Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Bewildered Crowd

Acts 2:1-41
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. 16No, 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. 
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 
19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 
20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. 
21Then 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— 23this 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. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For 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; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28You 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. 30Since 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. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, 'He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.' 

32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being 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. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, 

'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool." ' 

36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" 38Peter 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. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
God created every person on this planet, each of us in the image of God. And you know, if our all powerful God had wanted us all to be the same, we would be.

But we're not. And that tells us something about God.

The Church of Jesus Christ begins in Jerusalem at Pentecost. But it spreads: Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Along the way it finds many different expressions, eternal truth spoken in diverse and changing languages. The Gospel is shared in the language of the Parthians and the Elamites, the Libyans and Medes, Cappadocians and Cretes. The church is expressed in Rome and Corinth. Galatia and Ephesus, Philippi and Colossi. "God [furnishes] the apostles with the diversity of tongues now, that he may bring and call home, into a blessed unity, [people] which wander here and there.” The story the began so long ago is told and retold in our mother tongue whether we learned it it Lowell, or Ranlo, or Cramerton, or McAdenville, or Gastonia, or Belmont.

The church needs diversity. We cannot afford all look and think and act alike, because then we would only see one perspective on who Jesus is, we would only see one reflection of the image of God. We who are followers of Christ, we who are children of God, we who are inspired by the Holy Spirit, can follow God more nearly with a more complete picture.

The miracle of Pentecost spreads the gospel to the ends of the earth and brings people closer together. People who would not normally be able to speak to each other are able to connect with one another, they are able to form relationship and hear the good news of God, which has already changed the world and continues to shape the lives of all those in the True Church.

Celebrating diversity doesn’t mean abandoning our identity. After all, in the midst of this new thing that the Holy Spirit is doing, Peter steps up to address the crowd and reaches into his own history and tradition to explain the world through the prophets and the psalms. The diversity that God creates means that we listen to others through our own history and tradition, strengthening and sharpening our identity, not abandoning it.

With the challenges we will face in the future, we cannot afford to fall prey to the idolatry of ideology. We must not close ourselves off to the diverse languages through which God is speaking. We, like the bewildered crowd that gathered before the Apostles at Pentecost, must listen to what the Holy Spirit is doing around us.

We are called to listen. The children of Flint, Michigan will tell us of the cleansing waters of baptism, even as they recover from tainted water themselves. Palestinian Christians will teach us about justice in the Promised land, even as they are oppressed. African Americans will teach us about serving Christ and one another, even as we step out from under the inherited burdens of slavery and institutional racism. "They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."

And then we will see the light of Christ in the myriad and diverse faces that surround us, and we will know that our story needs to be told as well. The truth of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ will ring forth in our own distinct accent. No one else will tell the story the same way we will. Just as we need diversity to hear the word of God most fully, so too we need to testify about our own experiences of God, in our lives and in our community.

We are a diverse people who are all called by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us break bread together, many mouths, but called to one table. As Peter reminds us, “This promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” As those who have heard and believed the promise, we will gather, a diverse crowd, to proclaim the Lord’s saving death in joining the Messianic Banquet to which our Lord has invited us.

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