DiscipleChurch Family and Friends:
Our DiscipleChurch worship this Sunday begins, as usual, at 7:20 am in Wesley Hall with our community breakfast for our homeless brothers and sisters, continues to the Leonard Chapel at 8:30 am for our service of prayer, song, word and communion, continues in our prayer and formation group at 9:30 and then really continues as we go out to be the people and presence of God in the world.
This Sunday, I will continue our journey through the Acts of the Apostles. The point of this is to try to better understand what it was that led to the unreasonable spread of the “Way,” as it is called in Acts, from maybe 120 people (Acts 1.15) who were present at the Pentecost event to the spread of the faith throughout the Roman Empire, through the Near East and through parts of Africa south of the borders of the Roman Empire in only 300 years. If we can understand what was so valuable about those early Christian churches, and what hunger was fed and satisfied by the Way, surely we can better understand where we are now and where to go from here.
According to Luke, writing in Acts, the Pentecost event was critical in the beginning of the spread of the gospel. That event was interpreted by early Christians through the lens of a writing of the prophet Joel a few hundred years before. Joel’s prediction of the God’s Spirit being “poured out of all flesh,” young and old, male and female, slave and free in days to come, so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” was very important to Paul’s own understanding of the work of the Spirit after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The scripture for Sunday is:
Acts of the Apostles 2
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be rescued.’ …
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being rescued.”
But here, as usual, are hard questions. Was it true that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be rescued” in Joel’s time? In Peter’s and Paul’s time? Surely this is not just a throw-away line for either time, Joel’s or Peter’s. Not just wishful thinking. Not just hopeful aspiration. Surely, as important as this prophecy from Joel was to the people of his own time and to our brothers and sisters who carried our faith on their Way from Jerusalem to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8), this line was more than believable. This prophecy was trustworthy, critical to the spread of the Way so far so quickly, even in the face of so much hardship and brutal opposition.
“Everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD shall be rescued!?!” Really? How did these people, in Joel’s and in Peter and Paul’s time, experience this rescue? From what were they rescued? Just from the consequences of their sins…so they could eventually experience the bliss and peace of heaven? Or was it more and sooner than that? Was it a rescue from things that happened and still happen here on this earth in this life? Again…how?
Can we experience this rescue now? From what can we be rescued by “calling on the name of the Lord”? How can we be rescued? And, more importantly, how can we communicate and bear this promise in our day? Or, for our time anyway, after the age of miracles that some say has passed, is this now merely a weak and poetic hope and aspiration?
I do not believe that I am making too much of this prophecy. The people of the Way found this promise trustworthy and critical. Many of them lived, and died, relying on this promise. If they had not experienced this rescue, the Way would have become a dead end.
Would you like to believe and trust that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be rescued”? I pray fervently that this promise can prove true, in this life, for my clients and my clients’ children…that they “shall” be rescued by calling on the name of the Lord, and that this Ministry can help God make that happen. Is this your vision of the mission of the Church, to rescue “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord?” And if that is not your vision, what is our mission? Something more “realistic”?
Hope to see you Sunday morning.