Filled to be Emptied
February 02, 2020 | Sonja Gerstenberger
Passage: Acts 2:42-47
So, speaking of that first Christian community, how many of you have ever had mountaintop spirit-filled experiences? A few out there. Oh, that's more than Saturday night. I'm glad to see that. I think people are a little bashful on Saturday night. Whether it was a worship experience that was particularly spirit filled or a camp experience at some point in time, or even just literally being up in the mountains and being absolutely blown away by their majesty and the majesty of God's creation.
Mountaintop experiences leave us with this sense of awe and wonder. And that's the kind of sense of on wonder that this community was feeling, because the particular passage that we read today, this Acts 2 passage is right after Pentecost. This is right after the Spirit has come and filled the room, and the disciples have spoken in many tongues, and Peter gave his absolutely astounding and rousing speech. And the people around thought those people must have gotten into the wine a little early because there is no way people behave like this. But they did. They had that sense of community, and then they went, and thousands were baptized as a result. They lived in this community. And we have this passage. This is being filled with the Spirit. This is the ultimate example of being in community and the ultimate example of God's work through the Spirit.
If you were here on Wednesday night, we talked about Luther's two kingdoms and how the right hand is God's work that frees us from sin and death; God's work in the spirit. And then the left hand being our work in the world. Well, God's work through us in the world. So there's gonna be a couple references to that if you were here Wednesday night.
But if this particular community, this community that had awe that came upon everyone, and they were all together, they were living in community day in and day out, giving to one another. Somebody needed something a lot like the story with the soup, they gave and all had what they needed, and they worshiped together in the temple. Sounds like daily to me, with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all people.
That's the work of the spirit. Why is it that a lot of our communities, our Christian communities don't really look like that? I didn't ask the question, do you feel mountaintop experiences every Sunday? And don't answer; I don't actually think that that's the goal. But the thing is that this particular snapshot we get in Acts is just that, it's a snapshot. It's right after Pentecost. It's right after touching the Spirit in a way that was absolutely the most profound experience of the Spirit we could probably describe. And if we look further into Acts, there aren't any other descriptions that look quite like this one. Much like our mountaintop experiences, the apostles and the disciples and the followers of Christ after Pentecost went back about daily life, at some point; went about spreading the gospel. And in doing so, daily life creeps in; the demands of daily life creep in.
But it does describe what the spirit can do in and through us.It can create communities that are filled with hospitality, that are bubbling over with that sense of "we want you to be a part of what is going on here," and there's something amazing to be a part of. Mutuality, where all have what is needed. Worship of a God who sent God's son so that we might be free from the powers of sin and death. And that idea of charity, where we consider the demands of our own lives, and we consider the demands of the kingdom, and we decide what sacrifices we might make so that God's kingdom might come more fully here and now. And I think if we're all honest with ourselves, at one point or another, we really do long for that kind of community in a world that becomes more and more isolated and independent, in a society that is one of the most independent societies where my needs and my family's needs come before the needs of others in many ways, at least in our discourse, where we must protect ourselves, our church, our country. There still, we're left with this sense of longing.
And I remember a time where that sense was particularly profound in my own life. I was working in a corporate job. I had been promoted to the role of employee communications editor for a large company in the Des Moines area. The guy left the job, and I ended up getting put in it. But, you know, because I was capable of doing role, for something that felt like a huge accomplishment at the time. But with that huge accomplishment came a lot of pressure and a lot of scrutiny in that particular company. The communications department was right at the hand of the CEO and chairman, and anything we did was highly scrutinized.
It was the week of Thanksgiving, and there were very few people in the office. But the employee communication still went out on Wednesday, as always. And very few people there to proof it, and we had some very unfortunate typos. We were a "publicly traded company," think about that for a minute. And in the ensuing weeks, there were reports written, and there were lots of very intense meetings where we tried to figure out how we could make sure we never made an error like that again, or any kind of error. "How do newspapers do this? How do other publications do this?" Well, for one, they have proofreaders, but not just the two people putting the publication together.
That being said, the job became more and more stressful. My thoughts were consumed with that and my ability and my bandwidth to be able to do anything else was pretty small. And it happened, so just so happened, that I was scheduled to go on a mission trip, Permission of Accompaniment that I've talked about before, to Mexico, my husband and I with a group of young married couples. It was a mission trip in which you didn't do anything but accompany people, listen to stories, allow the hospitality of people who have very little to be given to you, and not insist on giving anything back.
