Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, April 20, 2014: The Resurrection of Our Lord

Texts: Acts 10:34-43  +  Colossians 3:1-4  +  Matthew 28:1-10

It might seem crazy, what I’m about to say.

But I’ve seen things left for dead come back to life.

I’m not talking about the Walking Dead, I’m not spouting Sci Fi. I’m talking about real, live people and places left for dead that came back to life. In fact, you’re sitting in one of them right now.

It might seem crazy, but ten years ago this church had been left for dead. Had been told there was no life left in its dry bones. Was down to a handful of people knocking around in this cavernous sanctuary like guards standing watch at a tomb.

But look at us now. Look around this room. See how God is bringing new life to people and places left for dead. My God, it makes me so happy!

It’s a story that just keeps repeating, day after day, year after year, place after place, life after life.

It’s the story of my life. It might seem crazy, what I’m about to say, but ten years ago I thought my story was over. A failed relationship. A career over before it had even started. I was living in a friend’s basement surrounded by boxes of books I’d bought in pursuit of a degree that qualified me for the one job it seemed I’d never have. To call it a garden level apartment was an insult to gardens. Its one window gave me a wide open view of the crawl space under the front porch, where a nest of rats had made their home. They would come to the window to watch me, as if I was the one stuck in a cage, because I was. The ceiling was about eight inches above my head, high enough for me to stand up but not enough to stretch.

Life that wasn’t life went on like that a lot longer than three days, a lot longer than forty days. It went on like that for a couple of years. It went on like that until a small church on the north side of Chicago called me out of my tomb and unbound me. The day I knelt in this room as hands were laid upon me and I was ordained to serve God’s people through God’s church, I was so happy. I felt like a room without a roof.

Like I said, it might seem crazy, but that’s just how God works. Over and over. Bringing new life to people and places left for dead. It’s the story of your life. I know, because you’ve told me.

It might have seemed crazy, staying put as all your neighbors sold their houses and left the block. People said Logan Square was too dangerous, that all the good families were getting out while their homes were still worth something. But you stayed. Longer than three days. Longer than forty days. Hell, longer than forty years! You stayed. You lived through decades of feeling like you had to apologize for living in Logan Square, when the only news was bad news, talking this and that. You heard it all, no holding back. And you sold flowers each spring for people to plant in their gardens and in their window boxes so that they might remember, in the middle of gangs fighting for turf and drugs on the corner, that there was still beauty here, still life in these homes.

I’ll tell you what. If you stayed through those hard years, could I ask you to do something? Could I ask you to raise your hands? Raise them high, yes both of them, just like this. And now, bear with me, could you just clap your hands, just once, if you stayed through the hard years. That’s right. That’s the truth.

But it’s not the only truth. There are other stories in this room, other resurrections taking place. I know because I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, and I can testify that it’s true.

I’ve seen people caught tight in the grip of an addiction hellbent on killing them find the strength to live one day at a time, people certain that their lives were going to end in the bottom of a bottle of pills, or booze, who are alive today by the grace of a higher power that came to them in community and restored them to life.

I’ve seen people trapped in marriages and relationships that felt like tombs, that left scars on their hands and feet, bruises on their face and abdomen, break free from cycles of violence that were entirely unredemptive and take back their lives.

I’ve seen people who fled from the lands of their birth, because of a lack of opportunity, because they were of a minority religion, because they were of a minority sexual or gender identity, people who’d been locked away in prison for a decade, people who’d been blackmailed and harassed by the police, people who’d been beaten to within an inch of their life. People who now live in the relative safety of a new land, making a new start, building a new life.

If you know one of these people I’m talking about — maybe it’s you, or someone in your family, or someone you love — could you please put your hands up in the air, and help me out here. Clap your hands, if you feel like that’s what you want to do.

This room, this neighborhood, this world is full of people who know what it’s like to be left for dead, to be stuck in the grave, only to discover that Jesus had been there first and ripped the roof off that tomb! Which is why, crazy as it may sound, we proclaim,

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

I’ll tell you something else. When you’ve experienced this resurrection, it’s not something you want to keep to yourself. It’s not something you can keep to yourself. It wells up in you, it bubbles out of you, it has the tendency to erupt in spontaneous acts of testimony and riots of truth-telling.

