Year C - Pentecost
June 9, 2019
Prologue - Luke 4:16b-21
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty, those that are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Jesus rolled up the scroll [of Isaiah], gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus, at the start of his ministry, took the scroll of Isaiah to make clear to all what his ministry and mission were about.
● Good news to the poor;
● an end of oppression; and
● living into the acceptable year of the Lord -- the Jubilee -- where are all restored to their place in the community.
This was a description of the kingdom of the Lord drawing near to us. This is good news.
Now this morning in Acts, we find the disciples and others gathered together in a house.
· They have experienced Jesus ministry.
· They have suffered through his execution.
· They know the joy of his resurrection.
· They have seen his ascension.
Now, they are waiting as he has told them to do. Waiting for a Holy Spirit that Jesus has told them will come.
All of a sudden, it does! From heaven there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind! Divided tongues, as of fire, appear and a tongue rests on each of them! This coming of the Spirit is a tangible experience!
· It fills the whole house.
· It is like wind and like fire.
It isn’t a doctrine, theology, or something to be studied: it is something to be felt and lived!
And when it is lived, who knows what can happen! For example:
· All in the house are filled with the Holy Spirit (not just the disciples). The Spirit is a gift to the community not just to individuals.
· Then within that community, all begin to speak in other languages. The gift isn’t about them, it is really about others.
· A crowd gathers, amazed that a bunch of Galileans -- you know, “those people” -- are speaking to each in their own unique language.
This Spirit is about action. It is who Jesus’ followers are empowered to be and the possibilities of what they can do and become. It makes sense that everyone is rightfully amazing!
Of course, even in the midst of an amazing event, there are always those who have to find fault - who see in a cup that is not half-filled but overflowing as just a mess to be cleaned up. The skeptics claim the disciples are drunk: “Filled with new wine!”
To these naysayers, Peter -- suddenly emboldened by the Spirit -- quotes the Prophet Joel:
· That God will pour out the Spirit on ALL flesh
· The young will see visions
· The old shall dream dreams
· Son, daughters, men, women, slaves and free will prophesy.
The disciples aren’t drunk. They are filled with the Spirit and God’s spirit is overflowing -- it cannot be contained. It will go wherever and to whomever it wills. All flesh shall receive it!
And yet… as biblical scholars have noted.. on a different level, the critics are right. Jesus taught in Luke 5 that new wine must go into new wine skins. Old wineskins would simply burst and the wine would be lost. These disciples are filled with a new spirit! They are ready to do things in a new way.
· The Good News is suddenly in everyone’s language.
· All are welcomed for who they are. Regardless of their language, their culture -- they are desired by God.
It is fitting that the Spirit would come at Pentecost -- a joyful festival where the first fruits of the harvest were celebrated. As the Rev. Dr. Aymer has noted, Jesus has said that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. In Acts Pentecost becomes a Spiritual harvest festival, with the Spirit emboldening new laborers -- the disciples, and all those with them -- to bring in God’s harvest.
And the Spirit isn’t done! It is just getting started!
· On Pentecost, it was only Jews in Jerusalem hearing the wonders of God.
· Later in Acts, Samaritans -- if you can believe it -- receive the Spirit.
· And then again, Greeks give themselves over to the way of Jesus and receive the Spirit.
The spirit cannot be bound up in old wine skins -- it is bursting forth and doing something new. It is presenting new dreams and new visions in new peoples. It is reshaping the Jesus community. They are no longer about themselves (huddled away safely in a room), but they are about those around them. And so with Pentecost the church begins its extraordinary mission: to exist first and foremost for those who are not yet a part of the church rather than for those who are.
Pentecost doesn’t have the same place in the our secular calendar as Christmas or Easter:
· We don’t send Hallmark Pentecost cards;
· No jolly old elf one comes down chimneys with gifts; and
· No cotton-tailed bunny delivers candy.
