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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Leave it Behind

Updated: May 29, 2023

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 May 21, 2023 at the 9:30am Worship service.


We’ve only known church and religion after Jesus. But there was a group of women and men who knew life before Jesus, beside Jesus, without Jesus when he died, then life with Jesus again when he rose from death, and finally the only life we’ve known, life after Jesus, after he ascended beyond them.

Over these four Sundays, our series is called “Acts of Faith”. We are reading from the first two chapters of Acts, the beginning of faithful church community right after Jesus. We are going all the way back to the beginning of the church’s faith. Church was born as a people who went through big changes together, over and over again, with Jesus and for his way of doing loving, just community, what he called the Kingdom of God. We will hear words and see acts of faith of those whose lives were changed and who became church.

Note, the book we call Acts of the Apostles is a volume two. When we start reading, you’ll hear a reference to the “first book” which means the gospel we call Luke. You’ll also hear Acts was written to someone called Theophilus. That name means God-lover, and we assume it wasn’t written to one person whose name was actually Theophilus, but to anyone, everyone trying to love God.

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

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Acts 1:1-14

1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

3 After his [death] he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While [staying, eating] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized [in] Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “(That) is not for you to know, the times or periods that the Father has set by God’s own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward the heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into the heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into the heaven.”12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, and James… Andrew, Philip, and Thomas… Bartholomew, Matthew, and James son of Alphaeus… Simon the Zealot, and Judas brother of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to worship, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

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

Sermon Leave it Behind

Jill came home a bit giddy the other day and first, made me promise to be appropriately excited, and then asked me who I would most want to go see in concert again. I had lots of singers, bands flash through my mind. David Wilcox? Pierce Pettis? Then I felt pressure to guess right. My first two out-loud guesses were more for her than for me. “Yacht Rock Review? Brandi Carlisle?” She said, “No, who would YOU want to see, that is just now touring again?” and that little hint sparked me. “Nickel Creek?” and she squealed and shimmied and said yes. She surprised me with tickets. We are going to see them this Summer when we are in New York with some friends for a soccer game.

I’ll admit, I’m pretty pumped. I’ve been listening to their old and new stuff ever since. Nickel Creek is a three-person bluegrass-folk band that were child prodigies back in the late 80s and 90s, a brother and sister who play guitar and violin, and a friend who plays mandolin. After 3 or 4 big albums as young adults, they busted up to try some other stuff, came back together for a bit, split back off to do more stuff apart, and this year released a new album and started touring again.

They have this one song that zapped me while I was mowing the grass called “The 21st of May.” That is today, right? In the song, they make fun of a preacher who predicts the end of the world on the 21st of May. Here’s just a little taste…

I remembered something about the preacher but had to look it up. The preacher’s name was Harold Camping, and he and I share a few things. He is an engineer by degree and worked in engineering for over a decade before leaving to serve in ministry, as did I. His denomination, Christian Reformed, espouses Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity, as does the PCUSA. After that, the similarities fade.

Harold Camping was President of Family Stations, a lucrative Christian network. His broadcasts were heard at their peak in more than 150 markets, by hundreds of thousands each week. The best I can say is that my sermons are heard here and on YouTube, by over a hundred on a good week.

Based on Camping’s study of the Bible, he determined that May 21, 2011, would be Judgment Day. It wasn’t the first time he had forecasted the great rapture of the saved and eternal torture of the left behind. He first predicted the end for 1994. When that didn’t happen, he studied and adjusted to 2005. When that didn’t happen, he recalculated and settled on the 21st of May, 2011. He said scripture wasn’t wrong, he just miscalculated.

A long time ago, as the disciples stood around Jesus in today’s scripture, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Like Camping, the first disciples were imagining a God who would bring destruction and judgment on their enemies and would finally lift them to power and victory. What they are really asking is, “Hey Jesus, is today the day that everything is put back as it should be, the way it used to be, with our people in charge and those people defeated? We’ve always been taught the messiah will destroy our enemies and save the faithful. Is today the day when we get our reward and they get what’s coming to them?” The disciples were asking, “Is today May 21st?”

Jesus dismisses their question and the assumptions underneath it. “This isn’t for you to know,” he says… “neither the what, the how, or the when.”

