Amazement and astonishment – awe and wonder – have been hallmarks of our Scripture lessons these past few Sundays.
Consider, for a moment, where the ancient words of the story of God with us have taken us:
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus leaves earth in physical form. His body returns to heaven, where God the Son sits down at the right hand of God the Father – at the right hand, by custom and tradition the place of greatest honor.
We stood flat-footed with the apostles watching Jesus ascend into the clouds, and we heard his simple parting words: Stay put and wait for the coming of my Holy Spirit, whatever in blue blazes that means!
In one of our lessons for last Sunday’s celebration of Pentecost, the Lord’s ascension is 10 days past – the Resurrection now 50 days past. And the apostles remain together – still waiting and now celebrating what they believed would be just another annual feast marking the beginning of the wheat harvest.
Then suddenly the promised arrival of the Spirit fills the room with the whooshing sound of rushing wind and the verbal passion of flickering flame. Turns out those Old Testament prophets Joel and Ezekiel were spot-on correct in foretelling the Spirit’s white-hot arrival with the fresh breath of new life. Thanks be to God!
This morning we return to Acts chapter 2 and the wonder of that Spirit-laden Pentecost, as the apostle Peter solves the mystery of what’s going on before the crowd’s bewildered eyes. More to the point, Peter unravels the mystery of the Lord God’s goings-on from the very beginning of Creation.
Let the same Spirit who came upon the people at Pentecost come upon you this day and allow you to hear the voice of God and the Word of the Lord with all your senses.
“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 – 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. 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. Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“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. 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. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 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. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
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?”
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. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:22-40)
Most societies and cultures prefer it when their members fit in – when people conform themselves to the ways of the world and the community that surrounds them.
If you rock the boat, make waves, or somehow or other stand out in the crowd, the community is usually quick to point out the “error” of your ways and the “wrongheadedness” of your ideas. The powers-that-be are quick to pull the plug on whatever it is that’s got you so fired up and thus force you to blend in with everyone else.
That, I think, is what gives folks the heebie-jeebies when it comes to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit takes hold of your body, your mind, and your soul, and without any conscious decision or effort on your part, you start speaking, acting and thinking differently than everyone else, and that oftentimes puts you at odds with the broken and fearful world.
I’ll get to the specifics of those Spirit-driven differences in a little bit, but for now, be warned: Letting the Holy Spirit take hold of you won’t always be welcomed by everyone. Eyebrows will be raised; heads will be shaken; fingers will be wagged. And yes, even names will be called.
“What are you smoking?”
“You must he drunk!”
“That’s crazy stupid and bananas insulting!”
And into all that skepticism and name-calling steps the apostle Peter with a spirited explanation and passionate defense of what happens when the Holy Spirit is loosed upon the heart and mind of a man, woman or child whom God in Christ has claimed in baptism as their own.
Filled with the kind of courage and ability that only comes by the Holy Spirit,Peter does something both difficult and intimidating. Peter preaches. Peter witnesses. Peter speaks in the strange and confusing language of faith by sharing what his belief is all about, through the story of who and what God is all about!
The Lord has long promised to give us his Holy Spirit, so that our faith in the goodness and grace of God in Jesus Christ might be awakened. The Holy Spirit is the One who tunes all our senses and focuses all our attention to God’s never-ending love for you and me.
The Holy Spirit is the One who kindles the fires of salvation – both our need to be saved AND the Lord’s merciful desire to save us from ourselves and the corruption of the world. And that process of salvation begins when the Holy Spirit gives us the amazing capacity to repent – the willingness and desire to turn our lives in entirely different directions that align our living and being with the will of God and example of Christ.
“Repent of your sin and brokenness,” the Holy Spirit urges –sometimes tapping you on the shoulder, other times smacking you up-long-side your head – so that you may receive the fullness of forgiveness from God through Christ and thus be rescued from the pit of death and the inferno of hell.
And that’s the point where a lot of Christians put a period and end the sentence of faith and belief.
