Sermon: 1st Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2022)
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
What is going on with the disciples?
In our Gospel reading from John we have the familiar story of the disciples locked up in the upper room - fearful, grieving. And then suddenly Jesus is with them and they see and they believe. Except of course for Thomas who was missing for some reason. So Jesus has to come back so that Thomas too will believe.
Jesus greets them with the peace - the words we will share with one another as we move into the meal section of our service.
And they see and they believe. But what about those of us who have not seen and yet believe? It is because we have heard the stories of Jesus. We have been handed the good news from the witnesses and those who have come before us.
So what is going on with the disciples?
Look at our reading from Acts. In this story the disciples are no longer fearful. They are not hiding out in terror. There they are preaching and teaching and healing right on the temple steps!
These are not the actions of frightened people. What has happened? What has changed to get them out and filling Jerusalem with their words?
The resurrection happened.
Jesus appeared to the disciples - to his apostles. And they saw and they believed. And what is more - they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Book of Acts is a story of the Church as the ongoing sign of Christ’s resurrection.
The section we heard today is the second persecution of believers. The apostles had been carrying on Jesus’ ministry by healing the sick and preaching the kingdom.
In the section before this the apostles had been arrested and thrown into jail. There they are rescued by an angel who tells them to get back out there and get back to work. And so they do. The result is that they are rearrested - while preaching on the temple steps. And now they face the authorities. The high priest and the Sanhedrin or council.
You can almost see the looks on the faces of the council members - exasperated! We told you to shut up - we told you to stop talking about this person - notice they cannot even bring themselves to say the name Jesus!
But you won’t so now what are we going to do? Are you trying to get us all in trouble with Rome?
The apostles have found themselves in a very similar position to Jesus. Facing a trial in front of religious authorities.
Peter and the apostles are now bold. Their response is that they obey God - not human authorities. Not just a bold statement - a potentially deadly answer.
They are refusing to submit to the will of the religious authorities. They claim to be following the will of God. And they are emboldened by the Holy Spirit.
The gift of the Holy Spirit has changed them. The resurrection appearances of Jesus have changed them.
Peter has gone from denying Jesus, from being ashamed, from the depths of grief. Peter has become a leader. Peter is now the leader of the Jerusalem community. And his response is a concise Christian creed. We obey God.
Peter and the apostles are filling Jerusalem with stories of their leader and saviour. Word is getting around.
In their trial before the religious authorities they do not deny what they have been doing. They do not recant what they have been doing. They are not fearful.
We obey God.
But now what? The challenge is to discern and act upon what we believe is obedience to God rather than to any other force. Faithfulness needs discernment.
In the Book of Acts the major work of the apostles is to be witnesses. They state this clearly in their response to the Sanhedrin and High Priest. We are witnesses and so we must share what we have seen and know. And they proclaim that the Holy Spirit is a witness to these things as well.
The apostles were preaching on the temple steps. Preaching is not saying what people want to hear - it is saying what people want to say. People came to the temple steps - as people come to Church today to hear a truth that no one else will tell them. This is a deep truth which, when spoken with love and conviction, has the power to transform.
It transformed the apostles from fearful people hiding in an upper room into preachers and healers who filled Jerusalem with their words and deeds.
If you were on the temple steps - what would you say?
If you were in the pulpit this morning what truth would you proclaim? And what would you do if people did not want to hear it?
How can we become as bold as Peter? And what would we risk to say it?
The people who gathered to hear the witnesses tell about Jesus, those of us gathered here today want to see the living expression of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
As we move through the 50 days of the Easter Season our Sunday readings will contain passages from the Book of Acts. We will see and hear that Jesus’ resurrection was not a one day event but it is the ongoing work of God in the believing community.
And we will be bold to say Jesus lives. The Holy Spirit is working in and through us and that we are beloved children of a loving God.