14aPeter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed [the crowd], 36“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Picnic Table by Gord Fynes. Creative commons image on flickr
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. (NRSV)
But it didn’t always look like this. For almost fifty-five years, it looked like this…
I’m sure we can all agree that the old sanctuary was beautiful as well. But the St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936 inflicted such severe damage on the structure, and two decades later it was inevitable—that something drastic had to be done.
That’s the tyranny of time: it brings change.
In the New Testament, the biggest change Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. In today’s reading, Peter puts the responsibility of the crucifixion squarely upon the people standing before him—none of whom were the high priests or Pontius Pilate.
Faced with these stark realities, the people ask, “what should we do?”
Looking at today’s world, that’s a good question, what should we do? I feel as though we’re at a crossroads like this church was in sixty years ago—except the question isn’t about the building; it’s about people.
What should we do about all these empty pews—while the vast majority of our neighbors have no church affiliation?
What should we do about two hundred students of our local school district facing hunger?
What should we do about all the people dying of overdoses?
What should we do about all the family and friends on our prayer list?
What should we do about “this corrupt generation” we’re living in?
I’m sure Peter’s words brought to mind something about what you see happening in the world today that’s troubling to you. With everything from secularism, immorality, to the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, a truly corrupt generation is one that cannot perceive God’s activity in its midst.
There’s so much happening around the world and even right here that can dash away your hopes. And yet, Jesus is calling and gathering together his church from even this corrupt generation. His arms are open wide to include every sinner who bears personal responsibility for his crucifixion (which is all of us.)
Today’s baptism is a beautiful sign of the Spirit is moving right here, right now, calling grandparents and little babies; teenagers and baby boomers, millennials and Gen-Xers, all into this beautiful community called the Body of Christ. And that’s not all…
Jesus is feeding hungry children through the food bank and Community PATH—by your support.
He’s providing clothing. He’s comforting the bereaved.
He’s answering the prayers of the people on our prayer list.
He’s calling little children to faith.
In all this, Jesus is using your hands and your voices to do it! And none of this would be possible if we were not a church. Not a building, but a people.
So if you ask, what should we do, the answer is simple: you should belong! 2,000 years ago, three thousand persons were called and gathered into God’s saving activity in the world. In their worship, in their service, and in their relationships, they came to recognize the presence of Christ.
It starts in baptism—where God declares your belonging. As you embrace your belonging, two things happen: the first is repentance. God purges away your love and desire for the things that draw you from Christ. The fear and selfishness that focuses you on yourself give way as God liberates your spiritual gifts for the good of all. Then you are drawn into relationships through which we magnify the presence of Christ to each other. After all, Jesus doesn’t use programs, projection screens, or praise bands to build the church. He uses people!
As we face what is unquestionably a challenging time to be church, relationships are one of God’s greatest gifts—and as we see what God has accomplished here today, we need to be asking how we can grow and deepen the relationships we have with one another. Not only that, Jesus wants you to recognize that beautiful gifts await you in the neighbors you haven’t yet met—or just met.
Churches die when their members let themselves be cut off from everyone but themselves; when they sit in judgment of the people who are not like themselves. But they thrive and grow when they embrace Christ in each other!
That’s our call today—to carry on what God has accomplished today in the baptism of our sister in Christ. You and I proclaim our belonging to one another in Christ.
And it is so beautiful to belong.