Acts 2:22-36 – From Flake to Fearless

Statue of St. Peter in Rome

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’

“Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (New International Version)

Throughout my ministerial life, there have been individuals who have come to me a bit discouraged because they have not experienced a changed life. After trying, time and again, to be different, they say to me, “Nobody ever really changes. We’re basically the same people throughout our whole lives.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

In the New Testament Gospels, the Apostle Peter was a flake. He sometimes was discerning and got it, and sometimes didn’t. 

Peter could understand Jesus was Messiah, but then turn around and refuse that Christ had to die on a cross. He would get bold and walk on water, but then also end up afraid, needing help from drowning. Peter stood tall for Jesus, ready to take on the world, and then turn around and deny the Lord three successive times.

However, when we come to biblical book of Acts, Peter is a completely changed man. Peter gets it. He is brave and fearless. He boldly confesses Christ. And all the while he does not falter, flinch, or back down. 

So, what in heaven’s name, happened and made the difference for Peter between the Gospels and Acts? 

The Holy Spirit, that’s what, or rather, who.

God’s Spirit comes upon Peter, and he is never the same again. He is a changed man. Peter goes from flake, to fearless.

Everything falls into place for Peter, who preaches with such boldness and effectiveness that thousands turn from their previous ways of thinking and living and turn to Jesus as the hope of the world. They changed, too.

Peter was all-in with a simple and straightforward message of good news, that God raised Jesus from death. He went on to insist, without wavering and with firm conviction, that this was so, because it was not possible for the Son of God to be held by anything, even death. The proof being the resurrection.

If it was impossible for death to keep a grip on Jesus, then there is absolutely nothing that can deter Jesus or hold him back from accomplishing what he wants to accomplish. 

Flaky believers are not going to frustrate Jesus or upset his plans; he’ll just send the Holy Spirit. 

We may too often imprison ourselves in self-made spiritual jail cells. Like the pre-Pentecostal Peter, we flake and flip-flop in the Christian life. Once-in-a-while we are spot-on, but cannot really explain why, like a golfer who hits an amazing shot but can’t reproduce it no matter how hard he tries. 

The truth is that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell. By faith, we have forgiveness of sins in him, and have the way opened to a new life in the Spirit. It isn’t a secret; it’s a new reality.

At the front end of the Christian season of Ordinary Time, we are reminded that God’s Holy Spirit is with us. We remember what good old Peter said so long ago, which is still relevant for us today:

We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. (2 Peter 1:3-4, CEV)

The message Peter proclaimed was powerful, not only because it was inherently potent, but also that the gospel dwelled mightily in Peter and inhabited a central place within him.

We, too, have that same opportunity and privilege.

Loving Lord Jesus, I confess my faults, shortcomings, sins, and rebellious acts, and ask you to forgive me. I embrace you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for your atoning death on the cross in obedience to your Father’s will to put away my sins. Be in charge of every part of my life. Indwell and empower me with your Holy Spirit, so that I may live as your faithful follower, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 2:1-21 – The Day of Pentecost

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
    Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Common English Bible)

The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since the Spirit is given, the main responsibility of Christians is to receive. 

Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving. The Christian life is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in our own strength. The function of faith is to receive what grace offers. 

We are saved and sanctified by grace alone through faith. God lives in and through us by means of the Spirit. The miraculous and the supernatural cannot, obviously, be done by any human person.  It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to be a certain way and to do certain things. The result? Tiredness. Discouragement. Imbalance. Lots of giving. Little receiving.

Christianity is not chiefly about giving but receiving. The Christian life is about putting oneself in a position to receive through prayer and humility. In Christianity, the opposite of receiving is not giving – it’s pride. 

Maybe this kind of talk makes you uncomfortable. I’m not talking about being passive or lazy. I’m highlighting the need of receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit. Then, the Spirit to work in and through us. 

Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit! (John 14:12-14)

The question then becomes: Will we let God be God? Will we allow the Spirit to do work in us?

The Spirit is elsewhere described in Holy Scripture as a gentle presence, an encourager, counselor, and comforter. Yet, not here at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like a violent wind and an unusual fire.

The Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not some gentleman caller entering politely when invited. Instead, the Spirit appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes a big ruckus. There’s nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit is electric, bombastic, and volcanic, causing a huge scene and upheaving the status quo.

Because of Pentecost, Christians are marked and defined by God’s Spirit living within them and being full of the Spirit. God wants to pour out the Spirit on all kinds of people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy.” 

The prophet Joel and the Apostle Peter do not intend the word “prophecy” to mean predicting the future. Rather, they are referring to inspired speech coming from a heart overflowing with the Spirit. 

Just as an inebriated person says and does things they would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage come as a result of God within them.

Thus, we must cast off the unholy spirits of inebriation and receive the Holy Spirit of God.

Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost mosaic by Anna Wyner

God sobered-up the little band of Christ followers from learners to practitioners, sending them into the world with a mission.

Being on a mission from God is not really about ability; it’s about being filled and sent. 