Peter, one of the twelve who knew Jesus before his hot-air balloon took off for space, distilled the essence of his happiness into this statement: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” (Acts 10:34). God shows no partiality! That’s incredible! That’s radical. That’s so much more than, “God plays fair” or “God doesn’t play favorites,” which is kind of how it sounds at first. No, for Peter, who delivers this message while standing in the home of Cornelius, a pagan and a high-ranking soldier in the very same army that had occupied Peter’s homeland, “God shows no partiality” is one of those statements that blows the roof off the place. It’s a statement so radical that he gets called before his colleagues back in Jerusalem, who want to know why he’s talking to the enemy. But that’s the point of his message, that’s the essence of his irrepressible joy, that by the power of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no enemy that can divide us from one another.

If death can’t bring us down, then neither can our wars. If death can’t bring us down, then neither can our nationalities. If death can’t bring us down, then certainly neither can our religious differences. If death can’t bring us down, then neither can our politics, or our immigration status, or our HIV status, or our marital status. If the love of God in Christ Jesus has raised us from the grip of every death that has tried to bring us down, then can’t nothing bring us down, God’s love is too high!

Can I get an amen?

Clap your hands if you know what happiness is to you.

And now we can begin to understand why the women left the tomb that first resurrection morning with both fear and great joy, great happiness, because the tomb was empty, and that meant everything was going to have to change, that everything had already changed. And change is hard, even the change we’ve all been waiting for, the change happening in our own lives.

In his open letter to the church titled The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis echoes the apostle Paul when he writes,

The joy of the gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. That is what the angel proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.” (Luke 2:10)

He goes on to say,

An evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness.

Peter says, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). And at the tomb, Jesus says to the women, “Do not be afraid; go and tell…” (Matt. 28:10).

That is our happy task this day, and every day for the rest of our lives, to go and preach to the people caught in the grip of powers that are trying to bring this world and everything in it to the grave. We look at the cross, and we look at the tomb, and we look at each other and see the risen Christ rising again and again in each one of us, and we say,

Give me all you got, don’t hold it back.

I should probably warn you, I’ll be just fine.

No offense to you, don’t waste your time.

Here’s why:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, April 21, 2013: Fourth Sunday of Easter

Texts:   Acts 9:36-43  +  Psalm 23  +  Revelation 7:9-17  +  John 10:22-30

Apostles act.

That’s what the stories keep showing us, over and over, throughout the season of Easter.  Apostles, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost, acting in the powerful name of Jesus, are saying and doing what Jesus, during his earthly ministry, said and did.  The risen Christ is rising up, ascending into all of creation, through the actions of those who know and love the Lord.

So, in some ways, the book of Acts is predictable.  What Jesus has already done in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ followers now do in the Acts of the Apostles.  Jesus called the disciples away from their nets; the Apostles call together a community in which everyone shares all that they have.  Jesus cleanses a leper and heals a paralyzed man; Peter heals a crippled beggar and a paralyzed man.  Jesus is challenged by the religious authorities; the apostles are thrown into prison.  Jesus is brought before the Council, before Pilate and Herod and made to testify to his actions; Stephen is called before the Council to account for the acts of the apostles.  Both are put to death, but the community around them continues to grow and grow and grow.

Then comes this story of the raising of Tabitha from the dead, and we are met with elements both predictable and unexpected.  Once again we have a story in which the apostles are empowered to act as Jesus did.  So, as Jesus raised the widow’s son at Nain; as he raised Jairus’ daughter by taking her hand and calling to her, “Child, get up;” now Peter is called to raise a woman in Joppa.

Those are the familiar elements of this story.  But there are some odd features to this story as well.  First of all, we are told the woman’s name.  She isn’t “the widow’s son,” or “Jairus’ daughter,” or “the woman with an issue of blood.”  She is Tabitha in the Aramiac, and Dorcas in the Greek.  She was a woman who was notable enough that she was known by name, not only among the believers, but in the among the Gentiles as well.

