This is the first in a series of sermons on the Great Ends of the Church from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Constitution at First Presbyterian Church. The sermon scripture is Acts 2:1-21. You can follow all the preparation for these at Pastor Greg's personal blog (nebraskabolt.wordpress.com)
Over the course of the next six weeks I hope you will indulge me a little.
We will be talking about what is known as the “Great Ends of the Church”. This in other words is the mission of the community of Christians as laid out by our Book of Order, which is the second part of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, USA. I could go into excruciating detail about that, but I won’t because I like y’all and I want you to continue to like me. If you want to nerd out over PCUSA history and theology, my door is always open.
I’m not sure how much you know about the history of the organization of the Presbyterian Church and I don’t intend this to be a history lesson or a lecture, I do hope you learn a little about the history of our denomination and what that has to do with us today here in Nebraska City.
I also hope that it enlivens us and directs us over the summer as we start to form and live into our vision in the fall.
First let’s look at what the Great Ends of the Church are, there are six of them and they are:
· The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
· The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of god
· The maintenance of divine worship
· The preservation of the truth
· The promotion of social righteousness
· The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world
Today we are going to focus on the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind. It seemed appropriate today being the day of Pentecost; the day in the church year we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and to the world. This is the the church's birthday.
I have to tell you something; this passage from Acts is one of my favorite passages in the Bible mostly because it reminds me that I have a voice and not only that but also that all people have a voice and story that can contribute to the salvation of humankind.
You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again. Your voice is important as we move forward on our vision and your voice is important as we continue to respond to the call that God has placed on our lives, individually and communally. One way that this hits home is through the use of language.
In this scripture we hear of people from all over the known world hearing the gospel in their own language; as if you were traveling to the Olympics in a foreign country and all of a sudden you heard instructions and information in your own language. It would be comforting, it would be inviting, and I think it’s a big part of the reason that in verse 41 of this chapter it says that 3,000 were added to their number.
I think the main reason is because people heard the good news in their own language. All of us in this room speak the same language…sort of.
I realize I’m the new guy and I’ve been asking a lot of questions trying to figure out what people mean when they say certain words. I’ve noticed that people talk about things in different ways here. For example the rain, in my whole life everyone I know has talked about rain in terms of inches. “Oh we got a couple of inches last night”, but here people talk about rain in hundredths. I’m not sure hundredths of what, but I’ve heard, “Oh I got 4 hundredths at my place, too much to plant but we needed it.”
I know that’s English, but that’s sounds like Greek to me.
We all have our own language, whether we realize it or not. Presbyterians have their own language, I mean when I say Book of Order, most of the people outside this room would have no idea what I’m talking about, maybe most people INSIDE this room have no idea what I’m talking about.
We all have language that is really “insider” language. Language that you and I, or you and your coworkers, or you and your family might understand but those outside our church, outside your job, or outside your family don’t understand. Maybe those words mean different things to them.
The thing that is amazing to me about this passage is that there is no “insider” language. Everyone hears the good news in their own language; they all feel like insiders, they all are in the know.
Part of our mission as a church is to break down the barriers that insider language create so that we can live into the call to proclaim the gospel for the salvation of humankind. I think if the last few years of senseless violence and institutional scandal are a sign, we need some saving. Saving that can occur if we continue to spread the Gospel of the unconditional love and compassion of Jesus Christ. The gospel that includes rather than excludes the gospel that helps people know that they are loved, just as they are, no strings attached. The gospel that calls us to reach outside of ourselves realizing that we are all part of God’s family.
The message that Peter, the rock upon which Jesus builds his church, reiterates as he quotes from the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men [and women] will see visions, and your old men [and women] will dream dreams.”
I hope you notice, that Peter, repeating Joel says, “I will pour out my spirit upon ALL FLESH” not those who are deserving, or those who say the right thing, or live the right way.
He says, your sons and daughters will prophesy, that means the young people, children, youth, it doesn’t say, after they’ve been instructed, or once they reached a certain age.
He says, your young men [and women] will see visions, not once they’ve paid their dues or once they’ve shown enough commitment.
He says, your old men [and women] will dream dreams, not sit quietly because their time is done or be shushed because they seem a bit loopy. Remember Peter had to remind the crowd that the disciple weren’t drunk.
Sometimes when we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit reveals itself in places we least expected. Whether it be from a congregational meeting that sparked the Best Flood Friend, or story told by a daughter to a mother that resulted in care bags for the emergency room, or youth seeking to find fellowship and deep conversations about big questions that they have been nervous to ask in the past, or families envisioning a church that is relevant to the needs of the community and the flexible with their hectic lives.
You all speak many languages, you speak the language of farmers, the language of factory workers, the language of teachers, the language of students, the language of the old, the language of the young, and you are being called to speak in the language you know, you are being called to proclaim, you are being called to participate in the Kingdom of God right here, right now.
When the tongues of fire rest upon you what will you say, will the community let you speak, will you be heard? I pray that no matter who you are, where you’ve been, how long you’ve been here that we will have the ability to hear the gospel in your words and not just make excuses.
When the spirit comes, it can be uncomfortable, the first step is always the hardest but soon you’ll look back and ask how did I not see this before, your eyes will be opened and you will be saved and freed to proclaim the gospel of transformation to those around you.
May it be so.