May 24, 2020 Seventh Sunday of Easter
“Witness to the Resurrection”
New Testament Lesson: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26/Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel2:1-7a
May 24, 2020 “Witness to the Resurrection” Act 1:15-17, 21-26 Ezekiel 2:1-7a
It is no news today that we are living in an uncertain world. People around the world are wondering what will happen next, and not just about the virus. Will we continue to see riots, war in the Middle East again or somewhere else, will Japan and China take over the economic life of the US, will the stock market crash, will we have a job tomorrow, will the drug problem in our nation ever be resolved? So many questions without answers. It seems as thought everything that was nailed down is coming loose. Is there any certainty for such an uncertain world? I believe there is utmost certainty, and it is found in vs. 13 of 1 John 5. “That you may know…” Jesus was saying that if you believe in the Son of God, you may not only know but you may be certain that you have eternal life.
God did not inspire the apostles to write that verse to say instead, “I have written that you may hope or think or assume that you have eternal life.” He said, “That you may know.” The way you can know is not on basis of feelings. Feeling can change. Human beings are so emotionally constituted that feeling alter, they vacillate, they fluctuate, they are not steady. For real assurance you have to have something that never changes, but is fixed. God always keeps his promises.
During one of the presidential debates several years ago, a candidate was asked why he would want to hold the second highest office in the US. The candidate, known for his wit, said, “Well, its indoor work with no heavy lifting.” Those listening knew those truths were irrelevant to the position he was seeking.
The gifts and qualities we bring to other situations, or our reasons for desiring a particular position, are no laughing matter. When a church is seeking a new pastor, they naturally want someone who can lead the congregation. A Christian Ed. Committee wants Sunday School teacher who are dependable and caring, and who can help with Christian formation. If we watch the tele-evangelists, we are drawn to those we thing have integrity and sincerity, or those who speak in an engaging way to make us think. And when candidates are asked why they seek a vocation in ministry, the interviewing CPM or PNC looks for honesty, poise, biblical knowledge, and a theological stance among other things. It may surprise you then, that none of these qualities are mentioned by the writer of Acts in this account of replacing one of the apostles. To be sure, the office of the apostle is not identical to the vocations following by disciples of Jesus Christ today. When the term apostle is used in the gospels, it means one of the 12 closest followers called by Jesus. In the rest of the New Testament, it refers to those 12 plus a few others, such as Matthias, Barnabus, and Paul. In the original Greek, apostolas is one who is “sent out.” Those who followed, even today, live out a Christian vocation in light of the Great Commission given to the 12 in Matthew 28.
Whether we call them apostles or disciples, those who gathered in the upper room before Pentecost brought strange credentials for serving Christ. Peter was impulsive, spoke before he thought, and had little education. Matthew had a bad reputation as a tax collector and probably an exploiter of people. Nathaniel was a skeptic. None was noted for being an eloquent speaker, having particular leadership skills, or having qualities that would make them likely candidates. But what they did have was a common experience: they were witnesses to the Resurrection. Peter named this as the single most qualification as they sought a replacement for Judas. Great changes were to take place in these men soon on the day of Pentecost. Peter became an articulate spokesman and carried the gospel to Antioch, Asia Minor and Rome. He insisted that Jesus’ message was universal and open to all who confessed their faith; he was the first to preach to gospel to the Gentiles. According to tradition, Peter was martyred in Rome in 61 AD. He requested to be crucified upside down as felt unworthy to die the same way Jesus had. Tradition tell us that John, the beloved, stayed with Mary until her death. Then he traveled to Rome and suffered great persecution, but remained true to the Lord’s teachings. When John was old and weak he answered all questions about Jesus in this way: He taught us to “love one another.” When he was asked why he only spoke those words, he told them love was at the heart of all of Jesus’ messages. So one of the “sons of thunder” who in his youth had been quick to anger, had come to believe in love above all else. Andrew went to Greece after Christ’s ascension and converted many citizens of prominence, but angered the governor. He was ordered to be crucified. Legend tells us that Andrew requested and X shaped cross. Like his brother Peter, he felt himself unworthy of a death mirrored Jesus. Andrew’s death inspired many Greeks to faith in Christ. And remember doubting Thomas, well after Christ’s resurrection supposedly was assigned to India. Thomas refused to go, doubtful like Ezekiel, that he could carry Jesus’ message to such a foreign land. Ezekiel thought the task too great. Why must he go to the rebellious and stubborn, to those resolved not to heed his message? Why me? Isn’t that question we all ask for time to time. Why me? The answer to all such questions is that life is a campaign, not a holiday. For it was Jesus who said, “those who are well have no need of a physician.” (Mt. 2:17). It was Jesus who appeared to Thomas in a vision, calmed his doubts, and convinced him to go. Once in India, Thomas became an inspiration and witnessed his faith. You see doubt and pessimism in humankind is natural, but deep faith in Christ reveals that though God all things are possible.
A fan once pressed Don Johnson for an autograph while Johnson’s 8 year old son was there. After the autograph seeker left, little Jesse looked at his famous dad and said, “Can you believe they want your autograph?” Some of the best teacher on humility lie in our own homes.
Next week I’ll tell you more about the lives of the disciples after the resurrection and how the fire that burned within them, took them to the furthermost parts of the known world preaching and teaching the faith they came to understand after Christ had left them.