“I’m saved, I’m going to heaven, end of story.”
The truth and reality that those folks don’t quite seem to fully understand or buy-into is the ongoing presence and power of Holy Spirit, whose work of refreshment and renewal on the human heart and mind is only just beginning. Once she gets hold of you, the Holy Spirit doesn’t let go! The Spirit continues transforming you more and more into the image of God in Christ in whom you are made.
And as she more and more reveals the image of God in Christ in you to the world around you, the Spirit is going to start leading you into a different way of living, a different way of doing things that makes you stand out in the crowd.
The final verses of Acts 2 paint the picture of what separates you and other Spirit-led followers of Christ from the rest of the pack.
So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
Everyone likes the thought of the Holy Spirit leading us to salvation through Christ.
Where things get dicey, though, is that salvation through the work of God’s Spirit in Christ comes with some heavy-duty, heavenly expectations. God’s Spirit in Christ places weighty demands and awesome responsibilities upon a believer and the earthly life that he or she leads.
The Spirit demands and empowers the kind of living that makes a believer different than the non-believer – a kind of living that makes Sabbath worship and the study of Scripture the top priorities in one’s life, a kind of living that devotes time to daily prayer and fellowship, a kind of living that puts the needs of others ahead of one’s own, a kind of living that’s willing to sacrifice what one values most for the considerate, welcoming, and loving sake of friend, neighbor and stranger.
Living into and carrying out those Spirit-enabled differences and Christ-like responsibilities will make you stand out from the worldly crowd, but rather than giving you a pat on the back, the worldly crowd more often than not will accuse you of being the odd-ball who doesn’t fit in. And they’ll burn the midnight oil trying to get you to toe the party line.
At best, people will look at you and scratch their heads in slack-jawed confusion and gobsmacked amazement. At worse, you’ll be dismissed, you’ll be ridiculed, and you might even be shunned. Peer pressure has that effect on people.
But so be it.
For in our living and being in a different way, the Lord’s Holy Spirit is revealing the glory of God, and that trumps everything else that the world has to offer!
It’s what you and I are called to do – to reveal the grace, love and mercy of God in our words and in our actions, in the ways we live and breathe, in the ways we move and are. And since the ways of God are always out of step with a broken, fearful, and sin-filled world, you and I won’t fit in with everyone else or do things like they’re usually done. We won’t fit in, simply because we’ve been fitted for holy living by the Holy Spirit!
In the early days of the Church, Christians living in Rome under the secular rule of the emperor did something amazing that set them apart from your average Roman citizen.
At the time, society placed absolutely no value or worth in baby girls. Society only placed value and worth in baby boys. If an otherwise good and loyal Roman citizen gave birth to a baby girl, the child was abandoned in the street and left for dead – if not killed outright.
Those early Christians saw that practice for what it was – brutal, barbaric and unbefitting to the essential value and worth that God, the creator of all life, had instilled in those baby girls. So, those first Christians took to the streets and started looking for those abandoned baby girls.
They rescued them!
They saved them!
They sent a clear message that made Christians stand out from the crowd: “We will take your infant daughters! If you don’t want them, we sure as heck do. We’ll adopt them, and make them our own, and love them to the moon and back.”
An awe-struck Roman society looked askance at those early Christians for their devotion and commitment to the sanctity of God-created life. Christians were judged harshly, ridiculed strongly, and persecuted mercilessly for bucking the status quo on baby girls.
But those disciples of Jesus wouldn’t have it any other way. They didn’t know any better! In a sense, they were “drunk,” but they in no way were smashed on new wine or worldly spirits. Theirs was a sober inebriation of the Holy Spirit. And it is God in Christ who calls you and me to that same place and attitude of clear-headed intoxication.
Stay thirty, my friends!
Amen, and amen!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden preached this sermon on Sunday, June 11, 2023. Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by and Scott Hoezee and Luke Timothy Johnson inform the message.