this rift, but a growing concern within Judaism to exclude Jews who saw Jesus as the messiah, and Roman perceptions of the Christian movement as a new religion separate from Judaism surely helped define this “Way” of Jesus as something different. So, the first theological question (“What does all this mean?”) is the question of our day, too: What does the “Way” of Christ require of us? What does it take to be part of this “Way,” to be a Christian?
Today, Pentecost Sunday, I will tell you. Or, more accurately, I will remind you. You know the answer, but perhaps you’ve forgotten it.
It is found in one word, our purpose. It is finally all that is required to follow Jesus. It is the only condition he places on his disciples to receive his promises. It is what God, in Jesus, entrusts to us as a community. It is the “Way” of Jesus and must be the credo of the community that gathers in his name. It is, ultimately, the only way we can be saved, in this world or the next. It is the primary focus of and authority in the Fourth Gospel, though all the gospels rely on it. In all cases, the answer is the same: It is … Love. Love.
The thing entrusted to us by God in Jesus, our Christ, is sacrificial love.
Scholars far more learned than I can discover no leadership pattern, no organization or structure, no authority that guided the first community, those that gathered all in one place full of the Spirit, beyond that of mutual love. Oh, from this point on, we’ll be reading and hearing about church councils and apostolic successions; about tribunals and authorities; about appointed leaders and hierarchies. But here in the second chapter of Acts, with the description of the rushing wind of heaven, all were filled with the Holy Spirit and Love was the only requirement of a Jesus follower.
Love is the lesson of Jesus’ life. It is the meaning of Jesus’ death. It is the aim of Resurrection. It is our salvation.
“Those who love me will keep my word … Whoever does not love me does not keep my word … the word that you hear is not mine, but is from God who sent me.” (John14:24) And that word is … (anybody?) … Love.
As “Ordinary Time” begins in our church year, we will continue to more deeply and richly understand love, but we must ever diminish or restrict it for it is born of the Spirit. May that Spirit fill us this day, and every day, with the only thing we truly need to have, to share, and to do: Love, love, and love.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / June 4, 2017