In our church calendar, Advent, Lent, and Easter, for example, all get nice long liturgical seasons. Pentecost - on the other hand -- is just a day. It is a sudden event. One morning the disciples are waiting, and then suddenly -- they are empowered! They are ready to get to work. There is no season to ponder what the Spirit means: the Spirit is about the here and now and what we are called to do.
It is therefore fitting that Pentecost is not a season but a moment. Isn’t that how life is? We don’t always get a lot of time to plan. One minute we may have a vision of how things can be. We may have a powerful moment and a deep sense of the Divine. Then the next -- the car won’t start, the phone rings, the laundry needs to be moved along, a sink floods, a friend calls for help, you name it.
The challenge in Pentecost is not to preserve the moment at which the Spirit comes to you for a season -- but to take it with you as all of life happens. It is the challenge as well not to become like the sceptics who cannot believe God would empower us -- such unlikely disciples -- but to continue to dream dreams and to see visions. With Pentecost the Spirit comes to rest on each of us. Then the Spirit calls us:
· to be the source of Good news to the poor,
· to those held captive (regardless of by what),
· to those oppressed; and
· to work towards a just and loving society -- that year of the Lord written into the law of Moses, that Isaiah called Israel back to, and that Jesus calls us to seek.
Pentecost changes us and makes us the church. As the Pastor and author Danielle Shroyer has noted:
“Without Pentecost, we’d just be people who tell Jesus’ story. With Pentecost, we’re people who live into Jesus’ story.”
Pentecost isn’t just a remembrance, it defines us. It makes clear our calling -- that we are not simply to tell people about who Jesus is; we are to live out Jesus’ story. As Jesus tells his disciples in John’s Gospel lesson today:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, …
We don’t just point to the Christ, we are to be the body of Christ. We don’t do this alone -- it is not our individual burden. In Acts, the Spirit comes to communities and empowers them. A great example of this was our election last week. As our representatives reported back at coffee hour, when the diocese elected a new Bishop, there was no politicking. There were no “Vote Bonnie,” “Vote Grace,” “Vote Paula” or “Vote Ruth” signs. There was just a lot of prayer, singing, and a gradual consensus that formed as the Spirit led a community. We as a community are empowered to dream dreams, to see visions, and to be good news.
When did you last dream a dream? When did you think of something so wonderful and good and true, that it cannot be accomplished alone, but takes a community? If it has been a while -- remember this dreaming is part of your calling.
· When did you last have a vision of where God calls us to be Good News? Remember, seeing visions of what God’s beloved community can be is part of your calling.
· The spirit is for everyone, all of us together, and we are invited every day, to open ourselves up to it. To give ourselves over to its lead.
Pentecost is only a day but it is meant to prepare us for all of our days. To do this, we are invited to make time to sit with the Spirit -- to know that it is in us, eager to work with us, leading us into community to be Christ’s body.
· Take time daily to listen for the Spirit in your life.
· Give yourself permission to dream dreams.
· Consider your vision of what God’s love intends for all in our world, and share it.
· Envision what it will look like when all daughters, son, women, men, weak, powerful, poor, rich, old, young, LGBTQ, straight, are free to live fully into who God has created them to be?
It is not self-indulgent to do this -- to stop, listen, and to have dreams. Turn off that voice in your head that may say,
“Why don’t you do something productive.”
That is the same voice that led the skeptics to see Pentecost and its inclusiveness as nothing but drunkenness. Remember, prayer is what the disciples engaged in prior to receiving the Spirit. It is hard to have our hearts open to God without taking that essential time to listen for God's still, quiet voice. Once we listen, in our quiet, we may know that the spirit is within us and it seeks to empower us, so that we do not just live as the people who tell the story of Jesus, but as people who live the story of Jesus.
Know that Pentecost is not just about Jesus’ first disciples. It is about you, me, and our community.
· We are called to be dreamers.
· We are called to be visionaries of God’s love.
Can you give yourself over to this vision of who you are?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon you,
because he has anointed you,
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent us to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty, those that are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Dream and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Today, Pentecost, this promise is fulfilled in you!
