Monday, May 20, 2013

Do not fear... only believe.

Sermon for Pentecost, preached on Sunday, May 19, 2013.

    Could Pentecost be an unwelcome surprise?  Put yourselves in the shoes of the disciples.  You have just gone from watching the Lord die on the cross, to be raised from the dead, to ascending into heaven.  Can we fault them for thinking, hoping even, that things might calm down now?  The drama of death and resurrection had taken a lot out of them.  So ten days of quiet waiting would have been a welcome respite against the backdrop of all that had happened.
    But the days of quiet and waiting end in a most unsettling way.  The Spirit emboldens the disciples in ways they had not expected.  No more locked doors.  They left the safety of the upper room and risked every thing by entering public life, venturing forth in the name of Jesus.  If in their place, we too might have found the security of the locked door and the upper room comforting.  Yet God has not established His church to be comfortable.  In fact, just the opposite.
    The radical aspect of faith is that people believe the unbelievable.  The disciples believed that Jesus had died a real death, that this death had made payment for the sins of the world, and that He rose again on the third day.  They met the risen Jesus whom they feared was a ghost but they found Him eating, drinking, and inviting them to touch His wounds.  As He died a real death, so they found Him really alive, never to die again.
    Now He sent them His Spirit to make them act on this faith. They could no more be hidden.  They had to be plain and obvious. To the 120 who were praying together in the hidden reaches of that Upper Room,     Jesus bids them come out and go forth.  To the 11 who had been with Him from the beginning and Matthias who had taken Judas' place, Jesus bids them come out and go forth.  To the 3,000 who heard Peter preach the Pentecost defense of the faith, Jesus bids them come out and go forth.
    It is a radical faith in a radical truth that shows itself in radical witness.  None of them could be content to hide what they believed or keep the Gospel to themselves any longer.
This holy boldness is both comforting and unsettling.  It is a comfort and blessing to us that the Spirit moved them in faith to speak and to act but this very witness is unsettling to a people accustomed to the comfort of the shadows.
    Conviction is both comforting and scarey.  It is comforting to be so confident of the truth
but such faith is not comfortable.  It moves us from the safe and secure spheres of our hidden lives to go public with the word of Jesus Christ and the good news of the Gospel.
    What then shall we do?  The first choice is to do nothing at all.  This is the choice too many of us make.  Though we are called out to be set apart but we feel more comfortable in and retreat to the fringes and shadows.  God will have none of this.  He did not move heaven and earth to love us and save us by His only Son's death and resurrection – only to remain silent and hidden and fearful, so that the world goes on as if nothing had happened.
    Conviction always calls us to stand up and to stand out. Conviction moves us from what is easy and comfortable to what is risky and dangerous.  The crowds called them drunk and fools.
Before these disciples could even begin to speak of Jesus they had to disarm the myth that they were deluded or drunk.  When was the last time we practiced such holy boldness that the world called us drunken fools?  Could it be that conviction makes us uneasy  and this leads us to be quiet where God has told us to be bold?
    Conviction results in transformation.  The disciples had already believed the Gospel but the Spirit moved that faith deep in the heart to the voice and to the life.  They are reborn not only to become new people in Christ but the Spirit moves these new people to act in new ways. They can no longer be content with the shadows and fringes.
    They moved front and center into the world with the words of the Gospel and with the actions of love and holiness.  This is what we consider today on Pentecost.  We have believed the Gospel and been born anew in baptism.  Will we allow the Spirit to transform us that we may become bold instruments and faithful voices to speak of Christ and the cross to the world?  Will we live out this truth in words and works or hide it in fear?  Safety is always found at home, in the comfort of the familiar and in doing what is easy.
    The great temptation for Christians is to hide behind locked doors and huddle in the upper rooms     while the world goes on around us.  To commiserate and lament instead of living as those who know the Gospel and have full confidence in its words and promises.  We are not of the world but we live out our faith in the world, and not in fear of the world.  Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world. Believing these words means living them out in daily life.
    The Spirit was not given to us to make us comfortable.  We can find and hide in comfort without the aid of God.   The Spirit was given to us to unsettle us and make us bold.  The Spirit opens our voices to speak faith.  The Spirit teaches us to venture beyond the confines of the comfortable to live out our faith in the world.  The liturgy empowers us with the means of grace to be the Church in the world and not simply speak of it as if it were not here.
    With faithful words of witness and with holy lives seeking what is good and right and true and of Christ, the Spirit moves us past the safe and secure.  The most unsettling part of faith is that it works.  We may find it easy to live life within the comfortable misery of broken promises and unmet hopes.  To surrender to the old nature and its fears.  But that is not the way of the Gospel.  The good news of Jesus Christ is that the debt of sin has been paid in full, that life has been set free from its cruel bondage to evil and fleshly desires, that no longer are captive to death and its shadow over our lives...  We live not the old life of the flesh but the new life of the Spirit, flowing from baptism, to engage the world with the will and work of God in Christ.
    Faith works because Christ has done for us exactly what He promised.  It is this hope in which we live and it is this Gospel we bring to the world.  Pentecost speaks of a Church and a people who could no more live within the past and its fears...  Of a Church and a people who became bold by the power of the Spirit to live out their convictions...  To walk in the way of Christ and not the broad avenue of the world...  Of a future given to us in Christ...  Of repentance and faith are life changing...  The gift of the Spirit is the power from on high that moves us from the shadows to live the Light of Christ.  The example of the disciples is the promise that is meant for each of us and for all of us in this place right now.
    The old joke was that once the kids had left the farm and found the big city, you could not keep them down on the farm any longer.  It is an old joke.  The truth is that faith is not content with the shadows; with the ways of fear; with the dominion of law and the works.  Faith seeks the Light of Christ  and it seeks to live the Light of Christ.  Once we saw it in the lives of 12 disciples, 120 Christians, and more than 3,000 on Pentecost...  Pray today, that we see it here... today.
    In Jesus' name.   Amen.


