Lay Reader = Acts 2:1-21
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
We are still in our series looking at how our spirituality can be life-giving. Last week we looked at life-giving service, and we talked about the difference between choosing to serve when it’s convenient and being a servant who’s ready when God sends someone to serve.
This week we are looking at life-giving submission. That might sound a little strange. How can it be life-giving to submit?
Well I am reminded of a very serious, contemplative movie that was made a few years ago. I’m surprised it didn’t win an award given its cultural relevance and depth of thought. It was Talladega Nights, the comedy starring Will Ferrell. He plays Ricky Bobby, the king of Nascar racing who is the epitome of swagger. His mantra is, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” But then a rival appears, and they get into a fight at a bar, and Ricky Bobby loses the fight, he’s got his arm pinned behind him, and the rival says that he’s going to break his arm unless Ricky Bobby says, “I like crepes.” And even though Ricky Bobby actually does like “those little pancake things,” he won’t say it because it would mean submitting. So his rival breaks his arm.
If he had submitted, his arm would be OK but he would have wounded his pride. Submission in that case would have meant less pain, but his pride wouldn’t let him. Now that’s maybe a silly example, but let’s hear from Jesus about pride versus submission.
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.
4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Have you ever been in a bookstore – assuming you can still find one these days – and browsed the self help section? Just about all of them are trying to help you self-actualize. The French philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others.” Psychologist Oliver James wrote, “Do your own thing on your own terms and get what you came here for.” The fundamental idea here is that we are at our best, we are the best versions of ourselves, when we are looking out for #1. The best vantage point for life is looking down on all the peons who have yet to climb to your own great heights of achievement.
But is that what Jesus says? “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Or as Paul writes about Jesus, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” That’s a little different. OK, that’s pretty much the polar opposite!
Actually, I think Jesus pretty well sums it up when he says, “what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” In other words, your self-serving self-actualization might get you what you want. Doing your own thing on your own terms might help you get what you came here for. But what kind of person will you be on the other end? And are you 100% sure that what you want is the best thing for you?
Control Vs Engagement
I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite books about motivation – it’s called Drive by Daniel Pink. And he observes that businesses have been managing people a particular way from the Industrial Revolution up to today. It’s based on control and compliance. With the right set of carrots and sticks and policies and procedures, we can make sure our employees do exactly what we want, when we want it. You must fill out five TPS reports to ensure compliance – one for each of the people looking over your shoulder!
But as our work moves more and more into creative endeavors and critical thinking, those carrots and sticks actually make us worse. They demotivate us. They kill our creativity. The attempt at managing and controlling creativity and insight destroys creativity and insight. Just think about a high school student who gets paid for their grades. That might get better grades in the short run, but it also means they’re doing it for the money, not because they want to learn. And if you pay $10/A as a freshman, you better be willing to go to $20 as a sophomore, and higher as a junior and senior, or that $10/A will stop motivating them and they’ll actually do worse.
And I believe that our churches have largely followed a similar pattern. We have processes and systems in place to make everything as orderly as possible. We have a set schedule for worship, because if we change anything people will be upset and might stop giving. In fact the whole Presbyterian system is based on an orderly process where groups of people vote to determine the way to go. And you know, this works most of the time. But every single prophet in the Bible faced a time when they thought God said one thing, and every other religious leader thought God said a different thing. If they held a vote, Elijah would have lost it. If they held a vote, the followers of Jesus would have lost the vote on Jesus being the Messiah. God isn’t always orderly and predictable and straight-forward.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes read the Bible, and especially the New Testament, and I see how Jesus healed people, and the Holy Spirit gave the disciples power to heal, the power to cause earthquakes, the power to revive people from the dead. That’s some crazy stuff! And as a result, Acts 2 says “they had the goodwill of all the people, and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
That’s great. That’s wonderful. But I sometimes wonder why we don’t see that today in our churches. Why aren’t there miraculous healings and powerful proclamations and life-altering interventions in our midst every week? Now, to be fair, we do see it every once in a while. But why does it feel so rare to see such power from God?
