Browsing articles tagged with " Acts"
May 10, 2016

Jesus is here!

pentecost window
The window named “Pentecost” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

Last week I made the case that “Jesus is not here!”
This week – leading up to Pentecost – I also need to say the opposite: Jesus is here!
The Jesus story does not end with Ascension Day. A week and a half later, Jesus’s presence reappears in his Spirit.

The stain glass window that represents Pentecost in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is one person of the Trinity and also that it is Jesus’s Spirit as well. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed spells it out with authority: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son”. The most important word here is “and the son” – “filioque” in the Latin original.

The filioque takes all the fluffiness out of the Holy Spirit. This spirit is not just a mover and shaker before and in creation. Yes, the Holy Spirit is also found in creation, but when the church talks about the Holy Spirit we also mean the spirit who has been through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is okay to have spiritual experiences on mountaintops, in yoga studios or family gatherings. But Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’s presence among us.

The window depicts you and me as well: We are fish flopping aimlessly around. We do not no where to find God’s Spirit in Creation. We only know what feels right, what feels good, in short: Naturally we only know what we know. Looking at nature we will remain stuck in our natural self. We are looking for one positive experience after another, an emotional pickup here, some spiritual uplifting there. That is not what the Holy Spirit is about!

Here is the good news of Pentecost: We do not have to be stuck in nature. Jesus’s spirit points us floppy fish in certain directions. We may not be able to follow him literally face-to-face. But Jesus is present in the Holy Spirit when two or three fish are called to flop around together. Not aimlessly this time but following directions from above. Come Creator Spirit! Come!

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May 4, 2016

Jesus is not here!

ascension window
The window named “Ascension” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

According to the Apostles’ Creed Jesus Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father”. That is the ultimate roller-coaster ride. Raised high to the cross, put in the ground, risen back up to the surface and finally ascended into heaven. That last step is usually not celebrated much which is a shame. On Thursday the church commemorates Ascension Day. The message of that day is pretty simple: “Jesus is not here!”

How would the world be different without this holy day?
Imagine we were still in the situation of Jesus’s disciples right after Easter: Jesus had just overcome death. He is back in charge of his revolutionary movement. His power is obviously much bigger than that of the emperor of Rome. The time has come to fight! We have God Almighty on our side and whoever is against anything we think, say or do is obviously wrong. Because: Look at us! Jesus is right here with us. He is our king. We are his people. Everybody else needs to join our movement or be destroyed.

Sadly enough, to many “Christians” feel that way: that they literally have Jesus on their side, that they know what is right and wrong better than anybody else. Sometimes entire churches find themselves in the self-deception that people need them in order to be saved. How liberating the message of Ascension Day rings in that kind of scenario: “Jesus is not here!”

Jesus is not here! The church is not made up of diehards fanatically following the Führer Jesus. Instead the church is made up of regular people, sinners if you will. There is nothing special about us. We do not know what is right or wrong better than anybody else. You can live a full and happy live without our church. We celebrate that Jesus ascended into heaven and is not literally with us. At the same time we pray that “Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Even up there in heaven Jesus Christ is still our Lord and Savior. Christ rules over both Heaven and Earth. So our job as Jesus’s disciples is to make this world the best reflection of heaven that we can. And a great starting point would be to recognize that we are not the center of the universe.

May 21, 2015

Where is Heaven?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know God?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have God in your heart?
Wouldn’t it be nice to bring God to people?
Wouldn’t it be nice to bring people to God?
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to handle God?


A Sermon for Ascension Sunday 2015 based on Acts 1:1-11.

Mar 11, 2011

Joel 2:1-17

Today’s Reading is Joel 2:1-17.
“The day of the LORD is coming soon.” Now what does that look like? One approach is found in one of the most famous sermons ever given:
Instead, this is what the prophet Joel spoke about: ‘This is what I will do in the last days, God says: I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams. Yes, even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will proclaim my message. I will perform miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood, fire, and thick smoke; the sun will be darkened, and the moon will turn red as blood, before the great and glorious Day of the Lord comes. And then, whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.’

Jan 31, 2011

Acts 28:11-31

Today’s Reading is Acts 28:11-31.

Paul got mixed reactions teaching the Jewish authorities in Rome. His reaction? – He was pissed. And Paul concluded: “You are to know, then, that God’s message of salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!”
Duh! If you were a minority of only 10% of the population you depend on the coherence of your religious/ethnic group. Yes, the broad majority of people, at least being secure about their cultural identity is much more receptive for different religious influence.

Explore the meeting of two ancient cultures, Roman and Jewish, in this walk of Rome’s ghetto.

Jan 30, 2011

Acts 27:39-28:10

Today’s Reading is Acts 27:39-28:10.

This is another milestone of early church history: Publius’ conversion led to Malta being the first Christian nation in the West. Here is how the orthodox history of Malta is told. That is a pretty place.

Jan 29, 2011

Acts 27:13-38

Today’s Reading is Acts 27:13-38. It is one of those great stories of men of God managing a voyage on the water.

Paul stands in the tradition of even greater people:
Noah and his Ark and Jesus calming the storm come to mind.

They all make a point: You are not alone – God has your back!

Jan 28, 2011

Acts 26:19-27:12

Today’s Reading is Acts 26:19-27:12.
The end is near: That is the end of the book of Acts and Paul’s career.

After Paul basically preaching to the authorities he invokes his rights as a Roman citizen. And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to the Emperor.”

So with this man we have an example of someone bridging cultural gaps: Pharisee and Roman at the same time. Paul is totally embedded in 1st century Judaism. Paul is able to preach at the Areopagus in Athens so that people of Greek upbringing can relate to it.

Paul describes it beautifully in his own words: “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized — whoever …”

Jan 27, 2011

Acts 26:1-18

Today’ Reading is Acts 26:1-18.
This is nothing but the third account of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts. Please refer to my reflection of the first account in Acts 9:1-25.

Jan 26, 2011

Acts 9:26-43

Today’s Reading is Acts 9:26-43.
After Paul’s conversion he went to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. Well that didn’t work out too well. This little scene is a wonderful reminder of what the early church had to go through: Growing pains!

The Apostles were used to being good Jews, following rabbi Joshua.
Now that the second temple is destroyed Judaism as a whole undergoes a major crisis and this little sect of Jesus people has to find its own identity. The Apostles under Peter’s leadership minister in Jerusalem basically sticking within their comfort zone. Paul pushes the boundaries towards opening the early church to the Roman culture. In this first encounter after his conversion he is flat out rejected. This whole conflict is not resolved until the Council of Jerusalem.

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