"Moving Forward"

Pentecost! June 8, 2014

John 20:19-23

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 

Prayer.

 

Welcome to Pentecost!

This is the day we’re called to burn the house down,

To start fresh, new, and live life

As if there were no rules;

As if the there was only complete submission to the movement of the Holy Spirit

And the Spirit’s will.

This is the day we allow ourselves to be taken away

Completely, wholly, and without reservation

To be shaped and formed as God’s living vessel,

Through which God’s kingdom can be established.

 

Pentecost, from the Greek, literally means the “fiftieth day” after the resurrection.

Jesus appeared risen from the dead

no less than five times during this fifty day period,

And as we heard last Sunday,

Ascended into heaven

To be seated at the right hand of the Father.

The first crisis hit the disciples square between the eyes:

“now what do we do?”

 

To best appreciate this question

It is helpful to view the very real crisis of what to do next

Through the lens of baptism.

Let me take you back to when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan.

His baptism, very similar to the practice of other religions of his day,

Was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

One was washed clean of their past wrongs, sins, and shortcomings.

One was cleansed,

Made ceremonially clean,

Returned to a righteous state,

And was reunited with family, neighbors, and faith.

In John’s case, baptism was very Jewish,

Deeply rooted in the Law of Moses,

And was an opportunity to start fresh and new.

John’s baptism was about cleaning up the mess we made in our past.

In John’s testimony, he says about Jesus,

“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34)

The Spirit descends upon Jesus,

Claims him,

- “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” -

Strengthens him,

And guides him as he begins his earthly ministry.

In one fleeting moment

On the rustling Jordan waters

Baptism was transformed

FROM looking back, fixing what was wrong

TO moving forward, being filled with the Holy Spirit to do God’s work.

Immediately before Jesus ascends

He commissions his disciples to

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19)

Baptism for the repentance of sins was looking backwards.

But now,

Baptism in the Spirit became all about

Moving forward.

 

Most of us here today have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

(If you haven’t, come and speak with me, because God wants it to happen)

There are great questions about

Where we are to go?

What are we to do?

How is God calling us to make disciples of all the world?

For many of us, this is a huge leap of faith moving forward.

 

Many of us come to church for what church can get for us:

A sense of community,

Friends for life’s spiritual journey,

Support for one another during life’s more difficult times,

And the joy of celebrating the best of God’s blessings we are privileged to experience.

This is important, YES!

Yet this is only answering half the call that Jesus is making for each of us.

Faith only focused inward is destined to die.

But faith, filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit,

Becomes life giving faith,

Disciple making faith,

Faith that embraces the world, starting from where ever they’re at,

And welcomes each into the loving arms

of our Savior’s redemption and salvation.

 

Pentecost is not a call to begin door-to-door evangelism.

Pentecost is, however, the opportunity to be energized by the Holy Spirit

And begin to move forward,

Fulfilling Christ’s great commission to each of us

To make disciples of all nations.

Like the first post-ascension disciples we ask,

“Where do we begin?”

 

As a student of history,

- as one who believes God works in and through history –

I believe we can look to those early disciples,

Soon to be Apostles,

And learn from their examples.

We begin by learning what the Apostles did.

 

First, Holy Spirit empowered Apostles from a Jewish background stayed in Jerusalem and

Attended to their Jewish traditions:

Teaching, learning, attending Temple or synagogue daily.

Then, they returned to their homes

To retell the Gospel, the Good News, of Christ

Lend witness to his resurrection, and

To celebrate Holy Communion, as a common meal to maintain the memory

Of who they were and who has called them,

Individually and collectively.

 

Holy Spirit empowered Apostles from a Gentile background

Left Jerusalem and returned to their home towns,

Moved to other cities,

Cities like Antioch, Athens, Alexandria, and Rome.

There, they also retold the Good News amongst themselves.

This solidified the story and strengthened their witness to others.

They also celebrated Holy Communion whenever they met

To build their identity as Christ’s called and commissioned Apostles.

 

Moving forward,

Larger society noticed.

They noticed that people who followed Jesus Christ

Were different from everyone else.

They were different than faithful Jews.

They were different than pagans, also quite common, especially in rural areas.

They were different than the Greek and Roman middle class,

Who recognized a different god for every aspect of life.

And they were certainly different than empire growing Caesar worshippers,

The strategy that early Roman leaders used in a political attempt

To unite a trans-cultural, expanding empire.

Jesus followers were different.

People noticed they loved one another.

And they loved people other than their friends and families.

In fact, they set a new standard for loving

The least, the lost, the left behind.

Early Christ followers loved the poor, the homeless, the sick and the diseased.

First generation Apostles took in widows and orphans,

And fed the hungry where ever they found them.

People noticed;

They took notice of the fact that they reached out beyond themselves,

Placed the needs of others first,

And became servants of all.

The early Apostles were united by love,

Proclaiming it and practicing love of God and love of neighbor.

Authenticity made disciples of Jesus Christ in the first century

And authenticity makes disciples today.

 

While they were united by love,

There was a lot that was internally debated.

There was no precedence.

No creeds.

No Bible or sacred texts.

There wasn’t even an agreed on method of organization, leadership, finance, or growth.

It was simple.

Love God, love neighbor.

Proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ,

Witness to the fact of his resurrection,

And gather to celebrate Holy Communion.

It can be this simple today.

 

A Church of Christ followers,

Without one single building, I might add,

Utilizing the advanced transportation of the era,

- Mediterranean shipping –

Propagated Christianity to every nation,

Exactly as Christ commissioned,

Using the guidance, support, and strength of the Holy Spirit

Which filled them on this day,

Pentecost Sunday.

This is how the Spirit of Jesus

Gave birth to the Church.

 

So, what does Pentecost mean for us

Moving forward?

Here are some simple tactics we can apply right now:

 

1. Focus on the poor.

Give it away, generously, joyfully,

Knowing that God always provides and we will be replentished.

The poor will come,

- who doesn’t want to be loved? -

And so, too, will the rich,

Because they will also see how wonderful it is to be a loving, giving disciple of Jesus.

The happiest people

Both rich and poor

Are those who love and give generously.

 

2. Be different.

Practice what you preach.

Avoid being the hypocrite everyone points to and laughs at.

Talk the talk and walk the walk.

Be honest, truthful, and moral.

Treat everyone kindly, especially those who despise you.

As was mentioned at Conference last week,

You don’t have to like everyone,

But you do have to love them.

 

3. Witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus died to take away your past sins.

Jesus rose from the dead to give you eternal life

Moving forward.

Witness.

Leave the rest up to the Spirit.

Let God do the convincing.

 

4. Proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ,

And gather regularly, and frequently,

To share together Holy Communion.

Word and Table strengthen us!

It firms up our foundation.

It makes for a spiritual life that is

Built upon the rock of Jesus Christ.

This is what we do on Sundays:

We worship,

Give praise and thanks to God,

Through the work of proclaiming the Good News

And Celebrating Holy Communion.

 

Beloved friends,

This is our commission

Directly from the lips of Jesus.

Today, we are reminded and refreshed

By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

We have all that we need.

The rest is up to us.

May it be so.

Amen.