Sunday, April 19, 2015

Third Easter

Acts 3: 12-19

Good morning and a word of welcome in this springtime and Eastertide.  Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.  Alleluia, alleluia.

These crisp and high energy  vignettes from the Book of Acts flash before us with stunning and powerful clarity.  At the beginning of this episode Peter and John were, we remember, on their way into the Temple for the daily prayers when they saw the man begging by the entrance.  Peter’s famous line, once again, as I quoted him last Sunday, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have, I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”   

And the man at once feels his strength return, leaps to his feet, dances for joy.  Wow!  And the crowds gather.  Some in wonder and amazement, others suspicious, disbelieving.  Among them, those who were just a few weeks ago key in the arrest and execution of Jesus, and they are now intent on putting a stop to this further disruption by his followers.

And Peter this morning, seizing the moment: a fresh opportunity to give his testimony and witness--that it is by the Name of Jesus that this miracle has taken place, shining forth the glory of God the Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  All Holy Spirit.  All Easter.  All Pentecost.  You can hear his voice rising above the background noise of the crowds.  Through you and your sin the Father of Lies has been working from Eden until now to extinguish the light, but his efforts are ruined, his powers overwhelmed, his last hour this day one of complete and utter defeat.  Jesus rose from the dead.  We’ve seen him with our own eyes.  Spoken with him.  Eaten with him.  Seen him rise to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  We have beheld his glory, as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

O sons and daughters, let us sing!  The King of heaven, the glorious King, o’er death and hell rose triumphing.  Alleluia!

It’s Easter now.  All Easter, all the time.  Time now, Peter proclaims, time now for you to survey the field, assess the new reality, and make some new choices while you still have time.  Open your eyes and your ears, your minds and your hearts.  Repent.  Greek: metanoite.  Literally, “Get another consciousness.”  Wake up and smell the coffee.  See and know what God is doing.  This new thing.  Not to be ignored, swept under a rug.  Of urgent importance and ultimate significance.  If you think you can just hold on and that this all will pass, that things will go back to being what they were before, you have another “think” coming.  “Repent therefore, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.”  That’s where we are now, today, this morning, this Easter.  Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.

All Easter, all the time.  I can’t read Acts without thinking back to a moment that I’ve mentioned I think many times before.  One of my own eye-opening moments.  In the library of St. Mark’s in Berkeley—probably 1973 or so.  And I see on the magazine rack a magazine I had never noticed before, called “Acts 29.”  I was looking for something else, so I didn’t pick it up at the time, but later on at home I had a moment of curiosity and I picked up my Bible to look it up.  Only to discover that the Acts of the Apostles ends at the end of Chapter 28.  I paused, and then the lightbulb experience.  Oh.  Acts 29.  What Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.”  My story, your story, our story.

I recently read a comment, someone said, as we look  in each generation to the story told in Acts for an inspirational role model and guide, for our own lives as Christian people and for the life of our church, certainly as we turn here this morning to Chapter 3 we would confess that for most of us whatever our station in life, and for our church, especially here in the Western developed world, we as individual Christians and the church as a whole has something of a hard time saying truly,  “silver and gold have I none.”  Peter and John were weak in every way from the worldly point of view, without status, prestige, office, influence, wealth, power.  Bank accounts, homes, cars, pensions and savings, color televisions and at least a few changes of clothes in our closets.  Grand and historic buildings, pipe organs and elevators.  All of these are, or at least can be, very good things indeed.  But we don’t see them front and center in these ancient stories.  Silver and gold have I none.  So, probably not Episcopalians.  But then, the church also, and we as individual Christians, will seem to have a hard time saying “take up your mat and walk.”   To speak boldly, with an expectation that God will act.

So often we’re left with a message it seems to me that is intellectually coherent perhaps and aesthetically pleasing, but that is spiritually without much power. 

I saw recently a financial planner list “movies, magazines, sports events, and religious activities” altogether under the “entertainment and recreation” category of a family’s household budget.  Categorized as a hobby, a “special interest.”   Not something folks necessarily think will make a real and substantive difference in their lives, in the world.  On the margin, the sidelines, but not in the center of the field. 

Can’t tell that to those college kids in Kenya last month, of course.  The invading terrorists announce, “We’re Al Shabab,” they announced.  “If you are a Christian, raise your hand.”  And some 150 or so did, and were killed on the spot.  One after the other, and as the massacre continued they began to sing hymns.  Hard to imagine raising your hand in that context, to be loyal to your hobby.

Take up your bed and walk.  Think about what must have been going on in Peter and John to say that, with absolute confidence.  Absolute confidence that for the God who had shown us Easter morning there are no limits.  That he is real, that he has won the victory, once for all.  That neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Catching in that a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit could be doing in us and through us.  Inspiring, encouraging, in the midst of what is so often a kind of timidity.  If that’s the right word.  The message Luke seems to be stretching to communicate to us so clearly, that we just need to be all in with this Easter story about the disciples on their way home to Emmaus.  To let it be our story.  Having our eyes opened, being opened ourselves to the power of this Good News, allowing his Holy Spirit to fill us and then energize us.

That place up on Hampton Street, the talk of the neighborhood.  An aspirational thought, I guess, in Eastertide, this lovely spring morning.  Such a beautiful place, so many great people, so much good things going on in so many ways.  But most of all, with such great news to tell, with so much confidence.  Each of our homes.  Each of us, wherever we are.  Raising our hands with Peter and John, with the man who suddenly could stand and walk, with those college kids in Kenya. 

What we have seen with our own eyes, what we have known to be true in our minds and in our hearts.   He is risen, he is risen!  Tell it out with joyful voice; he has burst his three days’ prison; let the whole wide earth rejoice: it is real, it happened, it makes a difference permanently: death is conquered, we are free, Christ has won the victory.

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