Third Sunday of Easter 2018 — Preaching Notes
Faith That Makes Us Strong | IN THE NAME OF JESUS WORSHIP SERIES
Last week I wrote about the story that sits at the center of this three-week series, which tells of a man lame from birth who sat at the Beautiful Gate near the entrance to the Temple. From this spot, every day for his entire life, he worked as a beggar, asking for alms from people passing by the gate on their way to pray in the Temple.
When Peter and John passed by this man, instead of ignoring him or refusing to look at him or dropping a few coins in his bag, Peter stopped and spoke to the man. He proclaimed the power of the name of Jesus and ordered the man to stand up and walk. Giving him his hand, Peter pulled the man to his feet and the man began to walk, and then leap, and then dance and sing praises to God. All who witnessed this miraculous healing were curious about the power that healed this man who had been lame from birth.
It was at this point that Peter stood up and began to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the power of faith in his name to make believers strong, and the power of Christ to heal not just the lame man, but everyone who repents and turns to God.
- Do we believe in the power of faith to make us strong and to heal us? I know we probably say we do, but do we really believe it?
- Have we experienced it for ourselves?
- Have we been transformed by this power so much that we found ourselves compelled, like the early believers, to repent, turn towards God, and receive baptism (or remember our baptisms with thanksgiving) in the name of Jesus?
It is important to understand that although Peter may come across as harsh to our modern ears, ultimately this text is not about assigning blame for the execution of Jesus. It is about proclaiming salvation in Christ to all people. Yes, some of those who hear Peter preach may have been involved in killing Jesus, even if only by remaining silent in the face of injustice. But the bottom line in Peter’s message is that salvation, healing and refreshment can come to anyone who has ears to hear the Good News, just as it did to the lame man.
This is not an ancient world version of self-help. It does not point us to some magic words that we can say to feel better about our guilt. It is recognizing that at the very heart of our humanity, we are all in the same boat. Rich, poor, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, Greek, Muslim, Jew, white, brown, black, Hispanic, Arab, Caucasian, or Asian.
The hard truth is that we are all in this together. It’s a sinking ship that we built and we can’t get out of it. We keep building it. We won’t stop building it unless we are forced to.
And yet, refreshment is still available to us.
For the past two football seasons, starting in the fall of 2016, Americans have witnessed a public action that has galvanized the nation. The action I am referring to is the growing number of football players who have chosen to take a knee in protest during the singing of the national anthem at the start of games. Initially this movement grew as an effort to protest police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. Inspired by the protests against police brutality after the deaths of several black men through shootings by police, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick first protested by remaining seated during the singing of the national anthem in the 2016 preseason. Over the 2016 season and into 2017, the protesters grew in numbers, and the form changed from remaining seated to taking a knee.
Some have judged these players as unpatriotic. There have even been a few who suggested that anyone who takes a knee during the singing of the anthem at a football game should be fired or not allowed to play.
But I want to suggest that no matter what our personal feelings are about this action, as followers of Jesus Christ we should defend the right of individuals to protest against injustice. These players are protesting with their bodies. They are refusing to be silent about something they feel is harmful to God’s people. They are refusing to be complicit in killing Jesus. They are showing that their allegiance is to justice over and above their allegiance to any flag, symbol, or nation.
What if the disciples had refused to be silent? What if they had put their bodies in the way? What if they had thrown themselves down on the ground and blocked the path to Calvary? Would it have made some people angry or afraid? Would there have been many who disagreed with them for speaking out against those who would have him eliminated as a threat to their own power? Or might it have inspired others to rise up against the injustice against Jesus?
Of course we don’t know the answers to any of these questions because that’s not how the story goes. No one stood with Jesus. Peter denied knowing him. Judas betrayed him. His closest followers ran and hid so they would not be implicated as coconspiritors in his “crime.” And in the end, the powers failed to kill Jesus because God raised him from the dead.
How do we participate in killing Jesus? Ask yourself and those around you:
- How have I harmed my neighbor today, intentionally or unintentionally?
- How have I done harm to those whom God loves today?
- Have I neglected of some of my neighbors, because of my own preconceived notions and prejudices?
- Have I contributed to his death by passing by the beggar and looking the other way?
- Have I been silent in the face of injustice, and therefore become complicit through actions, effectively killing the Spirit of our Lord and Savior and what he came to teach us about what it means to be God’s people?
Recognizing, confessing and repenting of our sin is important.
The good news is that on the other side of death is resurrection. We may participate in things that kill Jesus, but we have an opportunity for redemption. For in Christ, God offers us mercy and grace, no matter what the magnitude of our sin. It is important to ask ourselves, “How am I living into Peter’s invitation to repentance, confession, and pardon?”
Peter seems to be pointing out that we have all done harm, by our actions and inactions. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all culpable. And Peter himself was culpable. He keeps asking, “What have we done?”
What had Peter done? We know the answer. He didn’t try to stop the crucifixion. He stood by in silent submission as the powers closed in around his teacher and savior. He denied Jesus three times. He hid in the Upper Room.
And here, in this difficult and heartfelt sermon, he is acknowledging this truth about himself. He is saying, “Look what WE did!” He knows he can’t lay blame on anyone in Jerusalem without laying blame on himself as well.
We have to keep turning the question back on ourselves. The things we accuse the disciples, or the Jewish authorities, or the Roman officials of—those are are on us too.
But there’s something else in this lesson for us that we need to hold on to, even as we confess our sins. The Good News Peter proclaims to those gathered at the Beautiful Gate all those millennia ago is for us too! The same refreshing, the same salvation that is offered to them is also offered to us! Praise God for salvation offered to us in Jesus Christ our Lord! Praise God for the power of healing. Praise God for the power of God’s unending grace that saves us all.