Scriptures: Luke 24:36b-48, Acts 3:12-19
Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Last week, I spoke about how God works through ordinary people. We examined Mary of Magdala, Peter, John, and Thomas. What about contemporary characters? Are there still those of us ordinary folks through whom God can do wondrous things? Or, are we too entrenched in our contemporary time to believe such things? I am haunted by that question. Here’s why:
I missed the call last week that was put in to me after the kayaker was pulled out of the river – I had walked over to Joanna’s art gallery and had been in conversation with she and a few other folks there and didn’t get my message until I was walking back toward the church for session meeting. I called back as soon as I heard the message, but by then it was two hours later.
What if I had received the call in time for me to jump in someone’s car and zoom over to Judy and Walt’s place and been present for everything that went on? Am I some Peter or John that I could have called on the name of Jesus and he would have stood up, rolled over, spit out the water, and blinked around at everyone owlishly before leaping up for joy and shouting alleluia to God? I confess I struggle thinking I have enough faith that calling on the name of Jesus like that would work in today’s world. Which means I have what, faith less than a mustard seed?
And yet, I call myself an Easter person! I do believe in the resurrection! I believe Christ rose from the dead, I believe God is present in the world today, in the very fabric of life that beats in all living things, in the lives and hearts of any who call on God, by whatever name, for strength, for discernment, for mercy–
Dr. Tom Long writes, “In our time there is a kind of functional atheism that prevails for many. Life is perceived to be barren of God, and if God ever should speak or act, it would be an incredible exception to the norm.”
Somehow, I am hoping together we can fight off succumbing to this “functional atheism” and instead convince ourselves that nothing could be farther from the truth. I will need your help, because I can all too easily become a victim of this outlook.
In today’s text, we are given a window to a time similar to ours in that there seemed to be a spiritual void where the very real presence of Adonai used to be. It had been 400 years or so between the last of the prophets and John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
During the interim, the religious establishment had become exactly that: an establishment-or should I say, an institution? Unfortunately, we find all too commonly the mission of an institution is to perpetuate itself. I can easily imagine how the power and presence of God became less than palatable in those 400 years. Especially compared to the vivid history the Israelites had when God really was present for them, leading them through the desert or working through the mighty prophets of old like Elijah and Elisha.
We really don’t know what it was like at the time of Jesus exactly, but join me in a creative attempt to tease it out. Listen again for God’s message for today:
I wonder if anyone other than those crazy fishermen ever took that Jesus guy seriously? Do you remember his cousin, John the Baptizer? He was just as crazy. Why would I have wanted to get up and follow someone given the nickname, or especially a prophetic name, of “Lamb of God,” anyway? Lambs aren’t pretty little white things bounding around in green pastures. They are a commodity, sacrifice animals, used for killing, offering, eating, and clothing among the wealthy who can afford them. Why would I follow someone destined to be killed as some sort of sacrifice? People are not sacrificed to Adonai, animals are. People were sacrificed to Molech or one of the other gods the ancient Canaanites used to worship, anything like that is anathema to us.
I have kept my nose to the ground and gone on as usual, keeping my business going, staying under the radar of our Roman overlords, and just trying to get along. Besides, politicians killed both John and Jesus anyway, so wasn’t I right in the end to have nothing to do with either of them? At least my family and I are still alive.
I go to Temple, I even heard Jesus preach a couple of times – and before him I heard John down at the river. After all, business is business; to remain successful among my countrymen, being Jewish means I need to be aware of everything going on. But the Jesus crowd? I mean, really; take the teachings of that Nazarene seriously? He really had no insight on the economics of the day. He was much better suited to the circles of Rabbis talking about … whatever it is they talk about, even if he was a carpenter originally. Personally, I would never have given up the family business to theophilize. How does that put bread on the table anyway?
What’s this? Some of Jesus’ buddies are here in the Temple today? What? You say the lame beggar by the gate just stood up and is leaping around like a goat and shouting for joy? You’re kidding! I’ve got to see this for myself.
Hey! How’d you—-
How’d he get his legs back? Who did it? The fisherman Peter you say? Or John? Was it a drink or something? Hmmm, can I package that? This could make millions…
Tom Long goes on to identify three things taking place in the text today. “First, they misunderstood the source of the healing, assuming it came from Peter and John…. Second, they misunderstood the nature of life with God, thinking that brokenness is the rule and healing is the astounding exception…. Third, they thought that the healing called only for astonishment; but it calls for more, it calls for repentance.”
Now I’m going to ask the hard question. For the love of God, why do bad things happen? Well, okay, Scott, think about it: When something incredible happens – like the rains that came after the incredibly long drought in the 30s, when WWII finally ended, when man walked on the moon for the first time, when Kennedy was shot, when the Berlin Wall came down, when the tragedies of 9/11 struck, or yes, even the drowning last week in the river. What happens? Tom Long says, “after momentous events, both good and bad, people are drawn to sacred places and to people who seem to have divine power.” Friends, what can we learn from all this?
So when something startling and unexpected disrupts the natural world, and the inevitable gathering like moths to the light begins, then Let us pray: O Lord my God: You and you alone are the One and Only source of Divine power.
Once again in the words of Tom Long:
Peter’s sermon today lets us know that such events call for an ever-deeper response of self-reflection. God’s healing work discloses another world, another reality, another sovereignty shimmering amid the wreckage of a decaying culture. In the face of God’s deeds of mercy all around us, we are summoned not merely to say, “How wonderful!” but to turn around, to repent, to change our citizenship, and to become a faithful part of God’s work in the world.
In 1958 when the synagogue in Atlanta, GA was bombed, the following Sabbath service in the blown-out structure was filled to overflowing. Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, stood up to speak. He looked out at the full congregation, and after standing silently for a moment surveying the crowd with a penetrating gaze, he quipped, “So, this is what it takes to get you to Temple!”
For us, let us open our eyes to see and open our ears to hear all the myriad ways God reveals God’s almighty self in this wondrous earth we call home. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Discussion:
1. When have you felt like your faith was on the edge of unbelief?
2. Have you ever had something “bad” happen? What was it? Circumstantial? Debilitating? Grief? Death? Brokenness? How did you get through it?
3. Have you ever had something occur that verged on divine providence?
4. Has there ever been a time when God spoke to you?
5. What about your life has changed as a result? If nothing has, why not?
 Long, Tom. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.