[Act 2:37-47 RSV] 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him." 40 And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

            I was not here last week and I worshiped at another church. My family and I got there a little early and I asked someone in the pews, “Where can I sit?” And God bless her she gave the right answer, “Where ever you want.” Now I say that is the right answer because that is what God would teach, but in this case “right” and “correct” are different. While it is right by our faith and understanding of the openness of God’s kingdom that they a person can sit wherever there is an open seat, by actual practice I wanted to avoid taking someone’s long established seat. So I asked again, “OK, but where can I really sit.” She said, “Oh somewhere up near the front is safe.” We sat up near the front and no one sat behind us giving us the evil eye because we had taken their spot. And it was a great service, but a little different. I mean they did things that we wouldn’t do here and some things we would do they just skipped. They made other choices about the liturgy than we do and at times I found myself consulting the bulletin way more than I do here! I am a pastor so very comfortable with “how church works” yet I had that vague out of the rhythm feeling because it wasn’t what I was used to. It was a good service but not our service, if you know what I mean.

            This experience got me thinking about how we invite guests at Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cokato and how we make them feel comfortable with how we do things here. There are a lot of norms that we know because we attend here that someone who walked through out doors for the first time would not know. For instance how we go to the front of the church for communion or how we respond to a question during the sermon. We have traditions and after a month you probably know what to do but those first times coming will give you some uneasiness. That got me thinking even further about how we get others on board with how we do thing here.

            Which of course ties into today’s text. You see, today we hear the end of the second chapter of the Book of Acts, which means we hear the end of the Pentecost story (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+2&version=RSV) The first part of the story you know well. The disciples start preaching and there is this great miracle where each and every person in their audience hears the sermon of Peter in their own language. It is like each person has Google Translate in their ears at the same time and they all get instant perfect translation, but without the Wi-Fi or technology—it is an instant blessing of God. All of the people there were amazed. Then they received this amazing Spirit-driven sermon by Peter.

            The people saw the work of the Holy Spirit, they heard this great sermon from Peter and that was it—they changed their lives completely. Before that they acted like God wasn’t real or wasn’t active in their lives (or lifetimes) yet after that they knew they were wrong—they knew that the Holy Spirit was active right now in them! It is great and so many of them are cut to the heart and they say, “How must we be saved?” Peter tells them how: Believe and be baptized. How great can a story get!  This is when the church goes from a bunch of loosely connected travelers who all love Jesus to a church that spans multiple nations!

            So 3000 people converted in one day and they went home to all corners of the world. And listen to how Acts describes them, 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Wow! I wish someone would describe me like that! That is amazing and powerful! 

            The people saw the work of the Holy Spirit, they heard this great sermon from Peter and that was it—they changed their lives completely. Before that they acted like God wasn’t real or wasn’t active in their lives (or lifetimes) yet after that they knew they were wrong—they knew that the Holy Spirit was active right then in them! It is great and so many of them are cut to the heart and they said, “How must we be saved?” Peter told them how: Believe and be baptized. How great can a story get!  This is when the church goes from a bunch of loosely connected travelers who all love Jesus to a church that spans multiple nations!

            So 3000 people converted in one day and they went home to all corners of the world. And listen to how Acts describes them, 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Wow! I wish someone would describe me like that! That is amazing and powerful! 

            In part that is the power of a shared experience, all they had to do was look at one another and they could tell that they had been there too on that day of Pentecost. They could just see the change in each other’s eyes. They went home excited and filled with wonder…yet they found that as they shared about the good news of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that their words could not convey what they had experienced. It was one of those “you had to be there” events. I mean, I just told you about Pentecost but none of you felt like you were there. The question became how to share that Pentecost experience with others? If you had been there and you would know how things worked…but the question was how to get those who had not been there to understand what went on. What about the kids? How could you teach them what was going on?

            This is really when the institutional church became a thing. Rules or regulations weren’t really needed so long as the only people who believed in Jesus were those who knew him or had directly been converted by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Those who had been there could all just look at one another and say, “God is great” and everyone just knew that to be true from their own personal experience. Yet those miracles, like most miracles, are for the people who experience them AND also for the world. The faith of all people is supposed to be strengthened by the working of God’s miracles. Faith is supposed to be shared; but how to share it? There are many different ways we could share the good news. In the past there were house churches and communes. There were monasteries and desert retreats. There were pilgrimages and traveling preachers. Each of these look different than what we have now, but each worked for their time and place, the message of Christ has continued to be told in various ways throughout the world.

In this day and age we have something we call church. It is a congregation of people that meets in a given place with its own pastor. It has a council who gets together monthly and votes on what and how the church should move forward. The church has needs for its building and needs for its people. The people of the church get together to care for the building and care for the ministries that take place in it. We also have a certain way of doing things each Sunday—the pastor speaks for about 10-13 minutes. We have 3-5 songs, announcements, communion, and other things that we all are comfortable with. Twice a year we bring in new members whom we then introduce to how we celebrate and share the good news of Jesus. We pray for each other, we eat with each other. We share each other’s burdens. We try to make life and faith easier because we exist here.

            In the end though, our only real duty is to connect people to God; that is our duty. We are God’s answer to this generation on how to share the love of Christ. When people ask about Pentecost and God’s work in the world we leave our doors open, go out into the world and say, this is who God is. We show it in how we treat each other and how we treat others who we meet. Like any institution at times we start thinking about how to keep the institution going instead of how to further our mission. At times the danger is to just think about “church” as a good in its own right instead of focusing on the mission we share. In the end the phrase that has struck me is, “The church does not have a mission from God, God’s mission has a church.”

            Will this church or even the current conception of church last until the Lord returns? I don’t know. But I do know that God’s mission marches on and we who know him, who praise him, lift the banner in whatever form it comes spreading this life-giving news until he returns. Amen.