Sermon series, "Acting Church", week 2 of 4 of Pentecost Season
Preached May 31, 2020 for the 9:30am Virtual Worship
This is our second Sunday in the sermon series Caitlan and I are calling “Acting Church.” For four Sundays, we are studying the Book of Acts, the birth and beginnings of church.
Those first disciples of Jesus didn’t know what church was, what God was doing in creating church through them. But because of their life beside Jesus, and their experience of Holy Spirit, they began Acting Church. They had some old traditions and scriptures, some of which they honored, and some they let go. They began doing new things, strange things, speaking about and modeling Holy community for all people.
Last Sunday, Caitlan lifted up Acts 1, the Ascension of The Lord, where Luke describes the departure of the risen Jesus from the disciples, and their first action in Acting Church was to pray. This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and we are reading Acts 2, what God and the disciples did next.
Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord from…
Scripture Acts 2:1-21
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested with each of them. 4 All of them were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 So Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall speak truth,
and your young one shall see visions,
and your old ones shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon slaves, and men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall all preach.
19 And I will show omens in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mists.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon will shine red,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then anyone (everyone) who calls (calling) on the name of the Lord shall (will) be saved.’
(This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God!)
Sermon - "A Sundden Rush"
Spiritual, not religious. That’s a phrase that seems to be gaining momentum.
Younger ones find themselves put off by some of the oddities of religion, the formalities, the music, or the language. They might agree, there’s a God. They have a sense of God, thus the term “spiritual.” But religious means submitting to a place, people, purpose that doesn’t fit the way so many young people feel about God. Then, some preachers or self-professed Christians say and do things publicly that surely can’t be in sync with a good and loving God. A pastor preaches with an assault rifle in his arms. Another claims to be able to cure Covid with the laying on of hands, then dies from Covid weeks later. So, some young people are saying things like, “Yeah, I’m spiritual. I believe in God and everything. I just don’t really like religion.”
Its not just young people. Older people are going there too. Some folks grew up in religion. It was the habit of their family and became their own habit when they became a family of their own. But many hit a point as they get older where they pause, and look at their religion, what it actually says and does and supports, and they hold on to the spiritual but let go of the religious. An amazing, intelligent, career wife and mother of three girls realizes she goes to a church that will not ordain women to preaching, teaching, or leadership because “the Bible says so.” She stays spiritual but leaves religion. A couple adopts a child of another race and feels stares, hears questions from others in their church as to why they adopted someone “so different.” It was their commitment to life in the spirit that led them to adopt, but they find themselves walking away from that religion.
This first Pentecost, the disciples were going through a moment like that. Many of them grew up religious. They had certain religious habits and practices they felt were either expected by God or were offered to God as signs of their commitment. Then, they met Jesus. He was the most spiritual person they’d ever known, but Jesus questioned so many of the religious practices, boldly and blatantly. He flipped over tables in the temple. He challenged the pharisees and scribes with sayings like, “You’ve always heard it taught to you by religious people, but I say to you…” And remember, it was religious people in cahoots with government, who decided to put their knee on his neck to silence him and snuff out his breath on the cross.
Then, God did something wild and radical. Despite religion’s best attempt to silence Jesus, God in Holy Spirit gave Jesus new breath. Jesus came back to his disciples, and promised to breathe into them new breath, Holy Spirit.
On that Pentecost Sunday, God’s Holy Spirit hit them like a violent rushing wind. So often in religion, we think of Spiritual as ethereal, wispy, gentle. This Holy Spirit is not soft and cool, but powerful and hot, like fire, inflammatory even. Holy Spirit invades those disciples, fills them and the space around them with enough power surely they were afraid, and with enough force surely they were moved against their will.
That’s what it means to be inspirited. It means we cannot be still. It means we cannot be silent. It means we will be uncomfortable, even scared. It means we cannot stay the same.
When Holy Spirit blows, people and things change.
Before Holy Spirit arrived, the disciples were in a space together using the same language, just with one another. No one outside that room heard them, noticed them, or cared what they were doing or saying inside. When Holy Spirit rushed through and over them, everything changed.
On that Pentecost, there was enough noise and excitement from where the disciples were gathered, people beyond them, outside of them noticed, and began coming to them. Crowds formed where the disciples were previously trying to stay hidden and invisible. To the disciples, inside it felt like violent radical change, so different, so scary. But notice, to others beyond the insiders, they came toward the new sound. They weren’t afraid but were attracted to Holy Spirit.
Where did the disciples get the passion and courage to make a ruckus and attract the attention of others? They didn’t. Holy Spirit did that. Just a moment ago the disciples were huddled up together behind closed doors almost hiding from the big scary different world. When Holy Spirit hit them and lit them on fire, they couldn’t help but begin speaking and acting in ways that got the attention of people all around them.
On that Pentecost, the disciples stopping looking at one another and talking to one another in their own language, and starting looking at the people around and beyond them. They disciples stopped talking just to one another and began talking to new people. The disciples stopped talking in their own, natural, preferred languages, and began listening and communicating in the odd strange languages of the new people.
Where did they learn those new languages? Holy Spirit gave them the opportunities, and they had enough from Holy Spirit to communicate once they turned their attention to the new relationships and engaged them directly and sincerely. Where did they learn what to say… not just how to say it, but what to say? When Holy Spirit was breathed into them, their ability to listen, understand, and respond to people of all kinds of differences was met with wonder and amazement, not by all, but by so many.
If Pentecost truly is the birthday of the church, then church isn’t about coming together respectfully, away from and apart from the big scary world. Church was created to be a people who come together to make a big noise, a big sound and a big difference that others beyond church hear and notice, and are attracted to.
If Pentecost is the birthday of church, then church isn’t about gathering with one another and repeating the same words back and forth to one another that remind us of what we’ve been saying to one another for years. Church was created to be a people who come together to be stirred up by Holy Spirit then go out and meet someone we don’t know yet, and to have a new conversation we’ve never had before, to sing songs we’ve never sung before.
Imagine, if people didn’t have to choose between spiritual and religious. Imagine, if religion would become more and more Holy Spirit inspired. No one would have to choose spiritual over religion. Holy Spirit would gather us together, and send us out, would give us a tight community, and would expand our community to include others. Everyone would have something to say about God’s goodness, what God is doing to bring about God’s kingdom. Sons and daughters would be preachers and prophets. Younger ones would see visions of God’s beloved community. Older ones would dream dreams of peace, justice, and love for all.
The last verse we read today is interesting. If I translate it the religious way, it says… “Then anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” as if being saved is a choice we have to make by calling on the name of the Lord. But when Holy Spirit inspires the translationg of that same verse, it says, “Then everyone, calling on the name of the Lord, will be saved.”
Whenever we get to come together here in this place again as church, I pray, we don’t just repeat the words and songs we’ve been doing for years. I pray we make a big new sound that others hear with amazement and wonder, and they find here at this church, they are welcome to be fully spiritual and religious at the same time.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. 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 forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown