4th Sunday of Easter
I have a confession to make: sometimes I get tempted to rerun old sermons; just to see if anyone would notice. I never would because I think the proclamation of God’s Word is too important to make fun of like that, but I’ve felt the temptation. I get the feeling that, if I did rerun a sermon, even if someone did notice, they may not say anything because they’d think, “Maybe it just seems like I’ve heard this one before.” I imagine, if you listen to enough sermons, especially by the same preacher, they do start to sound alike.
If you were here last Sunday, you may be thinking, “Haven’t we heard this before? Didn’t we hear a Scripture lesson just last week about Peter talking to a group of religious people and reminding them that they killed Jesus?” The short answer is, “kinda.” Peter’s two “sermons,” if you will, are a part of a larger story, but this is not the same sermon. He preaches the same thing and for the same reason, but one very important thing has changed: the audience.
You see, the people who gather to hear the Truth proclaimed far more important than the one who proclaims it. Do they laugh at the right times? Do they fold their arms in disbelief? Do they lean in and nod because they understand? Most importantly: do they take that Truth and then go and proclaim it themselves? A sermon is only the “same old thing” if we don’t take anything from it.
So, our Scripture lesson begins with, “The next day.” If you were with us last Sunday (or read the sermon on-line), what we read today is the day after that. If you weren’t, I can easily catch you up: shortly after Pentecost, Peter and John were heading to the temple to pray. As they entered the temple, they came across a beggar who had been unable to walk since birth; and in the name of Jesus, they healed him. The man was understandably excited about suddenly being able to walk and started jumping around and shouting praises in the temple. Also understandably, it attracted a crowd.
What we read last Sunday was Peter’s sermon, if you will, explaining the miracle: he told the gathered crowd that the source of this miracle was Jesus. He went on to say something similar to what we hear again today: that you killed him and that he rose again your salvation. In our story, all of that happened yesterday. What happened between then and now, is also worth noting: Peter and John spent the night in jail. Luke tells us that, after they preached about Jesus yesterday, the religious leaders got annoyed that they were proclaiming resurrection in Jesus; and they had them locked up.
Now, let’s set a little perspective here: in our story, the Resurrection happened, maybe, a couple of months ago. John, only weeks ago, watched Jesus get arrested by these same religious leaders and crucified by the Romans. Only weeks ago, Peter, out of fear of these same individuals, denied that he even knew Jesus. And now they just got arrested too. What do you suppose was going through their minds? This is, by the way, would be the first time they’d get arrested for speaking about Jesus. Do you suppose they thought it might be the last? What would be going through your mind in this moment?
Starbucks is a company in the business of selling coffee made from overly-roasted beans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s drinkable coffee; I drink it once in a while; but it’s just coffee. It surprises me that a company, that is almost exclusively about something as simple as coffee, would be in the news as often as it is. Recently, it was about the two black men who were arrested in Philadelphia on charges that were dropped the next day. They went to a Starbucks for a meeting, but didn’t order anything. Now, I would point out, that is a little rude. I find that my week goes a lot better if I spend a couple of hours every Tuesday, working down the street at the Tuning Fork; I always, at least, buy a coffee. It would be rude not to, but not exactly illegal. So these two men went into a Starbucks and then, two minutes later, the manager called the police. Starbucks, of course apologized, and now they’ll be training their people to be nicer, I guess. One of the black men, when interviewed this week, was asked if he feared for his life during the arrest. He said, “Anytime I’m encountered by [the police], I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind. You never know," he said, "what’s going to happen.”
Now, if I ever get into trouble with the police, and I say something like that, you have every right to accuse me of being overly-dramatic. That thought would never cross my mind because I don’t have that kind of relationship with the police. Never have the police shown up and I thought, “Oh no, it’s the police;” it’s always, “Oh good, it’s the police, I love the police.” But these were black men in Philadelphia; I have no doubt that thought runs through their minds every time. They have seen that same scenario go badly before.
John and Peter have seen this before; and not just this kind of thing before. They watched Jesus questioned by these same people when he did good things like heal people. They watched Jesus finally get arrested by these same people in this same place where they asked him these same kinds of questions. “By what power,” they ask, “did you do this?” Do you think John and Peter wondered where this might go? Of course they did.
This is the same scenario, but this is not the same Peter. This is not the same Peter who, not long ago, denied Jesus perhaps only steps from where he was in that moment. This is a different Peter: this Peter has seen the Risen Jesus; this Peter knows a power that conquers death, he’s seen that too. Filled with the Spirit, he says, “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, 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. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’”
Now, that’s some gutsy preaching! I get nervous that I’m going to preach something that will rub you the wrong way and get me fired. We get bashful about talking about our faith because we don’t want to off-putting to our friends. Luke names some of the people judging Peter and John—Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander—he names them because they are the same people who judged Jesus. Peter speaks the Resurrection Truth to people he probably assumed would have him crucified too and we get nervous about being liked.
Now, I’m not saying you’ll lose friends if to talk about the Risen Jesus from time to time; but I’m not saying you won’t either. More than likely, it will make more work for you: you might have to explain what resurrection power actually means to you; you might have to lead a life that puts that power into action; you might have to decide for yourself if the power that fear and discomfort has over you really is more powerful than the Resurrection.
In the final verse of today's text, Peter says, "There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus]." This verse has often been used to divide people into two camps: those who are for Jesus and those who are not. While Luke clearly believes that God has done something decisive and unique in Jesus, the point is actually the opposite of division. The purpose of this passage, instead, is to proclaim that no human being or human authority can build that kind of wall; although we try. Just like those who stood in judgement of Jesus, and now John and Peter, we still try to tell the world, "Unless you come into my tent, you cannot have God." But that’s not our job. Our job is to fearlessly and by the power of the Resurrection to tell the world what God has done: how God has acted on behalf of the world. How there is "no other name," no human channel, no denomination, no one theology, no sect, no other franchise, but the power of the Risen Jesus.May we set our hearts and minds upon that power. May the Spirit of our Risen Savior lead to the same places he went. May we care for those he cared for, may we speak the words he spoke, and may his salvation be revealed in us as well.