Sermon for Easter 4 Year B 2015
Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
The Boldness of life in the Risen Christ
Our first reading came from the book of Acts.
It a book which is understood to be written by Luke, a close Friend of the Apostle Paul, and the second part of the two part volume which started with his gospel, the gospel of Luke.
Luke was probably a Syrian from Antioch, which tradition speaks of him as a doctor and a convert from paganism. He was not a Jew, but perhaps had become a God fearer along the way to faith.
The book of Acts is a fast paced, continuous story which begins with the starting of the first primitive Christian community in Jerusalem, moves through to the founding of the Christian church in Antioch by Hellenistic Jews, and details the conversion of St Paul and the spread of the church beyond Jerusalem and Judea, through Paul’s missionary journeys and other means.
It’s an eye witness account of what happened. It’s therefore a simple story, and shows an uncomplicated faith and theology. Luke bases any doctrine and theology on what he sees and hears happening.
What shines through is the spiritual energy inside of this new Christian faith, and energy which both motivates and fuels its growth and expansion.
Luke starts his account with the disciples watching Jesus ascend into heaven. They then go back to Jerusalem and are filled with the Holy Spirit as the tongues of fire come upon them and they start speaking in lots of strange languages. Many people are in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks and, in a reversal of the story of the tower of Babel where languages are confused, the languages are understood by the many different people in Jerusalem at the time.
(Pentecost happened 50 days after the Passover Sabbath and celebrated the first fruits of the harvest, particularly wheat as God was remembered as the provider of daily bread. It was also a time when Jews remembered the giving of the law and it was one of the three festivals (Passover – deliverance, and Tabernacles – wandering in the wilderness and entering the Promised Land being the others) when Jews made the journey to Jerusalem.)
Peter addresses the crowd to explain how and why this is happening and many are converted – perhaps a reminder that this is the festival of the first fruits (of the new world order brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection).
Each day the believers go to the Temple to pray and it’s on one of these occasions that the lame man cries out to Peter and John begging from them. Who remembers the chorus, ‘Silver and Gold have I none’? Who can forget it?
It’s a chance encounter and as a result the lame man is healed. Peter explains it’s through the power of the risen Jesus and his spirit that this has occurred.
The temple rulers and the Sadducees, mainly a group of conservative aristocrats who held the majority of the seats on the ruling Council called the Sanhedrin and worked hard to keep the peace with Rome, take exception to this. They appear to be more concerned with politics than religion in many ways but their conservative stance meant that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, the afterlife or the existence of a spiritual world. This might have been the pretext to arrest Peter and John, as they do, but probably their main reason for their concerned was that they were afraid they might bring unwanted attention from Rome.
So it’s into this heady mix of Jewish and Christian religious fervour, possibly still a packed Jerusalem with people crammed into every nook and cranny from the feast of Pentecost, when there is a huge focus on the Temple, probably with a heavier than normal Roman presence, that this encounter happens.
And in perhaps one of the most significant moments of the bible, Peter and John are asked the question the answer to which will determine the identity and basis of the Christian faith. ‘By what power and by whose name have you done this?’
You can imagine in all the noise and bustle, the hubbub of the mass of humanity, the presence of the aristocratic rulers, the Sadducees, and the men of the people, the Pharisees who were almost certainly there, that the place falls eerily silent. Peter and John are surrounded by their inquisitors, how will they respond?
Peter could have so easily caught the sense of the moment, seen the option for a compromise, a socially acceptable answer, something that would not cause any problems and perhaps even a chance for the early believers to be left alone.
If he just said ‘God,’ the Sadducees could have told the Romans that nothing special had happened, everything was as normal, nothing to worry about, it was all part of the Jewish celebrations and life would have moved on.
But he didn’t. And life as we know it changed forever. It was a defining moment in the history of the Christian faith.
Because in true Luke style he just told it as it was. It was through the power of the resurrection (a direct challenge to the Sadducees), whom they had killed (a direct challenge to the Romans) that the man was healed. There is no other name and no other power.
Today we can even hear them saying, ‘Which part do you not understand?’
At this stage the Sadducees don’t know what to do. They have never been in this situation before. And ultimately, this time, they give Peter and John a severe letting off, asking them not to speak in the name of Jesus ever again. (Some hope!)
What shines through in Peter is the confidence he has in his faith. The reality of Christ resurrected in his life. The power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in his believers and the world.
We might not be called to be in the same situation as Peter and John but we too have chance encounters when we have the opportunity to speak out about our faith with the same boldness.
Opportunities not to necessarily give the watered down response or give the socially acceptable answer. Not to dodge away from questions that might cause unease when we answer them with the same frankness as did Peter.
Because the reality is that it is only through Christ and belief in Him and His resurrection that we are able to have a relationship with God and have our lives transformed by a God who cares deeply for us all.
And every time we shy away from speaking out the reality of our faith we deny, little by little, the reality of the resurrection in our own lives.
As a church and as a people we need to express and in some cases re-find that confidence in our faith and in its declaration and proclamation if we are to have the impact on the world, God’s cosmos that he wants for us.
Not to fudge the answers so they are more socially acceptable, but to be clear and confident in our faith, so that others can come to know the reality of Christ in their lives, the power of the Spirit which shines through in Acts, and the transforming power of the resurrection in the world today.
We may not be determining the future of the Christian Church but how we respond to others, how we reply to their questions, may just have eternal consequences.