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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Awe-Full Christianity

Acts of Faith, A sermon series on the early faith of the church in The Acts of the Apostles, from Ascension through Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, preached June 4, 2023 at the 9:30am Worship service


Context

We’ve only known church and religion after Jesus. Some women and men knew life before Jesus, beside Jesus, without Jesus when he died, with Jesus again when he rose, and finally, the only life we’ve known, life after Jesus after he ascended. What were the first Acts of Faith of those earliest disciples?


We are on week 3 of a 4 week series called “Acts of Faith”. We are reading from the first two chapters of Acts, the beginning of the faithful church community right after Jesus. We are looking to see how to be a faithful church from those who started church in faith.


Two weeks ago was Ascension Sunday. We read how the disciples asked Jesus if this is when he would conquer their enemies and give them power. Jesus corrected them. That is not our purpose. Jesus sends his people not to victory over others, but to act faithfully, to go be his witnesses, to tell his stories and teach his lessons, near and far, to friends and foes alike, until God’s kingdom comes. Our first act of faith is to go.


Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Holy Spirit revealed herself to every individual, personally, with tongues of fire over each of the disciples, so everyone could hear in their own language. This shows us God is speaking to each and every one of us, and every one has an important personal part to play in what God is doing. At the same time, Holy Spirit revealed herself only when they were gathered together. That way, everyone sees how everyone else also has a calling and purpose, a role in what God is doing. Our second act of faith is to gather.


This week, we pick up where we left off with Peter preaching publicly about what is happening


Let’s pray, and listen for the words of the Lord from…


Prayer for Illumination


Scripture Acts 2:22-36

22 “Fellow Israelites,[b] listen to what I have to say:

Jesus of Nazareth,[c] a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, (was) handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, (and) you crucified and killed (him) by the hands of those outside the law.


24 But God raised him up, (and has) released him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

25 (Just as) David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,

for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken;

26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

moreover, my flesh will live in hope.

27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades

or let your Holy One experience corruption.

28 You have made known to me the ways of life;

you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’


29 “Fellow Israelites,[d] I can say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David[e] spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah,[f] saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,

nor did his flesh experience corruption.’


32 “This Jesus, God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at[g] the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out (Holy Spirit) that you (are now) seeing and hearing.


34 (But) David did not ascend into the heavens, (just as) he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’


36 “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made (Jesus) both Lord and Messiah,[h] this (same) Jesus whom you crucified.”


This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)


Sermon Awe-Full

The first Act of Faith was to go… not to sit, wait, and watch for God to do something for us, but to go ourselves and do something for others… teaching everyone what Jesus said and did, and living together and loving one another as Christ taught us to, until all the world is living as God’s kingdom on earth as it is already in the heavens.


The second Act of Faith was to gather. Faith is personal, sure, and in faith, each of us hears a personal call of God on our whole life and each plays our individual part in whatever God is doing. But we can’t follow this God as separated individuals. We follow this God together, so we gather up as an ever-widening community where we love and support one another and hold one another accountable, until all the world is one community of God and with God.


Churches are meant to GO share God’s way of doing community, God’s kingdom, in every corner of the world, and to GATHER together in love, support, and accountability of one another under God’s vision of community.


Is that why yall church, why we church? Do we come here, GATHER here to find beautiful ways to be one community despite our differences, to love and support, to reconcile to one another, hold one another accountable to these purposes, and then to GO expanding that forgiveness and togetherness to more and more people until all the world has God’s beloved community? Is that why we church? I HOPE so, and I LOVE it when that is why we church.


I hope so. But here’s what I’ve learned about church folk. Sometimes, they quit church for silly reasons. “I don’t like this kind of music. I’m out.” or “Those children are too noisy, I’m out.” Happens all the time. How do we get an ever widening circle that includes more people, if people quit church because of other people. See the problem in that logic. I’ve had people quit church when I said it wasn’t a sin to gamble. I had a Texas Hold ‘em game with some other pastors, and a person in my first church found out and quit coming. Now, I knew she loved going to Biloxi and bought a weekly lottery ticket, but she quit coming.


Hopefully today, we can find a third Act of faith. Peter is preaching. Peter is saying YOU my fellow Israelites knew Jesus was of God. Jesus was obviously empowered with unique abilities that can come only from God, but you didn’t like him meddling in how we did church, temple, synagogue, your faith, your religion, your community, your politics, your money. Jesus meddled, “you’ve always heard it said, but no, I say to you not like that. Like this!” You didn’t like they way he reinterpreted the scriptures. You didn’t like the way he lifted up women, and children, and immigrants, and included sinners. You tried questioning. Then you tried confronting him. You tried getting the crowd to go against him. It didn’t work. So, you found a way to arrest him and have him killed. Why? To protect your religion and your community, the way you’ve done church, what you’re most comfortable with, to protect what you think is right. God knew yall would do this, and God made plans. This Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the heavens.


