Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sermon 5/11/08 Pentecost Sunday "Being Bilingual"

“Being Bilingual”

Acts 2:1-13

Today is a very special Sunday for a number of reasons. First, it is Mother’s Day. Second, it is Confirmation Sunday at our church and third, it is Pentecost. I want to begin this message by honoring mothers. To do this, I want to give your husband some advise about buying gifts for you for Mother’s Day.

1. Don't buy anything that plugs in. Anything that requires electricity is seen as utilitarian.
2. Don't buy clothing that involves sizes. The chances are one in seven thousand that you will get her size right, and your wife will be offended the other 6999 times. "Do I look like a size 16?" she'll say. Too small a size doesn't cut it either: "I haven't worn a size 8 in 20 years!"
3. Avoid all things useful. The new silver polish advertised to save hundreds of hours is not going to win you any brownie points.
4. Don't buy anything that involves weight loss or self-improvement. She'll perceive a six-month membership to a diet center as a suggestion that's she's overweight.
5. Don't buy jewelry. The jewelry your wife wants, you can't afford. And the jewelry you can afford, she doesn't want.
6. And, guys, do not fall into the traditional trap of buying her frilly underwear. Your idea of the kind your wife should wear and what she actually wears are light years apart.
7. Finally, don't spend too much. "How do you think we're going to afford that?" she'll ask. But don't spend too little. She won't say anything, but she'll think, "Is that all I'm worth?"

Today we are also celebrating “Pentecost Sunday” which means we are celebrating the event recorded in Acts 2, where the Luke (The author of Acts) tells us those who believed in Jesus received the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus tells his followers that they are to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift that they have been promised, the Holy Spirit. Luke records the story as follows,

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

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia 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!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."

Luke is clear that this happens on the day of Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after Passover and was a celebration the Old Testament calls the Feast of Weeks. It was a time when the first fruits of the years harvest were given. As with these feast celebration, religious significance was also attached to the celebration. At some point, Pentecost was also associated with the celebration of Moses receiving the Law from God.

On this very special day in the Jewish calendar, the disciples who have been gathered together hear something that sounds like wind and see something that looks like tongues of fire. Then, Luke tells us that the have been filled with the Holy Spirit and as evidence of this, they begin to speak in tongues.

At this point in the text, it is fair to ask, “What is the nature of their speaking in tongues?” The reason we normally ask this question is because people now days have quite a diverse understanding of what it means to speak in tongues. Some people say that speaking in tongues should be understood as simply speaking other languages and the gift is simply being able to learn Spanish or French for example. Others have said this is a special prayer language that you receive when you have the Holy Spirit. God enables to speak in a language that only the spirit can understand. Others have suggested that this is the gift to speak in a language a message from God that you do not know and others will be able to hear your speech and discern it.

Thankfully, Luke takes some time to explain what he means by speaking in tongues, at least in this instance. He says that some folks where staying in Jerusalem from “every nation under heaven.” Luke gives us some examples of where they have come from. We are not sure if they are living in Jerusalem, but are just from other areas or if they have just made the journey to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration because they are Gentiles who hold to the Jewish faith.

They do however, speak native languages. In this culture it was not uncommon for people to speak several languages. Most of this world spoke Greek plus their own native language. Some may have also spoke Latin. Luke tells us that the crowd is amazed because the disciples speak a native language that they do not speak, but they were able to hear them in their own native language that they knew the disciples did not speak. What was happening was that the followers of Jesus were able to speak their own language and people who spoke different languages could understand them plainly.

Often times, we go so caught up in the speaking of tongues in the passage that we miss the real message Luke wanted to tell his readers in the 1st century and the message he wants us to learn today. After Peter sees the crowd in amazement, he explains what has happened by preaching a sermon. In his explanation Peter tells the crowd that the prophecy spoken of in Joel has now come to pass: “I will pour out my spirit on all people... and everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved.” This is the moment that God has chosen to make salvation known to the word. Luke tells us that 3,000 people believed as a result of this event.