Unknown said...

When we present the events of Pentecost as a guide for the life of all Christians, some real problems ensue. For one thing, the same thing that happened at Pentecost does not seem to happen with us. Why is that? Because we do not pay attention to the Scriptures!

The heart of the problem is in the words, “Now He sent them His Spirit to make them act on this faith. They could no more be hidden. They had to be plain and obvious. To the 120 who were praying together in the hidden reaches of that Upper Room, Jesus bids them come out and go forth. To the 11 who had been with Him from the beginning and Matthias who had taken Judas' place, Jesus bids them come out and go forth.”

The Disciples received the Holy Spirit on the Day of the Resurrection of our Lord, John 20:22, “When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” They spent the next 50 days just as ordinary Christians, with no remarkable turns in their lives. Something did stir them at the time of the Ascension, because (Luke 24:52) now they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Just before His Ascension, our Lord said to them, Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; …” But Peter, like a modern Schwärmer, could feel the “power” before it really came, so he induced the rest of the Disciples to begin their work as Judges of Israel by electing Matthias. Just a cursory examination of the verses Peter quotes show how inappropriate this was. Other places in Scripture prove without a shadow of a doubt that this should never have happened.

The path of sanctification of the Christian is a long and slow one. I thank our Lord for those 50 days during which he shows us what happens to ordinary people when they receive the Holy Spirit. The Disciples continued to muddle about, make mistakes, and to misunderstand what the Kingdom is all about. We find consolation in those days, because they clearly demonstrate that, Romans 3:21, “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed …” When our Lord reconciled us with the Father, He reconciled ordinary sinners, not only firebrands.

On Pentecost they received the power our Lord promised. This was the special power our Lord deemed necessary to give the Church a “kick start”. There is no expectation that we will receive the same power. Rather, with St. Paul, whom our Lord chose to replace Judas, we can say, 2Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

I do not mean to imply that we should not work earnestly for the furtherance of the Kingdom. I only suggest that we should recognize that what happened at Pentecost was something unique and very special, and we should not expect it to happen to us. Moreover, we should not feel guilty when it does not. And therein lies one way in which the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit affects the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Mark said... the Pentecost frontal pictured with this post from the parish you serve or is it an image you found online?

Heather Sybil said...

Sorry George - expect small things or nothing at all, and that is what we will receive. Expect great things and great blessings and as promised, there will not be room enough to receive them.
Thank you Pastor Peters for sharing your thoughts on the disciples spiritual growth after the resurrection. God did indeed move heaven and earth - only the Creator could have done that - and He moved his creation to save us from hell on earth. We are promised eternity and by His grace we will be there!
Meanwhile, Jesus bids us go and sow, but not alone. We are His feet, and He is our faith.