Entering the gospel Story…
Ch. 1 of Superfudge
What was Peter feeling? A new baby brother or sister would unsettle his world. He was upset. Displaced. Many things can cause a sense of displacement. The news that we are going to have a new baby brother or sister…graduation…moving from one house to another…losing your job…technology and cultural change…growing older…
…changes in the way Communion is practiced…Missional Experiments… reconfiguration of the SS age groups…all these experiences can produce a sense of displacement.
The story of the church in Acts, in some ways, is one of being displaced by the wind of the Spirit. The language miracle of Pentecost…missional visions…constant movement…Gentiles at the table…this all was enough to produce a healthy sense of displacement. They barely have time to get a Sunday School program established in one city when the wind of the Spirit blows the disciples to a new place. Today’s reading from Acts is another account in this line.
Paul can’t even sleep through the night without the Spirit breaking into his dreams. While he is sleeping, a vision of a man from Macedonia provides the new gust of wind. They make travel plans and set sail. They end up in Philippi, a thriving city in Macedonia and a Roman colony. When you are “Messianic Jews” like Paul and company, you seek out the Jewish community whenever you are in a new place. It is the Sabbath, and since you are in the practice of gathering for prayer and Dwelling in the Word with other worshipers of God, you go outside the city gate by the river where you suppose there might be a place of prayer.
Down by the river they meet a woman named Lydia. She is a dealer in purple cloth. She also is from out of town—in Philippi on some business. She listens eagerly to Paul. Her heart is open to Jesus. She desires to enter the gospel story as a believer and follower of Jesus. In these early days of the Christian community, baptism was not delayed. No three year catechism. No, Lydia and her household were baptized. We are curious to know what Lydia’s household is like. Was there a man of the house? Who are all these members who are baptized? What are their ages? Did they all make decisions for Christ, or was Lydia’s response the key factor in salvation coming to the house?
Our questions remain unanswered by the text. But we do notice that immediately following her baptism, Lydia embodies the hallmark sign of Spirit baptism in the Pentecost church. She extends hospitality. She urges Paul and his companions to stay at her home. And so they Mennonite their Way for a few days in Thyatira. Her home in fact provides a base for their ministry and refuge after their imprisonment and earthquake release from chains. But that is another story.
The wind blows where it will. So it is with the Spirit. We can’t manage the Spirit with our programs or structures. We can’t stop the Spirit. But we can pay attention to the trees… Because Paul and his companions were willing to be blown by the wind of the Spirit—Lydia and her household enter the gospel story. What about us? Where is the wind of the Spirit blowing us so that others can enter the gospel story?
When you live in a neighborhood for years—creating a life with family, keeping house, tending the yard and flower beds, going for runs, walks around the block—conversations with some neighbors are intermittent. Almost as infrequent as the coming and going of the barn swallows.
Then one morning the trees move. You go for an early morning run and as you reach your house and run the little bit past to complete the mileage, your neighbor calls out to you. There is excitement in her voice. “Today is 90 days,” she says. “90 days of being sober.” “That’s great,” you say. “Congratulations. You can do it, keep it up.” You notice what looks like a devotion book in her hand as you turn toward your house.
Your mind goes to the backyard conversations with a tipsy neighbor. You remember the block of time recently when you didn’t see her around—when you wondered if she was in rehab. Now her words—her confession—reverberate as you walk back to the house. The sun’s rays feel good as a gentle breeze moves the leaves. You are aware of the grace in this moment.
Our Gospel lesson has the central question that comes to all who would experience resurrection—to all who would enter the gospel story. It is the question Jesus asks the lame man in our text: Do you want to be healed?
Whether you have spent the days of your life drinking away your sorrows or being carried to the pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where the invalids lay…. You don’t expect things to change on this day. Then the wind blows and a strange man asks you this odd question: Do you want to be healed?
You are caught off guard. He’s totally serious. You consider the question. You are tempted to say, No thanks, Jesus. I’d rather go out with my friends to the bar. I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here, so thanks all the same, Jesus but I’ll just stay here.
Do we really want to enter the Gospel story, or would we rather stay the way we are? Do we fear the cure more than the illness? Jesus’ question is important because it gives every single human being freedom and responsibility—no matter what the particulars of our story…our brokenness. We are each response-able. Able to respond to God’s call, able to respond to the word and love of Jesus. When we cease being a victim – “I can’t get to the water Jesus; there’s always someone else who gets there first” – and start being responsible then our legs are strong enough for us to walk away from our stuckness. We no longer make excuses. I was going to come to church, but I was just too tired.
Do you want to be healed? Jesus’ question comes to us—we who are busy, tired, and distracted. We who become numbed to the call of Jesus Christ to serve God and serve the hurting because we don’t have time. We who say we want change when we actually want to remain the same – but feel better about it.
We know that to get up and follow Jesus will involve displacement from the life we are leading now. To be whole means to be re-membered, re-connected with God and with God’s people and God’s creation. No more isolation. No more living my own private life where no one bothers me. To be whole means to be willing to let go of my self-centered existence. No wonder so many of us are hesitant about being made whole.
Well, in our story, this man has the guts to be whole. He takes a deep breath and nods to Jesus, “Yes, I want to be whole, healed and well. I know it will take time Jesus. I know it will take work and lots of unlearning old pain-filled habits accumulated over 38 years, and learning new habits. I know it is not going to be easy, but yes, Jesus, make me a whole person.”
And Jesus does. No questions asked. No stipulations. No checking to see if he is truly deserving or not. Jesus just heals him. Grace. And the man picks up his mat and walks out of the door to new life. To wholeness.
On Tuesday night, Janice read the story, Are you my mother? It’s Mother’s Day and we began the service thinking about the connection between Mother’s Day, Pentecost and God’s plan of salvation (Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove). What is God’s plan of salvation? How do we enter the gospel story? How do we respond to Jesus’ question? Preacher Peter offers the answer in his Pentecost sermon. We enter the story by repenting and being baptized.
You cannot have God for your FatherUnless you have the Churchfor your Mother.-Cyprian, Third Century Bishop of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church
But it doesn’t stop with an event—salvation requires returning to your mama—The Church. In a profound sense, the Church is our mother–the place we are nurtured on the journey toward wholeness. By God’s grace we are brought into the community of the Spirit and find that we have many mothers in the faith. Repentance and baptism lead to a life together in worship, fellowship and mission. No matter where you are from, repentance and baptism will lead you to find your home in the Pentecost community. If you haven’t found that home—there’s room for you here at SMC.
It’s Mother’s Day church. Are you my mother?