31-May-09 | Acts Of The Apostles | Baptism


The Rev. Joseph Winston May 31, 2009

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 It has been widely reported that John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.” This quote captures the essence of courage. Courage lies somewhere between two completely different extremes. On the one hand, we have the coward. This word comes to us from an old French word that means one with tail. A dog acts this way when it is scared. It tucks its tail between its legs and runs away. This is what we normally mean when we call a person a coward. This individual is running away from the problem rather than facing it head-on. On the other hand, and in complete contrast to the coward, we have the reckless individual. This person shows no fear at all. At first glance, this
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3


way of living might appear to be noble. However, society has rightly determined that carelessness is something that we must avoid. We all know this. For example, a thoughtless driver ignores all laws and operates their vehicle in an unsafe manner. This type of behavior endangers every one on the roads and is illegal in Texas and in most other states. John Wayne’s accurate definition of courage tells us that it can be found somewhere between cowardice and recklessness. In Wayne’s world, we directly face our fears and do what needs to be done. Many of John Wayne’s one hundred and fifty six movies have courage as a central ingredient. (And it only seems appropriate a handful of days after his 102 birthday to look how some of his most famous films capture the true meaning of courage.) In the movie 1948 Red River, a cruel Thomas Dunson, played by John Wayne, has to face his fears. Thomas and his men drive his cattle from his ranch near the Red River so that they can be sold at market. A deeply flawed Ethan Edwards, also played by Wayne, takes years to track down his niece who was taken by the Comanches in the critically acclaimed 1956 movie The Searchers. In True Grit, a movie from 1969, a fourteen-year-old girl named Mattie Ross, avenges her father’s death. For this task, she hires John Wayne’s character, Rooster Cogburn: an old, one-eyed, overweight deputy that is always drinking whiskey. Rooster’s courage is apparent near the end of the movie. A snake has bitten Mattie and she needs medical help to live. Rooster puts Mattie on her horse and then rides the horse hard until it dies, he then carries Mattie, and finally steals a wagon to bring Mattie to a doctor. 2

Today’s lesson from Acts is a study in courage. Just before the reading from Acts, about one hundred and twenty of Christ’s followers are gathering every day for prayer (Acts 1:14-15). Even though they are literally following Christ’s command to stay put in Jerusalem, that is about all they are doing (Acts 1:4). They are not sharing the Word about Jesus with anyone else in the town. In fact, no other Jew or Greek, no one at all, is converted during these ten days before Pentecost because the apostles keep the life changing Good News all to themselves. About all that they manage to do during this time is to replace the deceased Judas with the newly elected Matthias (Acts 1:15-23). This brings us to today’s lesson from Acts. Not much has changed since we last checked in with small group of believers in Jerusalem. They still are coming together for prayer but that is about it (Acts 2:1). Just by seeing what they are doing, it is obvious that this movement is not going anywhere. Then everything changes. Something like a wind rushes into the room and now it seems as if everyone is on fire (Acts 2:2-3). Seemingly out of nowhere, the men and women are given a fantastic gift of being able to communicate with others (Acts 2:4). The noise from all this commotion is so loud that it starts to attract a very cosmopolitan crowd (Acts 2:6; 9-11). The out of town visitors are surprised when they finally arrive on the scene because everyone clearly understands what Christ’s followers are saying (Acts 2:7). Of course, many of the foreigners want to know what is going on (Acts 2:12). And as if to answer the question on everyone’s mind, someone in the crowd shouts 3

out that they have been hitting the bottle. This leads us to the next and probably the most important transformation in this lesson. The coward is given true courage. Peter, the same man who denied the Lord three times and left Jesus to die alone on the cross, tells the crowd that it is too early in the morning to have false courage given by drinking sweet wine (Luke 22:34-71; Acts 2:14-15). Peter then tells everyone present that this new found courage actually comes from the Holy Spirit.2 He does this by referring back to the words of the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16). He says that God’s power to speak the Truth will be poured out on everyone: men and woman, old and young, slaves and free.3 After today’s lesson has finished, Peter continues urging the crowd to believe in Jesus, to repent of wrongdoings, and to be baptized (Acts 2:38). The results of this message from the Holy Spirit are absolutely amazing. That very day the early church grows from one hundred and twenty to over three thousand (Acts 2:41). But that is not all that changes. While the group still gathers together for meals and prayer, the church no longer is a bunch of cowards. They have the courage to go into the entire World and speak God’s Word (Acts 2:42-47). In the Lutheran Church, one of the most overlooked gifts of the Spirit is courage. Every baptized individual is given the power to bear witness to God’s
The citation from Joel 3:1-5 basically agrees with what is found here in Acts.Luke Timothy Johnson; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Acts of the Apostles, Volume 5, Sacra Pagina, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 49. 3 This gift of the Spirit, first given at Pentecost, indicates a new age has started in the world. Ibid., p. 50. The result of God’s work in the world is that you no longer have to be a Jew to be saved.


work in the world.4 We heard that message in today’s lesson from Acts. While this courage to speak out is granted to each of us, we all have different roles that we need to fill. Some people will tell the world what needs to be changed while others will proclaim what the future will bring. Both of these messages need to be heard because the first one holds people accountable for their actions in the world and the second one gives the us promise of what is possible. Each of us has been given this courage to go out into the world and tell others about the love of Jesus. This is the central point of Peter’s speech. You have been given the ability to tell others about Jesus. The problem is that in some way or another we all shirk this responsibility to tell others about Jesus. Some of us refuse to tell our family and friends about God because we think that this is the work of the “professional” clergy. Others of us ignore those around us because of our insecurity. In short, we just do not know what to say. To all of our excuses, the lesson from Acts simple says, “No!” You all have been given God’s Spirit, go and tell others about the God who died for you. In each of us is God’s Spirit. This is part and parcel of today’s celebration of Pentecost. God came into us at our baptism and refuses to ever leave us alone. This is the Good News contained in the Scriptures. God has claimed everyone as His own. That is why we started today at the Baptismal Font. Every day we need to
Acts 2:17 begins with “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” The term “upon all flesh” has a sense of “implicit universalism” although it currently directed to Israel. Johnson, Acts, p. 49. It seems that this promise is also given to all the baptized because in baptism we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.


recall where God came and claimed us as His own. There at this font or one just like it, God gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit. The pastor poured water on you and spoke to you the unconditional words of promise that you are God’s child. Here at the font, God supplied you the courage to go and tell others about Jesus. That is the reason why we end our worship here at the font. It is the Holy Spirit, who came to us through the words and the waters, that sends us out from this place. We could never do that on our own. We would be too scared. It is God’s Spirit that moves us out from our comfortable and safe seats into the dangerous world. It does not matter how many times we have been cowards and have been afraid to tell others about Jesus nor has God abandoned us if we have swung to the other extreme and recklessly forced Christianity down people’s throats. God still loves us and lives with us every day. In the good times and in the bad, the Spirit stays with us and brings to God all of our hurts, every one of our desires, and all of our gifts of praise. In addition to communicating every aspect of our life to the Father, the gift of the Spirit means that we have been given everything that Jesus has been given, including the gift of everlasting life. Because of God’s Spirit in you, you will live forever. John Wayne’s wit and movies have shown us what it means to be courageous. He has told us that courage is nothing more than an average everyday human, with all of our faults and flaws, doing what is right in the face of danger. This also is the calling of every Christian: to do what is needed. But we cannot do this by ourselves. The Holy Spirit has filled each of us at our baptism and gives 6

us the ability, yes the courage, to go and to tell others about Jesus. Go and do this. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”5

Johnson, Luke Timothy; Harrington, S.J., Daniel J., editor, The Acts of the Apostles, Volume 5, Sacra Pagina, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992).


Philippians 4:7.


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