Sunday, 19 May 2013

Acts 2 - Deeds done, Words shared, Lives changed - A Pentecost Sermon

Words are not enough you must have actions as well.

Put it into practice.

Good scriptural warrant as well – faith without works is dead.

You can take that further – I have on my shelves a figure of St Francis holding a bird in his hand – one of those treasured gifts given me by friend Maurice and acquired by him from the Sue Ryder Shop.

The prayer of St Francis was a prayer I learned once and can almost remember now.

Commitment to creation and a passion for the poor have made a powerful impact on me.

And what he said – share the love of God and use words if you have to goes to the heart of something that is very special.

Actions speak louder than words.

So, show your love.

Yes, all wonderful.

It drives the kind of approach to mission we have as a church and have had over the years.  It chimes with the people we are.  We are do-ers.  Helping others.

I think we can look at things another way.  And the Book of Acts encourages us to do that.

As the title suggests this is a book all about actions – things that happen.  Things that are done.

But look more closely at the events of the Day of Pentecost and something interesting emerges that prompts us to think again.

First, comes all the action.  In that upper room suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filed the entire house where they were sitting … then divided tongues as of fire rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

They rush down the steps and on to the street.

People are amazed at wht happens and what they see.

That’s what happened.  That’s the action.

Then comes an explanation of what’s going on, what the significance of the action is.  And fascinatingly, the explanation goes on for a lot longer than the action.  It begins at verse 14 and goes on until verse 36.

Peter gets up and explains what had happened and what it all meant.

He starts by recalling the hopes and fears of the Prophet Joel who had looked to a time when the Spirit of God, that unseen yet very real presence would be let loose in the world and impact on the lives of people of all shapes and sizes.

When sons and saughters would prophesy, young men see visions, old men dream dreams and even slaves, both men and women would speak out forcefully God’s word anas the Spirit was poured out on them.

This was it … this was happening.  This is that long-expected time.

He then goes on to tell the story of Jesus – recalling his deeds of power, the wonders and the signs he did, how he was handed over to the authorities in Jerusalem and crucified .

He tells of the resurrection victory – how it was impossible for him to be held in the power of death, but God raised him up, freeing him from death.

In the line of David, yet so much more than the greatest of the Kings of Israel – these were the days when God’s kingdom was arriving.

Jesus, raised and exalted to be at the right hand of God had let loose this unseen, yet very real power, the Holy Spirit into people’s lives.   The crucified Jesus has become Lord and Messiah.

Pause at this point in the chapter and two things have gone on.  First something has happened – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Second, someone, Peter, has given an account of the significance of what has happened, what has gone on.

It is then that there is a reaction on the part of the onlookers.

They want to know what they can do.

Make a fresh start of things, repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away everyone whome the Lord our God calls to him.

What a wonderful thought.

That’s not the end of it.  Peter continued to testify with many other arguments and appealed them to save themselves from all the sheer awfulness, the horribleness that was going on in the world at that time.

What goes on there mirrors what happened in the life of Jesus.  In Acts 1:1 Luke had recalled his first volume, the  Gospel which had summarised all that Jesus did and taught.  Note the sequence.

Now something had happened – and it was followed by an account of the significance of what had happened.

Peter went on much later to feel this was something that should be a model for all Christian believers, for us as well.

In 1 Peter 3 Peter speaks of the need to be ‘do-ers’  and the need to DO what is right.

It is the Francis of Assisi approach – indeed these are the kind of owords that are the inspiration of the Prayer of St Francis.

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10For
‘Those who desire life
   and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
   and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
   let them seek peace and pursue it.

DO GOOD – that is the key to the Christian life.

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.

Such doing good will not always be acclaimed, however.  There will be those who are highly critical.  Peter was writing at a time when doing good in this way could easily result in persecution – awful suffering.

So the doing, the action needs to be followed by words …

Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence.

Add to the actions words.

It is not put your words into action.  It is rather follow your actions with words that give an account of why it is that you do what you do.  Words that give an account of the hope that is in you.

Coming back to the story of Acts 2 – those who welcomed this message were baptized and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Then what they did next are the marks of the Church – marks of the church we too should take very much to heart.

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

It impacted on the way they lived, and the way they shared together –

Awe 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.

A remarkable community of sharing – from those according to their means to those according to their 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 saved.

Deeds done

Words shred

Lives changed

There is a cycle here whereby the faith is communicated and passed on.

And what of us?

Actions of caring and sharing are so important.  In a funny way I think sometimes we are stronger on the actions.  We do the caring, we seek to share and to meet the needs of others.

What we are not so good at is giving an account of the hope that is in us – passing on the faith that is important in our hearts.

It’s the approach of Street Pastors.  You can’t as a Street Pastor go round ‘evangilising’ – you are simply there to help.  But as someone asks you why you are doing what you do, what a Street Pastor is, then you can give an account of the hope that is within you.

It’s the approach of Chaplaincy, as we were welcoming Brenda, our new chaplain to Cheltenham General on Thursday and re-commissioning the chaplaincy team.  A chaplain cannot ‘evangelise’ – they are there to listen and to share.  And it is in response to people’s questioning and seeking that they are to be ready to give an account of the hope that is within them.

Maybe that is the thing we need to develop further – explaining to people the faith that is important to us.  Why it is we do the things we do – why it is the faith we have makes a difference in our lives.

The Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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