Maybe you’ve heard the story of the man who goes out on a job interview, and during that interview, the personnel director for this company says, “Now, for this job, you need to understand that we are looking for a responsible person.” And the man replies, “Well, then, I’m just the man for the job! Everywhere I’ve worked, whenever anything went wrong they said I was responsible!”
I suspect that there are actually a whole lot of us who feel that way sometimes; but I would submit to you this morning that it’s particularly true when it comes to a life of faith! All one needs do is to look at the Book of Acts – a rich and powerful story of the early church and how people’s lives were changed forever because of the risen Christ – to know that if you’re going to be a disciple of Christ, then inevitably trouble is going to follow!
I understand that’s not how we’d prefer to think of our Christian faith, especially in these days of Eastertide while we’re still basking in the victorious glow of the resurrection! And well we should; but we do have to realize that Christianity, by its very nature, is counter-cultural; biblically speaking, we are “in the world, but not of the world.” And if our faith in Christ is real; that is, if we espouse that faith by word and action, we are bound to stir up trouble; as well as ruffling feathers, upsetting apple carts, hurting feelings, challenging authority, and in general, doing that which will lead to accusations of force-feeding our religion on others! This is not to say we shouldn’t espouse our faith – on the contrary; we are called to proclaim the good news, after all (!) – but it does mean, as a dear friend and colleague used to say, in the eyes and ears of the world the gospel is often seen as offensive, so we’d better get used to how easily some people are offended!
This is beautifully illustrated in our reading this morning drawn from the 4th chapter of Acts, in which Peter and John are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, who were in essence the Jewish Supreme Court. Now the reason they got into trouble in the first place is found in Acts, chapter three; it was because when Peter and John were on their way into the temple, they came upon “a man crippled from birth,” who was there, as he was every day, begging for money. Peter and John didn’t have any money because they themselves were poor, but “…what I have I give you,” Peter says, and it’s this: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”
And the man stands up and walks; actually, that’s to put it mildly; as Acts records it, immediately he’s “jumping up …walking and leaping and praising God!” It was …a miracle, and everybody there at the gate of the temple had seen it happen, including the “powers-that-be” who were none too pleased! So now, Peter and John are standing before this high council, comprised of the most intellectual and wealthiest people of the day, and they’re being interrogated, admonished and out and out hassled for their actions. “By what power or by what name did you do this?” they demand to know. And this is when Peter, with all boldness, looks squarely at the powers-that-be says, “If we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how he was healed, let it be known… that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”
What’s key to remember here is that this is a major thing for Peter, because Peter was not always so bold! This is the same man that on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and trial had not only run away, but for fear of his own life, had shut both his mouth and his heart to Jesus. Even considering that graceful moment of forgiveness on the beach with the Risen Christ, it all seems out of character for Peter! But here he is, boldly speaking truth to power; and the question is… how’d that happen?
Lutheran pastor Barbara Berry-Bailey asks much the same question. Peter, she writes, “was no [smarter] than he was before the crucifixion. He was [still] uneducated. His social status and his status in the religious community had not changed… he was just everyday people. [So] what changed Peter? What gave him this new-found boldness?” The answer, she concludes, is that “the resurrection happened.”
It was …because of the resurrection! Because the Jesus who preached love and forgiveness had risen from the dead; because Jesus had appeared to Peter and John and all the others bringing the kind of peace that the world cannot give nor take way; because those disciples now knew what it was to have a place in the kingdom of God: now, forgiven, empowered and sent forth with the light of the resurrection, Peter could boldly proclaim Jesus as the Anointed One of God and heal the sick in his name!
What’s wonderful about this passage is that neither Peter nor John seemed to care even a little that their lives might be in jeopardy! All that concerned them; all that mattered was to spread this good news of Christ by word and a “good deed done.” Even when the Sanhedrin – who totally resented what these two upstarts were doing, but could not decide if or how to punish them for it – told them they were forbidden to “speak no more to anyone in this name,” Peter responds by saying, you can think what you want and judge us as you will, but as for us, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Peter’s not going to be quiet anymore; he’s not going to deny his Lord any longer: he’s truly “a man on a mission,” and he’s going to be bold about it, no matter the cost. To whit, at this moment of “censure,” the apostles began a courageous witness in the name of Jesus, and as they spoke even the Sanhedrin recognized that there’d been, as they succinctly put it, “a notable sign …done through them;” and decided that while what these two companions of Jesus had done there at the temple gate was technically illegal, it was also rather impressive and couldn’t be denied!
