The Other Pentecost

This Sunday, Lutheran churches (as well as other churches) will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. It is a day where the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Jewish people in the beginning of Acts. It is a familiar passage in the beginning of Acts, but most people do not remember that this is not the only Pentecost that happens in Acts.

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Before the Ascension, Jesus’ gives the disciples the charge to go into the world to baptize, teach, and preach from Judea to Jerusalem to the ends of the Earth. The book of Acts moves in the same exact sense, hence multiple Pentecost happenings. The first was for the Jewish people and in Acts 10, we get the Pentecost for the Gentiles with the narrative of Peter and Cornelius.

The fact that Gentiles were to be included into this new church was mind blowing to Peter, so much so that in the vision he receives from God, he argues against what he is to do. Read that again. Peter ARGUES WITH GOD! He doesn’t do this just once and done, but rather 3 times, he argues about what God is commanding him to do. You would think after the last three time questioning, Peter would have learned his lesson. But, Peter has some gusto, you gotta give him that.

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Persecution is good for the Church

Persecution is good for the Church! The message of Jesus Christ has always flourished in places where people are hurting the most. In the former Soviet Union Christianity grew underground despite persecution. In Romania, for example, the Lutheran Church was severely persecuted for their faith. People were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and threatened with death if they did not denounce their Christian faith. However, the Church survived and grew underground. Now upon leaving worship they greet the pastor with the words, “A mighty fortress is our God.” Having lived under tyrannical rule they have experienced firsthand the power of God in their lives. One could make the argument that the demise of Christianity is that it became officially part of the empire with Constantine’s conversion. Once Christianity is co-opted into the power structures of the world it ceases to be a place for the least among us.

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In Acts 8 it is persecution that begins the Church’s evangelical mission beyond Jerusalem. “That day severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostle were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” From here we pick up the story of one of those evangelists, Philip. We see through his story how the church, driven by the Holy Spirit, is being called to the wider world. Every movement is away from being just a church of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to a Church on the move. The power of the message of Jesus Christ is converting hearts. It is moving people away from magic and exclusion to the kingdom of God.

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Church Council Stoning

The church council in the Lutheran church acts like a board of directors.  They are elected by the congregation to serve as the governing body of the church.  There is an executive team that runs meetings and sets the tone of the council.

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When you talk with a pastor about their church council you will get one of three responses.  The first is someone telling you how wonderful and active their council members are.  They will tell the wonderful ministry that the church is doing and how the council has stepped up to take responsibility for the ministry of the church.  Usually this pastor is either lying or exaggerating the truth (I am sure their council is really doing well but maybe not THAT well).

The second response is a lukewarm response.  This is the pastor that say that there are some good things happening but there are some issues too.  This is where I feel most pastors and churches are.

The third is the pastor who has nothing good to say about their council.  They are frustrated with the leadership and they either are counting down the days until another one is elected or they are ready to get out-of-town.

In Acts chapter 6 the “first church council” was appointed.  One of the men that was chosen to serve was Stephen.  Even though Stephen tried to remain faithful to what he felt God was calling him and the rest of the community to do something however the rest of the council was not listening.  They did not want to hear what Stephen had to say.  So in Acts chapter 7 Stephen tries to give his defense.

The method that he chose was to retell the story of salvation from Abraham to Jesus.   Here are some of the highlights of what Stephen says: 

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The Spirit’s KO

This section of Acts seems to be the Holy Spirit’s initial fight. When a boxer goes professional they are measured by their first few fights. In Acts 4-6 The Spirit is a knockout!

From the very beginning of chapter 4 the Spirit humbles even Peter, who is on its side. From the very coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 until now in chapter 4 Peter has been talking. The Spirit seems to have had enough with Peter’s talking so he is sent to jail along with his corner, John. The Spirit humbles Peter first. It wants the readers to see that this match is about the Spirit, not about its workers.

Immediately after this is a series of interactions where we see that anyone opposed to the Holy Spirit’s work will get knocked aside as well. Imprisonment gets knocked out when the rulers and elders of the Sanhedrin have to release Peter and John. They don’t release them because of what the men do though, but because, “they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men” and were “astonished.” (Acts 4:13) It wasn’t Peter and John that won the fight against prison, it was the Spirit doing work through them.

