SERMON for June 2, 2013 ACTS 4:1-20We are a people that like to make assumptions about many things.
For example, we are a people that like to make assumptions about people: what it means if you are a republican or a democrat. About what it means if you are from this country or from some other place. Assumptions about a person based upon the number of children they have, what job they have, their economic status, their sexual preference, the color of their skin. A whole set of assumptions fill in the blanks of what we know about one another. Assumptions replace true knowledge with the arrogance of our own prejudice and the folly of our inadequate wisdom.
People also like to make assumptions about God. They do this not only every time that there is a natural or man-made disaster, but rather assumptions about God have been around ever since people first began to call upon the name of the Lord. Assumptions about what God loves and who God hates. Assumptions about the limits of God’s grace and the rules under which God chooses to act. Many, many assumptions, right?
The Holy Spirit has no patience for our inadequate assumptions about God.
Listen: The Holy Spirit at work before time, at work in creation moving over the waters, the very breath of life, pours out at Pentecost in a new and powerful way, in an unexpected way in the surprise of languages of the world so that the message of salvation in Jesus Christ could be shared with all people. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples filling them with all boldness and one of the first things that happens is that the assumptions about God that have defined for people who God is and what God does are found to be grossly inadequate and unnecessary. And as the disciples embrace the full measure of what God has accomplished in and through Christ Jesus being revealed through the Holy Spirit these assumptions fall away replaced in faith with faith. Assumption replaced by trust. By promise. By sacred assurance. Such is the gift that the Holy Spirit brings. Knowledge that the Psalmist says is too wonderful for us, but the Holy Spirit gifts it to us so that we may know God more deeply. More completely.
And so it is through the Holy Spirit replacing inadequate assumptions about God with knowledge of God too wonderful for words that as the time after Pentecost unfolds the disciples declare in our final verse today: “…we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard."
For we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.
These are words of defiance spoken to the religious authorities who have imprisoned disciples, Peter and John, only to free them with the admonishment to speak no more to anyone in the name of Jesus. These same religious authorities stand amazed that these “ordinary and uneducated” followers of Jesus could speak with such boldness. Didn’t they know their place, these simple men. More assumptions, right? Thoughts must have swirled around in the minds of the religious experts: Look at them, those fishermen and sinners and tax collectors who hung around with Jesus and now just can’t let it go and go back to their lives, to their jobs, to their place in the world. What do they know about God and God’s ways? And yet these religious authorities have seen the power of the Holy Spirit at work drawing others to this disciples. Thousands and thousands of people. And they see a challenge to their power and to their authority. And so they act.
Jesus has a lot to say about the assumptions that people are all too eager to make about what is important to God. In and through Christ Jesus, the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, not to tweak it at its edges but challenge its basic calculus. Even Jesus’ most trusted disciples fall prey to using this calculus time and time again as they confuse what the world sees with what God sees, with what the world considers most important, with what God declares so. The Biblical narrative of the New Testament leaves us wondering why the disciples just don’t understand this as they pull children away from Jesus thinking them not worth his time; as they argue over which one of them is the greatest or who deserves the seat of honor in the Kingdom of heaven or who has a right to speak and act in Jesus’ name.But then the Holy Spirit has come upon the disciples and they see differently now.
And they act differently (and for that matter, they act boldly).Not perfectly, to be sure, as we shall shortly see in the coming weeks, but the heart of their witness through the power of the Holy Spirit now engages more fully the truth about Jesus. Everyone who hears the message they share about what they have seen and what they have heard, words filled with grace, words of salvation, respond with a single question on their lips: What then shall we do?
Some answer that question with repentance, turning from their ways to God ways, while others cannot let go of the calculus of the world that has favored them and they instead choose to suppress, arrest, threaten the bearers of those words of grace. Some continue to choose to make power their god; position, prestige, wealth and all that they bring.
Our God is too wonderful for us. Knows our ways and searches our heart.Are we willing to let go and repent of our assumption-making: our desire to define God, to limit God, to shape God in our own image, characterize God by painting God in the colors of our own sins? Is that a struggle that we are willing in which we are willing to engage with the Holy spirit fighting with us and for us?
And if we are “what then shall we do?”
The life we choose to live will be our answer.