Sunday, April 19, 2015

Acts Sermon

Acts Sermon

         There was a time in the 70’s and early 80’s, or so I’ve been told, when preachers decided that the sermons in the book of Acts were examples of the Earliest Christian preaching. Then, they added, that time period in the book of Acts was a period of enormous church growth…
So, they concluded, if modern preachers were to use those sermons as a model for their preaching, they would have the same kind of success.
         There are a few flaws in this theory—two that come to mind right off the bat are that:
1.   It’s a lot easier to double Christianity when there are only 12 or so members.
2.   Most of the preachers of these sermons in Acts—the Apostles and Paul, were martyred (that is killed for the faith) which is, I would venture to guess, hardly the kind of success those 1970’s preachers were looking for.

         Nonetheless, these sermons in the book of Acts, do pack a certain punch—they’re worth mimicking every now and again.
         In today’s case, we read of Peter assuring the people the miracle performed before them, when he healed a bent over beggar—he makes clear that the healing isn’t his doing, but instead is from God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The same God found in Jesus, who is the righteous and living one—the one promised to us to save us from our sin—and therefore we ought to turn to him and be saved.

Let us pray.

         Perhaps what Peter is getting at today could be summed up by the ELCA’s tag line—God’s Work, Our Hands
that we recognize none of this—none of what our church, or synod, or congregation does, is from us—ultimately our hands are empty, our work is not our own—they are from God.

         Yes, over 6 millions Americans who are suffering and in need are touched by the ELCA’s service arm, be they immigrants escaping persecution and being resettled, or a family looking to adopt, or just folk with too much hunger and not enough pay check—yes 6 million people a year—the equivalent of the ELCA serving the entire state of Massachusetts.
         Yes, we recently helped plant a congregation in rural China—no small feat.
         Yes, we are decimating the disease of Malaria in 13 countries.
         But, no, it’s not us who do these things
—these amazing life giving, miraculous things
no it is God.
         Yes, our own Bishop, Bishop Tracie Bartholomew recently shared a pulpit with Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Donato in Bayonne, an unprecedented act of ecumenical hospitality—a Roman Catholic Bishop inviting a female Protestant Bishop to share in proclamation of the Gospel.
         Yes, the New Jersey Synod has called my colleague and cousin Beau Nelson to serve as chaplain to the homeless folk in Trenton.
         Yes, the Red Cross recently had 166 people still displaced from Sandy in need of help, and Lutheran Disaster Relief responded, “Don’t worry, we got this.”
         But, no it wasn’t we who had it—it never is—always it’s God who’s got this!

         Or I think of the ongoing embarrassing thing that keeps happening to me at Synod Council Meetings—the meeting is going along, they’re talking about innovative stuff in the Synod, and next thing I know they’re talking about me and about St. Stephen.
--Look there is a Pub Theology in South Plainfield, they gush, and there I am cleaning wax out of my ear, or looking at cat videos on my cell phone.
--Or they start saying, “Pastor Chris must be a managerial genius the way 5 congregations,
from 3 different towns—Edison, Plainfield, and South Plainfield, in a state where people take boarders between towns very seriously,
congregations, even of different racial and ethnic backgrounds,
are finding ways to work together and strengthen one another’s ministry. Good on you Pastor Chris”
         And I just kinda perk up like a cow that leaned against an electric fence.
         I didn’t do any of that.
         Any good thing, and good fruit, in this place—that’s God’s doing.
         Yes, good things are afoot among God’s people in South Plainfield and New Jersey and all across this nation and this world—with bare hands outstretched and a befuddled and joyful look all we can do is look up and say, this is God’s doing… always God’s doing.

         We admit, just as our forbearers of the faith did, that all good things come from God.
         The disciples were betrayers, deniers, and distrustful—yet God made them bold proclaimers of the Gospel.
         Augustine was a wayward son of the Church and Francis of Assisi was a spoiled rich kid—yet upon one God built our minds and the other our hearts.
         Luther’s detractors called him a drunken little monk, and so he was—yet God poured from his pen and formed from his temper, a rediscovery of grace that stoking the engine of a great reform.
         Yes, the God of the Disciples, the God of the Church Fathers, and the God of the Reformers, reveals the goodness of the one whom we call Lord, Jesus Christ.
         Jesus, the righteous one, rejected, the author of life, killed.
Jesus Christ, Righteousness returned
if there is anything you regret in your life,
any time you’ve missed the mark or fallen short of any goal
—know this:
 the goal has been obtained,
the mark made,
the regret held, honored, and healed.
Jesus Christ, Life revived—that deep and dreaded whisper that ends our days, that holds us all in it’s grasp, Death
—does so no longer,
the grave’s weight and death’s sting, have no power over us
—Christ has shattered them so that we might live in fullness, dying with him and rising with him.

         I pray that all that we do—serving 6 million, swapping pulpits in impossible ways, partnerships across towns and Gospel-exploration in pubs—that it all point’s to this promise of Resurrection and Righteousness.
         Resurrection and Righteousness,
the message to us from God found in the Old and New Testament,
the message passed on from Pentecost to the present day,
the message I preach from this pulpit every Sunday
the message of every part of the worship service
the message of our lives the moment we step out of these church doors.

         You have resurrection and righteousness through Christ.
         Turn to him.
         Clutch the font.
         Remember your Baptism into his death and life.
         Clothe yourself in the one who makes us whole and alive.
         Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen and Alleluia!