Heart of Christianity

Scripture: Acts 2:36-41, John 10:1-10

Let us pray:

O God, we have heard the call of scriptural witnesses, and have responded in faith to your love. Guide our lives that we may in turn be witnesses to your changeless grace in a swiftly changing world. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Recall the words of Jesus from last week’s reading:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Recall also that I mentioned no matter how we re-frame the heart of Christianity in a swiftly changing world, the heart of Christianity remains the same. The heart is most important, and it is this: God is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). We proclaim Jesus of Nazareth: Emmanuel, God’s Son and Messiah. Born a Jew, Jesus taught as a Rabbi, healed like a miracle-worker doctor, spoke like a prophet, and loved all: the sinner, the outcast, his rivals, and even his murderers – forgiving them, as he so eloquently put it from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Purposefully he laid his life down as a sin offering for the sake of redeeming the world and all who dwell therein. He died, was buried, and rose again for us that all of life might rise with him anew. That is an amazing love!

This week we delve a little more deeply into our calling as witnesses to this message. Our calling begins with our Baptism, whether as adults or infants. In today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter proclaims Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen again. He preaches to the crowd in Jerusalem and 3000 are touched deeply in their hearts, asking Peter and the other disciples present, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized” (v. 38).

Reflecting on this text, one commentator wrote,

“To belong to Christ through repentance and baptism is to receive a call. We are to participate in Christ’s mission, taking the promise of forgiveness in Jesus and new life through the Spirit to our neighbors and communities, our nations and the world.”[1]

Are we doing that? More specifically, is this congregation doing that? You personally? What does it look like for you to participate in Christ’s mission? Of course, there may be something keeping us from this all-important calling on our lives to participate in and with Christ….

Are there misunderstandings recent or ancient, spoken or unspoken among your family that need to be addressed? Do you have a dear friend or friends with whom you have had a falling out over something either internal or external to your relationship? How might it look for you and for this congregation to take a deeper step into the community, holding out the hand of friendship, fellowship, and service to others, even if they are of different ideologies, ethnicity or religious practices? How might you, with your very being, enact and extend God’s grace to those around you, regardless of what they may profess? Believe me, this is not easy task and I ask myself the same question.

These piercing questions may be challenging or at the least uncomfortable to consider. You may be thinking, “Scott, why bother? I am the way I am; s/he is the way s/he is and cannot change and neither can I.” It may be helpful for you to know I find myself in the same boat sometimes.

However, for me, and perhaps for you as well, today’s scriptures invite me to challenge that assumption and push myself outside my comfort zone just a bit. Peter tells us about a promise that seems to be a key indicator of whether the Christian message of love has sunk into the heart of who we are, guiding our decisions, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.

Both Jesus, before he ascended, and now Peter (here in verse 38) said, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“Neither call nor promise is merely personal. When [Peter] says, “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away” (v. 39), he [is also calling] them [and by extension us] to bring that promise to others.”[2]

Let me suggest transformation is inevitable when and if relationship with God is being pursued; when we can ask ourselves, “What is the most loving, Godly response I can make in this situation?” When we can ask and answer that on a regular basis, Love has indeed come near and the Holy Spirit is with us. But that is not all.

There is much more to the heart of Christianity than this. Turning now to the Gospel of John, we return to the time of Jesus’ teaching during his corporeal life on earth.

“Throughout this Gospel, John accumulates Old Testament metaphors for God and ascribes them to the Incarnate One through the “I am” declarations. In John 10, Jesus fulfills the hopes of Israel for a good shepherd. Deep in the tradition, [very deep – one might even say at the heart of it,] is this iconic understanding that God will intimately shepherd the people. Whether through the shepherd king, David, or the promised Messiah, [a descendant of David] who would “gather the lambs in his arm,” and “gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11 KJV), God would provide protection and identity for God’s own.”[3]

“Jesus assures his followers, “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (10:9). Unlike those who steal, kill, and destroy, this trustworthy shepherd offers abundant life. A contemporary theological understanding of abundant life might include a purposeful vocation that serves the common good, participation in a generative ecclesial community, delight in sustaining relationships, and a sense of security in Christ no matter what comes.”[4]

No matter what comes. These are just some examples of responses the faithful may take. And why? Because they are all based in one thing…the Love of God out poured through us. We, who have been loved, now extend love to others. 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.

[1] Hansen, Gary Neal. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marshall, Molly T., Feasting on the Word…

[4] Ibid.

Question for Reflection

Acts 2:36-41 is a short but tough speech that never-the-less answers the heart-call of three thousand people yearning for a closer community of faith. What might you say to a group of your neighbors who do not participate in your faith community that would encourage them and invite them into deeper relationship with God?

Household Prayer: Morning

Lord Jesus, your rising from tomb heralds the dawning of life eternal as the dawning of this day holds the possibilities of life anew.

Open my eyes to the signs of your resurrection and confirm in my heart the power of your amazing love, that I may with confidence sing “Alleluia.” Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Loving God, you have upheld me with your love even when I have not been aware of your presence. As I rest from my labors let me sleep without fear of darkness or death and rise refreshed to begin a new day in humble service, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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