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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Holy Spirit - Inspires

Walk in the Spirit, a sermon series after Easter on Spirit, Holy Spirit, our spirit, week 1 of 7, preached April 14, 2024



People whose body or mind was injured or sick, they were not always allowed in the temple. Some religious leaders thought people born different, or who got sick, or who had a mental illness were being punished for their sin, and. therefore nor worthy to enter God’s house. But Jesus did not think like that, and he knew God better than all of them. Jesus loved helping people be whole again, and helping everyone be included.

Today, we have a story from the book of Acts. Jesus has risen, and appeared to the disciples and many other. Then Jesus departs and leaves them instructions to do what he did, and Jesus promises them Holy Spirit will help them. Then two of the disciples, Peter and John, go to temple and see a lame man begging on the steps because he’s not allowed to enter.

Scripture Acts 3:1-10 (NL)


Thank you God, for seeing where we hurt.

Thank you God, for coming to us when we are alone.

Thank you God, for lifting us up when we are down.

Thank you God, for guiding us home. Amen.



Maybe you grew up in a mainline church, and you’ve are used to the church year. Or maybe you grew up in a contemporary church where those traditions weren’t honored. Or maybe you didn’t grow up in church at all. All of that is okay. It just means I should pause before we start this new series on Holy Spirit.

The Christian year starts the end of November with a season of Advent, then Christmas, next Epiphany, when we remember the Star. After that is baptism of Jesus, a few weeks on his ministry and teachings, January and February, then Transfiguration Sunday, where he appears with Moses and Elijah.

Next is the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday marks us with a sign of sin and death. We watch Jesus attract more resistance. The last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, we walk into Jerusalem with him, and Holy Week, we sit with him at table on Maundy Thursday, see him betrayed, denied, crucified, dead and buried on Good Friday, then lock ourselves away on Holy Saturday.

Easter Sunday, usually in April, we arrive at the tomb to find the stone rolled away, and hear stories Jesus has been begun the resurrection from death and is appearing to women, disciples, and strangers. The Easter season lasts until Ascension Sunday, when he goes beyond us and commissions us to be his church, and promises us Holy Spirit will be with us. Pentecost Sunday, around the end of May, Holy Spirit acts out in an unmistakable way, and skeptics and strangers alike become committed disciples.

From June to November, we study the early church in letters, and hear how they tried and struggled to trust Jesus and become church, a foretaste of God’s beloved community. At the end of November, we have one Sunday for the Regin of Christ, when we remember God’s Kin-dom is coming, then everything starts all over again.

In the traditional church year, Holy Spirit gets one Sunday, one, Pentecost. This year, we are giving her seven Sundays, starting today. There are two books of the New Testament that mention Holy Spirit more than any other… the book we call Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s sequel to his gospel, and its all about what happened after Jesus’ resurrection, and First Corinthians, Paul’s letter to an early church trying to train them on how to be a godly community.

For seven weeks, we will read from 1st Corinthians, like we just did, then preach from Acts. Other disciples and persons may seem to be the main characters, but listen for Holy Spirit and may her wisdom and mystery be revealed to us.

With the children, we also heard Acts 3, where Peter and John heal a lame man at the temple. We are picking up right there…

Let’s pray…

Scripture Acts 4:1-22

4 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2 much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus, there is the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed, and they numbered about five thousand.

5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, Johnathan, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired,

“By what power or by what name did you do this?”

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them,

“Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are being asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

it has become the cornerstone.’

12 “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we might be saved.”

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14 When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another.

16 They said,

“What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”

18 So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

19 But Peter and John answered them,

“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

21 After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.

This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God.

Sermon Inspire

I’ve been a preacher for, gosh, 19 plus years now. Before that, before seminary, I had been a corporate professional for about 12 years, in engineering, marketing, then sales, and I often gave public presentations. I am always a bit nervous when I do public speaking. It is one of the greatest fears of most Americans, as Bob reminded us a few weeks back, right up there with fear of failure, rejection, or change. Its always been a part of my job, and as one preaching professor told us, if we ever stop being nervous about preaching, we aren’t doing it right and should quit.

I discovered before seminary that the two best antidotes to nerves about public speaking for me were:

(1) before, prepare, read and study and prepare some more, debate and discuss with others, do my research, and prepare some more. Get to know the material really well, so it’s in me, and I am more than competent but a master of the topic and the nuances all around the topic. As speaker, I feel a responsibility to know the material to the point I could give a reasonable response to most concerns or questions. Then,

(2) during, speak what matters AND is true in an organized way, with integrity. Say with authenticity what I’ve learned and believe and can defend without having to twist or spin.

If I am well prepared, and I find a straight authentic way to say true important things, I’ll be okay. Some of yall might come up after and tell me you heard or felt something.

Over my time as a preacher, I’ve been studying and discerning, failing and flailing, to find something weekly I sense is really true to the scripture of the day and to our bigger God and the great big theme of God’s beloved community. I write and edit not just so I can say something but until I have something to say, something I really believe and hope, something that is true and needs to be said, something I will risk saying no matter what the response or consequences might be.