Pentecost is not about us receiving some kind of special power so that we can be more spiritual. Pentecost is about the day God began the missionary journey of reaching the world and bringing redemption and salvation through the message about Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of something fresh and new, something powerful and life changing.

This story in Acts in some ways causes us to recall the story in Genesis when the people decide to build a tower into the heaven in order to become “like God.” To prevent this from happening, God causes them to speak different languages so they will spread out. I have always seen this story as being the climax of human sin, which brings about other languages and brings about a disconnect. In the Acts story, while there are sill different languages being spoken, everyone hears the same story, bringing unity. After checking this view with several New Testament scholars, Joel Green helped me see that God’s giving diverse language in the Tower of Babel story was not a punishment, but a call for people to spread out and experience new possibilities. In the same way, Acts 2 is a call for Christians who receive the Spirit not to remain in the same place, but to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. After all, this is Jesus’ command in Acts 1.

Often when we read the story of Acts 2 and the event that took place as the gospel of Jesus is launched into the world through these spirit filled followers of Jesus we become disillusioned because we do not see this kind of event happening. We believe (1) God does not act this way anymore (2) God does these things, but we don’t believe enough to see them or (3) This type of miracle only happens in places where the gospel is first being preached.

I am not sure of the answer, but I do believe that God wants to speak to us, to move us, and to use us to make disciples of Jesus. I think we oftentimes fail to listen. Notice in Acts 1, Luke tells us that while they were waiting on the promise Jesus had told them about, they joined constantly in prayer. They were expecting God to act and because of their expectancy, they prayed not to miss it.
A young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man completed his form and sat down with seven others waiting applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they hadn't heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.

Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, "Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man."

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one spoke up, "Wait a minute--I don't understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That's not fair."

The employer responded, "While you have sat there the telegraph has been ticking out the following message: "If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours."

I believe God still speaks to us today in both big and small ways. The problem is that we don’t expect to hear from him so we don’t listen. I hope this Pentecost we will be reminded that God still speaks to us and we can hear him if we would just expect it and listen.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sermon 05/04/08 EMIM Sermon- Divine Design Part 2 "Created to Serve"

“Designed to Serve”
Ephesians 4:7-16

I read this story of an actual letter written to an insurance company to follow up on a claim that was filed.
Dear Sir:
I am writing in response to your request for more information concerning block #11 on the insurance form which asked for "cause of injuries" wherein I put "trying to do the job alone." You said you needed more information so I trust the following will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade and on the date of injuries I was working alone laying brick around the top of a four-story building when I realized that I had about 500 pounds of brick left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to put them into a barrel and lower them by a pulley which was fastened to the top of the building. I secured the end of the rope at ground level and went up to the top of the building and loaded the bricks into the barrel and swung the barrel out with the bricks in it. I then went down and untied the rope, holding it securely to ensure the slow descent of the barrel.

As you will note on block #6 of the insurance form, I weigh 165 pounds. Due to my shock at being jerked off the ground so swiftly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Between the second and third floors I met the barrel coming down. This accounts for the bruises and lacerations on my upper body. Regaining my presence of mind, I held tightly to the rope and proceeded rapidly up the side of the building, not stopping until my right hand was jammed in the pulley. This accounts for the broken thumb.

Despite the pain, I retained my presence of mind and held tightly to the rope. At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed about 50 pounds. I again refer you to block #6 and my weight. As you would guess, I began a rapid descent. In the vicinity of the second floor I met the barrel coming up. This explains the injuries to my legs and lower body. Slowed only slightly, I continued my descent, landing on the pile of bricks. Fortunately, my back was only sprained, and the internal injuries were minimal.

I am sorry to report, however, that at this point, I finally lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope, and as you imagine, the empty barrel crashed down on me. I trust this answers your concern. Please know that I am finished "trying to do the job alone!"

