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Sun, Apr 28, 2019

Preacher

Duration:18 mins 33 secs

This morning is the Second Sunday of Easter. Yes, Easter is not just a single Sunday but a season in the church. And every year during the Easter season the lectionary suggests preaching texts from the Book of Acts. As we today seek to understand and live in light of Jesus’ resurrection, we are drawn to the account of Jesus’ disciples trying to do exactly the same thing.

Here at Reid Memorial throughout this season we have chosen to focus on the Apostle Peter in a series entitled, “Solid as a Rock: Peter, the Church, and the Acts of the Apostles.” I am excited about this series because when I think of Peter, I usually think of him before Jesus’ death as the impulsive, “pick-me Jesus!” disciple who ultimately denies even knowing Jesus. And yet, in the Book of Acts we find Peter become the Rock of Faith that Jesus knew he could be. My prayer is that we might experience that kind of transformation throughout this season.

We begin this morning with Acts, chapter 2, verses 14-38. On the Day of Pentecost the disciples are gathered together when suddenly they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They begin to speak in all the languages of the known world so that all those who have gathered in Jerusalem for the festival can understand. Perplexed by this, the crowd begins to question one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneer saying, “They are filled with new wine.” Let us hear this Word of God:

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

On the afternoon of November 19, 1863, the President of the United States had been invited “to formally set apart the grounds [of a cemetery] to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.” He was not the keynote speaker for the event. No, the Honorable Edward Everett had just delivered a more than two-hour oration. When his turn came, Abraham Lincoln, weary, feverish, and weak, perhaps even in the early days of a bout with smallpox, offered just 271 words. It is almost short enough to quote it all, but you perhaps know at least the first sentence:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Perhaps you also remember the conclusion:

That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In his 271 words, President Lincoln did not just dedicate a cemetery in Gettysburg, PA. He did not just honor those who had given their lives in that battle. No, President Lincoln interpreted that present moment with a narrative that drew upon the promise of the past and cast a vision for the future. As retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon writes, “Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address … gave meaning and substance to a national cataclysm.”

My friends, while Abraham Lincoln might not have claimed the role for himself, I think we can say the Gettysburg Address exhibits the power of good preaching. Without extraneous flourish, it seeks to say what is true by sharing a vision of the world and our place in it. It grounds this vision in the story of those who have gone before. It invites us to play a role in the unfolding of the narrative in the days to come.

That is what Peter is trying to do in his Pentecost sermon. This is a moment of chaos in Jerusalem. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection; it was the Jewish festival of Shavuot which commemorated the day God gave the Torah to the people of Israel at Sinai during the Exodus. So, people had come from everywhere to celebrate because they were part of a common story. And yet, when they hear the commotion caused by the disciples speaking in the native tongue of each, they ask one another “What does this mean?”

We ourselves struggle with that question, don’t we? What is going on in our world today? How do we interpret the present moment? What does this all mean?

Peter begins to interpret the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with a quote from the prophet Joel. He then continues with quotes from King David and the Psalms. This seems odd to us today as even the biblical scholar NT Wright admits, “If I was asked by a crowd to explain why my friends and I appeared to be behaving in a drunken fashion I don’t somehow think I would at once start quoting chunks of the Bible, even the New Testament.” And yet, in first century Palestine, the biblical story was the story of the people. It was the narrative by which they had been formed. These were the books or the scrolls they read in anticipation and expectation that God was indeed at work in their world. So, as a preacher, Peter seeks to connect what he perceives God doing in the present with what God had promised in the prophets. The new day, long hoped for and expected, had finally arrived.

I am not sure we could make the same argument today, at least in the same way. We live in a world in which the biblical story has been replaced. Materialistic and economic stories seem to dominate our thinking today. We interpret the state of the world based on stock market averages, gas prices, and the latest jobs numbers. If the market is going up and unemployment is down, all must be well, right?

We also tell the story of scarcity. The good things in life are in limited supply. So, you have to guard what is yours and keep others out because there is not enough to share.

We shape our lives with the story of violence. The world is a dangerous place and we are in the midst of the battle. The end is uncertain. Evil appears to be winning. But if we band together and build bigger and more sophisticated weapons, we just might have a chance.

Have you heard those stories before?

Those more inclined to literature and art have their own interpretive narratives. I read an article this week which claimed that our nation has a new foundation story. Tara Isabella Burton writes:

Sixty-one percent of Americans have seen at least one “Harry Potter” film. Given that just 45% of us (and a barely higher 50% of American Christians) can name all four Gospels, it’s no stretch to say that Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff are better known in American society than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Now I loved the Harry Potter books and movies. I even stood in line several times when a new book was released at midnight. And yet, I am not sure the fictional world of J. K. Rowling is the lens by which we should seek to interpret if and how God is at work in our present moment.

So how do we interpret the present moment on this second Sunday of Easter? What is going on in our world today? What does this all mean?

My friends, I want to suggest to you this morning that just like it was for the Apostle Peter and the Church in Acts, the interpretive lens for our present moment is the death and resurrection of Jesus:

Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

This is the story that makes all the difference. Yes, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ transforms Peter from a fearful, impulsive follower who ultimately denies even knowing Jesus into a confident preacher with world transforming good news. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ enables Peter to declare that he and his fellow apostles are not drunk, but are filled with the Holy Spirit. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ opens the way for the crowd to respond and to join the narrative of this new thing that God is doing in the world. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, from this point forward the narrative, the story which Peter and the church live and preach is a narrative about death and resurrection, forgiveness and new life in the Spirit.

My friends, is that the story that we are living and preaching? Is that the lens by which we find meaning and coherence in the world today?

There is no doubt that there are many other narratives which seek to shape our lives – economics, scarcity, violence, race, gender, fantasy, etc. But none of them can give meaning and substance to this moment in our world like: Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

It is an outrageous claim, an impossible possibility as the theologian Karl Barth remarked. All we as preachers can do it bear witness to it and invite you to be a part. For the Spirit of God unleashed by our crucified and risen Lord on Pentecost is still at work today. Lives are changing. The world is changing. Don’t you want to be a part?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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