Peter and John weren’t experienced public speakers or preachers. They were just people who had been close to Jesus, and paid attention. He did things in front of them, read and interpreted the scriptures all over again to them, gave them new wisdoms about old stories, and new parables to reveal old truths, all to help them learn and unlearn and remember. Sure, they were confused and so they asked questions, and debated with him, and then debated with one another. They stayed pretty close to him through amazing moments, and terrible and frightening ones too. They didn’t always stay close, but they kept coming back to him… or… finding him coming back to them. They were just people though, not preachers or rabbis or gifted public speakers.

And then, after Easter, Jesus was risen and gone, and promised them Holy Spirit. They had to remember the old, old stories, forget what they used to think they meant, and remember what Jesus told them, then share those new truths and meanings they heard from Jesus, make connections between those and what was happening right then in their world because of Jesus.

They saw things differently. They saw Jesus in the world, especially in the poor and the suffering, and they began to see the world the way Jesus always did, with frustration and compassion, with hope. That led them to take risks. They had to find something to say and say it, something that was true, that they really believed, that they could say with integrity. And they did. They took the risk of saying it, publicly, to the longtime religious, the casually spiritual, and the non-religious.

People are afraid of public speaking because its risky. When they spoke, they were confronted, warned, and threatened. Why? Because they helped a person, one of the most needy persons near the temple. They helped him get healthy, and get inside. In their public speech, they told everyone they did it because of Jesus. They said out loud what Jesus had told them about the old scriptures, and the new meanings. They told everyone what happened to Jesus, how he was the messiah, why he was killed by those who think themselves the most faithful, the most religious. They said out loud, Jesus rose from death and has started the next age, the great resurrection. And they told the people, in Jesus, because of him, those who threaten have no power anymore. The age of fear and death is over, and the age of life and reconciliation has begun.

5000 people loved their sermon. 5000. Not the religious folk. The ones who heard and believed were the aetheists, the Jews by birth only, the casually spiritual but not religious, the skeptics and cynics and philosophers, the nones as in N O N E S with NO religious affiliation at all. The 5000 who heard and believed were Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free, Roman citizen and resident alien. They heard what Peter and John said and they believed, 5000 of them because Peter and John had prepared, and what they were saying was important, and ture, and they really believed it, so much so they said it anyway.

So who was judgmental of Peter and John? The religious. The preists, meaning the preachers and worship leaders of the day… the captains of the temple, meaning the ones who take care of the temple property and make sure the money and the space are well preserved… and the Sadducees, meaning the denominational leadership that didn’t believe Jesus is right about God. That’s who judged Peter and John, had them arrested, and questioned, and expelled. 50 folk maybe, and all of them highly invested in keeping the maintaining the temple as is and keeping the money flowing, and holding the worship and music and theology the same as its been since we’ve been here.

As a preacher, I now realize how many times I preach only to people who are already religious. And that’s a problem, I think. For one, Peter and John, they dared say what they said publicly, beyond the halls and walls of religion, and because of it, they welcomed 5000 new people, not to temple or to church, but to belief! Make me think I should preach less in church, and speak more in public somehow. And two, when Peter and John said important true things that didn’t match what the religious believed or wanted to hear, they were confronted, threatened, and told they’d better not to talk like that anymore. I hate that part of being a preacher.

In my years as a preacher, I’ve been told I shouldn’t make a connection between what the Hebrew Bible says about welcoming immigrants to US immigration policy. I’ve been told I shouldn’t have affirmed the relationship between a white teenage granddaughter and a Hispanic boy from her school, because its mixed race. I’ve been scolded for writing a newspaper editorial on what the Bible says about weapons and violence, after yet another mass shooting. I’ve had faithful religious people scold me for celebrating and attending same sex wedding ceremonies, or welcoming same sex couples and baptizing their children. I’ve been threatened whole families will leave the church and take their money if we teach children about our connection to Judaism and Muslim faiths, or if we don’t sing the National Anthem on July 4th Sunday, or if we do use Lift Every Voice and Sing on Palm Sunday, or if we keep letting “those people” use the church, or if I keep talking so much about the Kingdom of God.

It’s never a majority, any more than the 50 who confronted Peter and John were compared to the 5000, but the sharpest resistance I’ve received is from inside the church, and it always hurts. It hurts s little when after worship someone scolds me over things like song selection or guitars and organs, or decorations, or typos. It hurts a lot, so much so I’d rather be tazed in the stomach, when a faithful church person confronts me over essential things like poverty, racism, violence, war, greed, and making all politics match God’s politics.

So why did Peter and John do it, say it? Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit led Peter and John to see the man on the steps, and to believe they could help his body, and help him be included once again in the worshipping people of God. Holy Spirit filled their minds, hearts, and mouths with stories that connected old and new, that spoke big truths. Holy Spirit filled their lungs with words that overflowed onto outsiders, curious, and insiders and lifted up a bigger hope than any single song, or statement, or stance had offered. They were not pros. They were not public speakers or preachers. But by Holy Spirit, they told others the good news of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and resurrected Christ, who came among us as God’s will made flesh, and who shows us who God really is and what God really wants. We killed him for doing it. But he rose again and has thrown open the gates of the temple and the gates of hell so all God’s people might live together in justice, love, and peace.


Holy Spirit, help me preach like Peter, because sometimes, there’s no place harder to say truths about you than inside the walls of church. May we join the 5000, and believe you are risen, and celebrate the changes you are bringing through us, through this church, for all people. Amen



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. Amen? Amen.

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