Acts: Developing Communities of Generosity

Sermon Series: Acts: The Disruptive Presence of the Holy Spirit

By: Donnell Wyche – June 2, 2019

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives.  We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

Introduction – “How is faith found in the Empire?”

We are launching a new sermon series today, “Acts: The Disruptive Presence of the Spirit of God.” Over the next several weeks we take a look at the acts of the apostles and early believers (Jew and Gentile) as they figure what it means to become the people of God.

As we make our way this morning in Acts, it may be helpful to remember that for the author of Acts this is a continuation of a story already in progress. Jesus was arrested, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was crucified by Rome for the crime of sedition. Then unexpectedly, he comes back to life. One of the most certain realities in the ancient world was the dead stayed dead. But as we start our journey together in Acts, Jesus is alive, again.

Luke puts it this way,

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)

Acts asks the question, “How is faith found in the Empire?” Empire seeks to break intimacy, to break our connection and bonds between each other. Empire seeks to remake the world in its own image. How then do we trust and follow a resurrected Messiah in the Empire?

Just like us, these disciples are living in the space between  Empire and the in-breaking of the Kingdom. They find themselves with Jesus, someone was killed and is now alive again. They have been displaced. They are still coming to grips with what it means for Jesus to be resurrected. They are strangers in their own land. Then they are afraid because at a moment’s notice they can be turned into an “other” and find themselves accused of the same crime that got Jesus killed, sedition.

But Jesus says, stay put and wait.

4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4)

Why wait? To receive power.

5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5)

Why? Because you Will you Restore our Nationalist Dream

To be sure, these disciples wanted power. They wanted power to fulfill their nationalist dream. An often repeated battle cry, “God defeat our enemies!” Which gives way to visions of the righteous taking up arms against the godless to defeat them in the name of God. We cry out in this way because we misunderstand what God is trying to accomplish in us.

The disciples ask the next logical question, what will we do with all that power? Death couldn’t hold you, Jesus, because you got up with all power in your hands.

You overcame the violence of Empire. So, will you restore us Lord? Will you finally defeat the Empire, crush its rule and reign in our lives, and allow us to have self-determination again? Will you restore the kingdom to us?

6So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

There’s a way that resurrection fits this vision. Jesus resurrected, alive again, seemingly invincible, offers hope and promise – especially to those who are trying to defeat the violence of Empire. Maybe the power that the Father promised will make us like Jesus so that we can face the powers of Empire and we too will be victorious. Jesus doesn’t join the Empire and use military or political power, he doesn’t join the Empire and use force or status. He doesn’t join the Empire and use might to defeat evil, sin, and death. Instead, Jesus takes the full force of cosmic evil upon himself, and in so doing exhausts its power. For Jesus, the battle would not be won by killing the enemy, but in allowing himself to be killed, to give up his life on the cross.

No, Because You Will Become My Witnesses

So, Jesus’ answer to the question, “Will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” Is answered, “No.” I’m not going to restore the kingdom and your rule and reign in it. But you will become my witnesses.

7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

You will have power, Jesus says, to become my witnesses. Witness is always about the living and the ways the living choose to live life. Put another way, how you live in the Empire is all the power you need. It’s been said by Dallas Willard  (author & American philosopher) and others that we change by indirection. Here Jesus is doing what he did throughout the New Testament, he’s offering a better way to live. In presenting himself bodily to his disciples, Jesus was offering them forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace. They had abandoned him in his time of need. Instead of judgment, he’s offering them love. “I’m here. I’m really here. I’m with you. I will always be with you.”

Now, go.

Go bear witness to who I am, and what God has accomplished in me. Invite those you encounter into the same forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace that I’ve invited you into. Do this in Jerusalem. Do this in Judea. Do this in Samaria. Do this in Ann Arbor. Do this in Ypsilanti. Do this in Washtenaw County. Do this to the end of the earth.

With Empire looming, the disciples ask for power to do this. They get language instead.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)

Luke is doing something significant here. How do one change the world? In the old way, we used violence. We amassed an army, and we crushed anyone and anything in our way. But Jesus says there is another way. Become my witnesses and tell a different story. In order to do this, we will need new language. When you learn a language, you learn a people, you submit to a people, a place, and a time. Look at what Luke is saying that God is doing. God gave the disciples something they didn’t ask for. They wanted power, God gave them language instead.

5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:5-12)

The Disruptive Presence of the Holy Spirit

“What does this mean?” This is a good question. There’s an obvious answer, that this outpouring is a sign that the promised Holy Spirit has now come.

Peter rose and answered this question by locating in history what God was doing in these Galileans. Peter quoted the prophet Joel explaining that a time would come when God would pour out God’s spirit on all flesh. Then Peter interprets the language they receive as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. From there Peter explains what happened to Jesus and then links his story to King David’s prophecy about his lord.

Peter concludes by saying,

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:26)The crowd responds by asking, 37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)

Peter replies with what Jesus offered him, an opportunity to repent.

38“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

“What does this mean for us?”

That when we ask for power to defeat the Empire, God gives us language instead? I think it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to surrender our fantasies of power over people. By giving us language, God invites us to see people as God does. People who are worthy of forgiveness, mercy, compassion. God says, “You imagine a world where you have power to rule over people, but not so with you.” Instead, “You,” Jesus says, “you must become the servant of all.” By giving us language, God invites us to go into the deep places of pain in our communities, our work places, our schools, our neighborhoods, and ask God, “What does it mean to be a witness to the resurrection here?”

As the people of God we are sent to inhabit, to incarnate (embodied) the presence of God, to share our lives and resources, to create space for interruption (people and the Holy Spirit), to seek the welfare of those to whom we are being sent to.

As you engage the book of Acts with me over this sermon series, you will quickly discover that disciples of Jesus rarely, if ever, get to determine where they are sent, and to whom they are sent. The book of Acts reveals that the life of a disciple of Jesus that is prompted and prodded the Spirit of God to cross-borders, to share tables, to share space, and to share life with those the disciple would rather avoid. Because this is what the Spirit of God is doing in the world, the Spirit is pouring out on all flesh, forming a new multi-ethnic, worldwide family.

Response

Would you do something risky with me? Take a moment of silence. Then ask the Holy Spirit: Where are you sending me? Whose language are you inviting me to learn? Whose pain are you inviting me to inhabit? Then ask the Holy Spirit: What does it look like for me to bear witness to the resurrection in this place, among these people, with this language?

Prayer Senses

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)
  • Isaiah 55:8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
  • Healing: joints, headaches, back pain.
  • The Lord would like to minister to those who are having flashbacks of abuse. He loves you and He wants you to get help. He wants to give you hope and renewal. 
  • Perseverance, clarity, and fortitude for those going through tough times. God is with you. 
  • Help for those who are struggling with organization and figuring out what to do next. Let the Lord be your guide and helper. He’s able to tell you what to do next. 
  • Forgiveness for those who have experienced betrayal. Help to forgive and wisdom for next steps going forward. 
  • “Relinquish control and trust Me.”
  • The Lord wants to encourage those who struggle with fear to not make decisions based on fear. He’s giving you peace and courage to trust Him with your life.