Hi! Come on in. How are you doing? I'm glad you came. Pour yourself a coffee. The peanut butter cookies are really good. Oh, go ahead, take two!
Acts 3:12-19. This is one of several sermons which Peter preaches in Acts. Each of them is motivated by a significant event, e.g., the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (we've already mentioned that, and we'll come back to it in a few weeks). This one is motivated by a miraculous event, the healing of a lame man (you'll find it's worth it to back up eight verses and read the whole story). As you can imagine, the reactions to this are joy and astonishment. The lame man-now no longer lame-is joyful, and he clings to Peter and John exuberantly. The people in the temple are astonished. They know the man-he's a fixture. He was carried to the temple every day and laid at the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg for alms-no Social Insurance in those days! Now this man, whom they know as a lame beggar, is up dancing his heart out. (If you are "lame", please weigh in here. We need to hear this from your perspective.)
It doesn't take much experience in life for you to know that "lame" people (however that may express itself) might well find it difficult do that; that's why they're astonished. Those who were standing nearby would have seen and heard what happened. The man might have said, "Alms, for the love of God," and Peter said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk." And he did.
At that point, the people are aghast! How did that happen?! The conclusion they jump to is that Peter has performed a miracle, but Peter nips that one in the bud. "You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" Then, he goes on to put the credit where it belongs-and I'm skipping over all the stuff in the middle, straight to the punchline: "And by faith in his (Jesus') name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you."
But it's the stuff in the middle that's really important. Peter starts by identifying with the people-and yet distancing himself: "You Israelites". But as an Israelite, Peter is licensed to do what he does next; he roots what he says next in their shared heritage: the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their ancestors. Now they're listening, but Peter now makes a daring claim; this same God they all share "glorified … his servant Jesus." I imagine the audience received this with a mixed reaction. After the events of Pentecost, there were probably some in the temple who were ready to receive this. Others? I'm not so sure.
Then, speaking of "credit where credit is due", he drops a bit of a bomb on them: this is the same Jesus "whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him." And as if that weren't enough, "you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead."
Up to this point, Peter has used four of the terms the early church used to refer to Jesus. We tend to think in terms of "Son of God," "saviour," and "redeemer." The early church used "God's servant," "holy," "righteous," and "Author of Life." I'd like to pull out two of these for a second.
- "God's servant" - the reference to Isaiah's Servant Songs is clear.
- 42.1-4 discusses the Servant who will be a light to the nations, referring to the coming spread of the faith into the whole world.
- 49.1-6 refers to the servant's mission; it's not enough to be sent to the people of Israel; the servant is sent out to the entire world.
- 50.4-11 makes reference to the real suffering of the servant, but also the servant's vindication-and that's really apropos after the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection.
- Finally, there's the Suffering Servant passage-Is. 52.13-53.12. It's very long, but well worth reading; it speaks of the whole suffering of the servant.
Just a little note. We get our term "Son of God" through the notion of Jesus as servant. The original Greek word used here is paida, which can be translated as either 'servant;' or 'child'.
- "Author of Life" - what an irony! They asked for Barabbas, a murderer, a taker of life, in exchange for the Author of Life.
Peter finishes off this section of the sermon with this: "To this we are witnesses." It's irrefutable. You/we all saw it. No wiggling out of it.
But then he goes on in a way which appears to let them off the hook. "And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers." So, this is a sin, but it's a sin of ignorance. Moreover, it's all part of the will and plan of God "… that his Messiah would suffer." However, Peter's not really letting them off the hook after all: "Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out." Remember, repent means 'turn around/go the other way'. Choose the way which unites you with Jesus; abide in him. And wiping out is a wonderful image in the ancient world, i.e., "so that your sins may be wiped out." In those days, ink didn't sink into the papyrus used for manuscripts; it simply dried on the surface. You could just take a cloth and wipe it off, and that's how their sins would be wiped out.
Psalm 4. You can imagine that this psalm would have been a contender for the last words from the Cross. Here is a prayer of someone who is suffering shame.
