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Contextualizing the Gospel in society and still being a revolutionary
At Broad & Dauphin, we planted our congregation 136 weeks ago. We did it because we have the Jesus-given responsibility to keep the movement going. The torch has been given to us, the baton has been passed, the mantle has been offered. It’s our job to not just learn from the past, but to be present, and create a new future.
We’re trying to create an alternative culture that offers answers that the current one doesn’t. Questions of anxiety and depression, loneliness and fatigue, poverty and oppression, identity and sexuality, purpose and meaning. Jesus has the answer to those questions—in fact, following Him is the answer to those problems.
We look back to the brothers and sisters that have followed us to learn how they created the alternative culture that worked so well for them and trying to model it ourselves. We followed those world changers who followed Jesus themselves, and are using it as a motivation to get somewhere today.
The truth is we are all standing on Jesus’ shoulders. His eternal presence in his resurrection gives us that opportunity. And while we learn and dialogue together about what that means exactly, we look to people who knew him as a person to learn even more.
Peter was in his inner circle. One of his most trusted disciples, he knew a lot about Jesus. He gave up everything to follow him. And he must have been a leader among his disciples, he spoke the most, and is often listed first among the other men. His character is written in a way, I think, so that we can relate to him. His faith quivered when the storm came. And again when he was walking on water. And again when he cut off Malchus’ ear to protect his teacher. And again when he was asked about his relationship with Jesus and he denies him. Imagine his guilt, and his fear, when he is finally confronted with his best friend’s death?
Imagine the excitement, the saving grace that he is about to experience, when he hears the tombs empty. Here’s one of my favorite depictions of the even. John and Peter are running toward the empty tomb here. It’s a great image, because you see the fear, the disbelief, and confusion in their faces.
We get to see Peter’s humanity in the Gospel. Sometimes it takes seeing someone’s humanity that helps us not dehumanize them. We need to see how normal so we don’t merely transfer all of our issues onto them. Though healthy relationships alone won’t cure transference, but it’s a good start.
Peter’s a real person. A person who has made mistakes and isn’t fully “ripe” before it’s time to send him off to do the work. You might feel like that if you are experiencing that as you are called to follow Jesus radically—just give it a shot like Peter did and see what happens.
We not only get to see Peter and his humanity, the fact that we do get to see his humanity, gives us hope that we can also follow Jesus. It’s good to see his mistakes, so that we take it easy on ourselves. But also so that we can grow into what God has for us. Peter had numerous problems and many mistakes, but he becomes the person and go and plant the church. He’s faithful, available, and teachable.
Peter goes on stand firmly on the shoulders of Jesus and casts a tremendous vision into the formation of the church. After his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus tells his disciples to go and plant the church. Make disciples of all people. This becomes really known when the “helper” as Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit in John descends onto the people sanctifying them and making them ready for mission.
The culmination of that, the moment the movement comes truly public is fifty days after his resurrection, which is what we are celebrating this week—Pentecost. Peter helps make sense of this moment that some people call the Birthday of the Church.
Peter’s faith that stumbled through his life, was likely instrumental to his belief here. A huge windstorm erupts—and they aren’t even outside. And then tongues of fire start falling on them and start acting nuts. All of a sudden, they are speaking different language and they understand each other.
Thinking of it today, it’s a beautiful image of the church—the whole movement gets started here and it occurs with a great deal of diversity—linguistically anyway, they were all Jews and converts to Judaism at the time. The movement was just starting and because Christ’s ministry was in Israel, most of the people He impacted were Jews (although there are many exceptions to this).
The scene is so wild, we might have thought they were loaded too. Peter of course starts doing some damage control and tries to explain things that are going on. He appeals to logic first: the people can’t be drunk—it’s too early (apparently St. Patrick’s Day and Wing Bowl haven’t been invented yet).
He does an amazing thing. He starts giving a sermon and he quotes the Scripture when he does it—probably because that gives him more legitimacy among his people. You can read all of Acts 2 on your own this week in about ten minutes.
Peter probably gives the best explanation of salvation (we call that atonement theory) possible, while also delivering a great message to believe it. Jesus came to earth so that you might follow him. He performed miracles, so that you would believe him. Peter’s thinking, I know because I freaked out when the waves got big and he calmed the sea. I got stressed out when I was walking on water once and fell into it, another time I got off a guy’s ear and Jesus put it back on.
He demonstrates faith in God again when says, God planned this all along. And he does a brilliant thing here: he says God intended for this to happen, but he takes personal responsibility for it too. In fact, he denied Jesus, and the Jews helped crucify him, and the “wicked men” (the Roman Empire) executed him.
Jesus asked for the best that the evil powers in this world and out of it could do, and they just killed him. It was impossible for death to keep a hold on him. It was impossible for death stomach him. And he defeated death for all of us. And this fire that’s coming down? That the fulfillment of the whole thing, proof that you can do it too. The languages you are speaking display that Jesus is meant for everyone.
He’s quoting the Hebrew scripture (you can read for yourself that he quotes Joel and David) to appeal to the thousands of Jews that have gathered around after the fire storm. He’s trying to reveal to them that Jesus is the one they’ve been waiting for. He is the Messiah who is going to liberate them from their oppression. And so they are compelled of course to ask what to do.
He gives them the most explicit answer he can, and you are probably familiar with the words. And the Lord added 3,000 to their number.
Peter is doing good missionary work here. He knows his people, they trust him, he’s giving them his life story, and they are compelled to be freed alongside of him. So often, we just skip all of the contextual parts that might make the story more relatable to someone else; we go straight to be repent and be baptized. I hope as a community we can compel people toward faith through our actions, lifestyles, and our love. I hope we continue to try and compel them. Peter is ministering to Jews primarily, and as a respected Jew, he’s winning them over and changing the culture again.
What forms after, of course, is the crux of Pentecost and offers us a way to model our community of believers. If you keep reading the chapter, you’ll notice that the new disciples ate together, spent time together, shared everything in common, respected the apostles, and were on a mission together. The Lord added to their number daily records Luke. So what you are seeing is a community that’s on mission and in community.
To be honest with you, I really think Circle of Hope at Broad & Dauphin models this communal lifestyle. We manage to have a great deal of conflict in truth and love, which isn’t easy to do. Peter learns to lead others to do this, of course. And of course, he’s standing on the shoulders of Jesus himself—as one of his best friends.