And it changed me. After that experience, I wanted to stay there and participate in everything that was going on. But wisely, the folks that put this particular trip together said to all of us, "it's more important that you take what you've learned here and continue to tell that story and continue to participate in ways that continue to further understanding back home." And I did.
And it wasn't long after that, six months maybe, that I resigned from my role in the corporate communications world and started a job working one on one with people with disabilities. And that resulted in having more time to volunteer at my church and more bandwidth to be able to do that, which resulted in being a mentor in a confirmation program, which resulted in eventually leading that program, which resulted in a sense of call, and here we are.
It can be really easy to do to resist the kind of demands that the spirit makes on us. And I'm not up here saying, everybody leave your corporate job, because Luther would be really disappointed in me. Our work, our vocation, our spreading the gospel in our daily jobs is supremely important. It is what we are called to do. However, if those demands become so much that we can't be people of the Spirit and people of faith, then we can think about that.
Or if the demands of our own lives in this year of the year 2020, the demands of having to have just the right house with just the right kind of counter tops and a certain year, at least, model of your car or the demands of feeling like, well, my kids are missing out on something if I don't take them on a tropical vacation because it's spring break, and for goodness sakes, we have to do something. Or the demands of having to have a certain size television set or a certain brand of clothes.
These demands pull at us as well, and our resources, our time, but also our financial resources only go so far and then their demands that of what it takes to be a church in the world today, to be this place, to have these lights, to have this building. The demands of time and financial resources that it takes to provide a nursery so that the children can be nurtured. While parents who may be just in dire need of one hour to be in the presence of God can sit and do that on any given week. Or to provide children and youth programming that passes on this legacy of faith that we have that we cling to to the next generation, creating worship experiences where everyone can hear what's going on and where perhaps there's even some visual stimulation that helps those of us who live in a culture where nearly everything we process is visual, come into a space and engage as much here as we engage on our phones and our tablets and our screens at home. And we struggle, we struggle to make the kinds of sacrifices that it takes to live out, to live into, that left hand kingdom of God where, freed by God's right hand, we participate in God's work in the world. We put on our neighbor, whether we understand them or not, whether we fear them or not, knowing that they, too, are a child of God, worthy of God's love and grace and justice and mercy, worthy of their humanity in as much as we are of ours.
The Old Testament promises had a lot to say about God's just society. In the Old Testament, we see God over and over and over again, getting after those Israelites for not striving for justice and mercy. The very laws in Leviticus set out ways for which the hungry would be fed. When fields were harvested, leaving the outside edges, so that, if someone was hungry, no matter why, they could come and be filled; an even more radical idea of the year of Jubilee, every 50 years, where debts might be completely erased. Slaves who maybe came into slavery because they couldn't pay their debts no matter why they got in over their head, out of their own selfishness. Debts. Slavery. They were released. They were returned back to their land.
This turnover. That's the kind of just society that God longs for. It's actually the kind of just society that we saw in our Acts 2 passage today: that glimmer, that glimpse of the kingdom that is coming. And then in Jesus, we see that kingdom. When Jesus said the kingdom of God is at hand, and then we watch what Jesus did. We watched Jesus freeing people who by all means had every right to be punished for their sins, and saying "you're free, you're healed."
That's God's kingdom come. That's the amazing work of the spirit that we as people, as people who are of the Spirit in baptism, as people who are followers of Christ are called to participate in. We are called to bring out those tangible signs and wonders that they talked about in the Acts 2 passage here and now, whether that's eliminating hunger discrimination or inequality. It's not us. It's God's spirit in and through us. And we can't get it perfect, but we can sure start.
We can take a look can take a look at the gifts that we have in our lives, the meager gifts that they might be, and decide what portion of those we can return for the legacy of God's work in the world in this time and this place, whether it's $10 a week or a month. What can we do to steward those gifts to a future where that vision of the Spirit continues to be the driving force of everything we do, where we both set aside for the future in our endowment, where we pay for the things we've already done in paying down our debt and where we enhance the experience for all who come to be a part of this place?Will we respond generously as those in the Acts 2 community?
And what might we experience if we do, if we respond to the work of the Spirit in the way that they did with eagerness and awe and wonder, and how might God transform us in the process? This is certainly the life-affirming community for which we long. This is certainly God's amazing work through the power of the Holy Spirit: that we are not just people striving for more, but we are promised to be a part of God's kingdom work here and now. And that frees us even as we work to free others. Amen