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Preacher's Corner: Happy birthday church

Matt Steinhauer • Updated Jun 2, 2017 at 6:00 PM

In the Gospel according to Luke, the last words of Jesus to his disciples were, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” Luke 24:46-49 NRSV. 

Unlike the other three Gospel accounts, Luke has the opportunity to continue telling the story in his second volume, “the Acts of the Apostles.”

 A good way to briefly describe the difference in “the Gospel of Luke” and “the Acts of the Apostles” would be to think of the Gospel as a story about the life and work of Jesus, and Acts as a story about the life and work of Jesus through his church. The second chapter of Acts describes the very beginning of the church. It is not disclosed to the reader what Jesus meant in the Gospel account when he said the disciples would be “clothed with power from on high.” But we find out what that power is when Luke describes for us in Acts the amazing sound of rushing violent wind and tongues of fire resting on each of the disciples.  That, in and of itself, must have been quite spectacular. But the real power was in the translation of what the disciples spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit into the crowd that had gathered, and who represented diverse languages the of the Mediterranean region. Although the disciples were not trained or fluent in the languages of people from all over the known world, the people were able to hear and understand what the disciples were saying in their own language.

Luke opens the second chapter of Acts with a brief description of the day this event happened. “When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place,” Acts 2:1 NRSV. Pentecost is a word that means “50th day.” According to Wikipedia, it was a Jewish festival and it happened to fall 49 days after the first day of Passover, or the 50th day, including Passover itself. According to Jewish tradition, Pentecost commemorates God’s giving the Ten Commandments 49 days after the Exodus. One might conclude that the most important gift of God to the Jewish people, the law, has a parallel for Christians in God’s gift of “the church” denoted by the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowered the followers of Jesus to go and do what Jesus commanded them to do: proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins.

The church, with all its imperfections and shortcomings, is still the Body of Christ when it gathers in Jesus’ name. Christians all over the world will be celebrating the “birthday of the church” this Sunday on the “50th Day.”  Maybe when we blow the candles out on the birthday cake – figuratively or literally – we can make a wish or say a prayer for unity in the church. We should pray for all of us to be one.  

That’s how Jesus said people would know we belonged to him.

The Rev. Matt Steinhauer is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Lebanon. Preacher’s Corner features a new local preacher each month writing a column.

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