Posts Tagged ‘Acts 2’

ACTS 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

When Peter raised his voice above the blend of voices giving praise to God, to address the skeptical few who were wanting to pass off the entire event as drunken disorder, he cited the prophet Joel who long ago had seen this day approaching.

Joel had lived in a time that was spiritual stagnant in many ways, with the institutional structures of religion effectively suppressing the deeper life and hope of the common people. In pure and challenging language, the prophet pictured a future day when God’s Spirit would no longer be domesticated by the bridle and harness of conventional religiosity, but would break out upon all people in wild and creative energy.

For the prophet Joel this was both good and bad news, depending on who was considering it. To those in power, especially the priests and other brokers of orthodoxy, this vision was a portent of disaster – “blood, fire, and smoky mist.” No more would blessing be distributed retail by a religious management, or forgiveness the reward for submission to due process. For the great majority, the coming day promised new release from old burdens and access to God that was both direct and personal.

What Peter and the rest were witnessing, they believed, was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophetic vision. God came through the cathedral ceiling to dwell among and within “the little people.”

ACTS 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Although our symbolism of Pentecost centers on the images of wind and fire, a closer reading of the story reminds us that the experience came with the sound “like a rush of violent wind” and with divided tongues “as of fire.” In other words, the moment brought an experience that was inherently ineffable – beyond words and essentially strange, only like this and similar to that.

This acknowledgement of fundamental mystery is at the heart of authentic religion, arising as it does out of a sense or feeling or intuition of being supported in our very existence as humans by a reality outside the grasp of our understanding and control. When God revealed to Moses the Law, the blueprints for the tabernacle and its furniture, along with the conditions of the covenant, the text tells us that “the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire.” What was it, exactly? There’s no saying.

The sights and sounds of Pentecost are the signs and effects of a much deeper experience, something that touches and exhilarates the devotional center of our human spirit. That cosmopolitan congregation, speaking in the many tongues and dialects of the earth, was testifying as one voice to “God’s deeds of power.” When people move from argument to confession, a New Spirit is released in the world.

ACTS 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

This picture of “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” would have, for those deeply familiar with and formed by the great story of the Bible, evoked a contrasting image from the Book of Genesis. We are told in chapter 11 of Genesis that “the whole earth had one language and the same words,” and that earth’s peoples conspired together to build a high tower whose top would invade the heavens.

When God observed what they were doing, however, He confounded their effort by fracturing their shared language into a multiplicity of confused tongues. Unable to communicate, and therefore no longer able to cooperate, the building project had to be abandoned. The vast community of earthlings subsequently fell into its familiar divisions of languages and nation-groups, alienated increasingly from each other by barriers of speech, thought, custom, and belief.

The author of Acts intends to set up a very deliberate contrast between the primordial fall of the human population into divisions and this latter-day event of world unification at Pentecost. From out of the wellspring of native tongues came a shared confession, of a truth-experience that transcended the diversity while at the same time celebrating it.

ACTS 2:14a, 36-41

14a But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:

36 “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

This may be the very point at which early Christianity lost its way. How faithful to the original message and First Voice of Jesus is this exhortation to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation”? Not close at all! Jesus didn’t proclaim his gospel as a way out, or call on his followers to separate themselves from the world.

And then there’s this: “Repent … and be baptized so that your sins may be forgiven.” In the original gospel of Jesus there was no “so that” – no conditions to be satisfied nor repentance required before God was willing to forgive. His “good news” (gospel) was that it is already done! Forgiveness has been accomplished. God’s love for the world is unconditional, boundless, and preemptive.

So then, why the sudden reversal? How could the revolutionary message of Jesus so quickly get turned into its diametrical opposite – that people still need to be forgiven, and only those who satisfy the conditions against God’s love will be saved (rescued)?

Our clue might be given in this story of Peter’s first “church sermon” during the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Already in the previous chapter a matter of ecclesiastical policy had to be worked out, as a replacement for the traitor Judas needed to be identified and properly installed. The author of Acts (traditionally Luke) wrote the larger narrative in order to give an account of Christianity’s rise from a ragtag band of twelve to the organized religion it would become.

                                                                                                 

How do you get from an itinerant company following the winds of the spirit and going toward human need, to a corporate institution where membership qualifications, a leadership hierarchy, and doctrinal conformity are paramount? The short answer is that you change how you do things.

