Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Promise Fufilled: the Spirit poured out then and then and here and noa (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:1-16,40-47)

Since we’ve moved to our new place in Onehunga, Mangere bridge has become a feature in my life. Or I should say the Mangere bridges. The new bridge adds a constant background motorway hum to the soundtrack of our everyday. At night, out our window there is a line of red and white lights arching over the dark stripe where the Manukau Harbour morphs into the Mangere basin.  On days off I’ve gone for a walk across the old Mangere bridge, with its vistas down toward the Manukau heads. Puponga point and the
Awhitu peninsula in the distance. The harbour changing with the weather, from friendly sparkly blue, to moody forbidding grey. As the sun sets there is an array of golds and reds. Even the old cement silo’s become a canvas for the magical play of last light. Having grown up on this side of the Manukau, up in the hills out west, the far side of the bridge has always seemed like a distant shore, another place and it still seems like you are going somewhere else when you walk over the bridge but now exploring both sides helps me understand this city more.

We’ve been looking at the work  of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament from hovering over the waters in the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis, through to the promise of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, in the prophecy in Joel chapter 2. The fulfillment of which came at Pentecost, recorded in our reading from Acts chapter 2 this morning. We’ve been looking at what the Spirit did on the far off then and there shore, & how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has changed things and what it means for us on this side, here and now.

Joel’s prophecy acts as a great bridge between the then and there and the here and now. Then and there, because it stands at the end of the Old Testament narrative, looking at God’s restoration of Judah and Jerusalem, that started with the return of the exiles from Babylon and stares off at the hope for a greater fulfillment in future times.  Here and Now because it is the passage that Peter uses to explain what was happening to the one hundred and twenty followers of Jesus gathered in that upper room in Jerusalem: that what was promised then was being fulfilled now, God was pouring out his Spirit on all flesh. It stands at the birth of the Church, the reality that we as God’s people live in today.

Today is Pentecost, and I want to go backwards and forwards across that bridge between then and there and here and now so that we may know the reality of that Spirit poured out. I want to focus on three things, the context we find ourselves in, where we are at in God’s story. Secondly to explore the idea of all flesh and to see ourselves in that, and finally to look at what it means that we all prophecy, to be a prophetic people. Then we’ll ties it all together.

Firstly context. 

The book of Joel speaks of Judah facing judgment, locusts and a drought, that judgment is accompanied by a call to repentance, then assurance that after the judgment, God would restore the fortunes of his people and would renew his relationship with them, they would be blessed and the nations around them judged. Scholars are unable to tie Joel down to any historical facts or time, but it was included into the Old Testament cannon because people could see it as God speaking directly to Judah’s journey. Their exile in Babylon and after that of the restoration of Jerusalem, that we see in books like Ezra and Nehemiah, but also looked to greater and fuller restoration and fulfillment to come. Joel Baker sums this journey up in the title of his commentary of Joel “ from the depth of despair and sorrow to the promise of presence”.

The ultimate way in which God has forgiven his people and made a way for them to be reconciled with him is in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We’ve just spent about a year and a half working our way through Luke’s gospel and one of the ways Jesus talks of his death is as a judgment on the spiritual blindness of the world.  It is Jesus who takes on himself God’s judgment, and enables the restoration of relationship with God through his suffering and death. It is in his resurrection that that new life is made possible. We experience that new life and restoration, the fulfillment of the promise of God’s presence, with a greater fulfillment when Christ returns.  Bakers title could as easily refer to the Easter story ‘from the depth of despair and sorrow of the cross to the promise of presence in the words of the risen Jesus ‘and I am with you till the end of the age” made real at Pentecost.

You and I find ourselves in that story as well. It’s not just history, it’s our story. Once we were far away from God as it says in 1 Peter 2;10 but now we have drawn near. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can know God’s forgiveness for all we have done wrong and we are bought back into a relationship with God, as his children and as his people. In Christ we have been given new life, abundant life. At the centre of that is that God restores his relationship with us by filling us with the Holy Spirit.  Our story is that we have come out of the deep despair and sorrow of life without God to the promise of his presence.

Secondly, “all flesh”

As we’ve seen in our survey of the Old Testament God has worked and spoken through individuals who he has filled with his Holy Spirit. But in this passage, it says he will pour out his Spirit on all flesh. Flesh is used here to distinguish humans, beings of flesh and blood, from God, who is Spirit. And ‘all flesh’ is reinforced in this passage by the language of inclusion. In three statements sex age and socio-economic status are swept aside. Your sons and daughters will prophecy. Old Men will dream, dreams and young men will see visions. Dreams and visions are scriptural ways in which God gives revelation to people. Age is not a barrier. Even on your servants, both men and women. Slaves in Israel were also most probably foreigners, and this is not only speaking about social status not being a barrier but also the possibility of the gentiles being involved. I’m allowed one bad pun a sermon… here it is… It is for all sorts, but seriously it is  for everyone.

