Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, March 2, 2014: Transfiguration of Our Lord

Texts:  Exodus 24:12-18  +  Psalm 99  +  2 Peter 1:16-21  +  Matthew 17:1-9

I wish I could pretend that each Sunday I preach I climb into the pulpit with an equal measure of certainty about my insight into scripture and my convictions about what I have found there, but the truth is I don’t. There are simply weeks when the mixture of life, time and my own faith — which is being worked out day by day, just like yours — don’t feel quite up to the task. This, as you might gather, is one of those weeks.

My mom emailed me a couple of days ago, “the presiding bishop’s article in The Lutheran on the Transfiguration was really helpful to me.”  So I followed up on that lead. Bishop Eaton writes,

“The Transfiguration is a strange story — the mountain, the light, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the utterly confounded disciples, the voice of God. How do we make sense of this supernatural event? What does the Transfiguration of our Lord have to do with us? I confess that I couldn’t figure it out. So, when serving in the parish, I scheduled Youth Sunday on Transfiguration Sunday, thereby successfully avoiding preaching about it for years.” (1)

Gee, thanks.  We’re about five kids short and six years shy of being able to pull that off, but a good suggestion nonetheless.  Bishop Eaton goes on, however, to reflect on the relationship between what happens on the mountaintop and what follows afterwards. On the mountain, Jesus shines with the glory of God. Down below, Jesus makes his way to the cross. The two are inseparable, the glory of God and the cross.

We’ve been singing “glory to God” as the canticle of praise at the beginning of worship for the last three months, since the beginning of Advent. The gloria comes, as the note in the margin of your bulletin indicates, from the story in the gospel of Luke of the arrival of the angels at the scene of Christ’s birth who sing, “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom God favors” (Lk. 2:14). But Matthew’s gospel, which we’re reading throughout this year, the angels appear at night not in the fields, but in a dream, as Jesus’ father Joseph is visited by an angel who tells him, “‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us’” (Mt. 1:23).

Immediately after that story, we learn that a star has appeared in the sky, a pinprick of light in the dark, leading wise men from distant nations to the place where Jesus was born. This season of Epiphany began with the glory of God shining brightly in the night, and just a hint of the cross as well. The God who is with us in Christ Jesus is not just with us, but is a light to the nations. Something small, something provincial and tribal, has to die to make room for the glory of God who came into the world for the sake of the whole world, and not just the people and places we know and care for.

Then Jesus met John at the river Jordan, where he was baptized by a man who could not believe that his Lord would consent to be blessed by someone as human as that wilderness prophet. “I need to be baptized by you,” John says, “and do you come to me?” Of course, that’s exactly what Jesus, the Immanuel, does.  God comes to us. God is with us. We sang “glory to God” on that day, the Baptism of Our Lord, to acknowledge the grace of that event, that God comes to us, even when we think it ought to be the other way around. And something had to die in that river, under those waters, namely John’s conviction (and ours) that the righteousness of God is only for the righteous.

As we continued to journey through the season of Epiphany, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Galilee, where he would meet and call his disciples. The gospel of Matthew quotes a bit of the prophet Isaiah here,

“On the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Mt. 4:15-16).

The glory of God called the disciples — Peter and Andrew, James and John — away from work they knew and people they loved to follow Jesus on the path to a confrontation with power that would lead to a very public and very painful death. The glory of God and the cross.

Then we settled into the real meat of this season of Epiphany as Jesus came to the mountain again, this time to deliver the Sermon on the Mount. Here the glory of God was made manifest as Jesus, doing his best impersonation of Moses, delivered a new law from the mountaintop in the form of the Beatitudes. Blessed are just about everyone you’d think was far from blessed, theirs is the kingdom of God. The glory of God shining through in a reversal of fortune that meant death to all our expectations about who and what is valued in the commonwealth of God.

As I’ve just sketched out, so far this year we’ve been traveling with Jesus pretty sequentially through the gospel of Matthew, accompanying the disciples as they gradually come to understand that God really is with us in the person of Jesus, who they come to know as the Christ. Today, however, the lectionary rips us out of that continuity and shows us a scene close to the end, after the time for teaching parables and healing miracles has ended and Jesus prepares to die.

As I stand here in the pulpit, having already confessed to you that I’m not always ready to be here, that I’m not always ready to preach, that my own faith is fragile and bends under the weight of so much expectation, I discover that this may be exactly how the disciples are feeling as well.

By this point in the story Peter has already confessed that Jesus is the Christ, but almost immediately thereafter he’s been rebuked by Jesus who says to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mt. 16:23). Why? Because Peter had the temerity to confront Jesus about his public profession that he would be killed by the authorities, but would rise on the third day. It’s all becoming a little too real, the cost of discipleship a little too high, as Jesus declares, “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24).

Six days later, six days after Jesus has made it clear that God’s glory is going to be revealed most clearly in his death, Jesus returns to the mountain.  On those heights those who follow Jesus see him with Moses and Elijah, shining with the glory of God, and they just want to stop, to freeze this moment and live in it forever.

