Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Peter — he who had so recently stumbled in his own faith — is now energized to speak boldly in the name of Christ. The Apostle gives us a bit of Hebrew scripture exegesis, quoting from the text of Psalm 16, another of the lections for this day.
David couldn’t have been speaking of himself, Peter reasons, since we know where he is buried and his tomb is not empty! But Jesus — well, that’s something completely different! You all saw the miracles Jesus himself performed while he was alive, didn’t you? Well, the greatest miracle of all was performed after he died…God raised him up, for it was “impossible” for death to hold him.
Gotta love that word “impossible.” We use it in all sorts of circumstances…winning an impossible victory, overcoming impossible odds, describing a sight that is impossible to comprehend. Easter is THE demonstration of the God Who Does the Impossible.
(Not sure of the Hebrew equivalent name here — a la Yahweh Yireh, “The Lord Who Will Provide” יְהוָה יִרְאֶה , as in Genesis 22:14 — so if somebody can figure it out, please post as a comment!)
The early church came to interpret this psalm of David as “prophecy” regarding Christ (see above.) God did not give Jesus up to the grave.
Apart from this messianic interpretation, the psalm makes a number of powerful and important statements about the life of the faithful person, whose hope is in God as Refuge (v.1.)
- God protects
- God gives what is good
- There is delight in the fellowship of the “holy ones”
- God gives counsel (wisdom, discernment)
- God gives a “heartsong” in the night
- God shows the path of life
- God’s presence brings joy and pleasure
Verse 8 makes a great prayer for the week, something I often suggest to my congregation as they depart from worship: ” I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
1 Peter 1:3-9
Peter describes the “Thomas Dilemma” (see below) that all of us who were not alive and present at Jesus’ resurrection must overcome. “Although you have not seen him, you love him….” Hmmm, just how do we do that?
It is a bit of a sticky wicket when sharing our Easter faith, isn’t it? Often, we hear from those currently outside the faith, “But how do you know this story is true? You haven’t seen it with your own eyes, have you?”
Certainly true, that; we have not seen him, nor have we directly experienced anyof the events upon which we base our claims of faith. Our only real claim is for what we have received and believe, that which Peter names “the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
It’s a soul thing. And a faith thing. Always has been, always will be. Pretty strong stuff, really, when you think about it — 2,000 years, several billion believers and counting!
Ah, Thomas…”Doubting” Thomas, at that! I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be more accurate to call him “Just Barely Missed the Boat” Thomas.
After all, his whole experience of the risen Lord wasn’t all that different from anyone else’s. The others didn’t believe at first, either. Thomas just wasn’t there when Jesus popped in through the walls (or however it was he made it through locked doors.)
“I’ll believe it when I see it for myself,” Thomas intones when confronted with the enthusiasm of his brothers and sisters. This is not doubt; this is reality. This is feet-firmly-planted, no-nonsense pragmatism. Thomas is just honest. Most likely, any of us would have said the same if we had been in his sandals.
The real story is not Thomas’ doubt or his pragmatism, though; it’s the presence of Jesus. When he does see Jesus a week later, all of the “let me put my hands in his side” bravado is gone. When in the presence of the Christ himself, it is enough for Thomas. Now, he is Thomas, the worshipper and servant.
“My Lord and my God!”
Thomas speaks our Easter response, does he not? What else can we really say?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Not too long ago I read an article in a minister’s magazine by the Rev. Paul Jones. There he described the ticketing system for stagecoaches in the Old West. Believe it or not, even in those tiny, tight, uncomfortable boxes on wheels – there was a class system. Passengers bought one of three types of tickets. During most of the journey there was no difference. It was only when difficulties arose that the class system kicked in.
In case of a accident or a breakdown, first-class passengers could remain in their seats. Those with second-class tickets were expected to get out of the coach and stand back out of the way.