Well I have a theory. I believe our attempts at controlling God have left us unable to connect deeply with God. Our orderly progression leaves our mind unable to escape its box – unable to connect with the Holy Spirit.
I believe we could change up Jesus’ words a little bit, and say anyone who tries to control God will lose control. Anyone who submits to God’s plan, God’s timing, God’s will, will find their life fulfilled.
That’s the discipline of submission – letting go of the things that put ME before YOU. Letting go of the need to be right. Letting go of the need to get my way every time. Letting go of the need to prove my point – even if it means getting my arm broken because I won’t’ say “I like crepes.”
I want to draw a line between foolish pride on one side and resolute submission on the other. Foolish pride is very specific – it’s like the crepes thing. You can have pride in your work, you can have pride in your decisions. But foolish pride is when you believe your reputation is more important than anything else. Foolish pride is unwilling to admit a mistake. Foolish pride is unwilling to back down, just to prove a point.
On the other hand, resolute submission is also very specific. There are limits to submission. The Roman and Jewish authorities told the early church to stop talking about Jesus, and they said, “Tough cookies – we can’t STOP talking about Jesus.” That’s a loose translation. They didn’t submit. When someone is using submission to destroy or to harm or to undermine Christ – that’s a limit to submission.
So resolute submission is following Jesus’ model of self-denial without self-hatred or self-contempt. Resolute submission is actively looking to the interests of others. Resolute submission is waiting for God.
Today is Pentecost, and we read the story. But that’s Acts 2. In Acts 1, Jesus tells the disciples they are going to do amazing things in their city, in their state, in their country, and around the world. All they have to do is wait for the Holy Spirit – they didn’t know what that even meant. And do you know how long they waited? NINE DAYS! Can you imagine if we were told something amazing is going to happen, and I can’t tell you what it’ll look like but you’ll know it when you see it. So, just wait for that – and I’m not going to tell you how long.
There is NO WAY we could last nine days of waiting. We’d have discussion meetings setup by day three at the latest!
It requires incredible resolve to submit to God’s timing. To make room for the Holy Spirit’s non-orderly process.
I’m going to do something outside the box today in honor of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit did the unexpected on Pentecost, and nothing was ever the same again. As I thought about all those disciples talking at the same time in different languages, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, I realized we might benefit from something similar.
So I’m going to give you time RIGHT NOW to speak in your own language about the good news of Jesus Christ. I’m going to give you a minute to collect your thoughts, and then I want you to talk with one or two people around you to share what you’re thinking.
You might want to grab a pen, or a pencil, or your phone to write down your answers if you want. First off, what’s some way you have seen God at work around you or in your life. At VBS this week we’re calling those God Sightings. Where have you seen God at work already. What’s your God Sighting?
And then I want you to also think of somewhere you hope and pray you’ll see God do something great and mighty. What’s your God Hope? Where do you hope to see something great and mighty from God – something worthy of the New Testament church? Maybe that’s in your life. Maybe that’s for someone you know. Maybe it’s something in this church.
What’s your God Sighting – God has already done something? And what’s your God Hope – where you hope to see God do something great and mighty? Take a minute to write that down now. [LONG PAUSE]
I know it’s crazy to do this, that’s why I had you fill out worship service evaluations last week instead of this week. But maybe a little dis-order will allow the Holy Spirit to creep into our midst and do something powerful.
On three, break into groups and share a God Sighting and a God Hope. Ready to invite the Holy Spirit into our midst? Ready to submit to the Holy Spirit’s plan, the Holy Spirit’s timing? One, two, three, BREAK! I’ll call us back together when the Spirit tells me to.[BREAK INTO GROUPS]
Holy Spirit, this wasn’t a well-crafted and eloquent sermon. I didn’t have great stories. It wasn’t orderly. But I pray that in my weakness you would be strong. I pray that our discomfort would open some daylight for you to work in our hearts and in our lives. I pray for the resolve to submit to YOUR will, to submit to YOUR timing, to submit to each other AS JESUS SHOWED US. This is one of the hardest spiritual practices, and one of the most abused as well, so give us grace as we seek life-giving submission to you, and mutual submission to each other. Amen.