Monday, June 13, 2011

Sermon on the Feast of Pentecost

We’ll be mainly in Acts 2 this morning, if you’d like to go there in your Bible.
Luke writes, 'When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.' It’s a bewitching line, they were all together in one place, all 120 of them—the only believers in Jerusalem, all together, waiting because Jesus had told them to. To say bewitching because it gets to the heart of a deep human need and longing. Many weeks ago we talked about the Tower of Babel, how after the flood, the descendants of Noah were supposed to spread out and fill the whole earth, but instead, they gathered all together in one place, on the plane of Shinar, and tried to make a name for themselves, tried to be like God. The result of this disobedience was the complete confusion of their language—no one could understand each other and so they dispersed. Many thousands of years later we are still trying to gather and build and be together, but even and especially in a city like this there is a deep brokenness, a deep fragmentation between and amongst people.

Matt was emailed an article this week about a BU professor of evolutionary biology, one Dr. David Wilson, for those of you who are connected with the university. He is a self-described atheist, and he has a drive to improve the conditions and state of this city. Most particularly he is interested in religion as one vehicle among many to achieve social change, for the good, hopefully. He is interested in and has affection for the Christian churches in this city and is conducting real research into understanding why some congregations in Binghamton are growing and some are in serious decline. As part of his research, he has made a differentiation between open churches and closed. Ours, I think, theologically, he would define as closed in that we "adhere strictly to the Bible." He has noted that open churches, more theologically liberal churches, in other words, are declining, generally, while more closed churches, in this area, are growing. As an atheist, naturally, he is looking for a non-supernatural explanation for this phenomenon. Why do people choose to meet together in one kind of group rather than the other? The answer must be inside them. He posits, for example, that in these uncertain times people are looking for "group solidarity" or perhaps "firm and clear guidance." He isn't sure, but he is curious, and he hopes to survey the roughly 100 congregations across this city. More than that, he would like more groups to achieve ‘prosociality’, to cohere together in a meaningful and good way so that the whole city is made better.

I confess to reading the entire article with interest and delight. The fact is, for 2 millennia, Christians have been meeting together in various places, whilst the world passes by outside gazing in with curiosity and sometimes mistrust while we go on worshiping a Holy and yet accessible God. Worshiping him in the same way for roughly 2000 years, bound together, certainly full of strife and brokenness, and yet bound together.

This is a mysterious, holy and supernatural thingand I would like us to unpack it a little bit together.  And let’s start with a little background about the Feast of Pentecost as a way to understand what is going on in Acts 2.

Pentecost wasn’t originally a Christian Feast, it was an established Jewish Holy Day—established, no less, by God in the Old Testament. It was the last in a series of three feasts. The first feast was Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The second was the First Fruits. This is a little complicated so bear with me. The first day after the Sabbath of Passover Week, that makes it Sunday, because the Sabbath is Saturday. On that day, Sunday, the first fruits, the very first stocks or shoots of barley were picked and bundled loosely together and brought to the temple. You brought them as a sign of your trust and faith in God to provide and grow the rest of the barley harvest.

Fifty days after that same Sabbath after Passover week, putting you on another Sunday, a week of weeks, 7 weeks, the symbol of perfection or completion, the first fruits, the first grain of the wheat harvest was picked but this time it was not gathered loosely like with a string, it was crushed and baked into two loaves of leavened bread. These two loaves were brought to the temple again as a sign and trust of God’s Providence and care.

These three feasts paint an incredible picture of Salvation History—At Passover, unleavened bread is eaten. That very week Jesus, who had no sin, who had no leaven, was arrested, tried and gave himself up to death, the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies. He is in the grave over the Sabbath. On Sunday, the very day Jews celebrated first fruitshe is raised up. “Christ,” writes Paul in 1st Corinthians 15, “has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jews at that time expected the resurrection of the dead to be everybody all at once. So it would be difficult to understand why God would raise only one man. But Paul sees that God has prepared and predicted just such a thing in this feast of first fruits. Here Christ is raised first, just like the first barley shoots, the pledge, the promise of a true and complete harvest, the bodily resurrection of those who believe in him.

