May 18, 2018 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for May 20th, 2018. The final lesson of a series called “Spreading the word.” This lesson is for Pentecost Sunday. It’s also Senior Sunday at Central Church of Christ in Stockton, when we honor our graduating high school seniors. So this message has a double-focus.
The text for this week is Acts 2.1-21.
Resources I’m using for this series include:
Stephen E. Fowl. Philippians. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary, ed. Joel B. Green and Max Turner. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.
Jacob Jervell. The Theology of the Acts of the Apostles. New Testament Theology, ed. James D. G. Dunn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Craig Keener. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012-2015.
Karoline M. Lewis. John. Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
James W. Thompson and Bruce W. Longenecker. Philippians and Philemon. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016.
Ben Witherington, III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
An audio link is embedded below for those who’d like to listen:
My dream when I graduated high school
I graduated high school twenty years ago.
Wednesday May 27th, 1998, to be precise.
Here’s a picture of me, taken right around that time.
I was doing what I did most nights back then—playing my songs at one of several local coffee shops. And just look at all that hair I had!
In those days I was a young man who didn’t just have a full head of hair. I also had a head full of dreams and visions. See, I wanted to be the Bob Dylan of my generation.
My big dream was for my songs to enter the canon of great American music. And I envisioned myself living on the road, pouring out my heart and soul to crowds of people. Connecting. Communicating. Helping them find the voice they needed and the words they were grasping for in my words, and in my voice.
So that was me, twenty years ago. When I graduated high school.
With my dreams of becoming a famous singer-songwriter.
My senior classmates even voted me Most Likely to Be Famous that year.
But just about everyone else told me it was time to put down my guitar and my songs—and with them, my dreams.
Some were kinder about it than others. But pretty much what I was told was that my dreams didn’t matter anymore. I needed to learn to live in the real world, they said.
Looking back now, I see clearly that what they were really telling me is they wanted me to live out their dreams for me.
Or by their visions of what a young person should do and work for and become.
You know what I wish somebody had told 18-year-old me?
I wish someone had found a way to tell me to hold on loosely to my dreams and visions for my life.
Like, not to let them go. Not to abandon them. But to be open to the dreams God had for me.
I wish someone had told me to keep my eyes and my mind and my heart open to God’s vision for me.
Because maybe God really did make me to pour out my thoughts and feelings to other people. Maybe God made me to pour out myself for other people. To connect and communicate. To help people find the words they need to hear. And even to find their own voices along the way.
Maybe God and I shared all those dreams and visions. Maybe my desires were right, but God meant to fulfill them in a way I couldn’t see yet.
I wish someone had honored my dreams. And also taught me to seek after God’s dreams for me. And to look for where God’s vision and my dreams intersected. Because that would be where God called me.
What do you wish they’d told you when you graduated?
For those of you here who graduated a while ago, looking back, what do you wish somebody had told you when you graduated?
Maybe you also wish they’d told you to hold on loosely to your plans. Because life and experiences and God all have a funny way of changing our plans. And changing us. Of giving us new dreams.
Or maybe you wish they’d told you that high school or even college isn’t really the best time of your life. And anybody who tells you it is, probably isn’t doing life right.
Maybe you wish they’d told you it’s okay to make mistakes. Even a lot of them. That messing up doesn’t mean you’re stupid—it means you’re still learning. Just like everyone else on this planet.
Or—on a related note—most people really are just making it up as they go along. So if you feel like you’re often living by the seat of your pants, congratulations. You’re normal.
Maybe you just wish they had told you that most of your classmates who seemed so cool were going to end up being losers.
Or to appreciate what you have, even if it’s not everything you want.
I know I wish someone had told me all these things when I was graduating. And that they’d also told me they knew I probably wouldn’t understand or appreciate anything they were telling me for another five to ten years. And that’s okay, too. Because that’s how it happens for most people.
So there’s all kinds of really helpful things we can and should be telling our graduates.
But today, we’re going to take a closer look at Acts 2, which we heard in worship. Because there’s some fantastic words about visions and dreams and God’s plans and dreams for us. And these are words our graduating seniors desperately need to hear.
And the rest of us need to hear them, too.
So today, I really just want to focus on two verses in our reading. Acts 2.17-18. Those two verses are from Peter’s Pentecost sermon.
New beginnings: dreams and visions
But first, a little background on what’s going on in our story.
The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is the story of the birthday of the church. Jesus had just returned to God. And a short time later, during the festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell on Jesus’ apostles with the loud roar of a mighty wind. Then flames of fire appeared over their heads, and they began to preach the good news about Jesus. There were people from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. And by a miracle from the Holy Spirit, they all heard the message in their own native tongue. That day, the first 3000 believers were baptized into Christ. And so the church was born.
Now, God never does anything by accident. And it wasn’t accidental that God chose Pentecost to be the church’s birthday. See, Pentecost was a festival that foreshadowed what God would do for the world through Christ and his church. And I just want to take a bit to show you why it was significant that God chose Pentecost as the day the church would be born.
Pentecost is the Greek word for fifty. That’s because it was fifty days after the Passover festival.
If you read the Old Testament, this festival goes by a few different names. Sometimes it’s called the Festival of Weeks, because it’s seven weeks after Passover. It’s also called the Festival of Reaping and the Festival of First-Fruits. That’s because it originally celebrated the end of the seven-week grain harvest. It was a time to be thankful and celebrate God’s gift of a rich harvest.
So it’s appropriate that the church was born during this Festival of First-Fruits. Those 3000 people who were baptized that day were the first harvest gathered in to Christ.
Over time, the festival also came to be associated with Moses giving the Torah at Sinai a few weeks after Passover. This is where Israel was joined to God as his special, covenant people.
Remember, a pillar of fire traveled with Israel through the wilderness. And at Pentecost, individual pillars of fire appeared over the apostles. The pillar of fire was a sign of God’s presence with his people. So those flames over the apostles’ heads were a sign that God was with them. There was also a Jewish tradition at the time that God’s word at Sinai began as a loud noise from the pillar of fire that people eventually heard as as a voice speaking words they could understand. So just like God called the people to himself at Sinai, so they could hear his words; now he calls them at Pentecost to hear his new word about Jesus.
One final connection is with the book of Ruth. Over time it also became a Jewish tradition to read the story of Ruth out loud during Pentecost. This makes sense. The story of Ruth takes place during the grain harvest season, and that’s what Pentecost originally celebrated. But Ruth is also a story about a foreign woman finding a home among the people of God. And as the story that began in Acts 2 with Pentecost continues, God will call people from every tribe and tongue, every nation on earth, to come be part of his people, the church.
So Pentecost was this season of joy and renewal and new beginnings. A time when people were grateful to God for all the ways he had blessed them. And when they anticipated all the new and wonderful things God might do in their lives. And it was during that time when people were feeling refreshed and renewed that God unleashed this new thing he was doing—the church.
And I think there’s a couple of ways we can begin to connect our story from Acts 2 with things that are going on within our church family right now.
Graduating seniors, you are—or at least I hope you are—in a season of life that’s a lot like Pentecost. A time of thankfulness for how God has brought to where you are. And also a time of new beginnings. You’re in a season of life when you’re anticipating your future. And you’re dreaming big dreams. And I hope what we’re about to talk about encourages you to keep dreaming.
For this family as a whole, God has blessed us with a new home. An opportunity for a new beginning. And we’re feeling renewed. We’re thankful because we can see how God has been leading us, and how God has blessed us. And we’re anticipating the future with hope. We’re dreaming big dreams for this church. A couple of weeks ago, many of us met here to dream together. And as we move into this season of renewal, let’s take what we’re about to hear in Acts 2.17-18 to heart. Let’s make it a core part of our life together as a church. And let’s never stop dreaming together.
So after all that build-up, here it is.
Peter wanted everyone who heard him preach at Pentecost to realize that all these strange goings-on—the noise and the fire and the speaking in foreign tongues—was the start of an old prophecy being fulfilled. Long ago, God had made promises through the prophet Joel.
Now those prophecies were coming to pass.
And what they were seeing was only the beginning of what God was about to do.
So let’s listen to these words from Peter’s sermon. Acts 2.17-18. He’s quoting Joel 2.28-29.
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Literally, it says I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. What this means is God is calling all kinds of people—people of all races and colors and ethnicities and cultures and languages—to come be part of this new thing he’s doing: the church.
That means God desires, God values, and God cherishes every kind of person. All peoples. All flesh. And he longs for his church to be a vibrant, colorful, living mosaic of humanity.
And then he continues: Your sons and daughters will prophesy. So it’s not just male voices that count in the church. Every voice—every man’s voice, and every woman’s voice—matters to God, and should matter to the church.
He goes on to say: Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. So it’s not just the young who get to dream big dreams. And it’s not just the older ones who get to set the course for how to guide the church. The young will also have visions for moving forward. And the more mature saints—people who maybe didn’t believe they had any more dreams left in them—will dream big, exciting dreams for the future. Dreams they may not be around to see fulfilled—but dreams that begin with them.
Finally, he says: Even upon my servants. Those are the slaves. The poor people. The people at the bottom of the social status ladder. They get a voice in the church, too. On men and women, God says, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. Again, every man’s voice and every woman’s voice matters to God. Even the most humble voices. So they should matter to the church, too.
So what we heard in those two verses today should reveal a couple things about God’s dreams and visions for the church.
First, God’s dream and God’s vision for the church is that we will be people who never stop dreaming together. That word together is so important. It’s not just about my dream or my vision for the church. Or yours. Or any little group’s dreams and visions. God’s vision is this rich, diverse family of people dreaming together. Held together by God’s Holy Spirit, poured out on us that makes us a family. See, maybe your dreams for our church, or my dreams and my vision are only one piece of what God is dreaming for us. Maybe we can only see and embrace God’s vision for us when we put our dreams together.
Second, God’s dream for the church, God’s vision for the church, is that we’re a place where all different kinds of voices will be listened to, and valued. Men and women. Young and old. Rich and poor. We all have something valuable to say. Each one of you brings a gift or a set of experiences or a perspective that only you can share.
So living out and living into God’s dreams and God’s vision for the church means we have to trust each other. We have to rely on each others’ gifts and insights and perspectives.
And most of all, we have to trust God. After all, the church is God’s dream. The church is God’s vision. And the verses we heard today tell us what that vision is. It’s a rich, vibrant family made up of all kinds of people. Talking and planning and living and working and dreaming together.
Waking up to God’s dreams
So now let’s talk just a little bit about your dreams and visions for your life. Our dreams and visions for this church. And how they intersect with God’s dreams and God’s vision for us.
To our graduating seniors, I’m going to lay down a challenge for you. But I also want each of you—and all of us together as a church—to take up this challenge.
Seniors, I suspect you have a vision for how you want or expect your life to go. And I’m sure you have many, many dreams. Some of those dreams may only be half-formed right now. But some of them may be very vivid and vibrant. Some of you may have held onto a dream for all of your life, and your plan is to go off and pursue that dream with everything you have. Others of you—you have new dreams emerging, even now.
I want you to know that God takes your dreams seriously. And so do I. Seniors, today you were given a gift. It’s that little book by Brock Morgan, called The Amazing Next. And there’s one part in there I want to leave you with today. Everyone else, listen up too. Remember, this challenge is for everyone here.
So here it is:
My prayer is that you would hold on; that you would continue to open your life up to the God who is at work. Even now inside of your heart and mind he is waking you up to something. 
I believe this with all my heart. And I believe in you. And your dreams. And I believe in God, and the dreams God has for you.
I’m not just saying that to our graduating seniors now. I’m saying that to all of you. I believe in you. And I believe in you because I believe in the dreams God has for you. And for us. For all of us here.
So hold onto your dreams. To your vision. I believe God gave you your deepest, most treasured, dreams. The dreams that get you up out of bed in the morning. The dreams you’re willing to sacrifice over. The dreams you will fight for. I believe those are a gift from God.
But you also need to be able to hold on to your dreams loosely enough that you’re open to God’s dreams. To what God wants to stir up in your life, in your heart and in your mind. Don’t be so focused on your own dreams that you aren’t awake to God’s dreams.
Where your dreams intersect with God’s dreams
That’s my challenge to all of you—to all of us—beginning today.
Because there is a place where our dreams for ourselves intersect with God’s dreams for us. Where our deepest desires and longings that stir in our souls will find their fulfillment.
My experience is that God doesn’t just hijack our dreams. They matter to God. He gave them to you. Instead, by his grace, when we are open—or sometimes kicking and screaming, the choice is ours—God guides and directs and redirects our deepest longings and joys to the places where they are most needed.
Fred Buechner is one of my favorite authors, and that’s the story he tells, too. He says: The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. 
And that’s the place where our dreams intersect with God’s dreams.
So today my vision, my dream, my hope, and my prayer is that we will all be open to the dreams God has stored up for us. The vision he has for our future. And for the future of this church. And that all of you—and all of us together as a church—will seek and will find that place God is calling us to. That place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
 Brock Morgan, The Amazing Next: waking up to the journey ahead. (San Diego: The Youth Cartel LLC, 2015), 207-08.
 Frederick Buechner. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1973), 95.