Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Mission of God, Pentecost

Sermon Acts 2.1-21

 God is on a mission…

 What do we mean when we say that someone is on a mission? Steve Totushek, Dan’s cousin used to comment about Dan when he was walking around the greenhouses determined to get as much done as possible… “Dan is on a mission” He noted the urgency, action and purpose in his steps and said, “Dan is on a mission.”

 I have seen Dan when he’s on a mission... his head is at least six inches ahead of the rest of his body guiding the body forward. I want us to use that as our image. God is at least 6 inches ahead of the church guiding the body forward. In the same way, we might say God is on a mission. God is at work, acting with urgency and purpose. We often say that God has a mission for our church but it is more accurate to say that God is on a mission and we as God’s people are invited to join Him in that mission.

God is on a mission to rescue people from the captivity of sin, a mission to restore us in relation to himself and others, God is on a mission to liberate people from addiction, from injustice, deception, oppression… God is on a mission to feed the hungry, house the homeless and tend the earth. Yes, God is on a mission to set a sin-sick, broken and battered world right.  It began with Jesus... and continues...through the Holy Spirit.

And God is acting with urgency and purpose to heal the world.

That’s what the book of Acts is… it is a book about the one who is Acting in the world… We might properly call it a book about the Acts of the Spirit through the people of God.

In the story that Luke is telling… Jesus had been tried, crucified and raised from the dead. He met with his disciples on the mountain, commissioned them to be his witnesses and told them to wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them that they would be clothed with power from on high to be his witnesses in the earth. They were waiting in the upper room… some historians think it was the same room in which they shared the last supper with Jesus.

Can you imagine what it would feel like to have your teacher ascending to heaven and you being left with the charge to continue his work and take his teachings to the whole world? Perhaps in that upper room, there was talk about the overwhelming feelings about that enormous task… and about how much they would miss Jesus.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans but send the Spirit, which is what Pentecost is about, the coming of the Spirit to continue the mission of God.

Turn with me to Acts chapter 2… verse one.  On the day of Pentecost, stop right there… Pentecost commemorated the giving of the law. The law in Israel was the document that ordered their community and helped them live according to the justice and mercy of God. It was to help them live their side of the Covenant. They were to be a people governed by God as revealed in the Torah—the law. The sending of the Spirit at Pentecost reminds us that now, God is inaugurating a new kind of governance—the Kingdom of God—a kingdom that is governed from within hearts through the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In this new thing…God is governing and “ACTing” not through an external law but from within by the Spirit. Ezekiel 36:26 says this of the New Covenant… I will give you a new heart and put my Spirit in you and I will move you to follow my ways and keep my commands. God is acting from within the hearts of a people to bring the healing, loving and just reign of God in the earth.

Back to the text… all the believers were meeting together in one place. Verse 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages,[b] as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.  5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. 

There are a couple of ideas in the passage that can help us understand what is happening.

The Spirit came dwelling in a people instead of a location. 

Formerly, the Temple was thought of as the place where heaven and earth joined and where one could encounter the presence of God. The Spirit rested on select people… priests, kings, prophets... those authorized to speak for God. Now, it is a people within whom God dwells, speaks and acts. The body of Christ is the new temple.

NT Wright put it in an interesting way… it is kind of like having a fire in a fireplace. The fire is safely contained in a specific location warming anyone coming near. Then in Pentecost, the fire escapes and is no longer contained. The Spirit is dispersed among anyone who calls on the Lord… it is dangerous and untamed by human physical constraints. The flame burns where, when and how God determines to work.

The Spirit enabled the community to speak and act in ways hearers could understand. 

Luke suggests that God is at work giving God’s Witnesses the ability to communicate to people who speak different languages. And the people from many places, gathered in Jerusalem hear of God’s mighty works in their own language.

Verse 7  7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other. 

God is at work communicating, acting through His people. 

This is the day that the church was born. The Church was born to carry out the mission of God: to reconcile, heal and transform the world under the loving reign of God. God is not dead, he is risen, God is alive and at work, active through the church doing the same acts that Jesus did. That’s why we are called Christ’s body. We often think of the church as a location or a building where we come to worship God. But the church is not a building, it is a people through whom God is working to communicate himself and his heart to others. It is important to gather… we are called to gather… to hear the gospel taught, to be formed by the gospel story, to share in communion, to be healed and equipped. But gathering for these activities is not the end of the story. God is acting in our world, in our neighborhoods, in our communities doing the same work that Jesus did… setting the captives free, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, liberating the oppressed, restoring people to community and healing the earth.