Episcopal priest and educator Maryetta Madeleine Anschutz, founder of the Episcopal School of Los Angeles, writes,

“The moment of transfiguration is that point at which God says to the world and to each of us that there is nothing we can do to prepare for or stand in the way of joy or sorrow. We cannot build God a monument, and we cannot keep God safe.” (2)

And I realize that this is exactly what has me afraid to preach sometimes, that I’m trying to make for God a monument of words, that I’m trying to keep God safe with stories and explanations that will make it easier for you to bring God up in the places where you work and mix with this world that is always denying that glory has anything to do with death.

But it does.  Glory has everything to do with death. Not just the little deaths, the practice deaths, we’ve watched along the way: the death of our prejudices, the death of our insecurities, the death of our certainties, the death of our expectations. But big death, the one with the capital D.

Jesus’ death is the sign of God’s ultimate solidarity with the suffering of creation. Jesus’ death is the proof that God is not distant, but is with us.

icu handsThis morning I am praying for a friend who is with his family at his mother’s bedside in the ICU, keeping watch as she straddles the line between life and death. Many of us know the anxiety and even the terror of that vigil, but we also know by faith that God is present at the bedside with that family.

This morning I am praying with the family of Lois Valbracht, a family friend who died this week at the age of 98, whose father-in-law was pastor here at St. Luke’s for a quarter century, and whose husband was the pastor of my childhood church in Des Moines, Iowa. She herself — as a mother, a musician, a writer — shared a faith that inspired those who knew her right up to the very end. Many of us know from our own lives how grief at a moment like this can still be transfigured by gratitude at the way God is revealed in a life lived by faith.

This morning I am praying with you, some of you caring for parents whose fragile lives are in precarious places; some of you weighed down by the grief of a parent or a spouse or a child or a friend who died too soon; some of you living with illnesses in your own bodies, approaching your own deaths. The word of hope from the mountaintop is that God is not distant, but with you.

Life is full of makeshift pulpits, moments in a conversation when you are called to coalesce your faith into words that can carry the meaning of God’s glory in the face of death. Just like I do, I know that you sometimes struggle to find words to share the faith that is in you; faith that sometimes stumbles, as it did for Jesus’ own disciples who heard the voice declare, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” and who fell to the ground in fear.

At moments like that, at moments like this, what comfort there is in knowing that it is not we who have to make our way to God, but God who makes a way to us.  As they trembled on the ground, overcome by awe and fear at the reality and the presence of God, Jesus came and touched them, saying “Get up and do not be afraid” (Mt. 17:7).

Patrick Wilson, a Presbyterian pastor in Williamsburg, Virginia writes,

“Some would say that God is much too much to be contained within the walls of a church. Of course they are right. Some would remind us that God is so great that neither the earth below not the heavens above can hold God. Certainly we must agree with them. God is certainly so great that God can never be contained in something as small as a crumb of bread or a sip of wine. We nod our heads, yes; but we must hasten to add: furthermore, God is so great, so majestic, so glorious, that God deigns come to us in a crumb of bread and a sip of wine, just as much of God as a hand can hold.” (3)

On the mountaintop God’s glory is revealed in a body preparing to die. A body like ours, transfigured by a love and a grace that will not abandon us, no matter where our life takes us, not even the cross. That is why we sing “glory to God” and “alleluia!”

Amen.

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(1) “From a Cross, a Dazzling Light,” by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. The Lutheran, March, 2014.

(2) “Pastoral Perspective, Matthew 17:1-9” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

(3) “Homiletical Perspective, Matthew 17:1-9” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, February 2, 2014: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts:  Micah 6:1-8  +  Psalm 15  +  1 Corinthians 1:18-31  +  Matthew 5:1-12

Whenever God closes a door, He opens a window.

God never gives you more than you can handle.

God needed another little angel.

It’s all part of God’s plan.

Blessed are the poor.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We say so many things when we don’t know what to say.  We say things we’ve heard other people say, things that have been said to us, even if they weren’t all that helpful. We say things because it seems better than saying nothing, even if there’s really nothing to say, because we want to do something, even when it seems there’s very little we can do.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

9781594632587_p0_v2_s260x420Yesterday morning a small group of us, four of us, got together for coffee and some conversation about Anne Lamott’s newest book, “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair.” She started writing it about a year ago after the school shooting at Sandy Hook that ended with twenty-eight dead, to try and make sense of the senseless suffering that surrounds us in this world, from the personal to the national. She writes, “where is the meaning in the pits? In the suffering? I think these questions are worth asking.”

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

There are forms of faith, even of Christian faith, that confidently assert that God wants you to be rich, to have everything your heart desires; forms of faith that suggest that what you “put out” is what you get back, a not-so-subtle sort of victim-blaming that places responsibility on those with the least, with the last, with the worst for not sending enough “good energy” out into “the universe.”