So, we might think, she must have really been somebody.  Perhaps a wealthy woman, or the wife of someone powerful.  But that isn’t what we’re told.  This woman, Tabitha, isn’t defined by scripture as anyone’s daughter, or wife, or sister, or mother.  She doesn’t matter because of the man she is related to.  Instead, she is described as someone who was “devoted to good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36).  Like all who follow Jesus, she is now known for her acts.

This is odd, and perhaps even troubling for Lutherans, who are constitutionally averse to any whiff of works righteousness.  We are trained to immediately discount any notion that our actions have any relationship to God’s saving power, which comes to us by grace through faith.  So, to all you dyed in the wool Lutherans out there, I simply say, “wait and see.”  These acts are important, Tabitha’s good works and charity, and the fact that they are described here makes this healing miracle different from most others, where very little is said about the person being raised.

Once Tabitha had died, scripture says “they” washed her and laid her out in an upper room.  Then the disciples, who are in Joppa, call for Peter, who is in Lydda where he has just healed a paralyzed man named Aeneas.  But our English language obscures an important feature of the story.  If you read the text in English, it says that the “disciples” called for Peter.  If you read it in Greek, you see immediately that the noun for “disciples” has been rendered in the feminine form, indicating that the disciples who called for Peter were a community of women.

That may not seem terribly unusual to you, here, today.  We’re finally, perhaps, a generation or two removed from debates in the church about the role of women.  This congregation has had women serve as ushers, lectors, Council members (even chairs), and pastors.  There is no role in this community that is not open to women and men alike.

But that has not always been the case here.  If you don’t already know the stories, you should ask one of the bold women among us who were here back in the day when the ushers and Council members and pastors were all men.  They remember those stories, because they were here for them.  And some of you have come to this congregation from communities where women still are not allowed to preach or to lead on the same terms as men.  Some of you have told me that one of the reasons you’ve chosen to raise your children here at St. Luke’s is so that your daughters as well as your sons hear from the earliest age that there are no barriers to the forms of service they can offer to God and to God’s people on account of who they are, or who they become.

Those are the kind of women who surround Tabitha’s bed, women the scriptures explicitly call “disciples.”  What’s more, these women, these disciples, call for Peter with what I think we have to call an attitude of expectation.  Unlike the widow at Nain, who wandered into Jesus path with her dead son; unlike Jairus, who called for Jesus while his daughter was still alive; these women see Tabitha dead, they wash her body, they lay her out in the upper room, then they call for Peter, because they already know that God is at work in this apostle acting powerfully to bring life and healing to people and places left for dead.  They have an expectation of resurrection.

I actually think that expectation is the beginning of this miracle.  Had these women, these disciples, been of the mind that the world was limited to what they’d always seen and known, then they would not have called for Peter.  They would have cried sorrowful tears and anointed Tabitha for burial and seen her to the grave.  They would have preached a nice homily about what a devoted and generous woman she was, and then buried her in the ground.  But that is not what the women gathered around Tabitha do.  Instead, believing that God had been set loose when the stone had been rolled back from the cave; believing that Jesus had delivered on his promises, and that there was indeed an Advocate blowing wildly through the world and acting on their behalf, they call for Peter with an expectation of resurrection.

Without this expectation, there would have been no miracle.  Without the apparently crazy conviction that the world as it is is not the world as it will be, nothing new can happen, no new life can begin.

Sisters and brothers, don’t we need to hear this message today?  After this week?

Think back to all that has happened since the last time we gathered.  In Boston.  In Waco.  In Washington.  Bombs, and explosions, and guns.  Acts of terrorism.  Human disasters.  Failed leadership.

Aren’t you tempted to give up?  Doesn’t it seem like things are only getting worse?  Like the world as it is is the world as it will always be?  Doesn’t it make you want to put your head down and wait for it all to be over?

