Saturday, April 2, 2016

Go and Speak the Words of This Life!

Acts 5:12-20 On Easter Sunday, we rejoice in our Lord’s resurrection.  We sing those beautiful Easter hymns that are full of joy and gladness.  We add the alleluias back in the liturgy.  The church is packed.  It’s a great and glorious day!
And by the next Sunday we’re back to the normal, ordinary business of life.  And that’s just how it is:  ordinary.  But think about that! 
On Easter Sunday the most incredible, joyous, life-changing new is proclaimed:  that Christ has been raised from the dead (a message that changed the direction of the cosmos) and a week later it’s all just back to normal. 
That’s too bad-- and it ought not be that way-- because everything, absolutely everything is different for us—forever-- because Christ has been raised from the dead.
And so what we are going to do over these next seven Sundays in Easter season, is follow the early church in the weeks and months and years after our Lord’s resurrection and see what this Good News meant for them—how it changed their lives-- and how it still has the power to change our lives too.  The Bible says that
Many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
            Signs and wonders being done by the hands of the apostles!  Multitudes of new believers added to the Lord!  Miraculous spiritual and physical healings overflowed! 
And we say to ourselves, if only we had a Pastor like Peter—if only we had a bunch of miracles and multitude of members—then we would really have something to work with—then the Sunday after Easter would be as great as the Sunday of Easter.
But dear friends in Christ, that is the worst kind of spiritual blindness (and dare I say contempt) for the blessings of the resurrected Lord that are bestowed in this place Sunday after Sunday just as surely as they were in the early church. 
When children and adults are baptized at this font they are delivered from the dominion of the devil and brought into God’s family. 
When the Gospel is preached in this place and sins are forgiven in absolution, people are raised from spiritual death to spiritual life. 
When Holy Communion is celebrated, the risen Christ makes himself present to us in a way that is no less real than when we appeared to the disciples in the upper room. 
What we need in this congregation is not thousands of members or dramatic miracles or an apostle for a pastor, but a renewed faith and joy in the Easter blessings that we take for granted:  a lifetime of guilt taken away—an eternal life given—the presence of the Lord experienced. 
These are the blessings that are present in this place each Sunday—blessings that every person in the world needs—blessings that the Lord wants us to share. 
And each of us are witnesses to these things:  how people’s lives can be changed by Jesus—how people can be delivered and set free from those things that oppress them-how people can live with hope in the midst of hardship. 
This is the power of the resurrected Christ that goes on and on in our lives—this is the message that he wants us to share—even in the face of persecution.  Luke writes that:
The high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
            If there is one word that unites the Easter Season—one word that is spoken again and again by Jesus and the angelic messengers—it is the word “go!”  
The angels at the tomb told the faithful women:  go and tell the disciples!  Jesus said to Mary Magdalene:  go and tell my brothers!  Jesus spoke to his disciples before the ascension and said:  go into all the world and make disciples!  And here in our text, the angel commanded the apostles:  go and stand in the temple and speak the words of life! 
Again and again and again the same message:  Go and tell!  Go and share!  Go and witness!  And the early church needed to hear that message.  The early Christians were no different than us by nature.  They were perfectly willing to keep the Good News of Christ’s resurrection to themselves. 
This Sunday we see them hiding out in fear behind locked doors.  Next Sunday we will see them going back to fishing for fish-- instead of fishing for men.  Again and again Jesus commands them to go and tell the Good News of his life.
That command—that mission—that heavenly purpose for their lives-- takes them directly into the very places they would rather not have gone—places of persecution.   
In the Gospel lesson we are told they are hiding out in fear of the Jews-- but it is to the Jews first of all—to those closest to them—to those they knew best--that Jesus wanted the Good News of his resurrection to go forth.
I think that all of us can understand their fear, can’t we?  Maybe we have a loved one who doesn’t believe in Jesus—maybe it’s a friend at school—maybe it’s a co-worker or neighbor—someone we care about--someone we interact with on a daily basis—someone who needs Jesus.  And yet it is BECAUSE of that closeness that we find it so difficult to witness. 
We wonder and worry:  what will happened to our relationship if I talk to them about Jesus?  Will they think I am judging them?  Will they listen to what I have to say, because the Lord and they both know I’m not a perfect Christian?
We are blessed in this country where- in large measure- we don’t face outright persecution.  But neither should we doubt that there are forces that oppose our witness (usually it our own fears and doubts) but sometimes it is opposition and resistance from those we love and care about.
The disciples were facing strong opposition from the Sadducees—those Jews in charge of the temple—and we understand why.  If the person and work of Jesus were true, then there was simply no need for any of it anymore. 
And because of this opposition that came from the temple Jews—the apostles ended up in jail. 
But they were not in it alone.  They were commanded to be about the Lord’s mission-- and they could count on the Lord’s help --and so during the night they were set free by the Lord. 
Those looking in from the outside couldn’t understand it—they couldn’t figure it out.  After all, they had the power—they had the prison—they thought they were in control.  And when told that the ones they put in jail were no longer there, they were perplexed and wondered what it would all come to.
As well they might!  The world has been looking on in wonder for the last two thousand years of the church’s history at how twelve disciples has been turned into billions—how the poverty of the early church has been translated into a world full of people fed and clothed and sheltered and healed in Jesus’ name every day—how a handful of peasants, speaking a regional dialect has turned into a world-wide community of people in every nation speaking hundreds of languages in a vast array of cultures.
The persecutors of the early Christians wondered what it would all come to-- and we are blessed to know the answer to that in a world full of Christians.  The existence of the church gives us every reason to witness with conviction and face the future with courage. 
We must not think for a minute that the Lord who set these disciples free and sent them directly into the midst of their persecutors-- is even the tiniest bit less involved in his church and in the lives of his people today--than he was back then. 
He is still the Lord who commands us to go and speak.  He is still the Lord of power and might who opens locked doors for the sake of the world’s salvation.
We can see it in the world around us and we can see it in the people we know.  All of us have friends or family or fellow members here at Trinity who, if you were just looking from the outside—not perceiving the power of the Lord—would be some of the most unlikely people to have a place in the Church. 
But they do—because the Lord loves them—because he has opened doors so that they can be saved—because someone witnessed to them.
We need to learn and re-learn that lesson.  Much too often we see only the persecution of those who oppose us—we see only the problems of those who are broken by sin—and these impediments prevent our witness. 
Instead, we need to see the power of the risen Lord who stands ready even at this moment and even in this place to push forward his saving work through our witness—just like he did back then. 

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