First time parents may read and learn all they can about parenting before their child is born. Yet, when that little bundle comes into the world, and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out, you feel inadequate for the task. Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you pray and learn on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything. 

God sends us into the world to make disciples. And we may feel very inadequate for the task. However, this has more to do with receiving the Spirit. The Spirit comes looking to turn our lives upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ. 

Pentecost means that the Spirit came to shake things up and accomplish among God’s people what they could never do on their own.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

The Church in the New Testament was not a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership.  The community of the redeemed, the Church, is actually more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit. 

Maybe we don’t need to be saved in the sense that we have already called on the name of the Lord concerning forgiveness in Christ. Yet, maybe we need to call on the name of the Lord to be delivered from our misguided attempts to see the Christian life as a pleasant affair.

Perhaps we need deliverance from disordered priorities and misguided loves. We may need to be saved from ourselves so that we are open to the Holy Spirit with palms up receiving from God whatever it is the Spirit wants to do in and through us, rather than telling God how we think things ought to go. 

Prayer, then, is more about receiving the Spirit and God’s purposes for us rather than giving God an earful and expecting the Lord to bless our plans.

Pentecost is the launching pad of the church’s mission – it was explosive because the Spirit is a kind of wild man who fills people up to overflowing so that what comes out of them is inspired speech and missional actions.

If a language barrier cannot stop the Spirit from operating, then how much more can God transform us and use us in the lives of those around us?

Joel’s prophecy, quoted by Peter, is only partially fulfilled. Events have been set in motion by Pentecost for the complete fulfillment of God’s justice. So, there’s some urgency for people to fill their vacuous souls with the grace freely offered to them in Christ.

The outpouring of the Spirit is a sign: The end is near. And the generous giving of the Spirit is inclusive – there is room for all kinds of people. Through the Spirit, God saves all who call on the name of the Lord.

Today is not just another day on the calendar. It is the Day of Pentecost! 

Just as marriages occasionally need a spark and a fire and a fresh wind, so we need the Holy Spirit to breathe on us, comfort us, and inspire us.

May we be filled with the Spirit as we anticipate what our God will do now, and in the years to come.

Spirit of the living God, through the reading and proclamation of the Word, may you refresh our spirits, reshape our desires, recreate our hearts, and reform our ways so that we will shine with your enduring glory, through Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord. Amen. 

Acts 9:32-35 – Healed

St. Peter heals Aeneas, 12th century mosaic in Palermo, Italy

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon, saw him and turned to the Lord. (New International Version)

The early church was growing. Both in numbers and in faith, the new believers following the words and ways of Jesus could be found everywhere in Judea. The Apostle Peter, therefore, decided to get out of Jerusalem and visit some of these folks in the town of Lydda, on the Mediterranean coast.

Back when Peter was following Jesus around in his earthly ministry, the Lord told the disciples that they will do the works he did, and, what’s more, they will do even greater things than Jesus himself. (John 14:12-14)

Peter emulated the example of his Lord. He simply stated that Christ is the one who heals you, Aeneas, so get up, take your mat, and go on home. (Mark 2:10-12; John 5:1-8)

The act of healing the paralyzed man, Aeneas, was a sign that the merciful saving ministry of Jesus was in effect, even when Jesus isn’t bodily present. Christ made it clear that the Holy Spirit would be the continuing presence of God on this earth. (John 16:1-15)

We, too, have this same Spirit.

The work of ministry is always done to the glory of God. People hear the good news, see the miracle, and believe in Jesus.

There are some who examine today’s New Testament lesson and expect that they (and all other believers) ought to be able to do exactly what Peter did: heal another miraculously.

Then, there are others who look at the same account and relegate it to some bygone era in which only the original apostles, like Peter, could do that sort of thing – if it even happened like that, at all.

To expect a dramatic physical healing, every time, all the time, is not consistent with healing narratives in Holy Scripture. And to never expect a miraculous healing is equally inconsistent with the biblical data.

It seems to me we need to reject both extremes. That’s because healing comes in all sorts of different forms.

An event which causes the need for healing and health, or a condition which prevents good health, isn’t limited to the body. A person’s mind, emotions, and spirit can also be damaged and need healing, as well. In fact, whenever there is trauma to the physical body, it profoundly effects the person’s thinking, feeling, and praying.

We need to beware of desiring the fast solution of dramatic and miraculous healing because of not wanting to deal with our emotions.

Perhaps you, like me, have had the experience of going to work or church when experiencing a difficult time in life. There is an emotional heaviness because of a strained, broken, or lost relationship. Or maybe there is emotional pain from an unexpected or unwanted situation.

Yet, when someone asks how you are doing, the response “Oh, fine!” tumbles automatically out of your mouth. But you are anything but fine. Inside, down in your heart, or painfully present in your head, the hurt dominates your thoughts and feelings.

Healing is for people. Fixing is for things and machines. It would be weird if I said I was going to heal a tractor. It is equally strange to try and fix people. To heal is to straighten what is broken. We cannot fix our emotions because, when hurt or damaged, they need healing – a process of restoration – and it usually doesn’t happen overnight.

