Year B — The Third Sunday of Easter

Commentary for April 22, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Acts 3:12-19
“Dude, it’s not about us!”

Peter tried really hard to deflect the attention from himself and John on the day a lame man was healed by “their” touch. Preachers are sometimes put in a similarly awkward position when we hear comments along the line of, “That was such a great sermon today, Pastor; you really did your best today!”

Of course, we want to do our best as often as we can, and it’s nice to be acknowledged every once in a while. But, again, the issue here is the ways in which the power of God is made plain. 

Peter makes a definite connection for his listeners: this is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors who has glorified Jesus, his servant. How clearly are we pointing out the presence and power of God to our listeners? How are we helping them make the connection to what they see, pray for, hope for and what God is doing in their midst?

Psalm 4
Psalm 4 speaks a word to busy worshipers (and preachers.) The word is: stop!

We seem always to be in a hurry; even in our “worship” we have an order and a time frame in mind. The old joke, at least among Baptists in the South, is that the preacher must quit in time “for us to beat the Methodists and the Presbyterians to the restaurant!”


Notice that there are two indicated pauses for silence and reflection within the eight verses of this text. (These are the “Selah” moments.) Verse 4 could be something of a theme for this psalm: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”

Eastertide is a good time for pondering what it is that we have seen and witnessed in recent days, as well as for considering the “holy disturbances” that God sometimes places in our lives. After all, it took the disciples some time to digest what the Easter events meant for them; why should we be any different?

1 John 3:1-7
For some odd reason, when I read John’s words of exhortation and encouragement here, I am reminded of the little children’s song from my long-ago Sunday School years (it’s actually a “gospel song” from music evangelist Ira Stanphill):

I traveled alone upon this lonesome way;
My burdens so heavy and dark was my day.
I looked for a friend, not knowing that He
Had all the time been looking for me.

Now, it is Jesus and me for each tomorrow;
For every heartache and every sorrow.
I know that I can depend upon my new found Friend.
And so, till the end, it’s Jesus and me.


(Wanna hear it? A “country style” setting is available here.)

No, I’m not advocating the over-simplistic theological stance that you might think; but, I am trying to think seriously about what it means to live as God’s child, knowing that one day, we will see Jesus “as he is”…and that, then, we will be like him.

In the meantime, how should I speak, think, act, live?

  
Luke 24:36b-48
See what I’m saying? 

Even after a couple of post-resurrection appearances, the disciples are still pretty skittish when Jesus happens suddenly upon them. They are having quite a time trying to grasp the full meaning of the “we saw him dead but now he’s alive?” thing.


I love the wit displayed by Jesus here (and by Luke in writing the story this way) — they’re all happy and stuff to see him, but still scratching their heads a bit, when Jesus says, “So, I’m hungry; how about you guys? Got anything to eat?”


He doesn’t chastise them or call them down for their lack of faith. He just finds a way to confront the elephant in the room and teach them yet another lesson. “I told you I’d be here, and now I am here. You can really, really, really depend on what I say to you!” 

Chomp!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

N.T. Wright says: “People often ask me, ‘What after all is the point of Jesus dying and rising again? It’s no doubt very nice for him to be alive again, but what does it have to do with the rest of us?’” (1)

What indeed? What is the point of the story of Jesus and why are we here at church? 

Are we here because it’s the tradition in which we were raised? Because church is a part of the civic fabric of our lives and we would feel a little lost without it.


Why, exactly are we in this community called a church and in this space set apart for getting together to sing strange songs while hearing short speeches and eating a meal that isn’t actually a meal, more like a snack, really.

What is it all about? Why are we here? Is it because we’re all from somewhere else and are a little lonely for a taste, a touch of home, and a Lutheran Church is a part of home? Is that it?

Three verses in our Gospel lesson are there specifically to tell us why we’re here.

Verse 46: and he said to them, “Thus it is written, the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
Verse 47
: and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,
Verse 48:
you are witnesses of these things.

Three short verses; in English, a mere 50 words; yet they contain our reason for being and our call to action.

First of all; it is written. Luke wants the early church, and us, to know that what happened to Jesus was not a random act of ugliness; another in a long series of cruelties and indignities that powerful and corrupt people have foisted upon the weak, the innocent and the good.

Jesus life, suffering, death, and resurrection were a part of God’s long term plan to deal with the very human problems of sin, evil, hatred, discord, and death.

Bishop Wright points out that the basic human condition is that the history of the world is one long litany of bad things people as individuals and as communities and as nations have done to each other.

And all our attempts to bring an end to these bad things flounder on our very human sense of self- righteousness. A few years ago the president of Iran was invited to speak to the UN and he used the occasion to accuse Israel of racism, prompting delegates of other countries to walk out and the United States to boycott the whole thing. It is a scene played out all over the world

Wright says, “Each one claims that they have the right to the moral high ground and must be allowed redress, revenge, satisfaction.” (2)

The only way forward is the way of the Christ, the way of the cross. Jesus came and lived among us and showed us that the one who had the most right, the best claim, to revenge, to redress, to satisfaction, chose to go another way. God, in Christ, turned away from revenge and embraced justice; turned away from our death, and through his own death, gave us life.

Verse 47 – repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name throughout the world.

This is the world’s only hope, our only way out of the continual cycle of offense and revenge, of insult and retaliation, of wrong piled upon wrong in a deadly version of the Children’s game of “King of the Hill”

The only way to bring an end to the nations’ battling is through living out the Gospel call for repentance and forgiveness.

Very often, we read this is a private and individual way. If I, DELMER, repent of MY sins, then God will forgive ME, DELMER, of MY sins. That’s one way to hear it, but not the only or the best way.

What about; WE must ALL repent of OUR wrongful ways, OUR destructive paths, OUR vengeful hearts.
WE are ALL called to turn from ways that lead to death, and WE are ALL called to turn to and follow ways that lead to newness of life.

And we are all encouraged; no commanded, to forgive the sins of others, to seek reconciliation instead of revenge, to look for life in the valley of the shadow of death.
What are we doing here? That’s in VERSE 48: you are witnesses of these things.

We are here,

in this place,
in this church,
to be reminded of the story,
to continually turn from death to life,
to receive forgiveness and to learn how to give forgiveness,
to support one another in our lives of faith,
to gather strength from the meal and the community,
and to push each other out the door
to be witnesses of these things in the world.

As Luther puts it in the Small Catechism, “We are called, gathered, empowered and sent,” by the Holy Spirit, into the streets, with the message of God’s amazing Grace.

Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

(1) and (2) NT Wright, Luke for Everyone, p.301 ff.

4 thoughts on “Year B — The Third Sunday of Easter

  1. Hello Pastor Chilton! I am studying online and found your blog! very nice………. Our church does several blogs they are a fantastic way to share the word of God and create some online dialog –just wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts on the scripture with us and all who read it!Lisa Lawhead, Our Savior Lutheran Church Gatlinburg

  2. Hello Pastor Chilton! I am studying online and found your blog! very nice………. Our church does several blogs they are a fantastic way to share the word of God and create some online dialog –just wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts on the scripture with us and all who read it!Lisa Lawhead, Our Savior Lutheran Church Gatlinburg

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