At the Water's Edge: Welcomed to Water
July 9, 2017
Thank you Lindsay very much. Lindsay and I are friends so there are many things she could have said many of which I’m grateful she didn’t bring up. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work you all do for our city, and am grateful to be partnered with you in it. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for your pastors Lindsay and Nate and have often wondered to myself how did you pull off the coup of getting them both. It’s like the Reformation, the 2nd Great Awakening and hiring Nate and Lindsay at the same time. Well done Fellowship. I also want you to know there’s a church on the other side of the bridge that thinks really highly of you and is eager to support the ways God intends to accomplish the new through you.
So when I was asked by the Holland Classis to serve as the supervisor of your congregation while you search for a new Lead Pastor, I said yes immediately. I didn’t even pray about it. I said yes immediately not only because I want to be helpful to this wonderful church in every way I can but also because I feel like we’re already in it together. You’re working the angles on the north side, we’re working the angles on the south side, I think we’re in it together.
Now if you don’t mind I have a question for you. And this will go best if you answer it… to me… out loud… right now. When you think of the Christian faith, what do you think? Shoot me some answers, no wrong answers here. When you think of the Christian faith, what do you think? I’m guessing some of you maybe think, Jesus? Yes? That’d be a great answer. Some of you maybe think church? that’d be good too. Maybe some of you think tradition? That’s fine. Or worship, that’s great. Rules, probably? I’m wondering and I’d like to commend, “Good news.” What if the Christian faith was good news.
This is what the angels were getting at when they showed up in the shepherd shouting “Good news of great joy.”
This what Jesus was doing when he said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.”
This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he said, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
What if the Christian faith was good news.
Good news for you who show up on Sunday morning with a past you can’t change but now opened to a future in which you have been changed.
Good news for you whose nuclear family doesn’t exist and extended family is dysfunctional but have been given a whole new family through baptism called the church.
Good news for you who have been running the hamster wheel of life trying to keep up with the Jones only to realize the Joneses are trying to keep up with the Joneses too and really we’re all just exhausted looking for a tall glass of water and the reminder whats most true is that you belong to Christ.
What if the Christian faith were actually good news. And not just good news for you but good news from you.
Isn’t that what St. John was getting at when he said, “For God do loved the world…”
And Jesus had in mind when he said, “Those who are well don’t need a physician…”
And God was thinking when he showed up to Abram and said, “Through you all the families of the earth will be blessed…”
Wouldn’t it be crazy if you who have experienced the good news were recognized as good news around town. The shopmate or the office colleague or the family member was like, “hey, there goes good news.”
I’m just wondering. You can think about it too.
I want you to listen with me to a story, a true story, it actually happened. You’ve heard it before but first I’ve asked a new friend to help me. This is Marissa. She’s awesome. I just met her this morning and I can already tell the future of Fellowship is in good hands. She’s going to read for you from the Athanasian Creed. Maybe familiar to a few of you most likely totally foreign to most. This is a little statement of faith written in the name of an early church father named Athanasius trying to hammer out the doctrine of the Trinity. How God can be one and three at the same time. Check this out. This is going to blow your mind:
we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons
nor dividing their essence.
For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
The Father is uncreated,
the Son is uncreated,
the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is immeasurable,
the Son is immeasurable,
the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
The Father is eternal,
the Son is eternal,
the Holy Spirit is eternal.
And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.
So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.
Similarly, the Father is almighty,
the Son is almighty,
the Holy Spirit is almighty.
Yet there are not three almighty beings;
there is but one almighty being.
Thus the Father is God,
the Son is God,
the Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there are not three gods;
there is but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord,
the Son is Lord,
the Holy Spirit is Lord.
Yet there are not three lords;
there is but one Lord.
That’s just so awesome, I love that, I had to let you hear it for yourself. Thank you Marissa. Withgood news in your heart and Trinity logic on your mind listen to the second chapter in the book of Acts:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, 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.”
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— 23this 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. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For 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. 30Since 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. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”
36Therefore 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?’ 38Peter 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. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Its Acts 2. You can find it a Bible near you, if it’d be helpful. Here’s how I’d like to organize ourselves for the next few minutes. Life in the spirit guiding us into good news for the world happens on location and shows up in time..
Life in the Spirit guiding us into good news for the world happens on location. Check this out. Acts 2 verse 1
When the day of Pentecost had come they were altogether in one place. And Suddenly…
They were all together in one place and suddenly…
They were all together because actually not much had changed. I mean everything had changed, Christ who had died was now alive, resurrection happened, the grave was swallowed, death was defeated everything was different on one level but on a different level nothing had changed. Pontius Pilate was still piloting the region with his Roman Rule. Ceasar was still ceasing every ounce of power he could find. And the pharisees were still running their religious system to the exclusion of anyone who didn’t agree with them on how far to walk on a Sunday stroll and other finer points of sabbath law. On one level everything had changed the crucified Christ was alive again but on a basic level, a circumstantial level nothing was different. So they were all together in one place, just like they were after the crucifixion on resurrection Sunday. They were all together in one place still participating in the appropriate religious festivals like Pentecost because that's what good Jews would do. Every year, on the year they’d bake their bread, they’d hike from every nook and cranny of Israel up the slight slope to Jerusalem on to the temple mount to celebrate the moment God gave the law to Moses. Christ wasn’t out to establish a new religious system but rather fulfill what God had been doing for ages and ages and so Peter and John and Mark and Thaddeuas and Mary and Salome, they all went up to Jerusalem because that's what you did, that was the faithful act at the time, in the moment.
They were altogether in one place. And suddenly…
And suddenly… that's what I want you to notice, this crazy wild act of the Spirit tongues of fire and the rush of violent wind, and people speaking in Elamite and Mede and Arabic the good news about Jesus, happened on location as they went about the faithful act for the moment, in the day, at the time. And suddenly… The suddenness of the spirit happens on location as you and I go about our daily acts of faithful living.
The necessary actions of the Christian faith can so quickly feel like they’re something other than the wild, extravagant work of the Spirit. We want the high highs of tongues of fire, we want the great heights of the rush of a violent wind which happen in God’s timing at God’s bidding as we go about our daily acts of regular obedience.
When the day of Pentecost had come they were altogether in one place. And suddenly…
So you’re confronted in the moment when your kind of edgy friend says something that digs a little, cuts a little, hurts a bit and the first impulse you have is to verbally lash out to even the score. But what if, what if as you felt your stomach rise into your chest, you said, “no, no not this time.” Rather than lashing out you opened yourself to another way. And either you say something like, “That didn’t feel so good can we talk more.” In other words you turn the other cheek. A simple act of faithfulness and suddenly there’s a new opportunity to write a different script, to go a different way.
So in this politically charged, racially tense, polarized context in which we find ourselves a colleague says something, says something again that you find frustratingly ludicrous and every instinct you have to run to the opposite side of the conversation and yell. You say to yourself “No, not this time.” Instead you say, “I can see you hold that opinion strongly, I’d love to understand more.” You take a simple act of humble faithfulness, you “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” and are more interested in listening to someone else than speaking at someone and suddenly a new story line develops, a new way of relating takes place.
Or, you’re in the social circle, you’re out at the beach and the cool kids start picking on the other kid because of the color of their bathing suit, or the style of their hair or the whatever else seems so easy to pick on, and the inertia of the social interaction pushes you towards participation by laughing it away, instead, you say to yourself, “No, no not this time.” And you say to your friends, “Hey, that's not cool. She’s made in the image of God too.” Or maybe you don’t put it quite like that but you know what I’m saying. A basic act of faithfulness, “Look to the interest of others” and suddenly someone is honored, someone is dignified, Christ rejoices.
What I’m getting at, what I’m trying to suggest is this wild, wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit takes place in the context of a small group of people doing basic, ordinary faithful things. Its not the faithfulness that gets rewarded by the sudden, its the sudden showing up amidst the faithful. We participate with God in ordinary acts of faithfulness, God accomplishes his purposes for the world amidst our faithfulness.
So maybe, maybe this spirit life guiding us into good news for the world happens on location, isn’t opposed to ordinary but happens in ordinary.
I don’t know if you pay attention to these things but Pillar crafts itself as creative liturgical. The creative part people like Andy Bast compose songs that we sing. People like Cathy Dreyer create sacred dances for our younger ones to dance. People like Daryl Bruischaat make art that we hang on the wall. And on and on the creativity goes. The liturgical part we try to borrow the basic pattern of Christian worship that has spanned the centuries. When we sing these songs, “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” That's actually a song that has been sung by Christians for hundreds now actually thousands of years. And when we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty…” that's actually a creed people have read in settings like this one for the better part of 1300 years. And when we gather around the table on a Sunday morning, we’re actually doing what Jesus himself did with his disciples. That's the liturgical part and then we map that liturgical life onto the calendar and come up with seasons, not like summer and fall but like Lent and Eastertide and Advent and Christmas tide and you know what season of the liturgical year is the longest, and longest by far? Its called ordinary time, it goes all the way from early June to late November. And there’s even a few ordinary time weeks sprinkled in the other six months of the year too. Ordinary Time. That is to say, just you and me doing our ordinary faithful thing. Nobodies watching, nobodies looking, nobodies noticing, nobodies writing about it in the banner, its not posted in the Holland Sentinel, someone may put it on Facebook but if they did it’d be like that was ordinary. Now whats kind of cool to me, there’s actually a little ecclesial confusion around time. Some traditions in the christian church don’t think of it as ordinary time but call it the season of Pentecost, basically the season of the spirit. Ordinary time or Pentecost. Which is it ordinary time or Pentecost? Yea. Which is it just basic faithful acts of the everyday Christian or the and suddenly realities of God? Yea.
The spirit life guiding us into good news for the world happens on location.
I like the Eugene Peterson puts it, this is a little pointed so if it hurts there might be some accuracy to it:
“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”
Thats from a book titled “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”
Alright I better move this thing along.
Life in the spirit guiding us into good news for the world happens on location, shows up in time. This is why I wanted Marissa to read for you from the Athanasian Creed in hopes that your hearts would be set and your spirits would be prompted to notice the Trinitarian activity of God in Acts 2.
Look at v. 3:
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… all of them, each of them, filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now notice verse 22:
Jesus of Nazareth a man attested to you by God with signs, wonders and deeds of power that God did through him among you….
So now we’ve gone from Spirit to Jesus to God. And then the trinity logic gets really intense at v. 32:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.
The this, is the tongues of fire resting on each of them and the spirit gift to speak Parthian for all of them. Grammatically speaking its actually hard to know who the “he” is that poured out this that you both see and hear. Is it the Father or is it Jesus that poured it out, or is it the Spirit that poured out this thing that you both see and hear. Its hard to know and people have argued about it. Ask me sometime about the filioque clause. Or forget about the filioque clause and just marvel with me at the activity of the Trinity in Acts 2. Here’s the deal, here’s what I’m trying to get at, we lose our minds trying to articulate just exactly how the Trinity is and fail to notice the activity of the Trinity in our lives.
We can say things like, The trinity is like an egg, you know shell, yoke, white stuff, I can’t remember what that white stuff is called. It might be helpful to an extent but it kind of makes some theological errors too. Or maybe the trinity is like me in relationship, I’m a son, I’m a father, I’m a husband. Ok, maybe but got some issues there too. Or maybe, since I majored in chemistry, I’ve always wondered if the trinity was a little bit like that state of existence where something is neither solid, liquid or gas but all of them at once but none of them completely, but that totally has issues.
Any time we try to speak and define the nature of God we misspeak, that isn’t to suggest we shouldn’t devote ourselves to trying to understand and pursuing a deeper awareness of the complexities of God but it is to acknowledge God is bigger and grander and more glorious than anything words could ever articulate. Which is why Paul says, “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor who has given to him a gift to receive a gift in return for from him and through him and to him are all things to him be glory forever. Or in another place says, “Your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than our thoughts.” So the angels just sing “Holy, holy, holy” in other words, “you’re different, you’re more, you’re better.” Any time we try to speak about the nature of God we fall flat on our faces which is the appropriate posture before the living God.
And people know it so a theological stream developed called apophatic theology. Basically any time you try to say who God is you misspeak so all you really can do is say whats not God. Even the glorious Athanasian Creed says, “There are not three eternal beings but one.” Or “There are not three almighties but one.” You can’t really say what God is without error so you try to say what God isn’t. God’s not quite like an egg but yea three in one.