Have any of you ever been called to serve on a jury? When a jury is selected, lawyers ask prospective jurors questions about their background, work, prior experiences within the legal system, and so on. Someone with a vested interest in the plantiff’s or defendant’s point of view is nearly always disqualified form serving. A juror is supposed to be impartial. In a serving disciple, the opposite is true, as Peter’s words in Acts so demonstrates. A “witness to the resurrection” has his or her own experience in the Risen Christ and is eager to help others have the same.
When Peter called the meeting to order in the upper room, he didn’t appoint a search committee or circulate PIF’s or resumes of candidates to fill the vacancy left by Judas. He led the others in prayer and discernment. He trusted that God had spoken, and acted on what had been revealed. Just prior to this section, the chapter notes that the company of the apostles plus other followers, “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer,” seeking the will of God. So, also today, the Holy Spirit uses people who are radically open to God’s future, seeking the divine will through prayer, searching the Scriptures, worshiping with other believers, and responding to the many ways God’s purpose may be made plain. You see they were already assured in their own minds and hearts that Jesus had overcome death. He had appeared to groups of them—on one occasion to more than 500 at one time—at least 10 times following his death and burial. They were convinced that Jesus lived and that Jesus was in their midst.
Peter did not seek God’s will and made a decision unilaterally. Matthias didn’t become an apostle then go off and operate independently. They understood that living out their vocation meant accountability to one another, even when there were tensions and conflicting visions. Today affective service to God should not be measured only by the size of an individual’s following, but by the way a person “equips the saints” for service and thus builds up the body of Christ. Fervent prayer, mutual support, and striving for peace within the household of faith are hallmarks of a witness to the Resurrection.
Now there is such a thing as “fuzzy faith.” For example: a pastor was teaching a class for prospective new members. He reviewed with the denomination’s statement of faith and told them they would be asked if they confessed them as their own. Then he added, however, that they need not worry about any doctrinal points of view which they did not agree on, because “it means whatever it means to you.” I have to wonder what would have become of the Christian Church if Peter and the other disciples held the same philosophy in choosing someone to take the place of Judas?
As the disciples gathered in the upper room to determine who would take Judas’ place, we have to know that the core of the church to come was being formed. Crudely as it may seem to us, is the sense of divine choice expressed: “and the lot fell upon Matthias.” We still use the same figure of speech to express the sense of being called to do something; “it is my lot to do it.” Life is made up of choices and compulsions. Simon was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus. Some men and women are called into the armed forces. Burdens are laid upon us and we have no choice but to carry them out. And, so it is the lot of some to bear the burdens and the joys of leadership in Christ’s church. It is not so much a question of choice as it is there is no other choice. Our talents, our situations, our opportunities, our temperaments and natures, our inheritance—all these things converge upon a person to press them into a certain channel. The call to the ministry of the church is like that. Given the one requirement—personal association with Jesus—everything else conspires to give a person no other choice than the ministry of God. I’m not talking of myself only, but all of us are called to be ministers and the priesthood of all believers.
We, though far removed from those first disciples and direct witnesses of Jesus’ ministry, are also called to share the fire within us and lay claim to what God has done for us, in us and through us. Witnesses we are of the Resurrection, the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised everyone who would believe. There are still mighty acts God wishes to show the world. I don’t want to miss a single one, do you? I want to witness God’s power at work however he chooses to do so. Be it through the acts of nature or through a single touch of one witness to another and then another. Christ is depending on you, are you depending on Christ?
As we approach Pentecost and come to know of the Pentecostal powers of the rock of the church in our lives, then shouldn’t we be laying the foundations for such an event? I must be open to the Holy Spirit in greater ways than before. I must realize that, like the disciples, I may not have all my spiritual question answered for what I need is not more knowledge but more commitment to whatever Jesus wants to do in my life. If Pentecost is to happen in m life, I must realize that no matter how checkered my past has been, God is not through with me as one of his disciples. He isn’t through with you either. He is calling you to keep witnessing to the Resurrection power of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Closing Prayer: Holy God, we stand in awe of you. We praise you in our songs and speech, and lift up our hearts in joy and thanksgiving. Yet even as we praise you, we are reminded that true worship is more than words or emotions; it is also action and obedience. Continue to remind us, Lord, that our truest satisfaction and joy will come only through walking with Christ daily in faithfulness and service. Make us your servant disciples, even as Christ gave himself in service to us. We praise you for the healing work among us; where there has been brokeness we have seen wholeness taking place before our eyes. There have been transformations among us where the night has turned to day, where cynicism gives way to hope, where weeping is strangely surprised by joy. We continue to keep before us in prayer the situation of our world, our towns our homes that struggle with fear or of disease. Bless the caregivers and doctors who are laying down their lives for the sake of your children. Keep the presence of your Holy Spirit upon us, that the good work you have begun in us may be brought to fruition according to the maturity we have come to know in Christ, who is present in the eternal now of our everyday lives. We ask that you give us open minds and willing hearts to discern your will for our lives today and new insights for the days ahead. Now, Holy God, hear the prayer your Son Jesus taught each to pray….Our Father who art in heaven…
May 31, 2020 Day of Pentecost
“Empowered by the Spirit”
Epistle Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
June 7, 2020 Trinity Sunday
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 28:10-17/Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
June 14, 2020
“God Has a Sense of Humor”
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 18:1-5, 21:1-7
June 21, 2020 Father’s Day
“Honor Thy Father”
Old Testament Lesson: Joshua 24:14-15/Gospel Lesson: Mark 5:21-24b, 35-43
June 28, 2020
“Remember To Whom You Belong”
Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 7:11-16/Epistle Lesson: Romans 6:12-23