Who wants revival? It’s a word we toss around less and less, but I remember a time when multi-day meetings at church with a traveling, fiery evangelist were common. Turning passionately and dramatically back to God is a pattern, especially in the Old Testament. Time and again, we see Israel repenting and whether by the prompting of a leader, judge, or prophet returning to the Lord.
Pentecost is 50 days after Jesus raises from the dead and about 10 days after he ascends. Have we made a close study of what happens, how it links in with God’s fuller plan through the Old Testament and completed in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? The story is found in Acts 2. The coming of the Holy Spirit is told in four verses:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (1-4)
A few years ago, I went to Northampton, Massachusetts. My naive hope was to see the spot where Jonathan Edwards preached the Word of God into so many hearts during the First Great Awakening. There’s a small rock with a few words about Edwards. There’s a fifth church, rebuilt in 1877, which stands on the same hallowed ground. My surprise wasn’t the minimal recognition or even the newer building. It was the moral choices made by the First Baptist Church and First United Church of Christ who share the historic property and call themselves the First Churches. There’s a reason for my surprise, as you might well know, due to the convicted life of Jonathan Edwards.
Luke shares a timeless question in Acts 1:11 that we might miss if we’re not reading closely. It’s the moment Jesus is exiting on a cloud bound for Heaven. They are staring into the sky, wondering, waiting, stalling. They are amazed and bewildered, like a deer in the headlights or a cartoon character who runs off a cliff, then pauses to see his fall is eminent. “What now?” they must be asking themselves. “Now, we’re alone… all alone!” The angels speak into their gaping silence with a question: “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
What we bring before the Lord matters. We read about it early on with Cain and Abel. It’s the pleasing sacrifice that brings atonement. Genesis 8:20 tells us the first thing Noah does after the flood; He “built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” The story doesn’t stop there. Verse 21 says, “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans.'”
Constant exhaustion is how we often feel. Whether we’re in the hustle and bustle of a big city or the Wendell Berry landscapes of a country farm, the to-do lists that accumulate often bombard us with waves of anxiety. We get unsettled by all the appointments and deadlines we can’t quite make. Our wants get scrambled up with our needs and it’s not always clear how to not only relax, but live in the chaos with a simple and real peace. How do we authentically preach patience in such an impatient, wound-up world? Here are 10 suggestions you might consider. It may be fodder for a single 10-point sermon or perhaps beginning threads for a sermon series on patience.
John Wesley famously said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” Born in England on June 28, 1703, John would go on to reform the Anglican church from within, fathering a movement called Methodism.
From the cross, Jesus doesn’t say much, only about 60 words in seven statements. With the parables said, the healings performed, the warnings pronounced, the endless walking done, Jesus is now perched on a cross for all people to interpret. Similar to Moses’ raised pole in Numbers 21:4-9, where anyone who stopped and really looked avoided death, Jesus is raised up. Do we see him? Are we inviting our congregations into a fuller understanding of what happened and why?
No doubt the death of Jesus puts disciples into crisis mode. They don’t understand what Jesus plainly tells them, “I’ll suffer and die and raise from the dead three days later.” They don’t even understand when the tomb is empty and the women come back and exclaim the news. Perhaps they first believe the rumor that circulates quickly: someone has stolen away Jesus’ body. Perhaps that’s why they lock the upper room door behind them and sit together, frightened. Not for long. The truth of the resurrection comes flooding in with multiple encounters with Jesus. He shows them his crucifixion scars and eats dinner just like before… but it isn’t like before. Something new is beginning to transpire.
Easter comes along every year. It’s the basis of our faith, but if we’re not intentional, the celebration can become tired and altogether expected. Some of it should be. Longstanding liturgy or a traditional form of ceremony is a significant way to invite us into the work and wonder of God. For example, many keep the tradition of a passion play or a Good Friday service called Tenebrae which is Latin for shadows. However, in an effort to continue to share the story with fresh eyes, sometimes tying details together or linking moments to other parts of Scripture can help. In that vein, here are 12 significant death and resurrection details that have the potential to preach.