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.
I call myself an Easter person. I 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, for healing.
You may recall I have referenced some of Dr. Tom Long’s writings in the past. He wrote, “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.”
In today’s text, we are given a window to a time similar to ours. For the Israelites, there seemed to have been a Spiritual void for 400 years or so between the last of the prophets of God and when John the Baptist appeared proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. During that 400 year interim, the religious establishment had become institutionalized in their waiting and hoping to hear from God. As you may know from our society today, we find all too commonly the mission of any well-meaning organization tends to get supplanted in its effort to perpetuate itself. I am personally guilty of the hope that our church and our denomination will go on indefinitely. At the same time, however, I can easily imagine how the power and presence of God became less than palatable over 400 years of seeming Spiritual silence. Especially compared to the vivid history the Israelites had when God was really present for them, leading them through the desert or working miracles through the mighty prophets of old like Elijah and Elisha. Then of course came Jesus performing miracles and teaching with authority. But now we have Peter and John, common fishermen?, performing a Jesus-like miracle, without Jesus even being present?!? What’s going on?
Dr. Long identifies three things taking place in today’s text. “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…after momentous events, both good and bad, people are drawn to sacred places and to people who seem to have divine power.”
Well that’s interesting, Dr. Long. I would like to ask you something, if only from my humble pulpit on the other side of the country from where you write in your ivory tower of retirement amidst a slightly more friendly culture to Jesus than we have out here in the West:
“Where are the people today – especially young people – that should be arriving in our churches in droves?” I mean, think about it. Our socio-cultural system is on a slide away from representation for the people by the people to a dictatorship perpetuating the privileged. The health of the earth is under attack and its creatures threatened by extinction from the race of beings entrusted with their care, and families are struggling to find meaning in their lives as they continue to get battered to and fro by a politically driven pendulum swing regarding health care and taxation. Shouldn’t our churches be overflowing with petitioners to the Most High Holy and All-Powerful God?
Or, is that the current struggle within the bounds of religiosity? Has the church made God so distant, so inaccessible, so unreal that we cannot claim knowledge, much less experience, of the Holy anointing available to us as Christ’s hands and feet in the world? It wasn’t Peter and John who healed, it was Jesus, even more specifically, it was the name of Jesus alone that caused the complete transformation from cripple into a praising, leaping man of health. He was expecting alms, but true faith came knocking at his door instead.
What contemporary and Biblical stories do we need to lift up today as invitations for those we know around us who may only be bystanders? How might we embody faith’s knocking on the door? How can we offer an experience of God, an authenticity of Spirit, a genuine community of the faithful willing to wrap their arms around those in need and usher them to the table of sustenance upon which to feed? Can we embody a Gospel message which is the gift of God’s presence with us and among us? Jill Duffield, in her weekly lectionary devotion, writes the following:
“Fallible, more or less faithful, followers of Jesus gather together. Some are more in the know than others. Some are farther along the way than others. Some are more confident that this gathering will be meaningful than others. Regardless, they are together; and lo and behold, Jesus shows up, (emphasis added) right there in the midst of them. He offers his peace, tells them not to be afraid, invites them to touch his hands and feet, and then asks for something to eat.
Spiritual and physical nourishment go hand in hand. The Risen Jesus wants something to eat, and “then he opened their minds to understanding Scripture.” He goes on to tell the story, his story, God’s story, now their story too: “It is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things.”
Bible study. Food. A small gathering of unremarkable people engaging with Scripture, telling the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Listening. Wondering. Asking questions. Disciples made open to the possibility that ignorance isn’t inevitable and that knowledge of God is joy…
We are witnesses to this. We know it by heart, in our hearts, because we have experienced this amazing grace firsthand. We know that we are to proclaim this truth so that others can learn and live too.”  … “Beloved, we are God’s children now; …what we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
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.
 Tom Long, “Pastoral Perspective, Acts 3:12-19” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Jill Duffield, in her e-mail of April 9, 2018, to the Presbyterian Outlook “Looking into the Lectionary” subscriber list. Accessed April 12, 2018, http://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/
Questions for Reflection
When Jesus appeared to the disciples, “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). What is it to “understand” God’s word? How does understanding feed your faith? In the coming week, take note of one new understanding that comes to you from something you hear or read or realize through another person.
Household Prayer: Morning
God of surprising revelations, I thank you for rest and renewal. I thank you that when you come to your people, you speak peace and invite faith in you. Make this new day a time when I will give more thanks for life than I did yesterday. Give me ears to hear your will for me, hands that are open to others, and eyes to see the beauty in your world; in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
For all that has happened this day, O God, I give you thanks. Even for the obstacles I faced, I thank you. Especially when I wobbled in doubt, I thank you because I did not fall. You came to hold me strong and help me take the next step. Now give me rest, secure in your never-failing arms. Let my dreams revolve around what is pleasing and good, bringing me to a new day with zeal for your gifts; in Jesus’ name. Amen.