After Peter and John leave prison they go to pray with the other apostles where the Holy Spirit knocks out the ground. As the apostles are worshipping the very way the Spirit told them, “The place where they were meeting was shaken.” (4:31) Not even the ground is stable against the mighty Spirit.

The apostles continue to do what the Spirit ordains and contain to see blessings as they share their possessions. In the middle of all this sharing another competitor emerges. Two of the apostles decide to keep some of their wealth to themselves rather than sharing EVERYTHING. The Spirit literally knocks these two out for good (5:5 & 10). It will not stand for people taking credit for its achievements.

The apostles are apparently unphased by the Spirits tyranny because the go on to healings and wonders (5:12-16). Yet shortly after another adversary emerges when the apostles are persecuted again. The Sadducees got jealous of the fame that the apostles were receiving because of how miraculous the Spirit was working through them. The Sadducees threw them into jail. Just like the last time, the Spirit released the apostles from jail to prove that no enemy of the Spirit will win.

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Holy Spirit Time

The first three chapters of Acts makes me laugh. Not in a “oh, this is so funny!” way, but in a “there’s so much going on, and things keep happening!” way. In just three chapters, there’s Jesus promising the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ ascension to heaven, Matthias replacing Judas as one of the apostles, Pentecost—when the apostles receive the Holy Spirit, Peter’s explanation to the crowd, the baptism of 3,000 converts, a description of the believers’ community, Peter healing a beggar, and Peter’s explanation of the healing. Whew! And things just pick up from there.

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Luke, the writer of the Gospel of the same name, is also the author of Acts– and there is not much time for breathing from the end of the Gospel of Luke to the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. It’s like Luke was on a role with inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and he just HAD to keep writing.

The first few chapters of Acts certainly support this renaming. The book starts with Jesus telling the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father has promised: the Holy Spirit (1:4-5). After Jesus’ ascension and even before Pentecost, God guides the choosing of Matthias (1:24-26). Right away, we see the apostle’s insistence that prayer and God’s actions be the basis for all they do.

And then Pentecost happens. The passage that’s read on every Pentecost Sunday, that we’ll read on May 27th this year. The disciples are gathered together. Suddenly, there’s a rush of violent wind. Tongues of fire appear over the disciples’ heads. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit gives them the ability to speak in different languages. And some of the Jews that are gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost crowd around, amazed that these disciples from Galilee are speaking in the different dialects and languages that the other Jews speak. And not just speaking, but telling about God and God’s powerful actions. Some of the crowd wonder what it all means, while others dismiss it all saying that the disciples are drunk. (2:1-13)

But Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, explains what has happened, using words from the Prophets—God has promised to pour out the Holy Spirit on all people, and that has happened. And Jesus, who was crucified and rose from the dead, is the Messiah, the one everyone has been waiting for. After Peter speaks, about 3,000 hearers are “cut to the heart” and become baptized, and then live in a community together in harmony. (2:14-47)

So, what does chapter 2 of Acts mean for us today?

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Bible Study on Acts

Each book of the Bible has its own personality. Each book tells its own story and each book allows us to see another side of who God is and how God is active in the world. Over the next several weeks we will be having a good, old fashioned Bible study here on Lutheran Grilled Cheese. We will be working our way through the Book of Acts.

There is enough evidence to support that Acts was written by the Gospel writer Luke. Acts is the second part of a two-volume work. I guess if I was to write a few books of the Bible I would of taken the same route as Luke. The first book (the Gospel of Luke) describes Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. The second book (Acts) describes events following the ascension of Jesus and the start of the Christian Church.

Acts begins with a summary of the previous volume, the Gospel of Luke, and then introduces the second volume. In Acts 1:1-5, Luke writes:

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me;for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

This quote also tells me that the intended reader of the Book of Acts was Theophilus.  However, like Luke’s Gospel I am sure that he also had a larger readership in mind.  Scholars are not sure when the book was actually written.  At the earliest,  Acts was written two years after Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, c. 62.

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