Jesus had the attention and admiration of many in Israel at the end of his life-but not all. In fact, Jesus had "poked the bear" so often that the authorities were furious. He was challenging them. He was humiliating them. He was saying that they were unworthy leaders. "O.K., that's it. Enough is enough." (Or as my dad used to say, "Enough is too much.") Jesus was going to endure the ultimate suffering.
But the psalm goes on in confidence. "Let them do what they want."
7 You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
1 John 3:1-7. What we're called is usually the same as our name. But occasionally, we're called by a nickname: "Blondie", "Red", "Swede", and so on. But there's potentially a lot in a name. If you're named after someone who's famous or after a relative, there's sometimes the intention for you to live up to that person's "name", i.e., their reputation. So if you're called Peter or Paul or Mary or Joan, there's some famous person with that name, and your parents might have hoped you'd be like that person.
But name also refers to reputation. You know the old saying, "If I do that, my name will be mud." In other words, it will destroy your reputation.
In today's reading from 1 John, there's another name to be considered: "children of God". Well, that's really something you might be called; it's not a name. Nevertheless, there are some important things about being called a "child of God".
- It's a privilege to be called "child of God". Being a child of God is a gift from God. There's an interesting distinction between a parent and a father or mother. Nearly anyone can be a parent, but being a father or mother is something special; only special people can be a father or mother. That's how it is between God and us. God is special, and so is our relationship with God. It's a gift. It's a privilege. We're all God's creation, but God takes it further by choosing us, adopting us.
- Being a child of God is full of possibility. We're made in the image of God (Gen. 1.26), and when Jesus comes in his glory, we'll be like him-the image of him. This is our destiny-if we choose to accept it-and it's also a gift from God. The aim of all devotion is to see God; "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." "And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." Remember, hope is 'belief, trust'.
- Purity, as a child of God, is a choice, the acceptance of a gift given by God. What a shame that our reading doesn't include the very next verse, v. 8: "Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil."
Here, we have a choice, then, between good and evil, righteousness and sin. Sin is "lawlessness", deliberate breaking of the law. Sin comes from failing to abide in Christ, a work of the devil. Sin comes from the devil, the one who sins in principle; sin is the self-chosen principle of his life. Sin is conquered because Jesus destroyed the works of the devil; when we're in Christ, we're no longer in the power of sin.
Luke 24:36b-48. Easter, the day of the Resurrection, must have been a busy day! There is a series of events, some of them post-Resurrection appearances, some simply reports. So, the women find the tomb empty, and an angel tells them that Jesus has been raised; they don't actually see Jesus. Peter goes to check out the women's story, but he doesn't know what to make of what he sees. Two disciples on their way to Emmaus encounter Jesus, but don't recognize him until he has opened the scriptures for them and broken bread. When the two go right back to Jerusalem to report what has happened to them, they hear that Jesus has appeared to Peter. And that's where our reading for today starts-while the disciples are discussing all of this.
Jesus just appears. We know from other gospel accounts that the door to the room was locked-and yet Jesus appears. As far as we know, that can't happen-we can't do it-and yet Jesus appears. How would you have reacted if you'd been there? I know that what I'd have said wouldn't be limited to "Oh, my goodness!" They were startled; they were afraid, so Jesus says, "Peace be with you." It's easier to believe in ghosts than to give this any credence, so Jesus says, "Here, have a look. Look at my hands and feet. Touch me." O.K., so they touch him, but is that enough? Jesus says, "Do you have anything to eat?" They give him a piece of broiled fish which they have. Do you know how this feels? Joy, and yet "This is weird!" We haven't said anything at all about the "resurrection body", and I don't intend to-because I don't know. It's beyond my pay grade!
And then Jesus does exactly what he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; he opens the scriptures for them. He leads them to understand all the scripture references to what has happened. Now-now that it's no secret who he is-he gives them a job, the same job he had and the same message he proclaimed right from the beginning. "The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news." And the message isn't just for Israelites. They're to spread it-starting from Jerusalem-to everyone in the whole world.
But here's what seals the deal: "You are witnesses of these things." Our story is incredible. I don't deny that. But it is credible. There were witnesses.