Now, Patti on her last day on Friday, asked me, Is Peter fussing at them? It may sound like Peter is accusing them, pointing fingers. But I don’t think so. See, Peter knows, he crucified Jesus too. Peter didn’t like the way Jesus talked sometimes. Peter disagreed with Jesus about the scriptures sometimes. Peter tried to block children, and tried to keep beggars and sinners away when Jesus was nearby. Peter bucked Jesus trying to wash Peter’s feet. Peter didn’t understand why Jesus was talking with Samaritan women. Peter wanted him and the other disciples to be set apart for something special. So much of what Jesus did and said didn’t match what Peter has always heard. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, to save his own skin.


Peter knows the other disciples did too. He knows Judas betrayed Jesus. He knows Thomas doubted Jesus. Everyone that’s ever followed Jesus doesn’t like something about Jesus. He knows every disciple participated in their own way in bucking Jesus, and in the betrayal, denial, and death of Jesus.


That’s why at Lent we sing “Were you there” when they crucified my Lord. Were you there when they nailed him to a tree? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? The implied answer is Yes, I was there, we were all there.


Peter, the preacher isn’t pointing fingers at anyone any more than he is pointing at himself. They ALL need God’s kingdom. They’ve all bucked God’s kingdom, God’s way of doing community. They’ve ALL chosen favorites, divided and subdivided themselves on seemingly important or silly things instead of gathering as one. Jesus kept saying Go and Gather. They’ve all sat still and waited, instead of going and growing one big community.


Jill and I and Michael went to the new Spiderman movie last night. In the movie, there are multiple universes, with multiple spider men, and spider women. In some worlds, Peter Parker is spider man. But in one universe a boy named Miles is spiderman, and he falls in love with another spider girl from another spider world when their worlds collide. And the guy sitting next to me at the movie grabs his five year old by the hand, and says “Stupid Woke Movie” and yanks his kid out of the theater. I kept wondering, Why? Now, granted Spiderman is just a fake world, but in this guys world there’s a right and wrong way, and black spiderman is wrong, and a black spiderman in love with a white spider girl is wrong. This guy cannot imagine a world where more people are connected to one another in love and peace and justice.


Peter is saying we can’t do it like this anymore. Peter needs them to get it. We were all protecting what we wanted, not what God wants. We believed what we had been told, not what God said. We have to gather as one. We have to go share God’s way of doing community with everyone. Peter saw something and it was all so much bigger. Holy Spirit ripped open Peter’s heart, and he sees it and can’t unsee it. We’ve got to GO! We’ve got to gather everybody! That’s what yall are seeing today, not a bunch of drunks, not a pastor’s poke party, but God’s Hoy Spirit uniting divided people. It bigger than any religion or belief or interpretation of scripture! You, my sisters and brothers, you gotta get this. This is for everyone, and for you too.


What about all that David stuff? How does that fit in? In a way, the reason Jesus was betrayed, denied, arrested, and handed over was to protect what David had told them about the Messiah, at least what faithful believers thought David had always told them, that one day they would have a king like David, a leader who would come up humble and grow in strength and fortune and fame, would conquer and destroy their enemies for them and would reunite their tribes.


Remember just two Sundays ago, on Ascension day, that’s what the disciples assumed. “Is today the day you conquer our enemies and put us in charge?” Even his closest disciples, after he had been crucified, dead, buried, and rose again, they were still believing the old trope of victory and unity for us and defeat for them. Jesus told them NO, that is NOT the who, how, when or what I am doing. Your role, as my people, is to go near and far, to friends and enemies, and tell them of the beloved community, the new way of doing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Holy Spirit says there are no enemies. We are all somehow one. It means justice and peace for all. It means reunion and reconciliation for all. It means forgiveness for all, the end of all violence, the opening of all prisons, the release of all captives, the healing of all sick.


I think it was thanks to Holy Spirit that Peter sees David’s promises in a new way. They believed David was glad and had hope, because as everything fell apart, he saw and believed one day, God would restore victory to his descendants. Without that, it might have felt to David as if his life and legacy would mean nothing. He would die and rest in sheol, hades, and his people would eventually die out with him. But, thanks to Holy Spirit, Peter hears David saying all this not about himself, but about Jesus. The new Messiah, the Lord of David, Jesus would die, and descend to hades, sheol, and would find a path to life again.


No one had ever imagined the great future messiah would die at the hand of enemies, and descend to sheol. Jesus died, and descended, and rose. They only thought he would conquer, win the great battle that ends all battles, defeating enemies and putting them under us. No one ever thought the great Messiah would unite ALL peoples, just the tribes of Israel. Our enemies would be conquered and dead, not included.


Holy Spirit opens Peter and the others to finally see something new about God’s messiah. That’s the reason Peter preached. He saw something bigger and truer, and he went and gathered so they might get it. When we gather up, we gather here to get it. Its so much bigger and truer.


To God be all the glory and honor now and forever more. Amen.


Charge


Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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