Witnesses of the ResurrectionPosted: April 7, 2013
SLIDE 3: UPSTART, UNEDUCATED, COMMON, ORDINARY JEWS
In Luke’s account of the early church this story occurs after the Pentecost Experience and before the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The Apostles were still attending daily prayers in the Temple, and they thought of themselves as good Jews, who were preaching the way of Jesus as an expression of Judaism. No gentiles had yet been converted. The Deacons as officers in the Jerusalem church had not been selected. The Temple Authorities, however saw these upstart, uneducated, common ordinary Jews forming their own religious community as a threat. This was Jesus coming back to haunt them in a way they had never anticipated.
SLIDE 4: HEALING REALLY ATTRACTS A FOLLOWING
The ministry of the Apostles began to take off, when they discovered that the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had bestowed upon them the gift of healing. Preaching is all well and good, but healing really attracts a following. The hundreds of crutches and wheel chairs left at the Shrine of Lourdes is testimony to the power of healing in people’s imaginations.
SLIDE 5: PETER AND JOHN HEAL LAME BEGGAR
In chapter three of the Book of Acts Peter accompanied by John healed a lame beggar at the gates of the temple. In response to the commotion created by the now formerly lame beggar celebrating his healing, Peter, John and the beggar were all arrested and brought before the ruling council the Sanhedrin. Peter claimed boldly that the healing at been performed in the name of Jesus, and that really ticked off the High Priests. But since the formerly lame man was standing right there the Priests were unable to railroad a condemnation through the Sanhedrin. Peter and John were simply instructed not to preach or perform any more healings in the name of Jesus.
SLIDE 6: HOLY SPIRIT HAD BESTOWED COURAGE
Now we need to remember these Apostles were the same people, who at the first sign of trouble, when Jesus was arrested, they all went into hiding. They boasted and talked a good game at the Last Supper, “Lord, we are ready to follow you to prison and to death,” but when the chips were down the Apostles were gone. Something new had happened. They had been encouraged and empowered by their experience of the Risen Christ. The Holy Spirit had bestowed spiritual gifts upon them, and one of those gifts was courage.
SLIDE 7: AUTHORITIES RESORTED TO INTIMIDATION
In defiance of the orders of the High Priests, the Apostles returned to the Temple preaching the way of Jesus to anyone who would listen. So the Sadducees resorted to intimidation. The Temple police rounded up all of the Apostles roughed them up a bit and then put them in the common jail overnight. “Let them spend some time in the cooler, and then we will question them.” The strategies of intimidation are distressingly common – threats, intimidation, low level punishments in the beginning. People who abuse power count on exploiting the fears of others. Shoot a few in the head, send a bunch to the Gulag and the others will fall in line.
SLIDE 8: ANGEL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
In the middle of the night, however, an angel came and let the Apostles out of jail. We do not know if this was a heavenly angel or a sympathizer among the jailers. And the time behind bars had not deterred the Apostles, for the next morning there they were in the Temple courts again preaching in the name of Jesus. The escape of the Apostles must have become a favorite story in the early church, for the Temple Police come out looking like the keystone cops. “We found the prison securely locked and the sentries standing at the doors, but when we opened it we found no one inside.” The Temple Police re-arrested the Apostles but did not rough them up this time out of fear of the crowd that had gathered.
SLIDE 9: WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN
Again the High Priests tried to resort to intimidation: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
When people are no longer afraid, however, intimidation does not work: “We must obey God rather than men. . . we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
SLIDE 10: WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE NOT AFRAID
I hear this passage asking me a question. Maybe you can hear it too. “What would you do, if you were not afraid?” In a recent “Still Speaking Devotional” Anthony Robinson spoke to this very question.
A friend says to me, “When you’re at the end of your rope, let go. There’s a reason you’re there.” She is not saying give up. I think she is saying stop trying to do it all by yourself. Sooner or later . . . some event, person, death, idea or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources.”
SLIDE 11: TRUST GOD RELY ON FAITH
It happens. We get to end of our rope — the end of our own private resources. What then? Let go and put all your trust in God who is able, as Paul says, “to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.” Trust God and rely on faith.
