5/14/2017 Sermon: ”Too Good to Keep for Yourself”

Last week we heard the story of how Jesus finished out his physical presence on earth.  Brutally killed, risen from the dead, Jesus had been appearing in numerous places for about six weeks.  And to his disciples he said, “Stay where you are (in Jerusalem – away from their home in Galilee up north – and the place of the most danger).  Just before he ascended into the sky, he said to them…

“You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  (Acts 1:5)

and…

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:7)

The Book of Acts is formally called the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel writer Luke wrote it – it’s a continuation of his Gospel.  It’s all about how God used believers to fulfill the words of Jesus.

You could call Acts the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.  Try to picture this story….

Acts 2.  When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the 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. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs— (a wheel around Jerusalem with a 600-mile radius)  in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Pentecost, by the way, is a Jewish festival of first fruits – it celebrates the first crops of the growing season.  Means something here, right?  That passage is so important that we’ll hear it again in a few weeks and the story will continue.

As you pictured this, what did you see?  What did you hear?

The sound of wind.  But not destructive wind.

Fire.  They could see this over each other’s heads.

Other languages.  Have you ever been able to speak another language?

Let’s unpack this and look at what happened….

The sound of wind.  What does that mean? It’s the creating “ruah” of God.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said… ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)

God uses words to create, uses language to bring things into being. Isn’t that amazing to think about?  God said.  And made life happen.  Does God still speak?  Yes.  That means God still creates.

God will speak into you and make a new creation right now.  You open that door by believing in the risen Jesus.  “God, I am yours.”

God breathes and speaks.  In fact, God is the Word.  Jesus is the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Through the Holy Spirit, God and Jesus are speaking to you and me, and God the Spirit uses us to speak to others.  Those new believers were becoming mouthpieces for God.

Fire.  How about that fire?  Fire destroys and fire cleanses, right?  Where else in scripture is fire an important thing?  In Exodus, God is a pillar of fire keeping the enemies of the Hebrew people away.  Looking toward this moment, there was a time when Jesus said…

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  Luke 12:49]

When he said that, he saw a time when some people would have faith and others wouldn’t.  This Holy Spirit coming would be awesome for people who believe.  Cleansing.  Freeing.  But in their relationships, the fire might feel like something else.  If you have faith, some of your relationships may burn.

Other languages.  And how about those believers suddenly having the ability to speak in languages that they didn’t know? Do you speak another language?  Ever been able?  I have but only with practice.  God, I could use some Spanish right about now!  I want to show you some amazing things that were happening in that moment, when people started speaking in other languages, talking about God’s deeds of power.

It wasn’t just random talking (words are important, right?).  God’s deeds of power.  What would that have been?  About Jesus risen from the dead!

If you want to communicate important, life-saving truth to someone else, you have to find the language that they speak.

Kathy and I haven’t traveled as much as other people we’ve met, but we’ve gotten around, regularly used our passports, and learned one huge thing.  In most places people commonly travel to, everybody, that is, everybody who wants to do business, especially with tourists, and make a living – speaks English.  It’s a polite thing for Americans to learn some words in other languages, but most people who sell food or run hotels, etc., speak English.  They have to.  Not just for us.  It’s because English is a way for them to overcome their own language barriers.  People from other countries speak English to each other.

The “language barrier” is no longer a reason to not travel.  English is the world language of business.

In that same way, at the time of Jesus and the early Christians, if you wanted to do business across borders, if you wanted to be able to communicate with people from other countries, you had to speak Greek.  Common people in the Palestine area spoke Aramaic, but the general language for the Roman Empire was Greek.  Greek was the language of business.  There’s a reason the New Testament was written entirely in Greek.

In order for the disciples to talk to this crowd, they may have only had to speak Aramaic or Greek. But if that’s true, Lord, why bother with these other languages?

The buzz goes through the crowd, “Are these people drunk?”  They’ve lost all sense appropriate behavior!  Let’s look at that.

Do people who are drunk naturally speak in other languages?  It was a weird thing to say, so, there must be something else that they’re seeing.

First, they must have been having some kind of ecstatic experience.  Some kind of amazing happiness, expressing themselves with joy.  Laughing?

Secondly, the place where the believers are speaking, the only place that makes sense for a crowd like this, is the Temple courtyard.  They must be at the Temple. This was high, holy ground, which you could see plainly in the rituals and robes, and the language that was spoken there. The language of worship for the Hebrew people has always been Hebrew, which Jews call “the holy tongue.”

Model of the Temple in Jesus’ time. The areas outside the formal Temple walls are the courtyards.

