This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday--the day the Church remembers the bestowing of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples empowering them to go out and proclaim the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus' death and resurrection.
Pentecost is usually one of my favorite Sundays of the Church year. There are no external trappings like Christmas Trees and presents or bunnies and eggs to deal with. This Church festival has yet to be co-opted by society, and for this I am thankful. I am also thankful for the opportunity to wear my red stole--it rarely gets used during the year. I am thankful to preach about the power from on high that fell upon the disciples upon that day.
As part of my sermon preparation, I read the entirety of Acts chapter two. There are 47 verses in the chapter, and we will only be publicly reading 21. Chalk such matters up to time restraints and to those who pick out what texts constitute the Revised Common Lectionary. I could add additional verses, but lengthy Bible passages plus lengthy sermons can equal mumblings and grumblings. Better to keep things a bit shorter and sweeter. :-)
Yet, there is so much in the second chapter of Acts which needs proclaiming. There is so much which needs examining and revisiting as we see the empowerment of the Church and its initial proclamation as articulated by Peter. Pentecost happened so that Jesus could be proclaimed!!!
It is worth taking some time to read through Peter's proclamation. It cut many to their hearts, but I was also struck by another verse included by Luke in this text. Verse 40:
40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ (New Revised Standard Version translation)
"Intriguing," I thought to myself. Arguments? Exhortations? Wasn't it enough just to proclaim the mighty acts of God in Jesus? Apparently not.
I decided to dig into the Greek to catch any nuances of the words:
The two words which most concerned me were διεμαρτύρατο (diemartyrato, translated as arguments) and παρεκάλει (parekalei, translated as exhorted).
Diemartyrato has as its root word "witness." The "die" adds emphasis, so there is often some wiggle room in translating this word. Strong's Greek concordance translates it "solemnly testify."
The King James Bible translates it testify and exhort.
The New International Version translates it warned and pleaded.
As I look at this particular statement, there is a sense of some strongly worded testimony by Peter. There is a sense of urgency; a sense of working to convince the crowd; a sense of working hard to explain the new reality rooted and grounded in Jesus' death and resurrection. There is not just a presentation of the events that occurred, but there is a need to explain the reasons for those events and their implications for life.
What is the take home point?
The Church cannot simply be nice to everyone and expect people to come to faith.
The Church cannot simply be engaged in doing justice and expect people to believe in Jesus.
The Church cannot simply say, "Jesus is risen," and expect people to come to faith.
The Church cannot simply say, "Follow these rules because God says so," and expect people to believe in Jesus.
There must be a willingness to engage, argue, exhort, explain, and so on and so forth. There must be a willingness on behalf of the Church to present the Christian worldview from the beginning and show how that worldview addresses life's biggest questions. There must be a willingness to show how various worldviews fall short in how they address those questions and exhort others to "save themselves from this corrupt generation."
There's nothing really nice about that last statement. In fact, it can be seen as pretty arrogant. It can be seen as pretty exclusive. And if it is spoken without the proclamation of grace and mercy shown by Jesus on the cross; if it is spoken by someone who looks down one's nose at another while speaking it; if it is spoken in arrogance and self-righteousness, then the message will be lost as well.
The challenge, I think, is to engage the world with great love and compassion with absolutely no compromise in the belief that Jesus is the risen Lord who alone can offer salvation--not only for eternity, but for our world today. Jesus is the risen Lord who can bring about abundant life--a life of joy, peace, and reconciliation now.
If you think not, I'm ready to argue. :-)