Sent by the Spirit--to Become Apostles

Acts 2:1-12
May 27, 2012

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and 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, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

I have a bone to pick with Christianity, and it has to do with what we celebrate today. The bone I have to pick is that we don’t celebrate Pentecost very intensely and intentionally. Pentecost should be a BIG DAY, but it’s an afterthought for most Christians. It certainly takes a backseat to Memorial Day this weekend. Think about this for a moment. Christmas and Easter are BIG days, and the whole country celebrates both, but for Pentecost Sunday there are no Hallmark cards or trinkets, no Pentecost Day sales, no Holy Spirit treats left in stockings or baskets,… just wearing red or yellow—if you remember. And when it hits on the same weekend as Memorial Day, there’s virtually no mention of it in the culture. In fact, many churches minimize Pentecost in order to emphasize Memorial Day. No disrespect to veterans intended, but I’m not sure this is right. We should remember all who have fought and died for our freedoms, but is that more important than the coming of the Holy Spirit?   

            I think Pentecost is just as important as Christmas and Easter. Why? Because it’s the day we celebrate Christ’s Spirit truly becoming available to everyone. Jesus certainly considered the Holy Spirit to be as important as him. He followed the Spirit into the desert to struggle with temptation. He followed the Spirit’s onto the cross. After the resurrection, he breathed the Spirit onto his disciples, saying that the Spirit was his Spirit in them. And he invited his disciples and followers to gather on the Day of Pentecost to await the Spirit’s coming into their lives.

            It is this gift of the Holy Spirit, available to all of us, that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. The fact is that all religions teach something similar to each other in terms of love, compassion, justice, and the like. But Christianity teaches something unique about God, which is that we can open up and allow God’s Spirit to come alive in us, if we choose to do so. This is a radical vision of God. Basically it means that God is not only in heaven or in the eternal realm, but right now God is in us, God is around us, and God is working through us.

            What makes the day of Pentecost really important is how it changed Jesus’ disciples, and how it changed all of Jesus’ followers. Most people don’t make the distinction between disciples and apostles. We don’t think that there’s much difference, but there is. Most people just think the words are interchangeable, but on the Day of Pentecost Jesus’ disciples stopped being disciples and became apostles. Look at the words “disciple” and “apostle” and you’ll see the difference.

            The word “disciple” used in the Bible the Greek word μαθητής, or mathetes, which means “a pupil” or “an apprentice.” The Latin version of the word (the root of the word we use) is discipulus, which means “a student.” Basically, the disciples were Jesus’ students. The fact that he had twelve disciples wasn’t a rarity. Jesus was a rabbi, and in the rabbinic tradition of the time a master rabbi typically would take on 12 apprentice disciples who would be trained to become rabbis in their own right. Jesus may have called them differently than the typical rabbi. And he certainly wasn’t a typical rabbi, but he was following the rabbinical tradition in training them to be rabbis—except that he was really training them to become apostles.

            The word “apostle” is different from “disciple.” It comes from the Greek word πόστολος or apóstolos, which means “one who is sent away.” Apostles are “sent ones,” sent by Christ to spread his gospel, his love, and his Spirit. Being an apostle, a sent one, is a dramatic difference from being a disciple, or student. Think of your own student years. Was the focus of your being a student just to be a student, or were you being trained for something else? The Day of Pentecost was a transforming day because that was graduation day for the disciples. The disciples became apostles, and as apostles they left the relative safety of Jerusalem to share the Gospel with the world. I say “relative” because soon it became very dangerous for them. They spoke out about their faith. As a result, many of them were becoming abused, persecuted, and even killed.

            When they left Jerusalem, many of the disciples went to share the gospel in dangerous places. Andrew went to Scythia (present day Armenia and Georgia), where he was crucified. James went to Spain, which was a wild and unsettled province of the Roman Empire, and was killed there. Matthew went to Ethiopia, Thomas went to India (I spoke about him several weeks ago), Jude went to Assyria, Peter to Antioch and then to Rome, and Paul went to Turkey, Greece, Rome, and possibly Spain. All died because of what they were preaching. Becoming an apostle, a sent one, can be dangerous work, but it is the focus of the Christian life. We aren’t just called to be students. We are called to be sent.

            In all American denominations, and especially among the nondenominational, evangelical churches, there has been a big emphasis on making everyone a disciple. This has been true for a number of years. Often that means that the focus of the church is getting everyone involved in small groups. This focus on disciplemaking is big. Last January I was invited to be a speaker at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Disciplemaking Conference  in Florida. I told them what I’m telling you right now. The focus of the Christian faith is not on becoming a disciple. It is on becoming an apostle, to become someone who is sent into the world to make a difference. To become apostles we need to learn more about our faith, but being a disciple is only a step to our ultimate calling.

            We had a great example this morning of what it means to be a modern apostle. Cary Efaw, one of our members, did a moment for mission on the Wounded Warrior Project that we participated in back in March. It was a great example of how the Spirit works. Heather Efaw, Cary’s daughter, is in the U.S. Air Force, and was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. She was posted in the hospital/medical unit. Looking around she saw the struggles of the wounded soldiers. It stirred her to do something—or more accurately, the Spirit stirred her to do something. She called her father and told him that the wounded came in but had no backpacks, containers, or bags to put their stuff in when they were transferred out to another medical unit in German or elsewhere. She wondered if Cary could coordinate an effort at Calvin Church to provide backpacks and containers.

            As Cary said, he struggled with the request because he was concerned about being embarrassed if the congregation didn’t respond. But as he also said, in the end the Spirit stirred him to do something, and he decided to let God take care of the results. This congregation responded in a big way, sending over 45 backpacks, 144 tupperware-like containers, and so much more.

            This is how the Spirit works. Heather became a “sent one” to Afghanistan. It may not have fully been her choice, but the Spirit uses lots of different means to send us where the Spirit wants. She invited Cary to become a “sent one” in Zelienople. Cary invited us to all become “sent ones,” sending us to places like Target, Giant Eagle, or even our closets to find material to send to Afghanistan. This is what it means to be “sent.” The Spirit enters us, calls us, stirs us, and those of faith respond.

            I want you to look at your life and ask a question: How are you being sent to make a difference in the world?” You are being sent somewhere in some way. It may be no further than your home and town. Or it may be supporting someone else who is sent. Or it may be that you are sent somewhere else.  The question is, are you ready to be sent?