ACTS 2:14, 36-41

APRIL 30. 2017

(Play Audio)


            I have lived through a number of “Dance Crazes” in my life. It began in 1953 when Ray Anthony and his band recorded The Bunny Hop. In 1960 Chubby Checker invited my friends and me to do The Twist, in 1962 Motown artist Dee Dee Sharp introduced me to Mashed Potato Time, and in 1964 Freddie Freeman invited me to do The Swim.

            Then came 1995 and the Macarena. You couldn’t go anywhere … a party, a wedding reception, a baseball game … without being pressured to “Do the Macarena with Me.”

            In our passage for today, the Apostle Peter invites his audience not to do the Macarena, but the Metanoia, with him. I’ll explain in a moment. Listen to his words.


            But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and listen to what I say.


            Then he goes on to quote the prophet Joel and then King David about how they both foretold of the coming of Jesus, and how Jesus was crucified and then raised in power and how he and his buddies have seen the risen Christ and he tops everything off with these words. Verse 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.


            In other words, Peter makes them complicit in Jesus’ death. The Dutch artist Rembrandt painted a picture of Jesus being crucified, and there’s a man near Jesus’ feet wearing a blue painter’s cap, who is helping raise the cross into its final horrific position. Who was the guy in the artist’s smock and blue painter’s cap? It was Rembrandt. He included himself in those responsible for Jesus’ death. Well, Peter paints a picture of Jesus death on the cross and he paints the crowd in it. Let’s continue on …


            Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, (the Greek word is metanoia) and be baptized everyone 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. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.


            When I was your pastor you may recall my mentioning that the Book of Acts is Luke’s second volume, the first volume being his gospel. In both volumes he begins by addressing someone named Theophilus, which could be a real, historical person or simply a literary tool as the word Theophilus literally means “friend of God.”  So he could be addressing us, friends of God.

            In the first volume, his gospel, he tells the story of the life of Jesus on earth. In this second volume, the tells the story of the Christian church, and it started with a bang. Peter gets up, preaches the first Christian sermon, and 3000 people turn over all they knew of themselves to all they know of Jesus Christ. They repented. They danced The Metanoia with Peter.

            We don’t hear that word much anymore. Repentance is not a common word today in mainline Protestant churches. and some may ask, “How come?” Three possibilities come to mind. First, the notion is somewhat embarrassing. We think of repentance and we think of those cartoons of long-haired, wild-eyed, old men who carry signs reading, “Repent - The End is Near. We also think of old tent meetings with their altar calls and fervent promises to start a new, saved life. It's embarrassing, this repentance thing. We feel a little out of our proper Presbyterian element when Peter tells the crowd to repent.

            Yet the word is quite common in the New Testament. Jesus informed us that “there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents.” Rugged John the Baptist shouted in the desert: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Sophisticated Paul reasoned on the steps of the Acropolis: "Repent, because (God) has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness." And then there’s Peter. After his listeners had been "cut to the heart" he told them to repent. As foreign as it is to our mainline experience, it’s not a foreign New Testament concept.

            Another possibility for the word being missing in our mainline Protestant existence has to do with the fact that it’s so demanding. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means to turn around, completely change your direction in life. Repentance goes beyond regret. The Bible occasionally mentions people, such as Judas Iscariot, who regret their sins but it doesn't say they repented of them. People who repent seek new goals and new resolve to reach those goals.

            Trudy and I have a niece in rehab up in Chicago. She is married to an air force pilot. She and her husband have two wonderful children, a boy and girl. One in his teens the other about to be in her teens. And our niece has a drinking problem. A terrible drinking problem. Four weeks ago she locked herself in the bathroom downstairs and started drinking. She forgot to pick the kids up from school. Thankfully, she is now in rehab. Thankfully, she feels sorry for her behavior, but the question is, will she do the metanoia? Will she turn around, stop drinking?  Many of us live with regret, the tough part is turning around, heading in a different direction.

            And finally, repentance may be a foreign concept to us because we’re not sure we need it. We have made some mistakes, but we’ve committed no murders, no embezzlements. We are not in the major league of sinners. I think of what Dave Bristol, the former manager of the San Francisco Giants, once said. His team was in the middle of terrible losing streak. Bristol said to them, “There will be two buses leaving the hotel for the ball park tomorrow. The two o’clock bus will be for those who need a little extra work. The empty bus will be leaving at five o’clock.” In other words, he was saying everybody needs a little extra work. Likewise, we all need to repent. It’s not for just the big things in life. It’s for negative attitudes, and selfish behaviors and sharp tongues, and angry outbursts and well, you get the idea. We all need to be on the two o’clock bus.

            That brings us back to Peter and the crowd. According to Luke the crowd was at the regret stage. They had been “cut to the heart,” and Peter encouraged them to move on to the repentance stage. Of course, I know what many of you are thinking. Yeah, Peter. Repent. Well that’s easier said than done. Well, Peter knew that so he added two necessary things to pull it off. First, he said, “repent and be baptized.” In other words, join us in this new adventure. Don’t try to pull this off by yourself.

            How many of you have been baptized? How many of you remember your baptism? Not many. Most of us were baptized as infants. Did you know baptism is a prerequisite for membership in the church? It’s not just us and Jesus. It’s you and me and Jesus. Anyway, Trudy and I attended a worship service last Sunday, conducted by a dear friend of ours. It also happened to be Confirmation Sunday. On this Confirmation Sunday they took in seventeen confirmands, they looked to be thirteen or fourteen years old. I couldn’t tell as we were sitting in the back as I had a bad cough last week and didn’t want to disrupt worship. If I started coughing, I could get out quickly.

            Well, they asked those confirmands four questions under the heading “Vows for Membership.” Listen to question number one …


            Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?


            In other words, will you dance the metanoia? Then listen to question four …


            Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in it’s worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill you calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?


            Be baptized. Enter into the fellowship of the church. This repentance stuff requires all the help, all the support, all the encouragement you can get. Don’t try to do this on your own, but then comes the other thing he tells them to do. Repent. Be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

            Author Jamie Buckingham once visited a dam on the Columbia River. He'd always thought that the water spilling over the top provided the power, not realizing that it was just froth, that deep within turbines and generators transformed the power of tons and tons of water to electricity quietly, without notice, not like the flashy froth on top.

            That’s what God offers us in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nothing particularly flashy, but a power, a force deep within us that will help us do incredible things including the power to repent.

            Thomas A. Harris, the psychiatrist, who wrote that enormously successful book, I’m O.K., You’re O.K. says that there are three reasons why people change.  First, people change when it is more painful to remain as they are than to change.  

            A second reason for change, according to Harris, is when we find ourselves at the point of despair.  Perhaps we suddenly come to the realization that we are about to lose our marriage, our job, our health.  At that point we may change.  You have heard people say, “I had to reach rock bottom before I could take hold of my life.” 

            Harris, however, believes that there is a third motive for change.  He calls it the “Eureka Stage.”  That is, some people change because they discover, much to their surprise, that there is something better that they have been missing. 

            Those who heard Peter’s words knew that they had found something better, something that would make their lives more joyous, more purposeful, more livable. “Eureka!” This is it.  “What shall we do?”

            “Repent,” Peter answered. “Be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

[1] Sermon title and introduction borrowed from a message by Leonard Sweet.



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