Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-16, 22-24
May 19, 2013
This is Pentecost Sunday! Up until this point, Easter had come. Jesus had returned. And the Ascension had taken place. (We looked at that story last week.) All that had happened for those disciples was wonderful. But, now what? I really wonder if they thought that! “Ok, he’s gone… again. Now what do we do?” “He said we were to be his witnesses. Whats that about?” (And what was that bit about the ends of the earth?)
When I think about the story of Pentecost, I really do wonder what the disciples were thinking. As I always say, we know the story! We know what was about to happen. And sometimes we think they were just waiting around for it. After all Jesus told them it was going to happen. And they always believed what he said was going to happen, didn’t they? (Well except maybe for that whole death and resurrection thing!)
I think the reality is that they couldn’t have imagined what was about to happen to them! Remember we already have one story of them trying to go back to life as it was before. Remember when they were going fishing at the end of Johns Gospel? So I have to wonder if now they were still thinking, in some way, that life would somehow be the same as it always was. And the more I think about it, the more Pentecost was the great “Aha! moment” for them. It was a sudden realization of what it all meant. And that took a mighty miracle of God! And I think what happened that day was just as puzzling and surprising for them as it was for the crowds who came to find out what was going on!
So, Pentecost came. And they were all together. They heard the wind. They saw the flames. They felt the power! And they were never the same again! And neither was the world. The disciples finally realized what it was all about! That is Pentecost! And I think one of the most important things they learned that day was that they were next!
I know I said last week that the last of their expectations went up into the clouds with Jesus. But I’m thinking there was one lingering expectation still in their minds. And it was this. Now that Jesus had come back from the dead, they expected that he would lead this new movement – this new sect of Judaism, which Christianity was in the beginning. Ok, maybe he might not restore the kingdom to Israel, as we said last week. But at least in this new faith, he would be their leader. Well, not so – at least not in the earthly sense
He ascended and left them. And even it they did know that was to be the last time, (though that too is something we know that they didn’t) still, I doubt it was settled in their minds that they had something to do, some role to play. He said, “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” And again, we know what that meant. But I doubt they did.
Then, they were given the power of the Holy Spirit! And finally they understood, which was one of the major miracles of that day! And one thing they finally understood was that, in Jesus kingdom, it wasnt he who would be the leader of all this, it was them! They the Apostles now would lead the new church through its opening stages, in unexpected and powerful ways!
So, thats it. It was them. But it didn’t end there. Let me tell you about something we believe as Presbyterians. We Presbyterians believe in something called “Apostolic Succession.” You thought I was going to say Predestination, didnt you! We believe in that, too, but thats a long discussion! For now, know that we also believe in this thing called Apostolic Succession. And Apostolic Succession, in its simplest definition, is the idea that the leadership and the authority in the church has come down through the ages, through a succession of leaders, from the Apostles.
You who are leaders, you who are elders – or “presbyters,” as we call you – you lead the church in a long, long line of succession of leadership, that began with Peter and the Apostles! How does that make you feel? Yours is an important part in the long history of the Church! Isnt that a great thought?
I think its fun to read a Churchs history. It’s interesting to see what life was like, in our case 125 years ago when this Church began and the building was built. Maybe you can think of some of the people in that history, who are no longer with us. And you can see the path we’ve been on. And then, being in this part of the country with its rich history, its good to think back and know that our denomination had a lot to do with that history! And those things are great! But that still only accounts for the last couple of centuries. What about the sixteen-plus centuries before that? You see, we’re all part of that, too! That’s Apostolic Succession.
Think about the Olympics. Before the Olympic games begin, the torch is lit in Greece, because that’s where the Olympics began. And then it is handed from runner to runner, as it makes its way around the world to the city where the games are being held. Did any of you ever see an Olympic Torch procession? My running club in Topeka went out late one night to the outskirts of town, and we lined both sides of the street where the torch was going to pass. And it was a great honor to welcome the Olympic Torch as it came into our city.
Well, that’s us, folks. We are that torch! We’re part of the procession of the Gospel, part of the history of Gods people, as it has been handed down from person to person, from Pentecost until today. And if you think about it, that procession began long before that. It began when God first spoke to Abraham, or perhaps even Adam. And being part of that procession means that it wouldn’t be Jesus who would lead this movement – though of course he is the head of the Church. But the leadership was first the Apostles it was them, and now its us!
Think about that as we come now to this time of communion. Know that this is our connection. Jesus’ words “For as often as you do this,” have become two thousand years of participation in this sacrament. And we have passed this tradition down through the years of the Church, just as we have passed the torch of leadership. So let us rejoice in this connection we have with our Savior, and with the Apostles and church leaders and that great “Cloud of Witnesses” throughout the years. So I invite you to think of all of them, and of all who have come to this table in this place in the life of this church.
Eternal God, you have called us to be your people, to be the Church as it has come down to us through the centuries. Help us to know the power of your spirit in our midst as it has been felt from the beginning. Empower us to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ, for this we pray in his name, Amen.