The miracle of new life begins when the disciples act with an expectation of resurrection.  They call on Peter, who calls on Jesus.  We don’t hear it in this story, but in the one that immediately precedes it.  Peter gets a paralytic man back on his feet calling out to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!”  It is so like the words Jesus used when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, whom he said was only sleeping, “Child, get up!”  Before the name of Jesus, the powers of this world — sexism, violence, even the laws that govern life and death — are powerless.

I needed to hear that this week.  I suspect you did as well.

So, expecting a resurrection, the women disciples in Joppa call for Peter.  Once he arrives we are told “the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them” (Acts 9:39)

Again, the English here hides something from us.  The verb we translate as “showing” tunics and other clothing indicates that the widows are actually wearing the garments that they are showing Peter.  They are dressed in Tabitha’s good works.  They are robed in her righteousness.

There’s an interesting progression of descriptors of these women that I wonder about.  First there is a woman, a female disciple, named Tabitha.  Then there are the disciples, who are women, who call for Peter.  Now there are widows standing next to the body.  First a woman, with a name, who is the occasion for a miracle.  Then women, named disciples, who expect resurrection in their lives.  Then widows, draped with dignity, gathered around a woman they clearly love.

poverty has a woman's faceWidows, whom scripture tells us again and again were among the least powerful and most vulnerable people in the society of Jesus’ time because they had no man, no household, to care for them, gather in the upper room.  Widows, the least powerful and most vulnerable, know the power of the risen Lord and call for Peter to heal their friend, Tabitha.  The way the story is told, it’s almost impossible to tell: were the widows also the female disciples?  Was Tabitha one of them?  If so, where did she get the goods to craft the clothing that the other widows wore?

Remember, all the believers were living in community, sharing all that they owned and distributing it as each had need.  In that kind of community, in a community of radical sharing, it might be harder to tell who was a woman of means and who was a widow, since all were being cared for, and loved, and highly regarded.

I suspect the miracle started that far back.  Long before Tabitha died.  Even before she started stitching together the clothes those widows wore as their testimony to the power of the Lord of Life.  I think the miracle started when women and men, rich and poor, found a new way of living together that made sure everyone was fed, everyone was clothed, everyone was cared for.

For a woman, a widow, a paralyzed man, that kind of community would be a miracle in and of itself — and I don’t just mean then, I mean now.  When I think about the community of shared goods that marks the followers of Jesus in the book of Acts, I can’t help but think of the rummage sale and the potlucks and spaghetti suppers.  I can’t help but think about the women here, really, who take the remnants and cast-offs of other people’s lives and turn them into resources for those who are making do with less in these difficult economic times.

Like Tabitha, these women have names.  They are Betty, Pat, Judi, Dorothea, Dea, Kay and Hope.  There is always hope.  And these women know what it means to stand gathered around something abandoned, something left for dead, with the expectation of resurrection.  Their lives are a witness.

In the end, Tabitha’s good works and acts of charity aren’t forms of works righteousness, they are signs of the reign of God come near.  She does not earn God’s healing power as a reward for all that she has done anymore than the son of the widow at Nain, or the daughter of Jairus.  God heals Tabitha because God heals.  And Tabitha performed works of charity because, called by the Holy Spirit into community, these works were the sign of the new life that slipped out of the grave along with Jesus as a testimony of hope that the world as it is is changing.  People are being fed and clothed, with food and with dignity.

It’s been a long, hard week.  It has felt like the kind of nightmare from which you seem to wake up, only to find yourself in the next layer of the dreaming.  But Jesus comes to us under many names — Peter, Tabitha, Betty, Hope — and shakes us from our slumber.  Get up and make your bed.  The sun is rising.

Amen.

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Sermon: Sunday, April 7, 2013: Second Sunday of Easter

Texts:  Acts 5:27-32  +  Psalm 150  +  Revelation 1:4-8  +  John 20:19-31

The preacher has some choices to make during the season of Easter, a season of 50 days, seven Sundays and then the festival of Pentecost.  You’ll have noticed that our readings are a little different than usual.  Instead of the first reading coming from Hebrew scripture, we’ve read a portion from the book of Acts, which is really an abbreviation for the book’s full name: the Acts of the Apostles.  The second reading came from the infrequently read book of Revelation; and the Gospel reading came from the Gospel of John, which doesn’t get a year to itself in our three-year cycle of readings, but instead gets read in every year during the high holidays and festival seasons.