Last week we began our EMIM campaign by working through the second chapter of Ephesians where we learned that God has created each of us in a unique way in order for us to do good works. In the beginning of chapter 4, Paul makes a major shift in this letter. In the first three chapters he lays down a wonderful theology about how God’s grace has made us one with Christ. Now, Paul transitions into how we ought to live out our newfound hope in Christ. Ephesians 4:7-16 says,

7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it [a] says:
"When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people." [b]
9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions [c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul begins by saying that each of us has been given grace as appointed by Christ. Paul quotes a passage from Psalm 68:18 and is referencing a time when God would reign from on his sanctuary. It actually says that God took many captive and received gifts from the people. Paul uses says the reverse in his quote of the verse. He says that God gave people gifts.

Whatever the case may be, Paul’s quote clarifies what he means by God giving grace as he appoints. He means that God gives us gifts as he appoints. Paul goes on to say that these gifts: that of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. This is not the only list of gifts Paul gives. The most famous actually comes from his letter to the Corinthians. His point is pretty similar though. Not all people have all the gifts, but each person is given certain gifts.

Paul then goes on to explain what Christ gives us these gifts. He says they are given to us so that we can do works of service in order to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and become mature. As we mentioned last week, each person was created for the purpose of “doing good works,” and now we are each given gifts to enable us to do these good works with the purpose of building up the church.

Paul then in the last section of this passage explains how the Body of Christ works. He says the church works like the human body. The human body grows as each part of the body does its work. When everything works together, each member of the body grows and the body as a whole grows.

I was never really good at biology and human anatomy, but I read a little about the way muscles grow. I am going to give you my version of how it works so if you are really intelligent in this area, bare with me. The job of the muscle is to help take the tension off of bones and tendons as we move about and work. They allow us to move and the give us our posture. When we workout or do things that stretch the capacity our muscles have to help the bones and tendons, the muscle begins to stretch, tare and break down. When this happens, satellite cells are released by our body and they come and attach themselves to the muscle fiber causing the fiber to grow and heal. The growth of the muscle fiber then helps to body adapt to the changing amount of work the body does.

What I found interesting about how the muscle works is that it involves several parts of the body to work together in order to accomplish what we desire to do with our body. Our muscles grow as we use them in the same way that we grow as a church and as an individual into who God ahs called us to be when we use our gifts to serve the community of faith and those around us.

At the end of the day, I am pretty sure that most of us know how important it is to serve and help people, but I often wonder why, knowing this truth we fail to do so. Jim Hyatt, who is a long time church member came by my office the other day and gave me an article entitled, “Be Like the Sunset.” It was written by a photographer named Dewitt Jones. In the article, Jones uses the analogy of a sunset to talk about whether we will choose to do something loving or choose not to out of fear. One day he was watching a beautiful sunset and it dawned on him that the sun was not waiting for him to show up before it happened, it would have set regardless of whether or not he was we there or not.

Jones goes on to say that the sun puts out its very best everyday, regardless of whether or not anyone notices and he wondered if he could do the same. He admits that more times than not, fear gets in the way of him being his best. He wonders if his best will not be good enough or if he anyone will even notice when he does his best. He concludes that we should all be like the sun and do our very best no matter what. He ends the article with this story.

A photographer lived across the street from a family with an eight-year-old girl named Annie and her cat named Tabby. One day he saw the cat alone and thought that Annie might like some pictures of the cat, but then wondered if he would just be wasting his time. After some thought, he decided, “why not.” He picked up his camera and went out and took the pictures. He sent the rolls off to be developed and when they came back, he put them in the mailbox. Later that afternoon Annie’s mom came and knocked on the door. She told the photographer that Tabby, the cat had been killed the day before and Annie was devastated because she did not have any pictures of the cat to remember it. However, when she went to the mailbox that morning she found two roles of film. Her mother said that he would never know what those pictures meant to her.

God created us to be like the sunset, to be our very best for those around us everyday, not matter who is watching or who appreciates it. You never know which or whose life you will touch when you are doing what you are created to do.