Sermon -Seventh Sunday of Easter
What Must I Do to Be Saved?
Today in our reading from Acts we get a whopper of a question from a jailer:
“What must I do to be saved?"
There’s a big question to start our Sunday and week! But it is a question that leads to more questions:
● What do I want to be saved from?
● Is it the same things that the jailer in Acts wants?
● Is it the same for everybody?
● Does it change during my life?
What do we make of this questions: “What must I do to be saved?”
Everyone in our Acts reading today needs to be saved in one way or another. To set the stage, as we mentioned last week -- with no synagogue in Philippi -- Paul is having to find a new way of doing church. It turns out, everywhere he and Silas go, a slave girl with a spirit of divination follows yelling: “THESE MEN ARE SLAVES OF THE MOST HIGH GOD.” At least they have free advertising, but frankly, this gets on Paul’s nerves. So Paul impulsively casts the spirit out of the girl. Now she has no special gift.
· I wonder what will happen to this girl, as what value does she have now to her owners?
· How will she be saved?
The owners of the slave girl are furious, as Paul has just destroyed their valuable asset. I suspect they are wondering about salvation also. How they will be saved financially.”
Angry, the owners have no trouble whipping up a mob that disapproves of these foreigners and their un-Roman ways. The magistrates don’t even give Paul and Silas a trial. They order them to be severely beaten -- this alone could have killed Paul and Silas -- and then thrown into the darkest prison cell and locked in fetters. Paul and Silas have no idea what might happen to them in the morning. Paul’s being annoyed has almost gotten him and Silas killed. They may be praying and singing in the night, but they need to be saved from a potentially deadly situation.
Then there is an earthquake -- a sort of resurrection story if you will. Paul and Silas, sorely beaten, locked in a metaphorical tomb, are suddenly freed. All the prison cells open. Yet in light of this resurrection, suddenly the jailer needs saving!
● If a prisoner has escaped, he will likely be killed or worse by the magistrates.
● Any maybe even more dangerous, earthquakes are often seen in the first century as an act of a god. Clearly the God of Paul and Silas has acted on their behalf. What hope does this poor jailer have against a God like that?
He needs to be saved and fast! But what exactly does he want to be saved from?
● The God of Israel?
● Torture or death for failing in his job?
● The scorn of his society?
As you read through today’s Act’s lesson, you realize, it is not just the jailer who needs to be saved. The entire story is a cry for help -- one big SOS -- if you will.
In the midst of all of this need, Paul’s answer to the jailer is perhaps surprising:
"Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Now if I were writing Acts as dialogue for a movie you would wisely interrupt me with feedback:
· “Wait Bob, what kind of an answer is that?
· "What does it even mean to “Believe on the Lord Jesus?”
· “How is that going to save the jailer, and
· "You haven’t even said what it is saving the jailer from?”
The challenge is that we hear this morning’s lesson with very modern, Western ears. We have all probably had a stranger ask us at some time -- “Are you saved?” (I drove under a sign on the freeway today asking that question.) When we hear that, we know they mean, “Are you going to heaven or hell when you die?” But this is a very 19th and 20th century, American question. It is surely not what the jailer -- in a moment of panic -- is thinking about.
Another thing about our modern, Western ears, is that we often think of belief as something that is intellectual. It is about knowing the right things - agreeing with the right teachings. To modern, Western ears, faith is a noun and not a verb. It is about accepting particular ideas and not about taking action.
So what does Paul mean by belief?
I went to a lecture by the New Testament scholar Marcus Borg. He encouraged us to think of belief as “what we give our heart over to.” For example, when we say the creed on Sunday mornings, we aren’t really saying -- "I intellectually agree with the following." Rather, we are saying, “I give my heart over to God, the creator of heaven and earth…” and then what follows are ways in which that God has been experienced.
I think this is the kind of belief that Paul was talking about. Salvation for the jailer is about what or who he gives his heart to.
What is Our Kingdom?