The author of Luke and Acts is deliberate in framing Acts in the same way he framed Luke. In Luke The Spirit indwells Jesus, in Acts the Spirit indwells the people. What is his intent?

The author of Luke and Acts intends to show that the same Jesus who healed the sick, lifted the marginalized, delivered the oppressed and fed the poor is the same God at work through a Holy Spirit empowered church.

God has stepped into our world in the person of Jesus to heal and deliver the world from sin and evil systems affected by sin. And if God is still at work by the Holy Spirit, then God is on a mission and He has chosen to partner with us--the church to continue the works of Jesus. Remember, Jesus said, greater works than these shall you do... the work goes on... through the Spirit-empowered church. He wants to work through you. God works through all kinds of people.

Verse 13  13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”  14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:  17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy. 

Joel’s prophecy envisions a people who will participate with God in what God is doing. 

God will be working through many kinds of people… People from every ethnicity – people from every tribe and tongue People of every age – young, old, in between People from every walk of life – slave, servant, free, rich, poor, Both men and women. anyone who calls on the name of the Lord. This speaks to the divine vocation of God’s people…who are called to join God in God’s mission. The empowerment of the Spirit is no longer just for the priesthood, kings or prophets… all will join with God in what God is doing.

So how does that empowerment come to us today?

The bible tells us in Ephesians 5:18, to be filled with the Spirit... the word filled here has to do with a continuous filling... something like a flowing river. Every river has a source and in the Christian life, that source is Christ. Through a union with Christ by means of the Holy Spirit we are empowered with the life-giving flow of the Holy Spirit. Union with Christ is both a gift and a relationship that must be cultivated through time with God in his presence. It is a sacrifice of our time. It’s when we invite the Holy Spirit’s presence, ask for a fresh filling and allow the sweet love of God to wash over us on a regular basis. Such ideas are common around here as many of you a rich and deep and intimate relationships with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. It’s one of the things I highly value here... the emphasis on the Spirit filled life and intimacy with God. This is essential. But as essential comes the challenge. God is on a mission. 

This mission is not static but moving forward. God is ahead of us... with the body following. I was a pastor in a couple of churches that were in decline. One of them did not make it. One of the characteristics of a church in decline is a wonderful memory of a glorious past when they felt God’s movement and saw God’s work. While they kept their relationship with God and were faithful people, the mission of God became lodged in a memory of a glorious past. This little church was planted by Swedish immigrants who had encountered God powerfully in their home countries. They had experienced control and persecution from a state religion. But the Spirit had revived a group of pietists and when they went to America, they founded a Swedish church and a Swedish community. They were worshippers writing many new songs. They saw God deliver people and many were saved and healed. They had bible studies and youth studies and were alive and active in their communities. But over time something happened. Their neighborhoods changed from being largely Swedish to be largely Italian. No one came to their Swedish celebrations or their Swedish worship services or their Swedish potlucks. And as the church continued with faithful people who loved God, they no longer reached out to their community nor could their community hear the voice of God through their church. And they remembered the glorious things that God had once done as fewer and fewer people came to their church. That’s where we can get off track as the people of God. It’s good to remember the glorious past and the things that God has done but if that’s where we stay, we might miss the mission that God is at work in today.

A few years back, I had an interesting experience in a church we attended. I was asked by a mentor this question, How are you seeing God at work in your community or church. As I pondered this, I noticed something. We had a small group of Hispanic people coming to our church. And I wondered what would happen if we invited the Hispanic community to the purpose driven life groups that we were starting. A Spanish speaking friend and I created a poster in Spanish and put it in the Mexican grocery store inviting those who spoke Spanish to our small group. 20 people came. And something began to happen. I kid you not, it felt like the flow of a river that was moving fast. God was on a mission. He was up to something. Out of this came a church.

It’s a fair question to ask. How is God at work, how do you notice God’s mission emerging in your community. Because I believe that God is at work and doing something.

Will we join God in furthering the mission of God?

I think we are side tracked by so many things... the ways our nation is changing, the violence and political things. I think that at times the people of God are stuck trying to recapture a past that is lost. Sometimes we try political means to regain the social respect that we no longer have--for whatever reason. But that’s not the way God works anyway.

God is at work through his church to heal the sick, to liberate the captive, deliver the oppressed, to lift the marginalized, make disciples of all nations. His strategy does not come through laws but by the Spirit often through real people at the bottom of the social status. People to people, group to group, neighborhood to neighborhood, the river flows like a mighty current beneath the systems of power and might.  And the kingdom comes from the bottom up as the kingdom of God is lived out everyday in people like you and me.

And I leave you today with this powerful question. How are you noticing God at work in your community, home and church. and will you join him in THE MISSION OF GOD.

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