Fifty days later, while all of Israel is bringing two loaves of leavened bread to the temple as a sign of trust that God would bring a full wheat harvest, when they, the 120, were all together in one place, there came a sound like a mighty rushing wind, filling the house, And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them rested on them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Just as Jesus is the first fruits of those who will be raised from the dead, the guarantee, the pledge, the promise of the resurrection that we hope and long for, so the coming of the Holy Spirit is another kind of pledge, a seal, a guarantee. Paul makes the connection for us in Ephesians 1, let’s turn there, “In him,” writes Paul in Ephesians 1:13, “ you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” That you are and will be a child of God forever, in his presence, living forever with him.

The Holy Spirit comes as the promise of the ultimate inheritance we gain as children of God.

And in that moment the church is formed—not tied together with a mere string, loosely, but a body, a loaf of bread, but this time with leaven, because we still sometimes sin and fall into strife and brokenness.

But as the tongues alight on them and the mighty rushing wind fills the upper room, two remarkable things happen.

One, the church is forged into one body. The fire of God, a holy fire, unifies them, not individuals only in a room together, they become One Body, the Body of Christ, they are of One Spirit, they have One Hope, they have One Faith, One Father—unified, their spirits bound together in the body of the one whom they adore, Jesus. And in that unity the second remarkable thing happens.

They spill out of the room and they speak the gospel. For two thousand years the church has been trying to wreck this spilling out and speaking by holding endless committee meetings and starting programs and arguing and being prideful. But at this first coming of the Holy Spirit the wind is So Powerful, the Fire is so Bright that they are pushed out, spilled out into the street and there they all speak.

A complete reversal of Babel, where every tongue spoke and confusion, broken horrific confusion broke out. Here, every tongue is different and 3000 people hear the Unified Voice of God, each in their own language, to turn around, to repent, to grasp a hold of the Living Christ to believe and trust in him, and they do.
They hear.
They turn.
They believe.

Talk about “group solidarity”!
These first believers have one heart, one mind, meeting together, devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, to the prayers, and to the breaking of the bread, just as we are doing this very morning.

So here’s how it works. Jesus, the risen Son of God who sits on the right hand of God the Father, can live in you, spiritually, through the Holy Spirit when you believe and trust in Jesus and commit your way to him becoming his follower, his disciple. And then, because everyone who has ever done that had the very same thing happen to them, had/has the Holy Spirit alive in them,
you are bound together, supernaturally, spiritually with every other believer from every time and place—with the person who sits next to you in the pew whom you have never spoken to because you’re a little shy and because it’s their first Sunday and you don’t have a clue what you would say beyond, ‘The peace of the Lord be always with you.’ With the person who is worshiping on the other side of town in one of those churches “adhere strictly to the Bible,” to the believers in Kuinde church on the other side of the world who this Sunday morning took their benches down from the rafters of their little tin church to follow the same liturgy we do here, to pray the prayers, to break bread, who not only believe, but who have God alive in them to the church across China, many of whom worship in stealth because of persecution. This is the body of Christ,
broken for the world, the loaves of golden bread, baked together into unity is not something we feel, though sometimes we may have an inkling, it is something that IS. It is a unity in God that exists, that is. 
“What is your name?”
said Moses at the Burning Bush,
the bush that burned and burned but was never consumed.
“I AM that I AM”.
That is who lives in you when you turn to Jesus. This God, this ALL Consuming Fire that lives in you will drive you out, will move you to do his will, will change your heart, will rearrange the furniture of your mind, will purify you and make you a good and holy dwelling place for himself. 

Come, taste the first fruits of this promise, see the goodness of the Lord who has provided such a great salvation, who loves you so much that he not only died, he lives in you, knows you better even than you know yourself, who speaks when you don’t know what to say, loves with a love greater than yours, And sends you out into the world to speak his word.

No comments: