Sermon: Super(Natural) Heroes

Scripture: Acts 2:1-4

Date: April 17, 2016

Well, the summer blockbuster Superhero movies have already started to arrive in the theaters. It happens every year. The pantheon of Superheroes leap off the pages of the comics and onto the giant screen and we flock to see them.So a couple of weeks ago, I went to see the Batman versus Superman movie. This year apparently we have run out of evil characters for the Superheroes to battle and so they have to battle each other. And this movie pitted two of my favorite superheroes from my childhood in – horrors of horrors – a fight to the death. And it was okay. Certainly action packed. Lot’s of violence. But it was a little dark for me. I kept thinking throughout that this was certainly not the Superman and Batman that I grew up with. When I was a kid Batman was a campy character with his sidekick Robin. No black suits of body armor. No – my Batman wore a colorful costume with a cape. The dialogue was silly. The violence was campy including words like “bam” and “pow” superimposed over the fight scenes. And though it looked bad for awhile, Batman and Robin would always prevail over the clownish villains that terrorized Gotham City, prompting the narrator to invite us to come back next time, “same bat time, same bat channel.” And then cue that unforgettable theme song. And then there was Superman. My favorite. “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman.” When bad guys were afoot, his human alter ego Clark Kent would take off his glasses and loosen his tie and head for the nearest closet or phone booth where he would transform into the man of steel. I confess that I was occasionally seen running through my neighborhood as a kid wearing a towel as a cape, vanquishing all the bad guys that my friends could throw at me. And there were others. Some of you might remember this one:

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Or these….

And the list goes on.We love our Superheroes. Because no matter who it is, Superheroes tend to have three similar characteristics…

First of all, most are not born Superheroes but rather they begin as ordinary beings who have some supernatural event or moment when they are transformed. Peter Parker was bitten by a spider and became Spiderman. For others it was a lab experiment gone wrong. Others experienced a extreme jolt of energy. For Superman it was in coming from his home planet where he was not unusual to earth that the transformation took place. In doing my research for this series of messages I learned some interesting things about the origins of the Superman character. The first superman comic was created in 1932 by two young men Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegal who were high school students. And from the very beginning the parallels between the story of Superman and the story of Jesus were noted.Superman comes from the heavens as a helpless baby and is adopted and raised by the Kents, a simple trades person and his wife and grows up to save the world. Did you know that the original names for the Kents were Joseph and Mary? And that in the early comic books, the Kents were good church people. In fact they were Methodists. On several occasions young Clark Kent seeks out the counsel of his Methodist pastor. Well you get the point I’m sure. Superheroes aren’t born Superheroes. They are supernaturally transformed. There is that defining moment which sets them apart from other human beings. And then the second similarity is that all of them have been given in some way some supernatural power or powers and thirdly then they all set out to use their powers to defeat evil and save the world.

Which brings us to the beginning of the second chapter of Acts which was just read. But before we settle there, I would like to quickly walk through the first chapter. Now it is generally agreed upon that the Book of Acts is the continuation of the Gospel of Luke and the two were written by the same author, who church tradition identifies as Luke, a Greek Physician and Historian. We know that Luke was not present when any of the events he describes took place. Luke’s Gospel tells the good news about the birth, and life and death of Jesus from a historical perspective. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.The Book of Acts, however, begins with Jesus departing earth and so becomes really the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.And so as Acts opens, Jesus has gathered together the eleven remaining disciples and is getting ready to ascend back into Heaven. But before He does He reminds them of what He had said on several occasions about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He had talked about the Spirit coming in power. Jesus had told them that “The Spirit will strenghthen and guide and equip you with all spiritual gifts. He will be my presence with you always. But most of all He will use you Disciples to launch My church into all the world.” “So,” Jesus says, “don’t leave Jerusalem until you receive the gift of the Spirit.” But it’s clear that the Disciples still don’t really get it.“Right Jesus. That sounds great but what about you. Are you now going to restore Israel? Because that’s really what we signed on for when you called us three years ago. We believed that you were the promised Messiah. So is it time now for you to throw the Romans out and establish your Kingdom in Israel. Isn’t that what this has all been about?” You see, they were thinking that all the resurrected Jesus would have to do now, is appear to all the people and they would rise up behind Him. The people knew they had killed the Messiah, but yet here He is alive again and stronger than ever. Surely He is the King who will restore Israel.But Jesus says to them, “when the Spirit comes He will enlarge your vision. Your mission field will no longer be just Israel but the Spirit will empower you to go not just to Jerusalem, but throughout Judea, and Samaria, and Galilee and then into all the world. He will take the church so much farther than I ever could because the Spirit will give YOU the power to change, to save, the world.”And then when Jesus had said this, as they watched He rode the clouds back up into Heaven. And the Disciples, once they got over the shock of what they had witnessed, went back to the Upper Room to wait this incredible gift that Jesus had promised. But I’m not sure they still get it. Their first reaction to Jesus’ ascension is to simply stand and stare off into space, probably with their mouths wide open at Jesus’ awesome display, probably expecting to see Him come back right away. In fact they stand there so long, that God has to send a couple of Angels to usher them along. “Stop staring into the sky. There’s nothing more to see today. Get on with it. Go back to Jerusalem and await further developments like He told you to.” I wonder if, as they walked back to town, they debated about when He was going to come back again. Will it be today? Will it be in three days like it was before? Whatever the speculation, the Disciples lived the rest of their lives fully anticipating that they would see Jesus again soon. And, so, they didn’t fully grasp the role that the Holy Spirit would play in their lives while they waited. And that brings us to today’s scripture. Because Luke tells us that those Disciples did go back to Jerusalem and the Upper Room to await what they probably thought was going to be the second coming of Christ. But after waiting for 10 days, the promised gifting of the Holy Spirit took place and these men, who had entered the Upper Room dazed and confused and scared and anxious, were transformed into Superheroes. Look what this scripture says.First, Luke tells us that the whole house was filled with “the blowing of a violent wind from Heaven.” Eugene Peterson, in the paraphrase called The Message, describes it this way. “Without warning there was a strong wind, gale force – no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building.”Now here is the thing.In both Hebrew and Greek the word for Spirit is the same as Breath or Wind and throughout scripture the words have been used interchangeably to describe the presence of God. So the breath of God became synonymous with life itself.For instance, in the story of creation in the second chapter of Genesis, the writer says “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into Him the breath of life”. A mighty wind that gave life to humanity. And it was the wind that caused the sea to part so that the Hebrews could escape from Egypt and continue the journey to the promised land.In John’s Gospel we find these words of Jesus in response to Nicodemus who came seeking Him in the night: “You should not be surprised at me saying ‘you must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases, You hear it’s sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The wind that came to the Upper Room ushered in that moment of transformation for the Disciples – from old life to new life. From those who had been emptied by the Ascension of Jesus, to those who were now filled with the breath of God, the wind of the Spirit that filled everything. Including them. They were transformed in that moment from ordinary men to superheroes. Remember that Superheroes aren’t born, they are reborn, transformed. This is that moment for the Disciples. Even after three years with Jesus, they are little more than ordinary men with little clue where to go now, and then the breath of God, the wind of the Spirit, gives them new life.

And then Luke tells us that following the wind, there is fire. I wonder if any of them, maybe John, the intellectual one, when he saw the fire recalled the words of John the Baptist when he had started Baptizing and talking about the coming Messiah. Remember He had said that when the Messiah came, He would Baptize them with fire. I have always found it interesting that the Gospels give us several stories about the calling of Peter and John and Matthew and the others, but there are no stories about any of them being Baptized as Jesus was Baptized. And yet Jesus final words to them according to Matthew is to go into all the world and make Disciples, and then Baptize them in my name. And yet, no indication that in all the three years that He had spent with these men, that He had ever Baptized any of them. Until now. Is it too much to suggest that this was their Baptism. The Baptism that John the Baptist had spoken of, with fire rather than water? And Luke tells us two interesting things about the fire. First is the implication that, like the wind fire filled the whole place. But yet nothing was consumed. This is not the first time we have seen this in scripture. Remember when God called Moses to go back to Egypt and save His people, it was from the midst of a bush that blazed with fire (was this the fire of the Spirit?) but was not consumed. When some heard John talk about being Baptized with fire, they no doubt thought he was talking about death. A winnowing fire. A fire that consumes. Burns away the chaff. But instead he was talking about a fire that burns from within. This was a fire that is kindled and nurtured by God’s Holy Spirit. A fire that burns bright in Disciples, but does not consume. Which leads us to the second thing Luke tells us about the Fire that filled the Upper Room. Luke describes tongues of fire that apparently shoot out from the Central source of the fire and come to rest upon every individual that was present. With the implication being that the Spirit of God comes to each of us individually. You see, we often talk about the day of Pentecost being the birthday of the church, but what Luke is describing here is not a fire that rests on the whole group collectively but rather touches each individual. And so it seems to me the implication is clear. Individual disciples are not created by the church. It’s the other way around. Jesus plan was that these flame touched individuals would each given special powers by the Spirit – supernatural powers – which they would then bring together to create and empower His church. And so much of the Book of Acts describes how those Disciples came together – pooled the gifts that the fire of the Spirit had given them each – and moved the church of Jesus Christ out into the world.You see often times we get things backwards. We think it is the churches place to empower Disciples. And so sometimes we walk away on Sunday morning thinking I didn’t get much out of that today. And some go from church to church, trying to find one that meets their wants and needs. But we have it reversed. The church does not exist to empower Disciples. It exists to make Disciples. It is Disciples who empower the church. So the question is never how much we get out of the church. The question is how much we give to the church. The Spirit gave Supernatural powers to each individual that was there in the Upper Room, knowing that when they united all of their powers together, that the church would be given form and substance and the world would be transformed – saved. And so it is that the wind of the Spirit transforms these ordinary people by breathing new life into those who gathered there. And so the fire of the Spirit touches each one, giving to each supernatural powers that they are to use to empower the church of Jesus Christ to go and make Disciples.

But then there was one more thing that happened that made this transformation complete. Remember we said that Superheroes are not born, but they are reborn. And that they are given supernatural powers. But the third key to being a superhero is that they use those powers to change the world. It was clear that the Disciples wanted to focus on Israel, but Jesus had a world view. He came to save everyone. And the Spirit plants that world view into the heart of every disciple. So Luke tells us that in reaction to the moving of the Spirit in the wind and the fire, that the Disciples begin to witness to all that they had seen and heard and experienced in the presence of Jesus. Suddenly it all made sense. And they couldn’t wait to tell others, at least each other, about it. You know I love it when we have testimonies in church. It is so great to hear how God is working in each other’s life. And often times as I listen I find myself wishing that persons on the outside of the church could hear this testimony. What impact it could have then.

I love the story about the country church that was experiencing revival and people were flocking to hear the evangelist every night. And on the last night of the revival the preacher finished his message by challenging everyone there to go and share their witness with the next person they came in contact with. Well the church was in an isolated location and the closest thing to it was an all night diner on the highway back into the city. So many of those who left the revival stopped in the diner for a cup of coffee on their way home. And a man tells of stopping there and remembering the preacher’s challenge, he ordered his coffee and then he said to the waitress, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” And he said the waitress got the strangest look on her face and said, “You know, I have worked here for years and no one has ever asked me that until tonight. And now you are the third customer in a row that has asked me that. What’s going on?” And so the man had the chance to share his witness with her and that night she was saved. It’s a great story. And though the people in that diner may have been saved that night, I always wonder about the next diner down the road. And what happened when the people went to work the next day. Or to school. Or the grocery store.

The point is that the Disciples were given great powers that day in the Upper Room – supernatural powers which we will talk about in detail in the weeks to come – but they only became superheroes when they took those powers beyond the safety and comfort of that Upper Room and set about to use those powers to save the whole world. You see, I think that even after the wind and fire, that at least some of the Disciples would have been content just sharing among themselves waiting for Jesus to come back and lead them again, but God had other plans. And so Luke tells us that all of the commotion at that house that night, the wind that shook the house like an earthquake would and tongues of fire lighting up the sky, drew a great deal of attention to the Upper Room. And people from all over the world gathered in the street around that house. Luke names 15 different regions of the world that were represented that night. The historian Josephus wrote that Luke’s selection of 15 regions was in no way random. These were all the regions that were controlled by the Romans which for Luke and his readers would have represented the known world. And so imagine the chaos of this crowd gathering in the streets demanding in their own language (15 of them) to know what was happening in that Upper Room that was causing the earth to quake and the tongues of fire that did not consume. Imagine the confusion. And the fear these things must have caused. Would cause today. And so the Disciples, remembering Jesus words to go to the whole world, realize that their witness can no longer just be confined to their own little band of believers – that they must take their witness beyond Jerusalem and the Upper Room. And they begin that day to share their witness wherever the Spirit would lead them. And to whomever would hear.Because what makes a Superhero a Superhero is not the moment of transformation, or even the supernatural gifts they are given. What makes one a superhero is when they use those gifts to save the world. Disciples become superheroes when they, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, set out to save the world, often one person at a time.

In the next few weeks we will be talking about the supernatural powers that God gives those Disciples that empowers them to be world savers. But as we begin, we need to know that this is not just a history lesson. Oh all of that happened 2000 years ago. It’s a great story but what has it got to do with me. Well, here’s the thing. I am convinced that God wants to make you and me a Superhero. You see, Pentecost, didn’t happen just once. It happens again and again. It may not be as dramatic for you as it was for the Disciples that day but whenever God breathes the gift of new life into an individual life, Pentecost happens. And superheroes are made. It can happen to you this very day. Because God’s Spirit is in this place right now, waiting to fire up a heart that is open to Jesus Christ. Waiting to give you Supernatural powers by which you can be used by God to save the world. This Sanctuary is our Upper Room. And for someone here today the wait is over. The Spirit is recruiting Superheroes here today.How will you respond?

© 2020 St. Luke UMC
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