Sunday, February 1, 2015

This Week's Sermon: "The Prophecy's Fulfillment"

Acts 2:14-21

14 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! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

17 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. 18 Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 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. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  (Common English Bible)

“The Prophecy's Fulfillment," Acts 2:14-21

"As One Having Authority: Sermons that Changed the World,” Week Three

My maternal family side’s grandfather is quite a character.  He has basically spent his entire life on the road, traipsing across the country in one Ford truck after another.  He stores all his things in a collection of banana boxes, and even claims that his desk is a door with the knob removed, set on six banana boxes: three on each side.

He also loves sushi, and so whenever he would come to town, we would go out to my favorite sushi place and proceed to debate about theology over pieces of nigiri and endless Sapporos.  See, he is heavily influenced by the line of television preaches spouting ridiculous apocalypticism scenarios like Jack Van Impe and John Hagee, and I am a normal person.  So we don’t always see eye to eye on it, and he has even sent me a couple of catalogs from Jack Van Impe ministries offering me, among other things, an instructional videotape that I can leave behind for my heathen relatives after I get raptured, or an instruction pamphlet on how to avoid having my forehead barcoded by the Antichrist, because apparently the Antichrist wants us all to look like on sale merch at Target.

In general, my attitude towards eschatology (that’s the fancy seminary word for ‘how we think the world will end’) is identical to that of this lovely little book, the Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse.  It writes, in its section on the history of our whole endeavor of predicting the world’s end:

The Catholic Church goes on the offensive with the Fifth Lateran Council, which issues a decree on preaching and prophecy directed at clerics who receive and promote direct revelation from God.  Specifically, good Christians are prohibited from predicting in their sermons “any fixed time of future evils, of Antichrist’s coming, or the day of Last Judgment.”

Not everyone gets the memo.

Here are a couple of my personal favorites of the literally dozens of preachers since who I want to ask, in my best Office Space voice, “Did you get the memo?”  But these chaps clearly didn't, even though there clearly was a problem at play, because usually, institutions don't prohibit something that isn't already a problem.

A Franciscan monk by the name of Tomasso Campanella predicts the sun will collide with the earth.  Which is a good thing, he says, because it will burn all our sins away and usher in the reign of the Messiah.  Tomasso was no scientist, though, so he tries to enlist none other than Galileo to help him do some calculations.  Galileo calculates that Tomasso is a few gases short of a flaming sphere and refuses to get involved.  A good thing, because the church ships Tomasso off to the pokey for being a heretic.

Here’s another, from the slightly more recent year of 1993:

Faith healer and slayer in the spirit Benny Hinn says the Rapture is nigh, so get ready.  Except for you homosexuals.  You’re not going anywhere until 1994, when God will personally destroy you.

Go away, Benny.

What does all of this have to do with Peter’s Pentecost sermon?  Well, in a way, Peter is really just another mover in this cottage industry of thinking you know exactly when Jesus is a comin’ back.

This is a sermon series that we are now in the middle of, now that it is February, but we launched it to go along with the new year, and it will take us up to Ash Wednesday a couple of weeks from now.  For a while now, I have wanted to talk to all of you about the meaning and significance of preaching, and this series allows me to do exactly that.  The title for this series comes from the assembled crowd’s reaction to Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where Matthew says that they were astounded that He taught them “as one having authority,” rather than as one of their temple authorities.  So…how do we teach one another as one having authority?  That is what we will be working on together, and each week for the next five weeks, we will be talking about one of the many significant sermons that are presented in the New Testament: the Sermon on the Mount, Stephen’s farewell speech before his martyrdom, Paul’s address to the Areopagus, and today, Peter’s Pentecost sermon.  We have arrived at this point in the series after a pair of inaugural sermons by Jesus to kick off His own ministry: His sermon on Isaiah from Luke 4, and the previously referenced Sermon on the Mount from Matthew.  But today, we continue onto another inaugural sermon, this time from chief among Jesus’s disciples, Peter, on the occasion of the arrival of the Holy Spirit and subsequent accusation from standers by that he and the other followers of Jesus are “filled with the new wine.”

As Peter would reply, no, they are not “filled with the new wine,” because, after all, it is only 9:00 am.  But then Peter launches into his first full blown sermon, one that begins with this recitation of a prophecy from the second chapter of Joel, one of the twelve “minor” (because they wrote short books as opposed to long treatises like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) prophets, whom we actually know very little about, in truth.

But this prophecy of Joel’s gets repeated by Peter, and it is easy to see why.  The very first verse he cites is, “I will pour out my spirit on all people.”  And that is exactly what has just happened with the arrival of the Holy Spirit: it caused each person to speak in their own native tongue rather than in Greek, the lingua franca of the time (much like how English is today in many areas of the world), meaning that all sorts of people were present for this outpouring of the spirit.

The hitch is, though, that the words before that are, “In the last days…”

It indicates that Peter, like probably a great many of the earliest Christians (including Paul, at least early on in his career as an apostle), believed that he was living in those last days.  He believed that Jesus would return within his lifetime.

Except that Jesus didn’t.  We know that now.  But Peter did not, at least then, although much later, one of his two letters in Scripture does acknowledge that a day with the Lord is like a thousand years, so that may well have been his own admission that, like Paul, he had to adjust his expectations as his career wound on.

That isn’t something we particularly relish, though: adjusting our expectations of God, or of Jesus.  We want and need God to be God, and for Christ to be Christ, and of course they are, but sometimes they are not the type of God or type of Messiah we want them to be.  We may want them to take care of our every need, we may want them to smite our enemies, we may want them to give us a pony for Christmas, but none of those things are apt to happen, or ever happen.

Instead, we have to abide by God’s expectations for us, not the other way around.

That might be one of the toughest things for us to do as Christians, and as people.  We are baptized into the faith, we are told that God loves us, and then we are handed this book of amazing stories of how God worked in the lives of people long ago and we think to ourselves, “Why can’t that be me?”

Except that it is still us.  God still works in your life, that I promise you.  My job, I guess, is to help you to see it if you are worried that you cannot.

For Peter, there is no doubt.  God is at work in his life.  And for many believers around the world and through time, there was and is no doubt, God continues to remain at work in their lives as well.

But maybe God isn’t working, and doesn’t work, at the stuff we always ask Him to, or expect Him to.  And that is okay.  It really is.  Even if Peter’s prophecy changed the world not just in the fact that 3,000 people chose to convert and the New Testament church was birthed, but in him also setting the precedent for scads of later preachers thinking they also knew when the end of days was upon them.

But it’s the former, the reaching of 3,000 people, which should stay with us, because that is what we are still called to do: not to worry about God’s future, but to tend to one another’s present.  God can take care of Himself.  We, though, must take care of each other, always.

So was Joel’s prophecy fulfilled in the end?  Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean it meant the end times were nigh, anymore than it means the end times might be nigh today.  Prophecies can be fulfilled anytime, anywhere through God’s providence, and those prophecies can be big or small.

All we have to do is not expect it of God, and allow God to do what God does best: be Himself. 

And we shall follow Him.

So when the next time someone, be they a televangelist or a neighbor, a firebreather or a tin foil hat wearer, tells you that God’s prophecy for the end of the world is at hand, that is all you need to know.  We shall follow God.

Regardless of the timetable we may try to set for God.

Because true faith, real faith, authentic faith, in the end, knows no such thing. 

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington

February 1, 2015

(original image from

1 comment: