Second in series: 40 Days of Faith 2017
GOD WANTS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF HIM TO BUILD BRIDGES WITH OTHERS
We talked last week about how at BLV we have come to mark the church season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) With an experiment meant to get us trying to live with high faith Believing God to be alive and active and able to pull off observable, measurable things (miraculous things even) on our behalf that we can't on our own We acknowledged that for many of us (me included), we don't actually have this high faith, but that that's just the reason for the experiment - To give up our sense of exclusive-control over our lives and our "life all comes down to me" thoughts, and act as though we do have high faith in a good God for a set amount of time - the 40 days of Lent - And then to see what happens
It's not at all too late to join in the experiment! Just start right now (need a half sheet? raise your hand) Praying everyday for Your Big Ask That could be for a new job, for the next step in your personal life to happen, to end a bad habit or start a good one... I’m praying for the money and vacation time (we don’t have) to visit my wife’s parents in West Africa We encourage you to share with others here your big ask! And for Your 6 6 people in your everyday life you're on the fringe of relationship with And for BLV Our growth, our fundraising, our positive impact on people Reading the Bible’s book of Acts This is the story of the early church in the time immediately after Jesus’ death & resurrection, and it is serving as our guide for this experiment We will do this together in a moment… so look you’re already joining us! Lastly, investing in our church's next big step, particularly our Brown Line Ball -- about which we have more fun details to share with you later
There is still a little over a month remaining in Lent… imagine what a month of our prayers can make space for God to accomplish?!
Okay, today we come to the second chapter of Acts
We pick things up 50 days after the Passover festival (which was when Jesus was crucified) - that 50th day was known as Pentecost (“Pente” you may remember from math means multiple of five) Where we left off - the resurrected Jesus had been appearing to his closest friends and telling them: He is about to send them out as his ambassadors to show people that God is like him and how he lived (not distant, indifferent, and punitive, but invested, loving, and personal) BUT that they are to wait to leave their city Jerusalem until they receive the power beyond their own abilities and efforts and smarts so they can do this Let me start reading
1When 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 languages as the Spirit enabled them.
So this is a pretty ecstatic spiritual experience - a bunch of people miraculously speaking in languages they don't actually know... as we read on, we'll see why this was the power Jesus wanted his friends to wait for before they left the city as his ambassadors... this ends up not just being a powerful personal spiritual experience, but a means to connection and bridge building...
The very next line reads: 5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
Historians would call the Jewish people of the first century: a diaspora A diaspora results when a people are forcibly removed from their homeland and dispersed in surrounding regions... as generations go by and those forcibly removed people settle in their new areas and intermarry within their new culture what you get is people who are connected by a strain of common ethnic heritage but who also have major cultural differences - speak different languages, maybe even look quite different Today a diaspora many of us would be familiar with is the African diaspora - African peoples are far flung all over Europe and the Americas because of the cruelty of the Transatlantic slave trade and now generations later we have extremely different cultures who are nonetheless connected
That's the case here The Jews were forcibly removed from their homeland generations ago and dispersed among the lands of the Babylonian empire (and later the Persian, then Greek, then Roman empires) So these people all would have been Jewish BUT with a ton of differences among them - they would have spoken different languages and grown up in different cultures with different norms and customs outside of their Jewish ones
Now what had become a tradition in that time around the Passover if you're Jewish is: you take a trip to Jerusalem, the center city of your religion, to worship at the temple So all these diverse People from the Jewish diaspora are in Jerusalem And while there, they see a bunch of Jews from one particular region praising God aloud in different languages.
It reads: 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
This is why this was so connecting and bridge building I asked two friends I've known through BLV who are part of the African diaspora to tell me: What does this feel like? Do you have an experience like this? One shared about the time they met an American who spoke not just their language, but a specific regional dialect of their language, and how that just blew them away My other friend shared with me how connecting it was when through a cross-cultural friendship they realized a surprising similarity between their East African language and a South Asian language As a white English speaker, I do not realize this, but experiencing your language somewhere you don't expect is a powerful thing! Think of how seen and honored these from-out-of-town Jews must have felt!
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 languages!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 22“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him...
Peter continues on tying Jesus to other key Jewish scriptures that his audience would know… For the sake of time, I won’t unpack those for us now. But here’s how he ends his speech...