The fact is, Jesus’ gospel of unconditional forgiveness doesn’t fly well inside a church where there’s no wind. Churches, denominations, and religions are inevitably faced with the challenge of defining the difference between insiders and outsiders. For Jesus there were no outsiders, which made it meaningless to speak of insiders. By opening one’s life to the liberating power of God’s love and living courageously in that freedom for the purpose of liberating others, Jesus would sometimes say that a person “entered” the kingdom of God. But this kingdom has no membership.

It’s not easy for people to get their minds around this concept of community as a spreading organism rather than an enclosed membership, but Jesus repeatedly pushed back on demands that he should set up a board of directors, organize the roster, and publish an orthodoxy. When he died, however, the demands won out and Jesus’ kingdom movement became an established religion.

That’s the sociopolitical explanation, but there is also a psychospiritual one. It has to do with the fact that unconditional forgiveness, genuine community, and a relentless pursuit of human liberation are impossible for our egos to accept. If God has forgiven me without conditions, then in accepting it I will be empowered to do the same on behalf of my enemy. But loving my enemy will require that I let go of my self-definition as the righteous and innocent opponent of my enemy.

The problem is that my ego has no reality underneath these labels of self-definition; it is a pure construct. Letting go is certain death.

To love as Jesus said God loves, and to forgive regardless of whether our enemies see their error and repent, requires too much of us. Who I am must be given up on the cross (released, set aside, transcended) so that a greater love can move through me (resurrection).

Frankly, I’d rather not. Please change the message and compensate me with the salvation I have earned by repenting, getting baptized, and believing the right things.

Thankfully, the Christian Church obliged.

ACTS 2:14a, 22-32

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

“David … both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Jesus, on the other hand, was “raised up” by God and is alive now. Should we imagine a ‘CSI Jerusalem’ team going out in search of proof either way?

It is obvious that empty tombs are not really proof of anything – except maybe emptiness. Christianity – as distinct but not separate from the kingdom movement centered around the life and teachings of Jesus – did not explode on the scene because some of his early followers found his tomb empty.

His body could have been misplaced or stolen. Or, going on the theory that the garden tomb tradition was a fictional embellishment on a biblical text taken as prophecy, it might have been thrown into a shallow grave and later scavenged by vultures and wild dogs.

It appears that this claim of resurrection grew harder and harder to defend as a factual statement about a once-dead body and a now-empty tomb. By increasingly desperate measures, the evolving stories started to include white-robed men, an Easter earthquake, a descending angel rolling away the stone, and then various encounters with Jesus and his personal appearances at larger gatherings of believers.

The apostle Paul would later testify on behalf of his own one-on-one with the risen Christ – which really makes it the first claim to a live encounter, since Paul wrote about his experience almost 20 years prior to our earliest Gospel account (Mark). In fact, Paul may have been the first to employ this metaphor of resurrection, perhaps as a way of making a connection between his transforming experience on the way to Damascus and the founder of the messianic movement he was working hard to extinguish. The very one he was persecuting suddenly spoke or appeared to him with forgiveness and a missionary calling.

We are obviously chasing down a rabbit here, but let’s go one step farther.

What if all the later stories of post-resurrection appearances and encounters, earthquakes, angels and the empty tomb itself were narrative representations of an essentially mystical experience of death-and-rebirth, of “dying” (letting go and falling) into grace and “coming to life” in freedom, joy, and gratitude? This experience in itself is profoundly interior and beyond words, yet everything changes as a result.

In one of his authenticated early letters, Paul professes: “I have been crucified with Christ. Now I [ego] no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). For Paul, the resurrection wasn’t something that happened to Jesus. It really has nothing to do with an empty tomb somewhere, and it wouldn’t be nullified with the chance discovery of Jesus’ remains.

As you identify with Jesus – that is to say, you understand and inwardly accept the gift of unconditional love and forgiveness that came through him – you cannot help but drop your agenda, surrender your will, and live fearlessly in the moment.

Resurrection is an experience; the myth is commentary. Here, once again, we have the dichotomy of mysticism and orthodoxy that is a paradox inherent in every living religion.

Whether it’s true or not is up to you.