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Easter 7A Sermon
Acts 1: 6-14
May 28, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Found within the reading from Acts 1 is a simple sentence which we could call the thesis statement for the entire book of the Acts of the Apostles. I am referring to verse eight which reads, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It sets up the event that we will hear next Sunday, that being the Pentecost event. It also establishes the identity of the followers of God as witnesses – people who do not just sit still and watch things happen, or whose lives remain the same as before God called them; they go wherever the Holy Spirit leads them to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That is exactly what happened with these 11 men, as well as the one who would be chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, Matthias. We know from legends and writings that those listed in this passage went all over to tell about Jesus. Peter led the church of Jerusalem for many years along with James and James’ brother. John, who would eventually be exiled to the island of Patmos. Andrew went to Patras in Western Greece, and Philip travelled both to Asia and Egypt. Thomas is credited with bringing the Gospel to India, as well as Bartholomew. Matthew preached in Ethiopia, and while James the son of Alphaeus was elected to lead all of the churches in Jerusalem, Simon the Zealot went to the west coast of Africa, and Judas son of James, otherwise known as Jude or Thaddaeus, preached in Turkey.

It is important to note the courage with which each of these men and uncounted other men and women had to travel to new lands and new cultures and identify the Lord of Life as Jesus … especially in circumstances where it was met with resistance and hostility. They faced overwhelming opposition to their message and yet went about living and speaking words of Jesus’s love wherever they went. It is a love which claims all people for God, not just those who have riches or power, good names or accomplishments. God’s love is ours not because we are good, but because God is good, and the risen Lord Jesus is a living testament to that fact. It sounds like it’s a simple proposition to accept, and should be good news to everyone … but as we have seen, that isn’t always the case. As a matter of fact, as one person pointed out to me this past week, it takes at least as much courage to believe the Gospel as it does for someone to tell it!

Consider that of all of the men in this reading, John was the only one that we believe died of natural causes in his old age! Peter was crucified in Rome upside down at his request, because he didn’t think he was worthy to be killed as Jesus was; Andrew was beaten and then tied to an “X” shaped cross instead of being nailed, so it would take even longer than traditional crucifixion. Philip was also crucified, as was Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot. James son of Zebedee was beheaded, while the other James was beaten and stoned. Some of the others’ stories ended even more gruesomely – Matthew was stabbed in the back by a swordsman, Thomas was run through with a spear, and Bartholomew was skinned alive and beheaded. When threatened with any of these things, I am not sure that I would have the courage to continue to proclaim my faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

But consider what courage it had to have to hear their stories and believe them! Especially when those who heard knew the potential punishment that awaited if they dared to buy into this new faith! Put yourself in the shoes of someone living in the world of that day who is told that Jesus, whom the Romans crucified, was resurrected three days later? Impossible! And on top of that, he floated up into the sky promising to return at some point later. I am sure that there would be the kind of skepticism that many of us have when we hear of someone who has been healed of a physical infirmity by some kind of, “faith-healer.” It is only natural to doubt those stories until we see more genuine proof of its truthfulness.
You’re probably asking, “Okay Pastor, where are you going with all of this? Are you just trying to scare us all?” Well, the Seventh Sunday of the Easter Season is that Sunday of the Church year that symbolizes what it means to be in-between major God events. Thursday was the 40th day after Easter – the day that we have come to call Ascension Day. Jesus has left, floating up into the clouds of heaven. Next Sunday is Pentecost, when the promise of Jesus in our thesis sentence will be fulfilled and the Holy Spirit will blow across the globe, into our lives to be the lasting presence of God in the world. Today is a day which symbolizes what it is to live in fear and in trust; in the reality of the absence of Jesus, knowing that there is something coming … but for now, still trying to figure out what to do. We have this fantastic gift of God’s grace and love already, but it has not yet completely conquered sin, death and the devil. Yes, the devil still prowls looking for someone to devour, as Peter wrote in his letter. Courage in the face of this kind of threat requires some special attributes which aren’t always identified with courage. I want to mention three that are found in today’s scripture texts.
It requires patience – waiting to see what God is up to, just as Jesus encouraged the disciples to wait just before he lifted off into the clouds. God has promised to guide and strengthen us through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that Holy Spirit does not make itself known when WE want it to. But it is still promised. And so, even if we are afraid and threatened, we patiently await the promised presence of God to help us to remain faithful in all things, especially threats around us.

It requires humility as well. Peter writes, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.” Often anxiety in the midst of threats can cause a person to lash out, to take matters into their own hands rather than trust that one who is greater than us is present. But Peter encourage us to cast our anxiety on God, who cares for us, resisting God’s adversary. No one ever promised us a life free of suffering, especially innocent suffering for our faith. When it happens, we are not alone – we share in the suffering that Christ endured on the cross, and in so doing, we look forward to sharing in the glory of the resurrection as well. It takes humility to surrender to God’s power and plan to destroy the lion that prowls!

Finally, it takes unity. I once told a story in a sermon about a man who is driving through the countryside whose small car stuck in a muddy patch. A farmer happens to be coming along on his wagon being pulled by an old, ragged looking horse. The farmer quietly surveyed the situation, unhitched the horse from the wagon, and tied the horse to the front bumper of the car. He called out, “Come on Bessie, pull … come on Nellie, pull … come on Buddy, pull!” Finally the horse surged forth with great strength and dragged the car out of the mud. The car owner asked the farmer why he called out three different names for the horse. He responded, “Oh, Buddy’s is old and blind … and there is no way he thinks that on his own he could pull such a weight. So I called out Bessie and Nellie first so that he thought he was part of a team. That way he gave it his all and did it on his own.”

Jesus prayed that we all be one just as he and the Father are one. We are not alone, even though we may be blinded to the community to which we belong. Our lives include incredible obstacles which require Christian Courage to endure. It takes patience, humility and unity to do so. In this time of dwelling in the “in-between,” may God bless us with the patience, humility and unity that it takes to hear and believe the Gospel, to share in Jesus’ suffering, to witness to his love, and to trust in the coming Holy Spirit as we prepare to share in the Glory that awaits us all in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.