Further, this pattern will hold throughout the season of Lent.  Each week for the next two months we’ll be reading from Acts, Revelation and the Gospel of John.  In Acts we’ll be following the story of the explosive growth of the church following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  From Revelation we get a message of hope and life to the struggling churches of the first century written in a kind of code that is one part poetry to one part dream.  And in John’s gospel we will hear how Jesus came to those he loved and led following his resurrection to prepare them for the power of the Holy Spirit, with flashbacks to moments from his ministry in life that pointed ahead to his expectation that it would be us, the Church, that would continue his work.

If we had an extra hour each Sunday, I could preach on all three stories, and I know some of you think I’d love to give that a try, but I promise you I won’t.  So, I’ve made a decision to focus on one set of these readings throughout the fifty days of Easter, the story of the Church’s earliest days, the Acts of the Apostles.

Clearly this morning’s story has dropped us in the middle of some intense action.

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” (Acts 5:27-28)

Here’s what you need to know:

The book of Acts begins with Jesus alive among the disciples after his resurrection, and the promise that God will send the Holy Spirit.  The disciples stick together in Jerusalem, waiting for that moment, and select Matthias to replace Judas in their inner circle of twelve.  Then, in a familiar story that we’ll return to at the end of this fifty day season, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples at the festival of Pentecost and Peter preaches his first great sermon, at the end of which the scripture says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)  And if that pattern sounds familiar to you, it should.  It is the pattern of worship, and this is the birth of the Church.

The disciples’ worship leads directly to action, which is the source of the trouble we read about in this morning’s portion.  In those early days of the church there was a fire burning in the hearts of the people such that it says,

They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:45-47)

hands-reaching-outSo one day, as they were headed to the Temple for more of this intense communal fellowship, worship, prayer and praise, Peter and John come across a man who had been lame since birth, whose lot in life was to lay just outside the doors of the temple and beg for offerings from the people coming in and out of the Temple. You know who I’m talking about, the people we pass on the way to and from church, or the office, or the gym.  The ones crippled by disability, or war wounds, or mental illness, or addiction.  Going from soup kitchen to pantry. Living off the handouts of others.  This man sees Peter and John coming to worship and asks them for money, but they have none since all that they had was now being held in common by the community of believers, so they offer that instead.  Peter tells the man,

“Look at us.  I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the [door of the Temple begging]. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:6-10)

Recognizing that the healing this man truly needed was not a life of ongoing dependence, but instead of unconditional welcome, Peter and John heal him by raising him up and bringing him inside the walls of the Temple — no longer unclean, inconvenient, embarrassing, or irritating.  Now one of them, a member, an equal, a brother.

And Peter, who had three times denied Jesus on the night of his betrayal now just can’t stop preaching.  With everyone looking at him in awe and wonder following the healing of the man born lame, Peter says,

“[People] of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? … the faith that is through Jesus has given this man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” (Acts 3:12,16)

And this is what gets Peter arrested (the first time).  The powers that be thought that by killing Jesus on a cross, by making a public example of him, that they would silence the power of God being unleashed in the world, a power set loose for the sake of healing and reconciliation.  But, filled with God’s spirit, the church picked up right where Jesus had left off, and the power that had been contained in one man was now multiplying — loaves and fishes.  By the time Peter was thrown in prison, the community of the Church had already grown to five thousand people.

When they bring him to stand trial the next day, they ask him by whose authority and power he has worked this miracle, the same question so often directed at Jesus, and in reply Peter says,

“If we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by him this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:9-10)

And scripture says that the priests were astonished because these were “uneducated, common men.”  As though only they, in their long robes, could act as God’s agents in the world.  But, no, here were ordinary people, moved by the power and the presence of Christ to do extraordinary things.  Here were ordinary people, no longer content to see other ordinary people begging for food at the doors of the church, the end of the off ramp, the alley behind the store, inviting them to stand up, to come inside, to be a part of this new fellowship of people who shared everything in common and who were increasing in faith and in numbers day by day.

