Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Let’s leave these three thousand people for a minute with heads above water, of course! Before this giant baptism, we have a story from Luke in Chapter 24:13-35. It is the story of the two persons who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus talking about the great events of the day – the day when Jesus disappeared from the tomb and appeared to certain persons. These two persons are called disciples but not of the twelve disciples. Jesus happened along – well, probably a planned event – and started conversing with these two persons. For whatever reason, these persons did not recognize Jesus even when he spoke. But as they reached Emmaus, the persons invited Jesus to partake a meal with them. Jesus took bread, broke and blessed it, and gave it to them. That did it! A transforming moment, for sure!
Forty plus days later, Peter speaks eloquently and invites. Luke records and we find this account in the book of Acts. The people are convinced that Jesus is the risen Messiah, son of God. Three thousand people accept the invitation to be baptized! Powerful stuff! I can’t imagine the three thousand people in the water at one time receiving this gift of baptism. If they were not all baptized at once, think of the time this project took.
This baptism scene reminds me of our megachurches today. There is something happening for which people are longing. Something draws people to the magnetism and the charisma of a promise. Remember the crowds which followed Jesus. Why would they walk miles and miles on dusty roads and into dusty fields? Why would they stand in hot weather or maybe otherwise unpleasant climate to be part of the crowd? There was probably a bit of shoving for space. What about the lack of water and food? What about the missing loud-speaker system? Well, you may notice that often Jesus stops at a place with good natural acoustics such as an amphitheater-style area or by the side of a mountain which would allow voices to bounce from it. Why would people endure such an event?
Well, their souls were probably thirsty with a longing to feel whole, to feel complete. I imagine that these persons who gathered after Pentecost were thirsty to be part of a new thing – a new movement; a longing to have the thirst quenched. Peter declared to this crowd that this Jesus, who had been crucified, had died, had been resurrected and then lifted in the presence of the people gathered in Jerusalem for a festival, was truly the Son of God. Peter further declared that these very people should repent – should change their ways, face God – and be baptized. Three-thousand persons believed Peter’s passionate oratory and repented and were baptized.
These persons did not leave for home at that point. No, they stayed together – learning from the apostles (earlier known as disciples) and they were like family to each other. They broke bread and prayed together. If we read further, we will find that these people became a community, living together even sharing their financial resources.
How does this kind of charisma happen? What draws people to a certain star or singer? What draws people to sports events, following specific teams with their whole hearts. Our whole hearts are invited to be drawn to God. We know that from scripture. But being expected to do something and actually doing it leaves a gap. “Doing” does not automatically follow “should.”
Our whole heart and mind and strength and soul; this shall we give to God. Do we examine everything we do and say and think in the light of God? Do we pass the test? Are we drawing closer to God or are we riding into the sunset in the opposite direction? Are we being distracted by making more money, keeping that money, making more friends, especially friends who can help us in some way? Are we chasing the perfect car, the perfect drink, the perfect Asian food, the perfect child? Each of us could name whatever goal is not in line with being drawn closer to God, who is actually breathing down our neck waiting for us to notice.
We move from being drawn to a person or a movement with intensity to floating and drifting around aimlessly. What goes around, comes around! Have you heard that saying? Close to that idea is that things go in cycles. Think of fashion! Think of baby names! Disappeared for awhile and, before we know what happened, the lost styles and the lost baby names return.
Think worship styles! My oh my, that is definitely an on-going dilemma. This is not a new problem. Language changed and continues to change – Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, German, English – Bibles available in almost all of the languages in the world. I am curious to know what language Adam and Eve used. Does anyone know? Music changed and continues to change. We have a range of worship styles from Quaker to Pentecostal, from Catholic to Brethren and Mennonite. From Jesus at the Last Supper, to two people sharing communion in God’s presence, to the Pope and the tinkling bell. Should we bow to culture or should we insist on the type of music and worship which we personally like? Both choices leave something to be desired.
Zooming backward to those tightly knit communities that formed when 3,000 people were baptized plus other followers in the early days after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in full force, we see that at first everything was fine and excitement was high. However, selfishness crept into the scene. A married couple sold land but kept some of the money for themselves instead of bringing the whole bundle to this communal group. They both died upon discovery!
Things may seem idyllic for a while, but human weaknesses creep in and spoil the perfectness in the newness. We need to keep our eyes open for the perfectness of our risen Christ. You know today we cannot live in isolation. So we have varying levels of community to help each other. Sinfulness always tries to creep into the picture of community. Remember that God through Jesus Christ is the target for our attentions. Eyes and hearts on God and the Son Jesus decrease human sinfulness. When eyes wander and hearts are focused on the busy, busy schedule and the ideal restaurant and the latest movie or play and a magazine-perfect home, or when gambling sends tendrils into our nature, separation starts to happen.
The disciples on the way to Emmaus were focused on their disorientation of the day. The people in community after Pentecost gradually became focused on material things. They lost their fervor for clinging to Jesus and were clinging to material security. Trust was lacking between themselves and trust on God was not sufficient to maintain the zealousness.
For everything there is a season; the season comes to an end and something new or at least different takes its place. Some things are lost forever; some things come around again.
Church trends do follow culture trends. God would have this be in reverse having culture trends follow church trends. But unfortunately, people’s hearts are drawn to sports and to a more relaxed life-style which means not being committed to being at a certain place at a certain time. Enviable! But is that what God was directing Peter to say when Peter said, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Then the invitation to baptism. How long does baptism last? How long does faith in the same ideal and the same philosophy, the same belief, last?
What do you think? Is it the same for all people? When once we turn our backs on our baptism are we welcome to return to the promise – both God’s promise to us and our promise to God? Yes, God is an unchangeable foundation as well as a sail in our lives. The foundation bounces with living joy and the sail waves in the breeze to welcome us as returning sheep and to show us that life in Christ can be exciting in a solid way. God reveals to us the marvels of his plan and love.
Think of your congregation and my congregation today. The number does not need to be 3,000 to be alive in Christ’s resurrection. We are resurrection people and 50 people can be just as alive as 3,000 people. Remember that history is going around more than it is going forward in a line. What goes around comes around. Think of the wheels on a bicycle. Find a mark on the tire or the wheel. Watch that mark come around and around again, over and over.
Sometimes the wheel is going very fast; sometimes slowly. This is funny. When wheels are going fast, it probably means they are going downhill. When wheels are turning slowly it could be that they are moving uphill. Downhill could be the congregation losing energy, just coasting along, losing their sight on Christ Jesus, the energizer of the church. Uphill could be the congregation’s increasing intensity as the members pull together with the sight of Jesus Christ fixed in view not only at the top but along the way.
Remember, numbers are not the determining factor. Three-thousand people being baptized at once is not greater than 3 people being baptized if the 3 people remain focused on the Risen and Alive Christ. Faithfulness in word and action and presence in worship is what matters! Amen