Sermon for Sunday, June 8th, 2014 || The Day of Pentecost, Year A || Numbers 11: 24-30; Psalm 104: 24-35,37; 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13 || Ms. Elizabeth Whitehouse
Note: Our guest preacher, Elizabeth Whitehouse, is a rising sophomore at Liberty University studying psychology. This was the Whitehouse family’s last Sunday at St. Stephen’s before relocating to Chesapeake, Virginia– where some totally unsuspecting church is about to be abundantly blessed by their faithfulness and generosity of spirit!
Today is a very special Sunday. Today is Pentecost. Today is a day that is so special that we are celebrating something that happened in one of today’s lessons instead of solely focusing on the Gospel reading taken from John today. The focus of Pentecost comes from the events described in today’s reading from the book of Acts. There are two important things to note about the book of Acts:
1. The passage we read from Acts today is “part two” of another story that is equally important to Pentecost.
2. The book of Acts isn’t actually a book at all; it’s a letter to a man named “Theophilus.”
Keep these two thoughts in mind as we continue, because we’ll come back to them. But before we talk about this Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, we’re going to talk about last Sunday: Ascension Sunday.
Last week, our Gospel reading was taken from Luke’s account of the Ascension: the very last passage in the book of Luke. In this account, Jesus says, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” This is what Jesus says at the end of the book of Luke.
If we look at the end of the book of Matthew, he leaves his disciples with some more in-depth instructions. In the book of Matthew, Jesus says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Isn’t that comforting? Isn’t it nice that despite such a daunting set of instructions, there is comfort found in the simple assurance that Christ will be with us through it all? And forever? These “more in-depth instructions” taken from the book of Matthew is known as “the Great Commission” and is part one of the incredible story we remember today; part two being Pentecost.
So now back to our two thoughts:
1. The passage we read from Acts today is the second part of another story that is equally important to Pentecost, and
2. The book of Acts is a letter written to a man named “Theophilus.”
We just addressed our first thought, that Pentecost is part two of a story which includes the Great Commission as part one, so lets talk about that. The Great Commission is Christ’s instruction not just for His disciples, but for us, to spread His teachings to the ends of the earth and to baptize others in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is the dreaded “E-word”: Evangelism. This is sharing our faith with those around us and telling people about Jesus that have never heard His name before.
Part Two, Pentecost, is when the disciples, and in turn, each of us, were given exactly what we need to go out and complete the Great Commission: the Holy Spirit. In today’s reading from the book of Acts, we read “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” We find this again in today’s Gospel when Jesus breaths the Holy Spirit into His disciples and sends them out as His Father sent Him.
Now that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, there was nothing to stop them from sharing the good news. They could speak to anyone and anyone that listened could understand in their own language. Of course, we can’t speak every language at the drop of a hat, though that would be pretty cool, but through our Baptism and our faith in Jesus Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit is with us and can move within us, we have the ability to complete the Great Commission by sharing our faith with the people around us.
I’m not saying you have to walk up to a stranger and say, “Hey, you! Have you been saved?” I can tell you from my own personal experience as an Episcopalian at a Baptist school that being asked that question does not make someone want to listen to you talk about Jesus. And I’m not saying that you have to walk up to a stranger at all, but how difficult is it really for us to casually mention that we had a nice time at St. Stephen’s last Sunday? Or to mention that God has blessed us with a beautiful day or a wonderful family? Maybe the way we treat other people or the way we carry ourselves can show others that Christ is a part of our life and that we are lights for Christ through the movement of His Holy Spirit in our lives.
Completing the Great Commission doesn’t have to make us feel uncomfortable, and it doesn’t even have to be seen as impossible. In fact, for the first time in the history of the world, the Great Commission is completely possible through the technology we have today. The Bible has been translated to thousands of languages and is not far from being available in every language. The Bible is even a top free app in the Apple Store. With resources like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Tumblr (and all those other things I don’t understand) and the access missionaries and even average people like us have to travel around the country and around the world, it is completely possible that by the day I die, everyone on the planet will have heard the name “Jesus.” It really is quite simple now compared to how it all began, which takes us back to our second thought.
The book of Acts wasn’t a book, but a letter written to a man named “Theophilus.” But this isn’t the only book of the Bible that was addressed to this man named “Theophilus.” So was the book of Luke, where we got last week’s Gospel reading. One of our Gospels was a letter written to one person. Luke wrote the entire story of Jesus Christ in a letter to a man just like you and me, and then he wrote the story of His disciples and the important work they continued and began after the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
So, if Luke could share his faith in the writing of two of the books of the Bible addressed to one man named “Theophilus,” why shouldn’t you and I be able to share our faith today with all of the technology we have and all of the people we interact with on a daily basis? What’s stopping us from talking about our church or our blessings or simply acting in a way that shows others that we are followers of Jesus Christ?
So now that we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and we have the ability to complete this incredible task called, “The Great Commission,” I encourage you to consciously invite the Holy Spirit move in your everyday life. Smile at the people that need a smile. Remind the people that have forgotten that Jesus loves them. Find your Theophilus. Find the person that needs to hear this incredible story and share with them the good news that is Jesus Christ. Together, we can spread His love to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all the nations. Amen.