June 7, 2017
What attracts me to following Jesus, and what holds me back?
The story of the rich young ruler always intrigues me. He is obviously a righteous man. He keeps the law, in fact he diligently keeps them. When he speaks to Jesus about what to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him you know the Commandments.
Why does Jesus bring these up? So often we focus on the being righteous. We keep the commandments and we make judgments accordingly. I haven’t killed someone today I’m doing pretty good. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, one thing you lack, sell everything and give it to the poor.
Right here Jesus tells us people are more important than laws. He tells the rich guy, while you keep the commandments, you have forgotten that the commandments are there to encourage us to encourage others. The command not to kill, means protect, promote, and encourage life not death. The command for not bearing false witness promotes honesty, humility, and equality of word and protecting the reputation of others.
How quickly I forget the relational aspect of the commandments. But what is keeping from remembering these? Selfishness. I am more concerned with myself and my comfort than the life of others. In my attempts to secure my own life, I build a prison locking myself in the walls of self. I’m so focused on myself that I cannot let others in, I must protect myself from them because they might take my stuff. Suddenly the commandments go out the window because I am justified to kill if it means keeping my possessions, I am fully allowed to be dishonest as ling as it promotes my own security. I am bound not free.
What attracts me to Jesus? He offers a lifestyle of freedom. But what keeps me from him? I am afraid of freedom because I am more concerned with security. Lord help me.
Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All 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. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs”in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
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.”
The day of Pentecost. If we really think about it today is the birthday of the church. Today is the day we celebrate the coming of the Spirit to dwell in mankind. Today is the day where the words of God were written on our hearts and we were joined with God in a community. I want us to consider that today. I want us to really contemplate what that means deep within the very essence of your being. This mysterious union of God and humanity living in a symbiotic relationship with one another, forming a community where both benefit.
This week I have thought about the church often. What its purpose is to individuals, neighborhoods, regions, nations, and our world.
Pentecost is not only a holy day for the Church, it is a celebration that has its roots deep within Jewish traditions. It is not only the birthday of the Church, but it is also in many ways the birthday of Israel, because it also celebrates the day that God gave humanity the Law through Moses. So our question as to what is the purpose of the church actually goes much deeper, what is the purpose of the people of God as a whole throughout history.
In the days of the disciples this day was celebrated in an interesting way. Many of the men of the community would join together to read and recite the Torah. They would read the books of Moses completely, many would have done this so often throughout their life time that they would have committed them to memory. They did this because, the law is what set them apart from other nations and established them as the people of God.
The words of God set them apart. It was the words given to Moses that sanctified this one group of people different from all the others. These words are important. Yet throughout the ages the prophets mentioned often something different. They would say things like, mercy not sacrifice is what God desired. Mercy not sacrifice. The books of the Law are filled with rules, over six hundred rules. And the required penance for transgressing even one of these rules was sacrifice. Yet God said through the prophets that it is Mercy not sacrifice that God desires.
At this place I want us to consider again the purpose of the assembly of people we call the church. I want us to consider again what the purpose of the people of God is about. The Law first established the uniqueness of the people. Every sect within the first century Jewish faith agreed on this point. But there was disunity on other points. Some only accepted the books of the law as authoritative words for life. Others also considered the teachings of the prophets with equality. This is a simplistic understanding of the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Yet they would worship together in the temple.
Then on this day nearly 2000 years ago, another group formed. A group that abhorred to the teachings of a rabbi that did not agree with the established religious authorities of the day. A rabbi that questioned the commonly held interpretations of scripture and taught a simplistic law, one that focused on Loving God with all we have available to us, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. He would teach using parables that would point out the shortcomings of these groups and when questioned directly his answers confused and angered the religious leaders. Then on this day a commotion started. The followers of this rabbi were excitedly chattering away in an astonished manner. What was the reaction?
Everyone was astonished. The eleven disciples were speaking in languages they should not have known. These were uneducated common men. Men that were rejected by the elite of the communities, disregarded as common and unworthy of the investment of time. They were common Galileans. They were fishermen, tax collectors, and freedom fighters. They were speaking the languages of the peoples of the dispersed brothers. How did they learn these languages, especially when they were so common?
So many were astonished because the disciples were speaking and teaching while lacking a socially acceptable education. But they also faced another form of prejudice. Many thought that they were drunk. Think about this for a moment. Here it is nine oâ€™clock in the morning and a group of men are just speaking away in languages many of the educated teachers did not even know. They could not explain it so they attacked their economic social standing as well as their regional home. Only certain types of people would be drunk that early, sinners. All the good religious men were spending the day reading and reciting scripture. These disciples were out rambling, some you could understand and others were speaking what they might consider gibberish. They could not understand them so they automatically assumed they were poor sinners who were drinking away what little they had.
Then one out of the group began to speak. He quoted from the prophets and he spoke with authority. “In the last days it will be, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” I am a bit floored by this. First, sons and daughters and second, shall prophesy. We often think that prophesy is basically telling the future, but that is not the entire definition. To prophesy is to speak the word of God into a situation, to boldly speak the truth under the direction of God. What Peter is saying is that on this day just under 2000 years ago, the fulfillment Joel’s testimony was coming true. In the last days, God will speak through people. Both men and women, young and old, slave or free. All people will personally interact with the Spirit of God and speak the truth. They will learn that truth directly from the Spirit, not necessarily through human established institutions but through the relationship they had with God. Men and women, even the male and female slaves.
There is a lesson and a warning within this passage. The lesson is God can directly teach us, using whatever is available. The warning is that we can be distracted by our own interpretations and established traditions to accept the teachings given. Which brings me to our purpose as the church. We are living in the last days. Does that mean that the end is drawing near? Not exactly. We are living in the time between. We are living in the time between the first advent the coming of the Messiah, and the second or his return. Scriptures teach us that during the last days, all people will have access to God, all people from every walk of life, will live out their lives in personal communion with God. This communion or community will be filled with all kinds of people with various gifts, working together for a common goal.
Peter is telling the people of Jerusalem that these last days are focused on relationship, not status or gender. All people will have equal access to the very same spirit. Peter is also telling us that often we are distracted and hold the teachings of other instead of that of God. How do we live in these last days? By taking on the lifestyle of Christ. Making it our custom to worship together, withdrawing often to pray in isolated places, and ministering to the needs of our community. Each of us is called to live this out in our own way, no matter where we start. And when we are faithful to that relationship, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Our point and purpose is to follow Jesus, to listen to the spirit and speaking truth into that situation so that we can participate in the salvation of all and everyone we encounter will be able to choose Christ. Our purpose is to follow, to walk the pathways with our teacher, and to respond out of the truth He has written in our hearts. So often we can be quick to judge like the religious leaders of that day. So often we pick and choose what we want to listen to, and fail to see God working right there with us. What it all boils down to is, like Jesus say, Love God with everything we have and love our neighbors. So, let us go out of here today focused on Christ, and not religion. Let us go out of here knowing that the very spirit of God will guide us, if we are willing to listen and allow It to guide our futures. Let us go out being instruments and representatives of God’s truth in all that we do.