Acts 4: 32-35
Again--blessings as we sail into this bright season of the church year. The traditional name “Low Sunday” for this Second Easter Sunday—I suppose mostly to reflect the contrast with Easter morning, the highest of the Church Year. This place still echoing with the ringing brass choir and the bustle of an almost over-full congregation, which was so much fun, old friends and new, setting up folding chairs in the back, the bustle of all those kids, the drama and excitement of egg hunt and champagne reception and so many festivities. Important to say from a theological and spiritual perspective of course that there’s nothing “low” about where we are this morning. From height to height in Eastertide. The astonishing word and news even after all these centuries, that Jesus, who was dead and buried—Jesus was raised from death, God’s unique and irrevocable intervention, and that he is now alive, with us, to comfort and support and lead us into a glorious future. The promise ringing around us, “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.” The church season of Easter stretches on through the springtime, 40 days until Ascension Thursday, as symmetry with our earlier 40 Days of Lent, and then another 10 days in Ascensiontide until the 50th Day, Pentecost, and the celebration of the life of God in and around us through the Holy Spirit. Reminding us of the deeper truth of God’s eternal calendar, that really and truly it’s all Easter now: all Easter, all the time.
In an ancient tradition, in Eastertide, in our Sunday schedule of readings from scripture, the readings from the Old Testament are replaced by readings from the Acts of the Apostles, the continuation by St. Luke, volume two, to follow his gospel. In some ways the Gospel according to Luke might be thought of as a Preface, and introduction, what story needs to be told so that the rest of the story can be understood. The story of Acts begins where the gospel ends, at the Ascension, as Jesus promises his disciples that the next great chapter of their life with him was about to begin, as they would return to Jerusalem and await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—and as they then equipped and launched by that Holy Spirit would go out to be his witnesses “in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” His deputies, his agents. His hands and feet. They return to Jerusalem, return to that same Upper Room where just a few weeks before they had rested with Jesus during the Passover and shared that last meal with him, that same Upper Room in which he had appeared to them on that evening of Easter Day, when Thomas was absent, when the friends from Emmaus had returned to tell the story of the stranger they had met on the road—the stranger who was Jesus himself. The same Upper Room where a week after Easter, as we have read this morning, Jesus appeared to them again, and this time with Thomas.
And in the week or so after that day on the mountaintop they prepare themselves for what was to come—even though they were not quite clear what that would mean. They gather in prayer to discern that Matthias be called to serve with them as one of the twelve leaders, in the place of Judas. And then on the Jewish Feast of Shauvot, Pentecost, fifty days from the Passover, still in that upper room, “suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind,” and the Holy Spirit lifts them up and charges them with an energy and sends them out of their hiding place and into the open, into the streets, to proclaim with boldness what they have seen and known and come to know to be true about the resurrection. And there are many who hear from many lands and in many tongues, in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Jerusalem, and many come to believe, and what began as a hundred or so Jesus-followers, mostly from Galilee, now is a rising tide, hundreds and then thousands flocking to respond to what Peter and the other Apostles have to say.
In the third chapter of Acts the energy of this new movement begins to burst forth not simply with words but with signs and wonders and miracles, as Peter and John meet the crippled man begging at the Temple Gate. “Silver and gold have I none,” Peter says, “but I give you what I have: in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” And in a moment the man is dancing, leaping in the air, shouting for joy. At the beginning of the fourth chapter of Acts the old enemies of Jesus are now on the scene again, Annas and Caiaphas, the priests and Sadducees of the temple and those in civil authority suddenly taking notice that what they thought they had nipped in the bud on that Friday afternoon is now back in front of them. They arrest some of the leaders, put them in jail, try to see if they can push this back down to earth. Go home, go back to Galilee, go back to your fishing boats, this story is over.
But what we see and what the whole rest of the Book of Acts is going to make very clear is that what is happening now, no earthly power will be able to counteract. To say it again, it’s all Easter now: all Easter, all the time. Some have said the title of this book should be not “The Acts of the Apostles,” but “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” All about what truly extraordinary things God is doing now in and through these ordinary men and women. The flock gathered by the Good Shepherd, his church. With every challenge, every arrest, every threat, the fire of the gospel spreads, burning brighter and brighter. And these followers of Jesus, far from being cornered, pushed into submission--they are glowing and growing, filled with joy, hearts lifted by experiences of spiritual and mystical heights, sharing with one another freely, giving generously and in abundance, in a fellowship of friendship deeper than any they had ever known before, fearless even with opposition all around them, living a new life and a transformed life in wonderful anticipation of the return of their risen Lord and Savior. To be a part of his eternal future.
And the heart of their new life and calling summarized here, this sentence this morning, Acts 4: 33: “and with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them.” Underline and repeat: “and with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them.” The Easter message.
Ah. And so we take a breath. There are, I think, so many wonderful things you can say about our life and ministry here at St. Andrew’s in this era of our congregational life. 178 years after our founding. This beautiful and holy space—and of course we are so appreciative of the renewal all around made possible in the last couple of years. The gift of worship—and just to think about the solemn and amazing week just past, Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and what a highlight moment last Sunday, the festival day of Easter. Thinking about how this spring as Liz Buchanan has passed the torch to Brandon Cooper St. Andrew’s has become such a great place for kids and families—about the work Joan does with our teenagers, about our Bible Studies and Inquirer Classes and book groups, and of course about the rich texture of mission, our Mustard Seed Babies in Uganda, our Five Talents partners in Bolivia, our neighbors nearby at EECM and Seeds of Hope and Shepherd’s Heart, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, the Food Bank, and on and on and on and on.
As this Easter moves along, into the sunshine of spring, so much to appreciate and be thankful for about this place. Our church. Such great people. Good friends.
But let’s say this morning that in and with that all, we do need to be careful. This is all great, but it’s not of first importance. It’s really not. It’s not the main thing. It’s not what we’re about, who we are. In our DNA, our core identity. If any of these things were what we are mainly known for, we might well take that as a warning to check to be sure that we hadn’t wandered far from the center line of our calling, of what and who it is God has called us to be about in the life of the Holy Spirit. Easter people. A tap on the shoulder, in Acts chapter 4. Jesus looked at that magnificent Temple in Jerusalem and said, as we read in Matthew 24, “not one stone will be left on another.” And again, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” It’s all great, everything--but only great because of what’s at the center, and because of who is at the center. “It is not ourselves that we proclaim,” says Paul in Second Corinthians 4, “It is not ourselves that we proclaim, but Christ Jesus as Lord.” It’s not about us, who we are, what we have accomplished, but about him, what he has done for us. Eyes on that cross outside the gates of Jerusalem. Eyes on the tomb, the stone rolled away. Jesus: is alive. Jesus: is with us.
What this reading from Acts 4 opens for us this morning, that who they were, we would be. What this old place on Hampton Street would be all about, morning, noon, and night. What we all would be about, each one of us. Second Sunday of Easter, 40 Days of Easter. All Easter, all the time. “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them.”
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.