By Pastor Cherie Dearth
This week we begin a section on the Acts of the Apostles. It is by the same author as the Gospel of Luke. We don’t know if this Luke is the one mentioned in Philemon and elsewhere as the Apostle Paul’s traveling companion. If not, it was someone writing in his name, which was quite common at that time, considered flattering or a compliment. In any case I will refer to him as Luke.
While this is a clear companion piece to the first volume of the Gospel of Luke, also being addressed to Theophilus, we don’t know if it was written at about the same time as the gospel or much later. There is quite a wide estimate of 30 years, anywhere from 70 AD to 100 AD.
The gospels featured the life and Ministry of Jesus. Acts features what happened with the apostles and the early church, but it really illustrates the mighty acts of God both done to them and for them.
The book of Acts begins with the community waiting for a word, for something to happen. Then it does. It receives the Holy Spirit, and the apostles and the members of the early church were able to do things with a boldness they never had before.
As Bishop Will Willimon puts it, “Your church [our church] exist today in the same situation – as the result of the dialogue between a loquacious God… [Do you ever think of God as loquacious?] … the dialogue between a loquacious God who refuses to be silent and a community that tries to listen. Whenever, in your church, Scripture like Acts is read and interpreted, your church is participating in the same primal activity which gave birth to the book of Acts. They did not simply ask, ‘what does the Bible say?’ But also, ‘What is God using the Bible to do to us?'” (Willimon, 2)
Have you ever thought about it that way? We gathered here today are like the early church, worshiping God, praising God, and waiting, not for show or performance, but to hear God’s message to us. It is an interactive experience.
So, the book of Acts is telling us the story of the early church from its beginnings, and what the apostles were inspired to do through the Holy Spirit, when all they could find strength to do is hide together in fear, just a few weeks before.
Our Scripture reading this morning comes from Act 2:14, 22-36. It is from Peter’s first major speech or sermon after the whole community receives the Holy Spirit. He addresses the whole crowd, some of whom were ridiculing the community, who in their excitement were speaking in different languages.
Peter was always bold, at least among the disciples, but now he stands up and speaks with a boldness that he never had before. Is the fear gone that caused him to deny Jesus three times and night of Jesus’ arrest? We don’t know, but regardless, fear does not stop him from his proclamation.
So now, as I read the Scripture, consider what God may be saying directly to you, on THIS day. I say this every week, but perhaps, it will have a slightly different emphasis for you. Hear the word of the Lord!
Second Scripture Reading – Acts 2:14, 22-32 NIV
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
This week we are starting a new sermon series, The Church Has Left the Building. The church was never a building. The word we use for church is a derivative of the Greek word ekklesia, which means those gathered together or an assembly. The day that Peter stood up and gave this speech, the followers of Jesus were gathered together. It was the day that the followers received the Holy Spirit, and they were speaking other languages. Some of the people around them were amazed, and others thought they were speaking gibberish and therefore must be drunk. Peter stood up and addressed the wider crowd, the crowd that had come to Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Pentecost.
The word for the building in which the church would meet is basilica, and it referred not to the house churches early on, or the rooms where early followers would meet. These were Roman government buildings. Followers of Jesus didn’t have formal public buildings until after they received official government recognition in the 4th Century under Constantine. Then, he allowed the Christian church to use basilicas or Roman public buildings for their gatherings and service projects.
However, before this day where Peter speaks to the crowd, the ekklesia, the church, had been in a building. They had been hiding in fear of the authorities. Jesus had been executed as a revolutionary, someone who had committed treason. They had every reason to expect that they were next.
But something happened that gave the disciples a new boldness. The passage we looked at in John’s gospel describes it. “Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the father ]has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed [into[ them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22)
That was the day the 11 received the Holy Spirit. The day of Peter’s sermon in Acts was the day that the Spirit was received by the whole community, the ekklesia, and it would never be the same. The church left the building, came out in the open, moving, spreading, sharing, living it.
Peter was named by Jesus, The Rock. He was the rock on whom Jesus would build his church. His given name was Simon son of Jonah. (Matthew 16:17-18 He didn’t do so well before this day in Acts. Peter was outspoken, among the 12. When things were happening in the public arena, Jesus was the one who spoke. There is no indication that Peter said anything. Now among the twelve, Peter said some great things. He was the first to recognize Jesus as Messiah, but he could also put his feet in his mouth when Jesus was doing something that he didn’t understand.
Certainly at first, Peter did not live up to his name, The Tock. Things were not looking good on the night of Jesus’ rest when he repeatedly denied knowing Jesus. He hadn’t even been executed yet. Then huddled in the room with the other disciples after Jesus death, even after he been told of Jesus resurrection, because of fear of the authorities, as I said with good reason.
But no, now he is able to be bold. Not just among his own group, his own community, but in the public square. This man who denied knowing Jesus three times on the night of his arrest is now speaking boldly to this crowd. He is telling them the story of the Gospel. He is telling them our story. How could he do it? He has something that he didn’t have before. He has the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22) And now this is the Jewish Festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, he is potentially addressing more people at one time than Jesus did in his earthly ministry.
Was the Holy Spirit around before this? Yes, but it was not accessible to everyone in the same way as it came to be on Pentecost. It was bestowed on a particular person for a special reason. There were prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah. There were judges like Deborah, Gideon, and Sampson, and then, most especially Jesus… But now it is given to us, and it enables us to do things that we would never be able do on our own, in our own strength.
One of those things is share the gospel. Does that mean that we are to stand on a street corner with our bullhorn passing out leaflets? That is how some people have an interpreted Peter’s sermon. They urge us to use him as an example. For some people that is true. The most prominent modern example I can think of is Billy Graham, but not everyone is given the gift to do that well and effectively. However, Peter was very effective. Many of us have seen or heard about people who tried this and we’re not so effective.
How else can we share the gospel? Another way is to live it. Jesus refers to this as being Salt and Light in Matthew Chapter 5:13-16. Salt in this context is a preservative. In a time before refrigeration, it stops decay and death. That is what the gospel does, stops decay and death. And the light is… light. It provides illumination and life.
I have a question for you. Do you do things as an individual … like volunteer, contribute to causes, support things, help people you randomly see in your everyday life? Do you do these things because of your faith or because of your relationship with God, your relationship with Jesus? Consider that for a moment…
Now I have another question. Are you known as a Christian, a follower of the ways of Jesus Christ, someone influenced by Jesus? In other words, do people think that you do these things because you are nice, or that it has something to do with being a child of God, a relationship with Jesus or something like that?
Do you do things as an individual because of this? Is it a conscious connection? I’m doing this because this is what Jesus would want me to do. It’s a twist on the What Would Jesus Do thing verses what would Jesus me to do.
Is it just part of who you are, as being a Christian is who you are, so you do these things? Is there no relationship at all? Does it matter? These are some things to think about. If there hasn’t been an intentional connection before, would you like there to be one in the future?
We are individuals, but we are also the church. How can we share the gospel? We can tell it. We can live it. One of the ways is leaving the building, as the church, and demonstrating the love of God to those in our community. Caring for community, like our going together as the church to work on the Joseph playground project, making blankets for animals. Showing the love of God. Being Salt and Light. In things like the Magic Garden where we go out and share. Our support of UMCOR whether we’re going to the Depot in Salt Lake City or doing what we can here. We spread the gospel to people. We tell them that God has not forgotten them, that God loves them.
What we do as individuals or as the church, the ekklesia, the assembly or gathered together, we need to consider, what is going to make that light shine? What is going to demonstrate the love and power of God. What would Jesus have us do?
Glory to God and Amen!
Willimon, William. Acts: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).