Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Spirit unloosed

As usual, it's a matter of perspective.  Some who are present for the unloosing of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost are "amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?'"  Others sneer and say, "[These babbling ones] are filled with new wine."  But Peter, standing with the other disciples, interprets the event in this way: "It is the Spirit of God being poured out on all flesh in the last days", and don't be afraid, because "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."  So the question comes to us:  What is our perspective on this unexpected visit by the Spirit?  That is the question before us in the lesson for the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-21.

(The following questions are part  of my new guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available on this page from amazon.com.  These questions attempt to unearth some of the pertinent questions for preachers of this genre.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  The Spirit of God is on the loose in this text.  The way the Word functions is to expose the different reactions to this unloosing.  Peter reveals that this unloosing of the Spirit could be good news or bad news, depending on the hearer.  To some this unloosing is good news because the prophecies of sons and daughters are heard, the visions of the young, and the dreams of the old are emerging; even those who have no voice - slaves - prophesy.  To others the Spirit's presence brings signs of the end of this age and this is assuredly not good news to those who have invested themselves completely in this age.  But there is good news for all, as well:  "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." (no matter their station in this life.)

2.  How does the Word not function in the text?  The Gospel word - what God has done for us in Christ - is not immediately obvious in this text.  But if we remember the words of the appointed gospel text - John 14:8-17, we remember that the Spirit is called the Advocate, and in that is good news.  The Advocate comes to be a second voice for us when the Accuser of the saints (Satan) reminds God of our guilty nature.  The Advocate speaks on our behalf, silencing the Accuser, by declaring that we have been justified in Christ.  So the presence of the Spirit is a Gospel word indeed.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  This is a crucial question for the preacher in this text.  If we identify with those who are amazed and perplexed, or with those who sneer at the ones who appear drunk, then this text is one which will scare and baffle us.  If, on the other hand, we identify with Peter and the apostles, we are rejoicing at this outpouring of the Spirit.  One strategy might be for the preacher to try identifying with all three groups, and see where that leads.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience, the Word functioning to say, "Follow Jesus", is not present here. This text is an announcement of the Spirit's appearance.  We are certainly called to follow in the wake of this event, but the basis for this following will need to come from other texts.

5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Using our imaginations a bit we can come up with several couplets based on the context:  waiting/the time has come; weak/filled with power; living in anticipation/given the fire of God's spirit to go forward.

6.  Exegetical work:  The text that Peter begins his sermon with in verse 14 is from the prophet Joel.  It is interesting that in the Hebrew Bible, these 5 verses are a chapter unto themselves - chapter 3.  It is apparently a chapter that Peter had memorized - quite likely, in fact, for a Hebrew boy raised in the synagogue.  This chapter from Joel comes to a people who have been plagued with locusts.  In the face of this plague the people have been called to repentance, and following that, God promises to call off the locusts and restore the land.  God promises that the vegetation will return, abundant rain and crops will come, and the people will never again endure such a calamity.  Following these promises are the promises which Peter quotes, that God will send the Spirit, and Peter quotes almost verbatim Joel 3.  The only part that Peter omits is the last half of the final verse where Joel writes, "For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls." (Joel 2:32b NRSV)  This context might be worth pondering, for Joel's audience had just endured a terrible plague and were mightily discouraged; so also, the followers of Jesus, who had endured the death of Christ and were also quite likely to be discouraged at this point, not withstanding the reports of the resurrection.

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Henry Mitchell would remind us that when a text like this celebrates like everyone is drunk, then we too must celebrate. We must celebrate that God's Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, regardless of gender or station in life.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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