At the Temple, all other languages were replaced by Hebrew – despite the fact that for many Jews, especially the Jews living in other countries, Hebrew was incomprehensible.

If the Temple was where the followers of Jesus were first experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, it must have come as a shock to hear words of praise, words of worship about God’s deeds of power in common languages.  Inappropriate!  No joy here, you guys!  God is always having to get past some form of inappropriateness.  Cultural filters we need people to pass through, even though appropriateness is lacking in our culture, yes? I’m talking about the unnecessary expectations we may have for younger people in particular.

Thirdly, God was using the personal languages of the people who needed to hear the message about Jesus.  When God speaks, God speaks your personal language. We also need the Spirit of God in us – to live the life God wants us to live and to give away the good news to people who don’t all speak the same language.

We have important traditions to keep as a church, but the language we speak needs to change with time, it needs to change for those we want to reach.

There are many people who desperately need good news, who need the Spirit, who need the new life God wants to give them.  They might speak other languages.  Maybe they speak Elderly.  Maybe they speak Teenager.  Maybe they speak Music.  Maybe they speak Food or Cooking.  I’ve known people who spoke Motorcycle.  We speak many languages.  Using the language God has given you, think of how God can use you to give good news to someone else.

Prayer

God, give us courage.  Give us the courage to believe in you and the courage to act on that belief.

Renew your Spirit in us.  Give us your eyes to see those around us who need new life, who need to know you.  Help us communicate your love for them in ways they understand.

Give us all a new sense of purpose, with you at the controls of our lives, and with you making a new creation in us and in our church.  Amen.

5/7/2017 Sermon – “Waiting for the World to Change.”

We’re picking up the story once more after the crucifixion death of Jesus – and his rising from the dead. According to scripture, he was with his disciples for about six weeks after he first appeared to them.

Acts 1:4-14.  4While staying with them, [Jesus] 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;5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the 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?’7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of* James.14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

You know, if you picked up a Bible and turned to that story without knowing anything that led up to that moment, you might think it was describing some kind of superhero, the way movies portray superheroes.  Flying through the air!  Into the clouds!

Is Jesus a superhero?  You might say yes, in his own way, right? Did he have powers?  Yes.  Did he save people?  Yes, and still does.

Let’s think about superheroes for a few minutes.  When you were growing up, did you have a favorite superhero?  Back in the day, they mostly lived in comic books and a little bit on TV.  Did you have a favorite?  Superman, Batman…   And we watched stories of these people with special powers defeating some kind of huge evil that’s out to get us.  Remember this?

Now you see superheroes mostly in big-budget movies. Until a few years ago, superheroes were mostly marketed to kids. Action toys and lunch boxes.

Today, stories about superheroes are for adults. Mostly not at all for kids.  There used to be just a few; now there are hundreds, and its hard to keep track of them.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but superheroes really aren’t the same anymore.  They might have some special power, but they can be really flawed. Normal?  Here are a few Netflix superheroes from the last couple of years:

Jessica Jones.  Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is twenty-something, really strong, and a depressed alcoholic.  She’s never really gotten over the death of her parents.

Iron Fist.  Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is the Iron Fist.  When he focuses his energy, his fist glows and he can smash things (and bad guys).  He also lost his parents at a young age and is emotionally unstable.  Has frequent nightmares. Probably has PTSD.

Daredevil.  Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is an attorney (that’s not his superpower), but at night, he’s the Daredevil.  He does martial arts and gymnastics really well and can hear things from very far away… because he is blind.  His hearing is so good that he can fake seeing.  He also lost his parents at a young age and has trouble following through with relationships.  Has a commitment issue.

See things in common?  Alongside their strength there lives some major flaw.  Note:  Superman and Batman also lost their parents.  In the new superheroes, some traumatic event left its mark, but unleashed some hidden ability (God does work in weakness, you know!). And all of these people live in the same neighborhood of New York (!).

Use your imagination for a moment.  If you could direct or manage a superhero, what would you like them to do…  For you?  For the community?  For the world?

I suspect most of the stuff we would like them to do is more about fixing relationships, or the pain of a loss, getting people out of trouble, giving them something they need.

Are there superheroes now?  Yes, there are.  And they are real.  They are not fiction.  Good thing, because we are so looking for a hero.  Everybody looks for a hero to help them fight the evil in their lives.  Yes?

God created superheroes; they are us in God’s church right now.  They are you and me.  I’ll show you how this works.