A little more background on today’s passage -- this story is about the clash of two kingdoms.
● The spirit that abided in the slave girl is, in Greek, a “pythian spirit” (I can tell you more about it at coffee hour if you like). Its powers come from the Oracle at Delphi. This was Apollo’s oracle.
● Apollo was Caesar Augustus’ patron God. Caesar built a temple to him in Rome. That which points to Apollo points to Ceasar.
● And Philippi -- it is a Roman colony that Augustus created for his faithful soldiers -- sort of a Roman Legion retirement community. It was as Roman as you could get, without being in Rome.
So when Paul casts out the spirit from the slave girl it is about far more than silencing her. It is a statement that Paul’s Lord is greater than the Empire’s Lord. That Paul’s God is greater than Caesar’s god. He is saying there is something much bigger, more powerful, much greater than Rome and its worldly kingdom. He proclaims great kingdom of God, with Jesus as its incarnation.
● The worldly kingdom holds power through fear and death.
● The kingdom of God holds power through love and life.
The jailer’s life is ruled by fear of punishment and death. Yet Paul and Silas, root in a different kingdom -- can still pray and sing, even as they face punishment and potentially death. So to believe in the name of Jesus is to enter into a new kingdom. Paul tells the jailer, “give yourself over to this kingdom of love - you and your whole family.”
And the jailer does! He does this not by stating a creed, but by living in a new way. Cruelty gives way to caring for Paul and Silas’ wounds and hospitality. Who knows what may have been done for the other prisoners that aren’t the focus of the story. Belief is an action -- it is love that the jailer is giving himself over to.
Love is what can save the slave girl. Perhaps her owners will see her as who she really is and not for the spirit of divination that she lost. In this process, they may save her and themselves.
Love is what can save the magistrates, when they eventually learn that in flogging Paul and Silas, they have just beaten Roman citizens. Paul makes them come and apologize, but he does not take further legal action to press his worldly rights over those who had wronged him.
The Good News
On this last Sunday of the Easter season, this love we are called to give ourselves over to is given greater clarity and definition in the Gospel lesson. One verse captures so much:
"I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."
Jesus’ love and life models the love of his Father, the Divine. If we want to know what God is like, look at how God’s love shine in Jesus' loves. Further, the same love of God in Jesus is in us!
● We aren’t separated from God.
● We don’t have to go find God.
● God is here with us, in us. As Paul puts it in the next chapter of Acts: in Him “we live and move and have our being.”
The challenge is to give up our own desire for control -- our desire to “make it” in the world's kingdom -- and give ourselves over to this different kingdom, this different reality, this different way of being who we are created to be. It is giving ourselves over to a God that abides within us.
In light of that Good News, I wonder how we may want God’s love to save us today? From what do we hope to be saved?
● Maybe like the slave girl we feel like we have lost what made us special.
● Maybe like the slave owners, we have some priorities we need to realign.
● Maybe like the jailer, we are living in fear - and don’t want to fear anymore.
● Maybe we hope that all of our fears can give way to compassion.
We don’t know the reality that others live in life. We cannot easily know what others deeply hoped to be saved from. What someone in their 90s may hope to be saved from may differ from someone in their 70s or 50s or 20s. Yet it is worth asking ourselves from time to time, in any stage of our life:
● What do we want to be saved from?
● How can acting in love renew us?
● How can we give our hearts to the God of the Most High - the one whose love -- like the air we breathe -- is within us and all around us?
● How can our love free others?
As this Easter season moves towards a close, Paul and Silas remind us that resurrection is not a one time event. It is not just reserved for when we die. It happens in prisons. It happens in healing and hospitals. It happens over shared meals. It is the pattern of life. As one fear dies, an new future is born.
To believe in Jesus - to give ourselves to Jesus - is to give ourselves to love.
● Loving transforms us.
● Loving renews us.
● Loving saves us.
So -- are we ready to be saved and to care for others today, tomorrow, and beyond? This is the way of love that lives within us and around us. For this we give thanks to God.