In Acts we see all flesh being reinforced by the apostles speaking in all the languages of the people gathered from all the regions of the then known world. Pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. It is a prophetic event, Jesus had come and given his life because God so loved the world, he had commissioned his followers to go and make disciples of all nations, they were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit was enabling them empowering them to do that. Symbolized by the speaking in all the different languages of the known world. In Acts 10, when the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit this sign is repeated to show that ‘all flesh includes the gentile nations as well.

Peter finishes his sermon at Pentecost, by saying this is for you and your children and for those who are far off. Time and place are not a barrier either, it isn’t just for one generation, one place and time, just to get the church growing and off the ground, a bit of start-up capital thrown in by an entrepreneurial God. Not just limited to that place.  It is God’s promise to all of us, to you and I. the language of inclusion is not just used here to fit into some politically correct agenda, it’s the promise of a loving caring God, for all of us.

Lastly, what does it mean that all will prophecy? I mean there are not enough street corners for all of us to stand there wild eyed calling out ‘the end is near’ which maybe the image that comes to mind when you think of that.

Joel chapter 2, does not exist in a vacuum, there is a whole thread in Old Testament scriptures that we need to touch on to understand what is meant. Moses in Number 11:29 says “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and he put his Spirit on them.” The hope that all God’s people would know him as Moses did, and be able to declare his timeless word and purposes in a timely manner.  In Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we see that just as they had been given a scroll of God’s word to eat, there is the promise that God would put his word in people’s minds and hearts, and change their hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. They would be a people whose hearts were filed with God’s grace and love. A motif that runs through the Old Testament is that Israel has a missional task in world history, to live in such a way, caring for the poor and the marginalised, being a beacon of justice and righteousness, that nations would come to see and know and worship Israel’s God. They were to be a prophetic people. The Spirit was going to e poured out on them to enable them to do that.

In Acts, we see this at work as well. All the disciples gathered together are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin praising God. It’s self a prophetic Act declaring the good things God has done.  Peter stands and begins to prophecy, he takes God’s timeless word, from Joel 2, and makes it timely, this is what is happening now. In the New Testament, there are people given gifts and ministry of prophecy, it is their task to speak forth God’s word, but all of us are called to prophecy. Acts 2 finishes with a description of the church in Jerusalem living in a way that declares and witnesses to Jesus Christ. There life is built round, the teaching of the apostles, prayer and the breaking of the bread: these are the means of grace by which we know Jesus more and more and allow that relationship to shape and mould us. They form community and share hospitality. There is a genuine concern for the poor, they sell what they have and give the money to those in need. They care and pray for those who are sick and see God’s healing. AS they do this people come to see Jesus Christ in their midst.

It’s the same for us today. People often equate the whole Holy Spirit thing with chandelier swingers and happy clappys, as pure emotionalism, and can I say why shouldn’t you get excited about knowing God’s very presence and power. But the result of the Holy Spirit’s activity and genuine revivals has always been a hunger for God’s word, an increase in prayer, a renewal of worship, a desire for Christian unity, hospitality, a desire to see people come to know Jesus, genuine signs and wonders but also a seeking of justice and righteousness a care and care for the poor. The Spirit of God is what gives us the Spiritual vitality we need to face and work for peace in the world. It gives us joy and hope in the face of evil and disaster.

This Pentecost as I’ve reread acts chapter two, the thing that really stuck out to me was that the fire that symbolised the Holy Spirit, came and appeared as a tongue of fire above each of the followers gathered there. When we focus on ideas like context and all flesh and being a prophetic people, its easy to get caught up in the big picture, get lost in the crowd. It’s easy to think of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh as kind of like splashes on the masses, like those weather events we’ve had recently, indiscriminate drenching. But the Spirit came upon each individual person, they were not lost in the crowd, each unique person encountered a God who knows them, who loves them, who sent his Son to live die and rise again for them. I just want to say it’s for all of us corporately, which means its for you and I individually.  We started with the image of a bridge that has come to mean something in my life, and we’ve been across the bridge from then and there to here and now in a survey of the Old Testament, but it is for you to be willing to cross that bridge from it being a then and there thing to a here and now reality. To stop and to ask the father to fill us afresh, to fill and keep filling us with his Spirit’s presence.  

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