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Journey: The Places We Will Go, June 4, 2023

Acts 2:1-4, Oh, the colors, the beauty, the unabashed and exuberant expression of all that we are together! Today we celebrate the birth of GOD’S Holy Spirit filled Church!! This celebration is like none other — brought to its fullest embodiment as we emerge and dare new heights! Butterflies are free and so are we!! WE ARE FREE TO FLY WITH JESUS CHRIST AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR!!

There is a big difference of how the world sees celebrations and how Christians see celebrations.

Please read what Henri Nouwen wrote about celebrations, “When we speak about celebration we tend rather easily to bring to mind happy, pleasant, gay festivities in which we can forget for a while the hardships of life and immerse ourselves in an atmosphere of music, dance, drinks, laughter, and a lot of cozy small talk.

“But celebration in the Christian sense has very little to do with this. Celebration is only possible through the deep realization that life and death are never found completely separate. Celebration can only really come about where fear and love, joy and sorrow, tears and smiles can exist together. Celebration is the acceptance of life in a constantly increasing awareness of its preciousness.” END QUOTE.

Please remember the Pentecost celebration of GOD’S Holy Spirit happened just 50 days after Jesus died on the cross; he rose 3 days later; walk the earth as the Risen Christ for 40 days; ascended to Heaven and then 10 days later—PENTECOST!!

The outpouring of GOD’S Holy Spirit over all of creation!!

The BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH!!

In the emerging of the church in the book of Acts, a series of events in the life of Peter leads him to the understanding that God shows no partiality and ALL ARE WELCOMED in this journey of new life in Christ. ALL ARE WELCOMED TO JOIN!! Each and every person on GOD’S good earth is invited to Love GOD and Love their neighbors through the power of GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT!!

Jesus renamed Simon to Peter meaning “rock.”

Upon this rock, the Spirit builds a church that offers hope to the hopeless, strength for the weary, and new life to those who think theirs is over. Upon these things, this church will continue this mission to a world that so desperately needs a people who know the power of transformation!

Peter is completely different here in the gospel of Acts compared to when we last encountered him in this series in Matthew 16:1-18 Jesus is teaching, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Then we remember that as Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.

BUT GOD’S Holy Spirit transforms Peter step-by-step until he flies with Christ!!

Just after today’s scripture in Acts chapter 2 Peter preaches a powerful sermon and 3 thousand join with him and the disciples and get baptized!!

The Holy Spirit continues to grow Peter's understanding of GOD, shown in this simple statement Acts chapter 10 that is groundbreaking for Christianity. Please hear Peter’s words in Acts 10:34-36, “So Peter opened his mouth and said:

“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)…”

Peter is speaking to Cornelius, a Roman centurion who was "respected by all the Jewish people." He isn't Jewish; in fact, he was a part of the oppressive Roman regime against which the story of Jesus' life and ministry is told in the Gospels.

A Roman centurion was a noncommissioned officer who commanded one hundred Roman soldiers. Cornelius, as a centurion, would have been an upright and respected member of the community in Caesarea.

This Roman Soldier, Cornelius, is described as a God-fearing Gentile. And as a gentile up to this point, he is not considered to be one of the "chosen people" of Israel.

In Mark’s Gospel chapter 7 verse 25, please listen to the interaction between a woman asking for healing for her daughter, “But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at (Jesus’) feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And (Jesus) said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”

I believe that Jesus was teaching us how to deal with a worldview that preserved a significant boundary between Israelites and Gentiles in terms of who was "chosen" or considered the "children" of God. Jesus healed the gentile girl!! Jesus love knows no boundary lines…

This is why Peter’s and Paul's transformations are so remarkable and a wonderful way to fully illustrate the full emergence of Christianity in scripture. This is the pivotal point in the New Testament that sets in motion Christianity's full differentiation from Judaism and sets up the truly cosmological and worldwide scope of God's grace that Christianity professes.

The ethic that Paul professes when he writes later on that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” originates here. The tension among the early Christian churches about how to handle the Gentile and Jewish divide comes from this proclamation. This is the root of the questions that led to the Council of Jerusalem five chapters later in the book of Acts.

Peter’s abundant vision that breaks down the wall of Gentile vs. Jew (that he proclaims first to the Gentile centurion, Cornelius of all people) transformed the church. It was the first reformation. And since then, the church has been reforming itself throughout its history through the POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT!!

The church has been in metamorphosis many times, and when we look around today, we can recognize that we are in a state of emergence and reformation now. The COVID-19 pandemic has shocked our practice of worship into adaptation. Walls between straight vs. gay are being broken down in the church. The church is confronting its sins of sexism and white supremacy.

The Pentecost moment this service centers around was a powerful moment of transformation.

The Holy Spirit broke down barriers of language.

This is how Rev. Billy Graham saw Pentecost; he writes, “Within fifty days of Jesus’ death and the apparent collapse of his cause, the city of Jerusalem rang with the cries of those who boldly declared that GOD had raised Jesus from the dead, and that they were eyewitnesses to that truth. Hundreds had seen the resurrected Jesus!”

“As the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost craven cowards were changed into courageous confessors. Humble fisherman became heralds of the King. All who saw and heard them were compelled to acknowledge that something had utterly transformed their lives. When questioned by their critics, the apostles did not hesitate to reply: they accounted for their boldness by pointing to the risen Christ.” END QUOTE

“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire…All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:3-4)

My friends, there are “Peters” among us who are proclaiming radical new visions. Young people in our churches are casting the future as we preach! The world is expecting more of us in making real impacts in our communities.

God cries out to us today, “I am doing a new thing, can you not perceive it?!” We are emerging at this very moment — where will our newly unfurled wings take us?

Let us pray together, O Great and Wonderful Creator GOD; Redeemer, Lord and Savior, our friend Jesus; Comforter, Convicting, Sustaining Power of GOD-Holy Spirit, Please help us hear and see the new things you are doing in our broken world through your church. Help us to trust you, Holy Spirit to guide us in the new ways, to new places, and to new people. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

We prepared for Holy Communion with a special liturgy for Pentecost.

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