What makes a good sequel?

We have this year-long theme of “Story,” and I’m wondering this morning about sequels.

I suppose there are two ways of looking at this, one isn’t really a sequel, and the other is.

The first is when a book becomes a movie or perhaps a play or a musical. What do we often hear about these adaptations? I’m sure we’ve all said it ourselves about our favorite book making it to the Big Screen.

It wasn’t as good as the book.

That’s not really a sequel.

The second way of looking at this is that of a real sequel: Part 2 as it were.

Of course, we often hear a similar refrain about sequels as we hear or say about film adaptations of books:

It wasn’t as good as the original.

What makes a good sequel?

Should I put our Scrogin Book Forum or Lit Professors on the spot?

What makes a good sequel?

The Book of Acts is a kind of sequel. You’ve heard this before, but most people accept that the Book of Acts is part 2 of one author’s work: Book I, The Gospel According to Luke; Book II, The Acts of the Apostles.

I’m not sure the author of Luke waited to release Book II until a holiday weekend to maximize ticket sales, but if you read these in proximity to one another, you can see an example of what makes a good sequel.

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus, the good news; stories of his miracles and teachings, his wrongful conviction and execution by the state, his resurrection, and at the end of book I, a kind of cliffhanger: Jesus ascends into heaven, and the disciples are left behind, seemingly perplexed.

Book II, Acts, then begins with a recap. Previously on L O S T…

Then it picks up where we left off:

After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

The next chapter then brings us to today.

Pentecost.

The unleashing of the Spirit of God.

What makes a good sequel?

Wind and fire is a good start.

But rather than a city being destroyed by dragon fire, this is an internal fire, an anointing, a conversion, a commissioning that’s as contagious as a wildfire.

It felt like wind and looked like fire but sounded like each person’s own language being spoken to them.

God was pouring out the Holy Spirit on the disciples, in a sequel to the Good News of Jesus; the Good News was continuing in a new way, a new form, transcending — not discarding — everyone’s differences; illuminating but not assimilating their diversity; as Dr. Willie James Jennings puts it, a professor at Wesley’s alma mater Yale Divinity School: “The Spirit creates joining…Joining has begun.”

The Good News perpetuates with this new work of God’s Spirit — to join God’s people together. They don’t give up their jobs, their languages, their ethnicities; they don’t cease being young or old; there’s nothing here that suggests they give up loving who they love or being who they are. But they still join together in the work before them — not to sit around in a room praying anymore like the disciples had been doing, but to go out, to tell the story, to embody this Good News.

Good News that however and whomever they are, the Spirit of God is for them. No matter what they’ve done or who they are, the Spirit of God is with them. Wherever, whatever, whomever the Spirit of God is within them.

They are empowered and animated by the same Spirit of God who was active in that first book, the same Spirit of God who raised Christ from the dead. The same Spirit of God who breathed life into creation from nothing, who breathed life into death with the resurrection, is now breathing life into the disciples with wind and fire and Duolingo 1.0 at Pentecost.

What makes a good sequel?

At the worst, it continues the story well enough. It retells it in a new but familiar enough way that we still recognize it. At its best, a good sequel doesn’t just continue the story in an acceptable enough way, but it inspires us to imagine it perpetuating further still, it compels us to want more. We still don’t want it to end. We want another sequel.

Pentecost is telling us that the good news of God in Christ isn’t over. That the same God who cared enough to journey with humanity from within humanity in Jesus, is still determined to connect with us and to join us to one another, such that now for Act II, in Acts 2, God comes as the Holy Spirit.

The story of Jesus wasn’t complete with a death and a resurrection. It continued because a group of people responded to that good news. They decided to take on the mantle of perpetuating this story. And Acts goes on to show their journey, their trials and successes, their failures and lessons learned, their courage and compassion and faith.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been asking ourselves: is this as good as it gets? Is this all there is? Is this the pinnacle of what Christ calls us to?

I woke up this morning wondering that same question from a different side of the pillow:

If we were the first church in Acts 2, if it was THE First Baptist Church of Worcester who met in that room and waited for the Spirit, would Christianity have been born? Would it have survived?

If that was us, would we still be here?

I don’t mean to get all mind-bending with time warp, Back to the Future 2 stuff, on you, but would we have responded well?

Well enough that people would look to us two thousand years later like we look to the disciples, as examples of courage and compassion and faith?

Faith?

Would we have been praying? That’s what the disciples were doing before that holy wind and fire.

Just yesterday, we celebrated the life of our dear friend and beloved daughter of God, Ruth Heywood. We heard beautiful tributes to her in the service and around the tables afterward. One thing I recalled Ruth saying to me, was how she took over leading the Prayer fellowship, in her late 70s and into her late 80s — never say you’re too old for God to use you — she took it over because she said, “It wasn’t going to continue otherwise. And every church needs a prayer group.” She said this to me last year as she was stepping down from leading the group. She was right, without her, it hasn’t continued. I take responsibility in that I haven’t successfully found someone to help us pick it back up.

But she’s right about prayer.

If that first Pentecost had been us, would this have been enough?

The good news is that we don’t have to worry about any of that. It wasn’t up to us. We weren’t there. We weren’t called respond back then.

The story of Pentecost, this book of Acts, is a good sequel, following Peter and Paul and Lydia and Dorcas as they follow the Spirit of God. It’s a good sequel because it retells the Good News in a new and familiar way both, because it has inspired Christians across the millennia to imagine more. It continues the story.

But before I let us off the hook, from wondering how we would’ve done in that situation, I have another question for us this morning.

The Book of Acts ends with Paul still doing his thing, journeying and embodying the life and teachings of Jesus. And then it ends. That’s it. He doesn’t die. The church doesn’t die.

Obviously, not. We’re here today.

But that’s the thing though: it’s written as if the story continues on. A new sequel is being played out by the very reading of it.

Except this time, it’s our turn.

And that’s where I need to ask us again:

Is this enough?

Is what we’re doing as a church enough, such that two thousand years from now, future churches will be enriched and encouraged and compelled to take courage and to show compassion and to have faith

because of how we took courage,

because of how we showed compassion,

because of how we lived our faith?

Sundays may be about worship, and it’s vital. It’s beautiful. It renews us and reminds us that God is so much more than we are. But Christianity is about so much more than this. It’s about imitating the So Much Moreness of God. It’s about loving our neighbors and enemies, it’s about love and justice as two sides of the same coin; it’s about human flourishing; it’s about following the Way of Jesus towards those who need to know that God loves them, is with them, is for them, is now within them. It’s about empowering the lepers, the lame, the blind, the captives, then and now, whomever they are, however they are oppressed today.

Would this First Baptist Church of Worcester have been enough for the Sequel of Pentecost?

We don’t have to answer that. We weren’t called to respond back then. But we are called to respond now.

Is this enough for the latest sequel that the Spirit of God is acting out in our time today?

Depending on how you answer that, you’ll be encouraged to remember that our sequel is still unfolding. We haven’t missed our only chance. But it is our turn. It is our shot. We are Christians because we believe this story, and now it’s our turn to retell it not just with our words but especially with our lives.

Is this enough?

That’s the question.

That, and:

What makes a good sequel?

Sermon preached at FBC Worcester, MA on Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Acts 2:1–21

I'm a writer, and I enjoy dabbling in photography. I'm also a progressive minister, enneagram 4w3, ramen enthusiast, and human to my best dog Zooey Deschanel