When the 21st of May, 2011 came and went, the jokes and cartoons and memes of Camping started busting out on early social media. Nickel Creek made their satirical song about him. One part of me laughs but another part of me can’t laugh.

See, I hate when Christian leaders slander God and the Christian religion by misrepresenting Christ and misusing the Bible. Any Christian church or denomination that vows a strict, literal, inerrant, infallible understanding of scripture is more likely to lead their people to harmful, hurtful, untrue things about God, and to misunderstand and misconstrue God’s will for creation and humanity. I can’t laugh because the world is becoming more and more skeptical of God, preachers, Christians, scripture, and Christianity because of preachers and messages like this.

Camping was a successful preacher, with a big following that he gathered into a tighter and tighter group. They agreed with him and believed like him, against others. He did so under the name of Christ. He spent his time and their money trying to portray he knew the plans and judgments and timing of God for their salvation and for others' destruction.

But claiming to know the mind and timing of God is not inspiration, not from Holy Spirit. That’s sin. Isn’t the original sin in Genesis humanity attempting to know what only God can know? Camping may have felt he was loving people, trying to save them, calling them to repentance and belief before it was too late. But that’s not who this God is in Jesus, and by predicting the knowledge, will, and timing of God for some and against others, he was forgetting … “It's not for you to know the what, the how, the who, or the when.”

In today’s scripture, after Jesus tells them it's not for you to know, Jesus redirects them. “You will receive Holy Spirit, and you will go be my witnesses. You will go among all the people in Jerusalem, the ones you like and the ones you don’t. Then you’ll go throughout all of Judea, where you are and are not comfortable. Then you will go be my witnesses in Samaria, yes, among one of your oldest enemies. And if you still have the stamina and courage, you will keep going beyond Samaria even to the ends of the earth, for me.” Jesus wants his disciples to imagine and believe anyone, everyone is somehow included in what Jesus has been doing and will be doing.

That is something we can know from this scripture and from Christ, not when or how God is going to save us and judge others, but somehow, those who truly love the God we know in Jesus will go extend God’s love to neighbors, strangers, enemies, and even to the ends of the earth.

May 21st came and went. Camping embarrassingly admitted another error in his calculations, and rescheduled the rapture for sometime in October of 2011. Just days before his newly predicted judgment day, Camping suffered a stroke. His fourth prediction came and went as well, and according to Wikipedia, Camping later admitted to the Christian Post he no longer believed anybody could know the time of the end. In March 2012, in a letter to his virtual congregation, he stated his attempt to predict a date was "sinful", and that his critics had been right in emphasizing the words of Jesus "of that day and hour knoweth no one". He added he was now searching the Bible "even more fervently...not to find dates, but to be more faithful in [his] understanding."

When he did that, Family Radio suffered a significant loss of members, staff, and revenue. Some Christians are more interested in preachers who reassure them they are already right, they are already saved, all they have to do is wait. Some Christians prefer a pastor and a church that thinks and agrees and votes like them, where God is on our side, and others are either enemies or in need of saving.

Jesus never tells those first disciples "You are right, you are saved, God is on your side, and against your enemies." As those first disciples stood around, looking up, waiting, some others from God came and stood among them and said, “What are you doing, standing here, looking up, waiting?” Disciples of this Christ cannot stand still, look up, and wait. Disciples go! Some go just a little way into town. Others go a bit further. Some go into so-called enemy territory. Still, others go to the ends of the earth. Christian disciples do not come together in worship to look up and wait, but to remember our purpose and renew our strength, so we go from here seeing God and being God’s hands and feet everywhere, for everyone. That’s the role of faithful Christian disciples, to look for God, to see God, to speak about God, and to act with faith and love toward friends, strangers, and even enemies.

Camping taught people to huddle up together as the saved, and then wait, look up, to get themselves into heaven. Jesus taught the Kingdom of heaven is here and now, here and everywhere. Don’t try to predict when, how, or who. Don’t wait for it. Trust, act in faith. Go to the world looking for God at work everywhere, in everyone, and help God’s love grow in all people until the end comes. I hope Nickel Creek will write and sing a song about that someday.

To God be all glory and honor, now and forever, amen? 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.

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