What had happened is that they’d been bold in their faith! And, by the way, the Greek word that’s translated here as “boldness” is parresia, which means “telling all;” so in what might be called “holy” boldness, what they’d done was to simply “tell all” about the good news of Jesus Christ!
And the message for us today, friends, is that so can we.
Because of the resurrection, we can be bold! We, too, can boldly communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen; speaking in the conviction and character of a life based on this undeniable truth that is both the bedrock and compass of our very lives. It’s central to who we are as believers; it’s what it means to be Christian! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, the stone first rejected has now become the cornerstone, and like Peter and John before us, and in company with saints in this and every generation, we can be bold!
Of course, all of this does beg the question, are we bold? Are we really?
I love how in one of his novels, C.S. Lewis described one of the main characters as someone “who liked to be liked.” There was, Lewis wrote, “a good deal of spaniel in him.” That’s perfect (especially to this new dog owner) because is there any more devoted to wanting to please and to be loved than a dog? Well, friends, there are a great many Christians who approach faith and life in precisely the same way: keep your religion to yourself, never say anything about your personal faith that might possibly offend anybody, always keep the messages upbeat and fun, do everything with a smile on your face, and keep anything that might be challenging or remotely radical or life-changing or life-giving on the back burner for fear it might put us into an awkward situation with others.
Do not misunderstand me here; an attitude of love and joy is an important and essential tenet of our Christian faith, and, might I add, a crucial element in the life of the church. But it’s also true that there is more to the gospel than this: it’s about our redemption from sin; about our lives becoming brand new and full of purpose; letting Christ live in and through each one of us, that we might do the work of God’s kingdom in a world that does not understand or accept it. It’s about our living with “holy boldness!”
The fact is we need boldness in the church today. The church needs “everyday people” who testify to the living Lord by the words they say, the things they do, the priorities they set for themselves and their families. Another quote from Barbara Berry-Bailey: “If the resurrection has changed everything, how has it changed your life? If you believe that Christ is alive, if you have been touched by the word of God’s love and forgiveness, how can you keep silent about what you have seen… and how your life has been transformed?
“You don’t have to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn,” she goes on to say, and “you don’t have to stand in the middle of an auditorium full of strangers to boldly proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord. The most effective proclamation is by everyday people who share their faith and their faith stories with other everyday people.”
We need to be bold, it’s as simple as that.
These are difficult times, to say the least, and challenging times for us to live as people of faith; more and more, we’re in the midst of a culture that dismisses the Christian faith as something irrelevant. But I believe with all my heart that these are the days when the world – and this community – is hungry for God. I believe that you and I are here to pray and to believe and to lead others to faith; and I know that God can do greater things in us than we have ever imagined before, because I have seen it happen.
To be brutally honest, I think that sometimes you and I get so caught up in our human frailties, our politics and our utter pettiness – yes, even in the church (!) – that we forget who and whose we really are. We need to be bold – and by the way, by bold I don’t mean running roughshod over everything and everyone to get your opinion across and be right – but bold for the sake of Jesus Christ. What we say, what we do, how we treat others and how we live needs to be the language of proclamation, so that others might see us and come to embrace Christ themselves.
And yes: in that effort, there will be people who turn a deaf ear to what we have to say; in some instances, it’s going to take a lot of time and much persistence for our message to take hold in some hearts; and even then there are always going to be people who will howl in protest and derision (and take it from one who knows, those always feel like the loudest and the most hurtful voices of all).
But you know what? Ultimately, that doesn’t matter.
In one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, a collection of devotionals entitled Jesus in Blue Jeans, Laurie Beth Jones points out that “howler monkeys are the loudest animals in the jungle. They are not, however, the most powerful.”
The fact is, Jesus also met with a few complaints; he suffered the taunts and the derision of the status-quo; and they crucified him for who he was. But here’s the thing – Jesus rose again, and by his teachings, his death and his resurrection, he changed the world …and, he changed us along with it. And so, because of the resurrection …because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us …because we choose to follow Jesus with our very lives, we can be bold, say and do what we know to be true and right by faith, and just “let them howl.”
Beloved, let each one of us be bold for the sake of Jesus Christ, and may our thanks be unto God.
Amen and AMEN.
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry