This sermon was delivered by Wendell Griffen, pastor of the New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., on October 25, 2009.
Acts 2: 37-47.
Permit me to remind you why I am preaching this series of sermons from the book of Acts. As I mentioned at the start of the series several weeks ago, Acts is a record of the life, challenges, and experiences of the first followers of Jesus. Here we see the ways they began to understand their mission and began living it. If am preaching this series because Acts is more than a history. It is a primer on what people can expect to experience as they began following Jesus together in what we have come to call “the Church.”
The first proclaimed in the first public sermon proclaimed by followers of Jesus and the impact of their living resonated with people so powerfully that the Jesus followers grew to several thousand almost immediately. People nowadays often try to avoid church people. Sometimes they try to avoid church association because of the sermons, the church people, or the sermons and the church people. So why did growing numbers of people began to identify with and join the followers of Jesus after Pentecost? Here are a few reasons.
People don’t have issues with the Church—if the Church is like Jesus! Notice that the people who heard Peter’s sermon at Pentecost wanted to know what to do. Acts 2:37 reads, “Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers! Brothers! So what do we do?'”
People don’t have issues with God’s love as revealed in Jesus. We are drawn by love. Jesus is God’s love personified. When followers of Jesus focus on that love and demonstrate it by our relationships (living), we touch a need that exists in every soul. Every soul hungers for love that forgives, claims, and welcomes. Every soul finds worth and dignity in being loved. Every soul is fulfilled by love, improved by love, and finds its highest strength and purpose through love. However, people have lots of issues with being rejected, shamed, and burdened with guilt.
When the Church focuses on God’s love as revealed in Jesus, we are truly the people of God. When we encounter people in the power of that love, relate with them by the grace of that love, and live in community with them by the hope of that love, followers of Jesus are blessings, not issues. People don’t have issues with the Church—if the Church is like Jesus. The Church is worthwhile only because of Jesus. It is worthless otherwise!
The Church (followers of Jesus) does its best when we point people to God’s gift of love/life in Jesus. That is what Peter did at Acts 2:38 when he said “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgive. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (The Message).
We do our best when we affirm that God offers that love/life to all of us. Peter declared that God’s promise of love/life through Messiah/Christ was not limited to the Hebrews he addressed at Pentecost, but also for their posterity and for everyone.
We do our best when we contrast the culture of God’s love/life with the culture of human sinfulness, which is unloving/deadly. Notice that Peter urged his hearers to “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture.” We do our best when we call people out of unloving/deadly relationships, be the relationships religious, familial, vocational, commercial, civic, political, or otherwise.
And we do our best when we welcome people in the Spirit of God’s love/life as was demonstrated by Jesus. That is what happened in the early Church following Peter’s sermon. The followers of Jesus grew as people were welcomed, and the welcomed people welcomed others by the way they lived. Loving and welcoming people always attract people who need loving and welcoming.
However, the Church is deadly when we point people away from God’s love. We point people away from God’s love when we speak or behave as if God’s love does not extend to all of us. The Church is deadly when we embrace the unloving culture of human sinfulness (self-centeredness, self-righteousness, hate, fear, and oppression). And the Church is deadly whenever we refuse to live in community with others in the Spirit of Jesus, yet profess to be followers of Jesus.
In other words, the Church is people following Jesus. The Church is followers of Jesus calling other people to follow Him. The Church is followers of Jesus welcoming people in the Spirit of Jesus. Finally, the Church is followers of Jesus re-creating community for the glory of God.
All of this poses several implications for us. Either we agree that a new creation is needed or not. Either we believe that God has shown the way to the new creation in Jesus or we don’t. Either we trust God’s love to accept a new identity in Jesus or we don’t. And, either we will live and challenge others to live in the Spirit of that new creation in Jesus or we don’t.
This means the Church exists to call us out and in. We are to call people out of an unloving (sinful/deadly) creation. We are to call them out of unloving relationship to God (guilt, dread, or disobedience). We are to call them out of unloving relationship to themselves, to others, and to the rest of creation. And we are to call people into loving—meaning redeemed and resurrected—community with God, themselves, others, and the rest of creation. Yet we never issue those calls by any authority or on any basis other than Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus is God’s love/life Personified.
The Church shows that God’s love/life in Christ is real, not a fantasy! People need to know that the hope for unconditional love and forgiveness is real. We proclaim that reality by presenting Jesus to them. They need to know that God’s love is accessible. We proclaim that reality by calling on them to accept God’s love in Christ. People need to know that God’s love operates in every aspect of their relationships. The Church presents that reality to them by living in loving community with others by the Spirit of Christ. As the Church lives out the love of God by our faith in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we present a new vision of community. We present a new image of creation that is a preview of what Jesus has promised.
Yet there is another aspect to our life in Christ that is equally necessary and real. When the Church challenges the old/sinful/deadly order of self-centeredness, self-righteousness, oppression, alienation, and death by the authority of the risen Christ, we demonstrate that God’s love is not merely some romantic fancy. We show that God’s love stands up for and liberates people burdened by oppression. We show that God’s love is not afraid to face hardship, and that God’s love overcomes fear, guilt, and even death. We show that God’s death-proof love/life is real here, now, and that it is growing more real.
People need to know that God’s love is real, so let’s be the Church. Let us live like people who believe that God loves, forgives, and welcomes every soul thru Jesus Christ. Let’s call people to trust God’s new reality of redemptive love and resurrection hope by our living. Let’s challenge the sin system of self-centeredness, self-righteousness, alienation, oppression, and death. Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ by doing what the Church is called to do. Then people will know that God’s love/life is real!
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.