Pentecost – Confirmation Sunday
Pentecost.22 “There is no ‘you’ in ‘Apostle’…” Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31
Jesus says: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
To understand this lovely and powerful word from Jesus, we have to first answer a deceptively simple question: “Who is the ‘you’ Jesus is speaking to?” Thoughtlessly, the vast majority of modern Christians assume every single you in the scriptures is singular and means, practically speaking “me”—that the whole Scriptures were written just for me—like a love letter from God, like I’m the only one Jesus is addressing…
This is wrong for several reasons. *cough* Narcissistic Personality Disorder *cough*. ‘Scuze me! (A non-COVID cough 😉 First off, the “you” here (and throughout John 14-17) is plural not singular. So if you want to go and cross out “you” and write “y’all” (as is proper in the South 😉 this would make for a more accurate translation. Second, this is no Platonic dialog where Jesus is speaking over the heads of his actual audience to future imagined millions. The Scriptures record the actual words of our Lord spoken to the actual people of Israel from 27 AD to 30 AD.
Third, and maybe most importantly: Jesus’ audience is a constantly shifting cast of characters with each episode in the Scriptures. Sometimes, he’s talking to crowds of people—many of whom are not believers or even nominally Israelites but Romans, Gentiles, barbarians just passing through. Sometimes, it’s only his disciples he talks to as on the Sermon on the Mount—those who hear Jesus and believe him, know him as their Shepherd-Master—like Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the thief on the cross, etc. This group waxes and wanes dramatically during Jesus’ 3 year public ministry!; sometimes tens of thousands right after feeding 5,000, down to 12 at the end of the bread of life discourse the following day, back to hundreds of thousands on Palm Sunday, back to a bare 120 later that week… and so it goes still today.
But sometimes—and this is very much the case in John 13-17, Jesus’ final discourse on his way to the cross—Jesus is talking not to all his disciples, but specifically, only to the 12 Apostles and what he says applies directly only to them and to the rest of us indirectly.
So the (plural) ‘you’ in “these things I have spoken to you…” would be the 12 Apostles (minus Judas who’s off betraying him, but will be replaced by Matthias, as we heard last week). And this rather dramatically and crucially changes everything in how this Gospel applies to us. If I would sum up the change briefly (but hopefully memorably) it would be like this: “Just as there is no “I” in “team”, so there is no “you” in “Apostle”.
Realizing this changes how we read our Gospel, today. Jesus doesn’t send the Holy Spirit directly to any but the 12 Apostles. He’s their Helper in all these ways, not necessarily ours. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” applies only to them, the 12, not to you. You don’t know all things, nor do you remember perfectly all that Jesus said and did for and with the 12. Only they do…
And the peace that he gives (not as the world gives) that keeps their hearts untroubled and them unafraid is given to them, not to us in that direct, no-holds-barred manner. And it is they, the 12, whom Jesus has made perfectly one as we heard last week. But, in that prayer in John 17 [that they, the 12, would be perfectly one] Jesus also includes those who will believe in me through their [the 12’s] word”
And this brings us to our Epistle reading (which, last I checked, isn’t an Epistle, exactly anymore than it is a book of the Old Testament where it’s been located throughout the Easter season. Acts is the history of the NT church, so difficult to fit into the lectionary’s usual categories).
Because, in the book of Acts [and paradigmatically on the Day of Pentecost] we see how the word and promises given to the 12 become ours through faith—by hearing their word, so that we get included in the church alongside them.
Again, looking at Acts 2, “When the Day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.” Who are “they”? Well, this is where we left off in our reading last week. “They” are the 12 Apostles, with Matthias just voted into office by the 120 disciples that were the church on the Day of Pentecost, a small, but hardy band. The sentence immediately before our Gospel today reads: “Matthias was numbered with the eleven apostles”. The Apostles are the clear referent of the “they” who were gathered together in one place on Pentecost.
Verse 14 of our Acts reading says “Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said…” So the tongues weren’t divided among 120 but only among the 12—they were the only speakers of unlearned foreign languages, the only preachers to the crowd of tens or hundreds of thousands gathered on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. And all the signs and wonders were done by the apostles as signs of an Apostle, just like only Jedi wield the Force, like there is no “I” in team, there is no “you” in “Apostle” 😉
If only the church were clear on this, the nonsense of charismatic-pentecostal movements (a modern movement only since 1905—from LA!) would never have gained traction. And the idea that we cannot know Jesus apart from the apostolic word and sacraments of the church catholic would not have been assailed so widely as it has by modern Protestantism and Evangelicalism.
We’d also recover—as our Lutheran fathers did long ago—the teaching of Holy Scriptures, of the early catholic, apostolic church, that we come to faith only by hearing the apostolic word. You will notice that the Apostles did not write books and epistles and copy them and pass them around. No. They led public worship, preaching the Word and administering the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the faithful. As Luther well said: “the church is a mouth-house not a pen-house”. The Scriptures are primarily for pastors to proclaim and parishioners to backstop us with…
Now, the Apostles trained pastors (padawan learners 😉 and gave clear criteria that aspirants to the office must meet (which we’ve been studying closely Wed. evenings at 7 pm from 1 Timothy and are still studying this week if you want to join in).
Augustana 5 says “Through this preaching [pastoral] office, as his instrument, God works faith when and where he pleases in those who hear their word”. Which is to say: the Real Pentecost miracle (of hearing the Gospel, of being reminded of the essence of what Jesus said and did, dying and rising for us to forgive our sins and give life and salvation by faith in his name) is repeated wherever, whenever 2 or 3 (or more) gather in his name to worship him by the apostolic word and sacraments as we have in our Liturgy, the Divine Service from the apostles, still today.
There is no ‘I’ in team; no ‘you’ in Apostle. But through their office, handed on to me by the Holy Spirit through your call, Jesus still makes you his disciples. And clinging to his pure word, sacraments, and worship, the Peace he gave his Apostles is given to you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.