I have to wonder what that was like, watching Jesus ascend.  I imagine it was just a little confusing; why couldn’t he just stay?  And he said this strange thing:  Wait.  Stay where you are.  “…you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  (Acts 1:5)

Jerusalem: the Temple Mount with the Mount of Olives in the background. CN – 2011.

Jerusalem was a dangerous place for them to be, but they stayed because that’s where Jesus was appearing to them and he had told them to stay put.  He told them to wait, to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.  They not only don’t know what that means, the Holy Spirit is not what they are concerned about; they want political justice.

They’d like to not be afraid.  They want the world to change.  They asked him,  “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  (Acts 1:6)

The main problem, as they see it, is the people who killed Jesus.  Those Romans.  Jesus, let’s go downtown and knock these guys around a little!  And the risen Jesus definitely gives off a superhero vibe.

He will make things right, and he makes things right for you and me, but Jesus has a different agenda, based on a different wisdom.  He comes to bring wholeness to those who believe.

He wants to give his people power, but a kind of power they weren’t thinking of.  It wasn’t power to fly or the power of superhuman strength.  It wasn’t the power of great intellect.  Listen to what he said:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:7)

“You will receive power.”  And you’ll see that as the story continues, they are so transformed that they’re hard to recognize.  They receive the power to imitate Jesus in nearly everything they do.  The healing, the compassion, the confidence – they are different people.  Before and after!

So, now it’s not about Jesus having power, it’s about believers having power.  And that won’t happen if he stays.  The difference between Jesus and the superheroes or the Greek gods is that he came to give power to believers, to you and me, so that we can be the force that changes the world.

The foundation of that power is in being witnesses – telling other people that Jesus is alive.  That is always the core of who we are.

 As soon as Jesus gave them their marching orders he rose out of sight.  Actually, they were waiting orders.  Waiting; waiting for the Holy Spirit to come.  So they went back to the upper room and prayed.

All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer  Until this point in the story, the followers of Jesus did not appear to be especially “with it,” but this time they did something that fit the moment: they prayed.  Smartest thing they could have done.  Us too!

They made themselves open to God, and whatever God was going to do.  That is the essence of prayer: making yourself open to God and whatever God wants to do with you.

The first step in any kind of a meaningful change in a Christian’s life is being open to whatever God might do, whatever that might be.  If you need the world to change, the first change that needs to happen is you.  You can hear them praying, “God, whatever this Holy Spirit is, send it.”

They prayed and waited.  A little like waiting on the bench for your turn at bat, or for your play to be called.  I wonder what these people were thinking as they were waiting.  Were they excited?  Probably so.  God raised Jesus from the dead and now God is going to do something for us, something with us!

And that’s the way it is when people believe in Christ.  Faith brings a change in your own life, and then with God living in you, you have a power to connect others with God.  You tell someone that you believe, then they believe, and they begin to change. And the Spirit goes flowing around.  This superpower is contagious!

I believe that we are completely equipped for the work the Holy Spirit needs to do in Manheim – and around the world.  Wonderful worship opportunities, incredible mission opportunities.  Fellowship opportunities, Christian learning opportunities for all ages.  There are so many things we can do for Christ to make a difference in this town and in our world.  There is someone here who is having a new idea right now.   God is still speaking and the Spirit is at work.

Do you remember what those guys in the white robes said?

“Men of Galilee, Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”  Why are you standing around?  Jesus didn’t do all these things so that you would be amazed and impressed.  Maybe they thought he would swoop back down.

They need to get ready for action.  There’s a world to reach.  And they’re getting their biggest challenge right from the get-go.  These people from Galilee are in Jerusalem, away from home.

Maybe they were hoping they could go back to Galilee and scrapbook about the experience, sit back, and bask in the wonderful glow of faith.  But they got their assignment: receive power and be witnesses.  It starts in Jerusalem, and down the street are the people who crucified Jesus.  All the good things these believers are about to do, all the witnessing for Jesus, the healing, the caring happens in the place of their biggest fears.

It’s the same with us.  People of St. Paul’s, we’ve been knocked down a few times in the last few years, but God is ready to do amazing things with us.  Why do you stand looking upward towards heaven?  We’ve got a world to reach.  You and I are the superheroes God needs right now.  Let’s pray, let’s make a plan, and let’s make it happen.

Prayer

God, we open our hearts to you, and know that you will continue to do great things with us through the power of the Spirit.  Give us a clear picture of who we are and what we could be.  Give us vision.  Give us the courage to remove the obstacles in our lives, the sin that keeps us from enjoying our relationship with you; the sin that keeps us from caring for each other and caring for the world as you want us to.  Now send us to the ends of the earth with your message of love, in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.