Don’t count the apostle Paul among them. He writes,

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor. 1:27-29)

There’s a lot of counter-cultural wisdom packed into those few verses, and I think they go a long way toward helping us understand the revolutionary claims being made by the Beatitudes, by this recitation of blessings for those the world mostly considers anything but blessed, but the two most important words in my opinion are “God chose.”  God chose what is foolish.  God chose what is weak.  God chose what is low.

tumblr_mklakwfk2H1qfnvwzo1_500There is an unfortunate way of reading the Beatitudes that too often reduces them to something we might choose.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” becomes to those who hear it a call to feed the hungry. Don’t get me wrong, we are called to feed the hungry and it is a call that our congregation takes particularly seriously, but the Beatitudes are not simply planks on God’s platform of social justice that we might choose to take up.  The Beatitudes are God’s declaration in Christ Jesus that God chooses, and that with God’s election comes a new kingdom, heaven for the forlorn places of this earth, a commonwealth of peace with justice, a beloved community.

Similarly, there is a way of reading the Beatitudes that suggests that there is a hidden virtue to being each of these things: that if we make ourselves poor, we will be closer to God; if we make ourselves pure in heart, we will see God; if we make ourselves peacemakers, we will gain access into God’s family.  Again, it’s not that there isn’t value to be gained from a life of intentional simplicity, or mercy, or purity; but to read the Beatitudes in this way turns into a program what God chooses, what Jesus declares as a present reality.  The Beatitudes are not a list of rewards intended to motivate us toward a new set of resolutions for ourselves. They are a declaration of independence from the values of this world that prize power over people.

Last week’s gospel reading ended with Jesus calling the disciples away from their nets. This week’s gospel reading begins a series of readings that we’ll hear over the next few weeks from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Moving from last week to this week, we might imagine that Jesus began his earthly ministry by offering these words of comfort to the wretched of the earth, that the Beatitudes were like so many other platitudes offered to hurting people that offer the promises that things will get better without explaining how that might ever take place.

But that is not how it happened.

Our lectionary skips three verses between last week’s call of the disciples and this week’s Sermon on the Mount.  Here’s what we missed.  After Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James and John, to follow him and fish for people, Matthew’s gospel says,

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matt. 4:23-25)

Far from being a set of weak words offered to soothe hopeless people and hurting bodies, the Beatitudes come as a summary of what God in Christ Jesus has already done. His ministry begins with a great gathering of all the people who’d been left out of the social contract made between the empire and its citizens, the people who’d gained nothing from Rome’s never-ending wars with its neighbors.

Jesus’ work is like a beacon, a light to the nations, that calls into one assembly those who were weak in their bodies, weak in their minds, weak in their spirits; that calls into one community those from the small towns of Galilee, like Capernaum where Jesus had made his home, to those from Jerusalem, the seat of local power, to those from beyond the River Jordan, who’d crossed a great river, un Rio Grande, to join this new nation, this kingdom of heaven.

Border crossing at the Rio Grande.

Border crossing at the Rio Grande.

What I am saying, sisters and brothers, is that the Beatitudes are not just words of comfort offered to hurting people, not just things to say when you don’t know what else to say.  The Beatitudes are a statement of faith that God chooses what the world does not choose, that God chooses you!

Paul writes, “consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26).  He may have been writing to the church in Corinth, but the words became scripture and have been shared with the church for the last two thousand years because they have remained true.  Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you feel chosen by the world. You are elderly, and feel passed over or forgotten by not only friends, but family.  You are young, and struggle to find a place to offer your gifts.  You are poor, and do not always know how you will make it to the first of the month.  You are foreigners, and you do not speak the language.  You are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or queer, and you have to convince yourself each morning when you wake up that it is alright to be yourself, to occupy your own skin. You are activists in a world that values conformity.  You are recovering from surgeries, you are recovering from addictions, you are recovering from violence, you are recovering from your past, you are recovering from your life.  Not many of you are wise by human standards, not many are powerful, not many are of noble birth.

But God chose you. Blessed are you. Not because of how special you are, or what you may someday do. Because of who God is, here and now, at this very instant, calling to you, “follow me.”  The kingdom of heaven, which belongs to the poor, which belongs to the persecuted, is not waiting for us at the end of this life. It has come near. It has arrived. It is already breaking in, interrupting, uprising. It is now. Blessed are you right now.

Where is the meaning in the pits, in the suffering? It is a question worth asking, but it is not answered only with words. Anne Lamott suggests that whatever meaning is going to be found will be found together, as we stitch ourselves to one another so as not to lose ourselves to the horrors of the world.

Jesus launches his ministry by calling together all those whose experience left them feeling lonely and isolated, by touching them, healing them. In response, they followed, they gathered at the mountain to hear what he might say or do next. They went from belonging in no kingdom to belonging to the kingdom of heaven, from being lost to being blessed, just like you.

Amen.

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Sermons

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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