Six years ago I began my search for a new call. Over the four years of searching, I read countless parish websites and profiles. By the time I discovered St. Peter’s, I could almost predict what I would find in each parish’s profile from some flowery language about their mission and vision to their heart felt desire to become a program church filled with young families. And yes, somehow the new Rector would miraculously make this happen through inspiring homilies and a welcoming personality.
I was thankful when I was approached to consider St. Peter’s. Yes, you sought a warm and welcoming Rector who would preach inspiring sermons. (Well, I guess one out of two ain’t bad.) And yes, your Mission and Vision Statements are lofty. However, that said, why you stood out is not what you said, but how you said it. Our vision is simple, “To become a community of Apostle’s.” As I said to our staff during our planning retreat on Tuesday and to the vestry at their last meeting, I have been intrigued by our word choice. St. Peter’s does not want to become a community of disciples, but a community of apostles.
This is significant. This says we recognize something few other parishes understand, we are already a community of disciples. Because by definition, a disciple is a follower, a student of the teacher or in our case a student of Jesus himself. An apostle on the other hand, is both a follower and one who is sent into the world to share the message of the teacher with others.
This my friends is where, as our Presiding Bishop calls us, the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement gains traction and discovers new growth. Our movement’s growth is not contained in these four wall, or in our Sunday averages, but in each of us. And this where the day of Pentecost is meant to bring us.
Think about it for a moment, up until this point, the post resurrection stories often take us back to the empty tomb or to the upper room. In fact, the alternative Gospel for this morning brings us back to Easter night when the resurrected Christ appears in the upper room where the disciples are literally hiding. There he breathes on them the Holy Spirit and commissions them to go out, to share the Gospel, to offer the love of God through the forgiveness of sins. Have you not noticed a theme to the Easter Gospels? They tend to start with someone either looking back, or hiding in fear then end with these same people being sent out, out into the world to either find Jesus or to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
This morning, our disciples, now apostles, have finally left the upper room and gone into the heart of Jerusalem. And the message spreads boundlessly as the Holy Spirit literally spews forth from them with tongues of fire and a rushing wind.
Now here is the question, what was the focus of their message? Was it simply about a man who lived, died and came back to life, or was it about that and more. As we look at what Jesus actually taught, it was more about the Kingdom of God than it was about his impending death and resurrection. If we read the Gospels with a discerning eye, Jesus only mentions his death once and only to his intimate circle of twelve.
The message we are being sent to proclaim is not just about a man who died and rose again, but about a man, who is literally the begotten Son of God, who embodied the love of God, and who told the world that the reign of God is near. . . . that the reign of God is not just near but possible. And, if you don’t believe it, Jesus death and resurrection not only proves this, it shows us what is possible, Jesus death and resurrection also tell us that God wants to reign over the earth again as much as we want it.
Earlier in the Gospels, as Jesus sends out seventy of his followers to share the Gospel and to forgive and retains sins, he tells them them the “Harvest if plentiful.” The harvest is still plentiful. the world is ripe and ready to receive the Gospel. Only they don’t know it.
As I survey the chaos of this world, I see a world of hurt. While I will not deny the darkness and the evil which inhabits this world, I see it as a by product of emptiness. A by product of inadequacy. A by-product of worthlessness and self-hatred. I look out and I see a world that is looking for the source of love, for a source of hope, a source of light in the darkness. I see a world that no longer understands that God, that which created us and all there is, still cares about all of creation and each of us in particularly and the proof is in the fact that God gave us His only begotten Son to be sacrificed on a cross so that we may find life again.
This is the message the world is literally dying to hear, more importantly, to experience through us. But the world will never experience the love of God if we continue to be stuck in the role of disciple because we are too afraid to graduate to apostleship. The world will never experience the love of God, if the whole of our message and movement is simply contained with in the boundaries of these four walls. . .if we continue to live as if our Baptism is only for our personal salvation and not as a divine commissioning to go out into the world as apostles of Christ also.
At the conclusion of Jesus sending out the seventy, the seventy return to him amazed at all they had accomplished in His name. To their surprise, people were healed of their maladies, sins were forgiven and demons cast out. On the day of Pentecost, when the disciples finally get out of their own way and leave the upper room to proclaim the Kingdom, on that day, over three thousand came forward to be baptized as the message was heard in every language. If this is what twelve men can accomplish on behalf of the Kingdom in one day, just think of what we can do as over one hundred strong committed to sharing the Gospel as the apostles, those who are sent, of this satellite church of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.