Sunday, June 8, 2014

Power and Witness (Acts 2.1-13,37-39)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - June 8, 2014 (Pentecost)
Text: Acts 2:1-13,37-39

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Arioso and Trumpet Voluntary" (Handel and Young)
Song of Praise: "Build Your Kingdom Here" (Rend Collective Experiment)
Hymn of Response: "Go to the World!" (ENGLEBERG)
The Word in Music: "Mysterious Ways" [link] (Jim Terrell
Offering of Music: "Softly and Tenderly" (W. Thompson)
Hymn of Sending: "Go Forth for God (v. 4)" (GENEVA12)
Postlude: "Jesus Shall Reign" (G. Sikes)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 11 …we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:1-13,37-39)
Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit on those early followers of Jesus. We have looked in recent weeks at the importance of God’s power at work in the world. Yet, we also have seen that Jesus challenged his followers (and us) to be witnesses to what God is doing. So when it comes to our ministry and mission, there is that critical combination of God’s power and human witness. We see that play out in Acts 2 along with a range of human responses.

In this passage we see three human responses.

POWER (vv. 1-13)


First, in verses 1-13, in response to the pure power of the Holy Spirit, displayed through “tongues of fire” and hearing the disciples speak in multiple languages, there are two distinct responses.

1.    Amazed and astonished (vv. 7-12) –
Many of those present on the day of Pentecost heard the Galilean Jews speaking in their own language. A long list of nationalities is included in the passage. We read in v. 7 that some “were amazed and astonished” and continued “in amazement and great perplexity.” They asked each other what it all meant.

2.    Doubtful, even mocking (v. 13) –
Others were neither amazed or astonished, writing it all off to drunkenness on the part of the disciples. Some pressed further and made fun of the disciples.

I’ve seen both reactions. I’ve had both reactions. We see something we don’t understand and we have to decide between the natural and the supernatural explanation. And some of us are probably more open to mystery and miracle than others, which is understandable. Having said that, to descend into outright mockery of the divine or of faith is another thing altogether. Yet, I’ve come to realize that making fun of God or followers of God usually is a cover for something else that is often between that person and God.

Nonetheless, what occurs to me, especially knowing what is coming, is that there is no shortage of God’s power here in this passage, and yet it is not at this point that people respond in faith. I’ve often heard – and thought myself – that if God would just unleash a few good tangible and measurable miracles, that many would believe. But this makes me question that. Probably it would just scare us and the best we’d manage is to either write it off or to be amazed without understanding.

And this is where the way that God has arranged things begins to make more sense to me. Why is it that God chooses to involve us in witnessing to His power? It is because we respond to story; we respond to incarnation – to fleshed-out reality.

WITNESS (vv. 37-39)


3.    Believing, pierced to the heart (v. 37)
– So after Peter shares the story of Jesus, we read that those present were “pierced to the heart.”

In our scripture reading, Peter’s message is just referenced as ‘this’ – “Now when they heard this” (v. 37). What Peter had done was what Jesus told him to do: he gave witness. He talked about God’s promise to send his spirit. He talked about God’s plan to send Jesus into the world. He talked about history and hopes and those four things we looked at last week: incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He talked about and gave witness to Jesus as Lord.

And the people heard it. They heard it because it resonated with truth and it resonated with power – God’s truth and God’s power. Peter just gave witness to both. And their response back to Peter was, “What shall we do?” (v. 37) Peter answered in three ways:

First, repent; turn around. Stop going that way and go this way. Listen to what God’s power and truth are doing in your heart right now.

And act outwardly on that inward change. Receive baptism as a sign of God’s forgiveness of your sin. Take the mark; humble yourself. Take God’s story into and onto your story through this rich symbol of belonging.

And get ready; God will give you the gift of His Spirit. That’s not just a personal promise, but God’s story unfolding in you, the next generations, and many yet far off.

What Will YOU Do With Jesus?


The practical question that raises for all of us is this: what will YOU do with Jesus? Which of those responses best fits where you are today?

Does all of this God-stuff just sound like mysteries and miracles? Or like mythological stories empty of real power and meaning? At the end of the day, you just don’t get it?

Or has the way Christianity has developed in so many places in our culture given you reason to disbelieve or mock? If so, I get it; I do.

In fact, those are the two most common responses out there; confusion or disbelief. What of the third option? When does that happen for us, separated by thousands of years from Pentecost and eye-witness disciples?

I think – and I think scripture teaches us – that what pierces us to the heart, stirring up faith and repentance and obedience, is God’s power combined with authentic testimony or witness. It’s not enough to just tell the Bible stories if we don’t seek and welcome God’s presence and power. And I don’t think we could handle or believe God showing up without the context, instruction, and explanation of scripture and lives lived out for the sake of Christ. But when both happen, and I believe they both still do, I think that’s when faith is stirred. That’s when our hearts are pierced by truth and grace and we become open to God working in our life.

If you’ve grown up or spent much time at Good Shepherd, you’ve heard the stories of God. You’ve been witnessed to and know the narrative. But has God shown up in your life in power? What would you do if He did? While I think you would be amazed, I don’t think you’d wander confused for too long, because you know too much of the story. I think the bigger question would be how you’d respond.

When you get the scent of God showing up and stirring your heart, what do you do? Do you clamp down and push away the possibilities? Are you open to repentance, to change, to God shaking things up?

And the next verses in Acts gives me some clue of what happens next when God gets a hold of individuals and communities of faith.  The people who responded to the message, the Spirit, and the Savior were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Inviting God to come be involved in the most intimate parts of your life will draw you deeper into the family of God through the Church.  You will hunger to hear the Word; you will desire the encouragement and accountability of fellowship in the body; you will desire to be fed by the Word and sacrament; and you will desire to talk more often and deeply with your Heavenly Father in prayer.

Next week I will be out of town at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. But Kathy Larson will be teaching and preaching on those next verses as we contemplate what living them out at Good Shepherd might look like. I urge you to be here and to hear God’s Word proclaimed.

Come; repent; believe – whether for the first time or a new time.  And receive both grace and the promised Spirit of help and hope.  Amen!





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