Those with third-class tickets not only had to disembark – they also had to lend a hand with repairs, or with lifting the stagecoach out of whatever predicament it had gotten itself into.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus’ disciples, soon to be the Apostles, the “sent ones,”
learned what sort of tickets they had for their ride on the Kingdom of God express. Up until now they have had First or Second Class tickets; along for the ride, mostly just staying out of the way. But on the evening of the first Easter, Jesus gave them their Third-class tickets; he made it clear to them that they had work to do in the Kingdom of God.
As they gathered in their hide-away room, the disciples were a disrupted, confused and fearful community. The events of the past week had overwhelmed them; their brains and their bodies were on emotional overload. The Bible says they were full of fear. The Greek word here is phobon, from which we get the English word phobia. A phobia is an irrational and unthinking fear – emotional terror. These people were afraid of their own shadows, they were seeing monsters in the closets and boogie bears under their beds.
Well, they were not exactly irrational and unthinking. Their world had been turned upside down and inside out. They had left their families and their jobs, their lives and their livelihoods to follow this charismatic healer/preacher. And now this glorious revolution had come to a screeching halt, the wheels had come off the Kingdom of God parade, the movement had collapsed – all was in disarray.
If you want to know what they looked like, just think about the TV images of a favored team in the NCAA basketball tournament that loses. While the winners jump around and celebrate, the losers huddle on the bench, all their hopes and dreams smashed. They sit perfectly still, staring out in space. Or they hide their faces under towels, not wishing to weep on National TV.
The Gospel march had come to an inglorious, confusing, disarrayed halt. Their season was over, and the Jesus team was left fearful, confused, inept and clueless, groping for a way to make sense of it all. And Jesus, the Risen Christ, came into that locked room. He brought to them the things they needed to recover and go forward. He brought them a Third-Class ticket on the Kingdom of God express.
First – he gave them peace. Jesus came to them in the midst of their fear and the first words out of his mouth are “Peace be with you.” This greeting is very important and he repeated it three times. The Biblical words here are “shalom” and eirene.” They mean“completeness, welfare, health” a state in which everything is as it should be” and “harmonized relationships between God and (humanity).”
Jesus comes into the midst of these most “un-harmonic” and incomplete folks, and gives them the gift of being at peace with themselves and the world. This peace is a most mysterious thing, for it is not tied to nor dependent upon external circumstances; it is not linked to how well you’re doing in your job or how well you’re getting along with your family or how much money you have in your savings account or how well your retirement fund is doing in the stock market. It is a peace that descends upon their hearts and spirits as a gift from God.
After Jesus comforted the disciples, after he calmed their fears with his peace, Jesus gave them their Third-class ticket – “As the father has sent me, even so I send you.” Jesus came to this disheartened and directionless group and gave them a reason for living. He defined for them a purpose, laid out for them their future; put in front of them their mission. When Jesus showed them his wounds, it was not just a way of identifying himself, not just a way of proving to them that it was really him. No! In showing them his wounds, his scars, Jesus also them who they were, and what they were to do.
Suddenly, things he said begin to make sense. Things like “take up your cross,” and “losing one’s life for the Gospel,” things that seemed so peculiar when he said them, begin to shout out their meaning as the disciples stare at his wounds. “Now I get it,” they think. “Now I understand. We are called to serve the world, to live for the world, to die for the world if necessary, because that’s what Jesus did.”
This is what Luther meant when, in his list of the seven marks of the church, (The Word, Baptism, Communion, Forgiveness, Ministry, Worship, The Cross,) he said the last one, the Cross, was the most important. This mark of the church is like the marks in Jesus’ hands and sides; it is signs of the church’s willingness to suffer with and for the world. Our embrace of the cross on behalf of others is our Third-class ticket on the Gospel line.
Finally, Jesus he gave them the best gift of all. He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” God provides what is needed to fulfill God’s purposes. That is not the same thing as saying God gives us power. God works through our sometimes feeble efforts to accomplish God’s will in the world. This is shown to us in Christ on the Cross, which was not an exercise of power, but a demonstration of humility and obedience and faith. God’s promise is to fill us with the Holy Spirit, to provide for us that which we need to do what we are called to do.
Amen and amen.