Our emotional healing is like walking a slow journey. Along that path, our emotions are crying out for us to pay attention to three things:

  1. Grief. Grieving is the normal emotional reaction to any significant change or loss. To grieve our painful situations, whatever they may be, is necessary to healing our emotions. Putting a lid on our grief and sucking it up in a delusional show of strength at best prolongs our healing, and, at worst, brings further damage.
  2. Grace. Grace is an act of bestowing honor or forgiveness to a person. It is not dependent upon whether one deserves it, or not. Grace is the opposite of being judgmental. It chooses not to hold something over or against another, even oneself.
  3. Gratitude. Gratitude is a deliberate act of thankfulness for a specific act. It is both an attitude and an emotion. Gratitude comes from a heart of appreciation. Habits of gratitude creates new ways of being with others. And creating new experiences is one of the best ways of helping to heal the bad experience we just went through.

Embracing those three elements of grief, grace, and gratitude sets us on a healing path. Also, there are practices which we can utilize with each of those three which promote their healing work in our lives. For me, some of those practices include humor and laughter; meditation and other spiritual practices; walking the dog; watching cartoons; and journaling.

Healing is an art. It takes time, lots of practice, and plenty of love. Healing comes from God, which is a good thing, because the Lord knows exactly the kind of healing we need.

God of all comfort and healing, our help in time of need: We humbly ask you to relieve the suffering of your sick servants everywhere. Look upon them with the eyes of your mercy; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; preserve them from the temptations of the enemy; and give them patience in their afflictions. In your good time, restore them to health, and enable them to glorify your most holy name and dwell with you forever in the land of the living, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 5:1-11 – Surprised by Generosity

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Patrick J. Murphy

One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”

Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So, they dropped the nets, and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.

Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. (Common English Bible)

One of the most fundamental characteristics of God is generosity. God’s benevolent nature defines the divine stance toward humanity. This may not seem overly remarkable. Yet, when the infinite holiness of God intersects with the prideful arrogance of sinful people, gracious generosity is the unpredictable and amazing result.

Many people on planet earth have been raised with a god who is aloof and something of an old cranky curmudgeon. Such a god gets easily angry and zaps people with lightning or some natural disaster. It is no wonder so many persons have fled from belief in God.

Can we, however, entertain the notion that the Creator God of the universe is quite the opposite of the perpetually upset deity?

In Jesus, we have displayed for us what the basic disposition of the Divine truly is.

On one occasion, Peter (a guy who could raise the ire of most gods) was going about his business, fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Having not yet encountered Jesus, yet stopping to listen to his words, Peter ended up having this uninvited stranger literally get in the boat with him.

There was something remarkably different and compelling about Jesus since Peter did not immediately toss him out. Such a calm, confident, and gracious nature – nothing like Peter had expected. So, here is this ordinary fisherman face-to-face with the Christ of God. 

Jesus told Peter to put the boat out and cast the nets. Peter, an experienced fisherman and knowledgeable about the water, knew for certain that he would not catch anything. But, out of deference to Jesus, he did so, anyway. The result was such a large catch of fish that the nets nearly broke from the weight.

The Great Catch by John August Swanson (1938-2021)

Peter’s response is instructive. He fell at the feet of Jesus in a profound sense of his own smallness and sinfulness. Next to Jesus. Peter saw how little faith he really had. He rightly discerned that he did not deserve such generosity from Jesus, an overflowing abundance given to him despite his unbelief. 

In the face of such grace, in the vortex of an incredible mercy, having seen the generosity of God directed squarely at him, Peter left it all behind to follow Jesus.

So, here we have the nature and character of God before us. No perturbed deity. No exasperated god ready to raise a storm and toss the boat over with Peter in it. No, Jesus, the Son of God, does not operate that way. There is no strong-arming people into faith. God’s tactics steer clear of base manipulation through guilt, or mind-twisting others through shaming them. 

Instead, God is beautifully and simply present with people – showing grace and generosity in places where one would least expect to find it. 

If confronted with such love, what would you do?

Early in my life, I viewed God as some eternally bored deity who would occasionally get out his divine BB gun and shoot people in the rear, just for something to do. God, in my understanding, cared nothing for the real lived experiences of people on earth.

But much like Peter of old, Jesus showed up unannounced in my life. And what I found was like Peter – a kind, benevolent Being who showered such generous love on me that my heart was immediately captured. I have never looked back since.

We intuitively know, down deep in our gut, in the very marrow of our bones, when genuine Love is among us. Generously true Love immediately connects with the deepest needs of our lives. No evangelist must convince us with offering free gold crosses or promised blessings. None of that matters when Love incarnate is present, when the great God of all is among us.

Peace, hope, and faith are the results of the divine loving presence. They cannot be conjured or ginned up through excessive asceticism or extreme discipline. Love is a gift. Love is a person. And it is given generously and graciously from the One whose very nature is charitable and hospitable.

Praise be to God!

Gracious God, you sent your Son to me even though I was neither looking for him nor expecting anything from him. Thank you for breaking-in to my life so that I could break-out for you with glory, honor, and praise.  Amen