From Inclusion to Exclusion – The Pentecost Story

SBC and SHW are both happy and healthy.  Thank you for your prayers and for the space to spend a week with my dear family without whom I’d probably be drunk in a gutter somewhere.  Life being what it is, Monday has returned, and I’m preaching Pentecost, so with that in mind, the blog returns with a interesting realization that came out of workingpreacher.org’s Sermon Brainwave this week.

We’ve spent the past several weeks treading through portions of Acts that come much, much later than the story of the Spirit’s arrival in that upper room on the Day of Pentecost.  We’ve heard about Philip’s chariot ride with and subsequent baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch.  We’ve heard Peter, having seen the Spirit of God at work in the lives of uncircumcised, dirty Gentiles, ponder aloud, “Who can withhold the water from baptism?”  We’ve seen, right before our very eyes, the Jewish Sect called “The Way,” become the Church, open to all of God’s children: Jew, Gentile, Greek, Roman, even those despised Samaritans.  We stopped short of The Episcopal Church’s text of choice over the past 9 years: Acts 15 and The Council of Jerusalem, but still, we’ve seen the Church come to grips with the fact that Jesus’ arms of love, spread wide open on the hard wood of the cross, are big enough that everyone is within the reach of his saving embrace.

And then…

And then, for The Day of Pentecost, we watch the doors close, the tablecloth get raised back to heaven, and the Ethiopian Eunuch walk backwards out of the water as we watch the Spirit descend upon a group of Jewish Disciples and then Peter preach to a world-wide gathering of Parthians, Medes, Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome; Cretans and Arabs.  All of whom are Jews or Proselytes (converts to Judaism who have gone through the rituals of belief, i.e. circumcision).

The doors that are flung wide open by Acts 15 are very much still closed in Acts 2, and we are well suited to remember this fact.  The story of Pentecost, having walked through the Great 50 Days of Easter, is a movement from Inclusion to Exclusion.  As Peter preaches his famous sermon, no one in that crowd, much less Peter, has a clue that soon this group of Jesus Followers will include Gentiles.  The Spirit has been unleashed, however, and once that door is opened, nothing will ever be the same.  The very floodgates of heaven have been loosed, and the Spirit’s power that begins to flow on that fateful Pentecost morning is still a raging flood today.

As I prepare to stand to preach on Pentecost 2012, I can’t help but wonder what unimaginable thing the Spirit has in store now?  Will I get to be a part of it, like Peter was?  Will I get to see it happen, like the 120 did?  Or will I work toward my own goals, my own gains, my own desires, like the Judaizers from Judea?  I hope I’m up there with Peter, but in order to get there, I’ve got to be open to the Spirit’s work in me.  The story of Pentecost, from Acts 2 forward, is a movement back toward inclusion of exceptional proportions.  Where will the wind take me?  Where will it take you?

One thought on “From Inclusion to Exclusion – The Pentecost Story

  1. Great post. So, in other words, the Spirit’s work IS to fling open wide the doors…just not yet. I see this as the groundwork necessary to get us there. The drive is always toward radical inclusion, but that doesn’t mean that the Spirit leads us in ways so unfamiliar to us that we can’t recognize what happens. This Spirit-led epiphany (Gospel in new languages but still restricted to Jews and proselytes) is enough for today. Since they can’t even see what’s coming next, maybe the right response of the disciples (and us) is to celebrate what’s happening now with an understanding that more of the same will happen soon. It’s an invitation to openness to change rather than to radical change itself.

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