The Apostles had been led far beyond their own private resources of courage and faith. They had failed so miserably on the night Jesus was betrayed. They learned on Easter morning and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that God can give us new resources of courage and resilience far beyond our poor powers. When we let God see us through, we will not yield to intimidation, and we can be bold witnesses to the way of Jesus over against the powers of fear and death.
SLIDE 12: MOST FEARS ARE IRRATIONAL AND SELF-LIMITING
So let me ask this morning, what would we do, if we were not afraid? Most fears are irrational and self-limiting. For instance, according to most surveys, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
SLIDE 13: CAUTION – POTENTIAL DANGER
Some things like tornados, hurricanes, king cobras, lions, traffic on the South Parkway deserve respect. We should use an abundance of caution, because there is potential danger. But most of what holds us back are neurotic or imaginary fears. If I speak the truth, they won’t like me. If I do what I really want to do, I might fail. If I offer my opinion it might be wrong. If I dare to be honest about who I really am, others might reject me. If I dare to stand up for what I believe then maybe others won’t like me. What would we do, if we weren’t afraid?
SLIDE 14: WHAT ARE WE REALLY AFRAID OF?
I am reminded of a story about a little boy, who was afraid of thunder storms. One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm his mother was tucking the boy into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?”
The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. “I can’t dear,” she said. “I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”
A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice that said: “The big sissy.”
SLIDE 15: DO NOT BE AFRAID, FOR I AM ALWAYS WITH YOU
The gift of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s message, “do not be afraid, for I am with you always.” The opposite of faith is not unbelief. This is not a matter of trying to will ourselves to believe. We don’t have to gather around the dying Tinker Bell chanting, “I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies.” No, the opposite of faith is fear. And when we learn to trust God, rather than relying on our own pitiful resources, then faith begins to grow.
SLIDE 16: RE-VISIONING – SEEKING TO DISCERN GOD’S INTENTION
Remember part of the re-visioning process is seeking to discern God’s intentions for our community of faith through prayer. Too often in the past we have insisted that we are the smartest people in the room, and we have insisted upon what we want rather than trusting that through prayer God will give us the wisdom and the resources to do what God wants us to do. And so again and again our selfishness and our fears have sold us short. Admittedly this congregation has persevered through hard times in our past. The Big Boeing lay off, when the church had barely gotten itself off the ground was devastating and frightening. And God brought us through. As we face an uncertain future, the world is changing all around us, we need to trust God to show us the way. We need to pray Proverbs chapter 3 verse 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. God will show us the way, if we ask for guidance in discernment.
SLIDE 17: SHARING OUR FAITH
What would we do if we weren’t afraid? Share our faith. Some of us are afraid of faith sharing, because we are afraid of any form of public speaking. But I remember the words of the famous homiletics professor Fred Craddock, “preach Christ, use words if you have to.” It’s not so much what we say as what we do. Reaching out beyond the walls of the church in mission is the most powerful statement we can make to the world. But that means giving up our resistance to mission, because we are afraid there won’t be enough resources to keep our little congregation going. If we aren’t willing to reach beyond the boundaries of our congregation, we will die.
SLIDE 18: LET’S GET OVER IT AND WELCOME NEW PEOPLE
Another reason we may be afraid of faith sharing is because we are afraid to grow. Every time we talk about growing the church there are folks who immediately say, “Well we don’t want to be a mega-church, or there are all of these new people I don’t know.” Friends we are so far from becoming a mega-church, we aren’t even a financially viable congregation. So let’s get over it and learn to welcome new people – really welcome them.
SLIDE 19: UNBINDING YOUR HEART
A third reason we may be afraid of faith sharing is we are we don’t want to be perceived as being too religious, or we’re not sure we have any faith. And that is why I keep urging everyone to ask Bill Green and Greg Kamback to lead another Unbinding Your Heart study group and then attend. Unbinding Your Heart can help us find the courage to claim our faith and share it. Like those early followers of Jesus we too can become witnesses of the resurrection.
SLIDE 20: BLACK SLIDE