The Temple authorities want to know by whose authority these things are being done and Peter says,

“we are doing them in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, who you killed, and whom God raised.”

And this is where things must have felt crazy to those in authority, this is why I love this story and chose to preach it over all the other options, because they thought they’d taken care of their Jesus problem.  But now there seemed to be a little Jesus in everyone who had known him, and even in those who — like us — had only come to know him through the stories and actions of his disciples.  They’d hung him on a cross and buried him in the ground, but there was more Jesus in the world now than ever before, so they tell Peter and John to stop teaching and preaching and healing.  To stop using that name: Jesus!

And Peter tells them,

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

Jesus had told them, “you will be my witnesses,” and now the apostles begin to understand the meaning and the power of the resurrection.  That seed once planted in the earth had begun to sprout.  That tree on which had hung the salvation of the world had begun to flower.  And now there would be no holding back.  Life was rising up from the ground, healing for those who’d been left outside the doors of the church, a new community for a new world.

I love this next part of the story.  After Peter and John were released from prison they returned to the company of the believers and they shared their account of what had happened.  Immediately the community begins to pray with them, and the scriptures record the words of their prayer in a form that suggests an early Christian hymn, so I take it that they sang as they prayed.  They prayed,

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus”  And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31)

Don’t you know that’s why we’re hearing this morning, to pray for boldness?  Don’t you know that in the week since we last gathered, people in this room, people in our church, people throughout our city and across the world have been standing before the powers and principalities of the present moment and teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus, who is not dead but alive, in you and in me, for the sake of healing and reconciliation.  We are here this morning because we’ve all just come from one prison or another and we need to be fed with this Word, with this bread of life, not because we are so weak, but because we are so extraordinarily strong.  So strong, together, that we can hardly believe it.

God answers the community’s prayers for boldness by expanding their mission and ministry.

God answers prayers for boldness by expanding mission and ministry.

Though he’d been put in prison for preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name, and for healing one man born lame; now Peter and the disciples were performing more signs and wonders than the scriptures have space to individually record, so instead they just say,

And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.  The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (Acts 5:14-16)

So Peter is put in prison again, to try to shut him up by shutting him in, but in the night the angels come and open the prison doors (though I happen to think that Peter preached to his captors and made converts of them, because when you’re filled with the power of God’s Holy Spirit, every prison becomes a place just waiting for God’s reconciliation to take hold).  The next morning, instead of finding him in his cell, they find Peter in the public square, again, preaching Jesus (because, of course, faith is public not private — which is why Peter went to the public square, and not back to his home).  And this is where we finally join up with the passage assigned for this morning.

Knowing that he has become too popular with the people, that they cannot have him taken by force, they bring Peter before the Council for questioning, reminding him that he’d been given strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name, and Peter basically repeats what he’d already told them, that he and the community of the faithful now answer to and live their lives according to a higher authority.

People of God, we are all witnesses to what God has done.  We are all apostles with acts of our own too numerous to tell.  Baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, we are part of the great, ongoing uprising that is Christ’s insurrection — err, I mean, resurrection in, and from, and for the whole Earth.

Just outside our doors there are people begging for a little of the bread, a little of the community, a little of the life that we experience when we are together.

Why make them settle for a little?

Why not give them a lot.  A whole lot.

Why not take them by the hand in invite them to stand tall, to stand proud, to remember the dignity that is their birthright as children of God.  Why not bring them inside the temple to pray, and sing, and dance with us?

Brothers and sisters, the new life God wants for us is the new life God is creating through us.  We are here this morning to pray for boldness, because we know that God answers prayers for boldness with an ever and ever expanding mission and ministry.  We are here this morning because we know that when God’s Holy Spirit takes hold of the church, it is called to act.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

Amen.

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