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38Peter replied, “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 are we meant to imply was being stirred in Peter’s audience? It says they were “cut to the heart” Definitely, part of this is "the people were convicted" -- at their sinful mob mentality behavior going along with the killing of Jesus, BUT -- very importantly -- it's not only conviction at wrongdoing that is being stirred, I think Peter's words don't end at "repent for the forgiveness of your sins." He goes on to say how this is about a good gift and promise being made to them -- by God "Cut to the heart" I think implies a feeling of: this is what the human heart longs to hear. These people were experiencing the power of being known and seen and honored personally For their background, their culture, their language They were experiencing the excitement of a spirituality that is alive (not just dry, rote religion) being for them and for their children - This is the promise of the Holy Spirit - the experiential side of God we can actually feel and perceive Feeling the Holy Spirit is how we know God is not just residing up on a distant mountain top, looking down the rim of his glasses at the riff raff below If you’ve ever had a spiritual experience where you felt God close to you or speaking encouragement or empowerment to you or bringing you peace, the Bible would call that the Holy Spirit In the story the Bible is telling something like this had never happened before - A mass of common people together having not just a collective spiritual experience but a collective spiritual impact on others (in that connective, bridge-building way)… This was supposed to be the realm of the spiritual elite - priests and and once in a lifetime prophets... And peter ties all of this to Jesus... Jesus has unlocked all of this new potential for people's lives
Now, as I mentioned last week, the story of the book of Acts can be described as the early church's move from start-up project to sustainable enterprise, setting it up for enduring and ever-expanding impact Think of a diagram of moving outward in concentric circles This is a first step outward - from Jews all from one place to diverse Jews soon they will be stepping further outward in a more concerted effort toward non-Jewish people But this is the foundation of the "being Jesus' ambassadors" project being laid And what characterizes the foundation? Acts 2 ends this way...
41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Here’s the characteristics of this foundational group of the Jesus project Prayer, generosity, hospitality, care for each other’s needs, No wonder it was growing! Just to speak personally for a minute It gets me up in the morning to think about this To think about being a part of a mission that connects with an ever expanding circle of people -- seeing and honoring them for who they are, where they come from, what language they speak (literally and figuratively) To think about helping people learn through actual spiritual experience with God's holy spirit what God is really like - that God is not a distant and removed puppet master, but that God is like Jesus - the most relationally aware and engaged person to ever live To think about being a part of a community that is marked by generosity and hospitality and caring for each other’s needs This is the stuff that can get you up in the morning if you feel like a part of it And this is why we (BLV) are dreaming of (like the early church in Acts) making our own jump to Sustainability - being able to fully staff and operate this church from our regular and expected giving . Because we want to 20 years from now (not just this year) be helping people get up in the morning -- inspired and driven to honor others who are different from them, and to show people what God is like, and to be hospitable and generous and caring And we think this 40 day prayer experiment is going to make a difference So, if this morning is the first you're hearing of this, commit right now to joining us in this 40 day prayer experiment (half sheet - again raise your hand if you need one) A specific challenge for you this week Invite at least 4 people this week to the Brown Line Ball (a PDF invitation for your use is now available on our website and will be sent out in our newsletter this week) Kyle and I literally sent the invitation to over 100 of our friends/family on Friday And, as we've suggested, consider buying a set of tickets so that when you invite people you can say: your night is on me! Packing the Brown Line Ball with lots of people will make a huge impact on the financial challenge that reaching for sustainability has before us And what if we think about this on the terms of what we’re talking about today? You, like me, probably have many friends who, for legitimate reasons, aren’t going to connect with a church through a Sunday church service (or at least aren’t going to right now, at this moment in their lives) What if those church-averse friends of ours can still get a taste of being a part Jesus’ connecting, bridge-building project? Simply by supporting us and having an awesome time at a party? And how much would that bless our community? To have our non-churchgoing friends stretch us outward to our next concentric circle of impact To learn from them, and be blessed by them and what they have to offer
In a moment I want to pray for us and for our community… that, like the story of Pentecost, we may here this morning have a collective spiritual experience that also ends up having a collective spiritual impact on others That we may each in our own way feel and perceive the experiential side of God, the Holy Spirit, this morning Not for the purpose of navel gazing But as a way to feel attached to the larger connecting, bridge-building, ever-expanding story of the universe - what Jesus called the Kingdom of God AND if that also feels powerful on a personal level for us, as I can imagine it might, that’s great too.
Once we’re in that space of prayer, today’s band is going to lead us in a time of song… Something spiritual communities have done for centuries to slow down from the pace of life and encounter God at an emotional level. Engage in whatever way feels best to you: Singing along or just sitting back letting the music hit you.
And, as we are doing that, I really want to invite anyone who’s feeling something going on internally to make your way to the middle section of the theater and ask to receive prayer from someone on our prayer team Powerful things often happen in our prayer times on Sundays. Our prayer team are trained, safe folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential. Stand with me, if you would, and I’ll pray.