Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Inept Uncle Peter

Acts 2:1-21

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
    Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Two of our greatest church holidays have become as much secular holidays as church holidays. Christmas and Easter. If you asked many children what Christmas is, it would be the day Santa comes. If you asked many children what Easter is, it would be the day that the Easter Bunny comes. So I wondered, if somehow Pentecost became a secular holiday, and you asked children what Pentecost was, who are what would they say comes? Obviously the religious answer is the Holy Spirit, just like the religious answer for Christmas is Jesus’ birth, and the religious answer for Easter is Jesus’ resurrection.

But if society were to claim this holiday, what sort of slant would it take? My deepest fear is that it would become like St. Patrick’s day an excuse for getting drunk. So our mascot for the day would be drunk uncle Peter with a flaming red alcoholic drink in his hand. I actually have an uncle Peter, and I must apologize deeply to him, because he certainly doesn’t fit this awful slur in his name, but my thought was that people would misapply the appearance of the Peter the disciple in this passage, and the idea that he was drunk on new wine as he speaks. Even though he isn’t drunk at all, but rather filled with the Holy Spirit.

I’m not entirely sure why I took that stupid jaunt down “how could we ruin Pentecost lane.” Except that it can be helpful to force ourselves to look at what a holiday is really about and not take it for granted. Every year, I preach on this passage, just like every year I preach pretty much the same passages for Christmas and Easter, and so we could get lost in the monotony. We could lose track of what is important.

Today reminds us that the disciples are transformed from lost, scared, and relatively clueless followers of Jesus – into preachers, teachers and leaders of the church.

When we listen to his sermon it can be easy to forget that not that long ago Peter was a fisherman. Not that long ago, Peter struggled to understand Jesus’ teachings. Not that long ago, Peter was rebuked by Jesus for trying to talk him out of dying on the cross. Not that long ago, Peter denied knowing Jesus – three times. Yet, on this day, Peter is confident, he is well-spoken, he is willing to talk about his faith in Christ, and he explains a confusing and strange miracle, and even is able to quote scripture to help that explanation. Peter is clearly transformed.

Pentecost reminds us, that we too can be transformed. Even if we start out being a people who struggle to understand Jesus’ teachings, who are utterly dependent upon Jesus, and still sometimes get it wrong; the Holy Spirit can transform us common folk.

I remember the first time I went to a bible study in college. The other people there all understood so much. They knew the stories of Jesus, they could quote chapters and verses, and could talk about their faith in ways that made sense. I couldn’t. I felt so unworthy in their presence. I felt like an idiot, or an infant in their midst. And yet, God did not leave me there. God was able to take that young man and put me in a pulpit, where every Sunday, I strive to bring the messages of God to you. That was transformation. At least I hope – maybe you still think I’m an idiot – but hopefully I am at least a more faithful idiot than I used to be.

Today reminds us that, like Peter, we are transformed from inept people who really don’t get faith, into a people who continue Jesus’ work. We are entrusted with carrying the good news to the world.  If God could use Peter, inept uncle Peter, to preach the good news, to heal a crippled beggar, and in fact to raise a girl from the dead. God can use us. I like the way one person said it: “God did all of this through a recently converted fisherman who struggled with his faith. The God who used Peter can do the same with every other believer. Like Peter, God saved you and he is transforming you. God can accomplish great things through you regardless of your background or personal struggles.”[1] Yes, that’s Pentecost!

In a sense today is about growing up, and become mature people of God, who join in the work. It is acknowledging that such a transformation is miraculous, as we watch inept uncle Peter become the rock upon which Christ builds the church. And that happens not just to the disciples but to the whole church. It happens to pastors as we mature from green youngsters who don’t know better, into elders who hopefully are wiser. It happens to church members as we grow from being well-meaning but somewhat clumsy leaders to true saints who are examples of faith to us all.

Think of it like this: One afternoon, a man, lying in a canoe close to shore, saw many beetles in the muddy bottom of the lake.

“He felt sorry for these lowly creatures which would never know any other world except gloom and mud and water. Then a big, black beetle came out of the water.” It “crawled up on the gunwale and sat there blinking at him. Under the heat of the sun the beetle died. Then a strange thing happened. His black shell cracked down the back. Out of it came a shapeless mass whose hideousness was transformed into a beautiful, brilliantly colored life. Out of that mass gradually unfolded four iridescent wings from which the sunlight flashed a thousand colors. The wings spread wide as if to worship the sun. The man realized that he had witnessed the transformation of a hideous” dragonfly larva that look so much like beetles “crawling in the mud” as it changed “to a gorgeous dragonfly soaring above the waters. The body that was left behind still clung to the gunwale of the canoe. While the dragonfly explored the wonders of his wings and his new world, the other” larva “were still crawling in the mud. He knew that he had seen a miracle of nature. Out of the mud had come a beautiful new life. The thought occurred to him, if the Creator worked such wonders with the lowliest of creatures, what must be in store for” humanity who are created in God’s likeness![2]

The good news is that God is always working on miraculous transformations within us, but we must be open to receiving the tongues of fire, the breath of the Spirit, the cracking of our shells.

It may not be quite as quick as that which happened on Pentecost, but God can work within us, we can find new gifts for ministry, new roles in the church that bring life to the world around us! So take hope from this day. If inept Peter can become the rock, you and I just might have a future in faith too!

[2] CSS Publishing Company, Inc., In Sure and Certain Hope, by O. Garfield Beckstrand, II

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