And what I want now, what I’m hoping you’ll get from this is not “apophatic” nobody wants to be called apophatic but a stunning appreciation for the depths of our God, who is unending in complexity so shows himself in Jesus. Who is inexhaustible in his sophistication so he shows up as an infant child. Who is totally other in his holiness, love and wisdom so he saves through a cross and grave. I want you to marvel at the wonders of our God. I’m less interested in you walking away with the capacity to articulate a pure doctrine of the trinity, though its fun to try, and more eager for you to worship this complex God who shows up for us in the world and in our lives, personally, present, in time, and available.
A tongue rested on each of them all of them began to speak in other languages.
The activity of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, as stunning as the triune one is shows up in history, actively to accomplish the redemption of all things. We can say that for sure. One God, three persons, yes present, personal, available, accomplishing in the world the great salvation we all long to see.
The God who created the world didn’t stop at creation, the God who clothed Adam and Eve from the shame of their nakedness didn’t disregard them because of the fall, the God who covenanted with Abram didn’t stop at covenant, the God who sent his son, Jesus Christ to live among us, die for us and rise to redeem us, didn’t stop at Jesus, the God who sent his Spirit, to inspire and empower us to faithfulness didn’t stop with the church, that same God is on the move in the world now, active and personal and present until that great day when Christ returns, the world is made right, the nations our healed, violence is done for, division is over, peace reigns, justice rules, the Lamb is worshiped and every knee bends and every tongue confesses Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Spirit life guiding us into good news for the world happens on location, shows up in time.
And please don’t miss the assumption. Please don’t miss the consequence all of this is good news, good news for the world.
Did you notice how many people were baptized on that day? Anybody remember how many people came to the waters that day. About 3000. Maybe their accountant wasn't so great, maybe there were so many it was hard to count, whatever about 3000 were added that day. Which is really interesting. Because this is Pentecost. Pentecost is that day when the ancient people of faith were celebrating God’s giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. God showed up and gave Moses 10 commandments and when Moses meandered down the mountain he found the people of God worshiping a god made out of gold, formed as a calf. They said, “It just jumped out of the fire.” But Moses didn’t care, Moses didn’t believe them. Moses was mad. And was God was not pleased. And on that day about 3000 died. Died because of disobedience. Died because of idolatry. Died because of the fall.
About three thousand.
And on this Pentecost day, when the spirit descended not like a dove that would have been cozy but on this day like the rush of violent wind and in tongues of fire and through languages people could not previously speak, when the spirit showed up on this day about 3000 were baptized.
This Pentecost story is a redemption story, a restoration story, a reconciliation story. The activity of the Trinity showing up in real time for people who previously weren’t sure, didn’t know, wouldn’t believe now welcomed the messaged and came to the water.
This is good news.
Good news for you whose daughter was out late last night and you didn’t want to argue with her this morning so you just let her sleep.
Good news for you who have received the diagnosis and the prognosis is less than encouraging.
Good news for you who have been places you now wish you hadn’t gone and done thing you now wish you hadn’t done.
And not just good news for you but good news from you for the world.
You have a unique opportunity Fellowship. You have a unique opportunity to show the world the good news of the gospel is not dependent on the Lead Pastor. You can be about good news for the world now. You don’t have to sit and wait and sit and watch and sit and wonder and sit and worry you can be good news now.
I like the way Lesslie Newbigin puts it:
If the gospel is to challenge the public life of society… it will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.
I want you to take away is a deep and abiding assurance, the Father and the Son are active in the world by the Spirit, the Father and the Spirit are drawing up the redemption of all things and the Son is accomplishing it, the Son is achieving restoration and the Father and the Spirit are empowering him towards it. So take courage, be courageous, God is on the move. God is up to something in the world, God will make all things new. That's what I’m getting at.
Though the headlines may leave your head hanging, take heart, be courageous.
So the doctors are giving difficult news and the future is unknown and scary, take heart, be courageous.
So all the evidence is suggesting secularization is accomplishing its purposes and the purpose of the church seem archaic and strange, take heart be courageous. Father, Son, Spirit accomplishing redemption purposes in time for the world.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.