I know that we all have been cooped up in our homes for many weeks now, so I thought that maybe this Sunday you would not mind starting off the sermon time with me by taking a trip…an imaginary trip, but a trip back in time. If you have at all been binge watching Netflix or the movie channels on television, this should be right up your ally.
Imagine with me that you are the oldest son of an American family in the late 1800’s, living in New England. Your father, who has been a deep sea fisherman off the coast of Massachusetts, has been teaching you the ropes most all of your life. Now, he has allowed you to take his most prized possession, his boat, out onto the water on your own one day, to see how you will do at earning a living like he does. He expects you to come back and to have a catch, showing you have mastered the craft of fishing and can be part of the next generation of great fishermen, as it has been the men in your family for generations now.
But on this day, you come back with more than a catch of fish. You come back and announce to your father that you have met your new boss; a new mentor. You are leaving fishing, you are setting out with a few others and going to make a difference in the world. You see, you tell your father, you had heard about this guy with a new idea on how to harness energy and create light in houses so no one would have to use candles or gas lanterns, and as luck would have it, you ran into this man at the marina and he has offered you a position if you will immediately go and work with him. You don’t know that you will receive anything for your following this guy and going to work with him, but you will learn this new craft that is life changing. Food and shelter will be taken care of for you, day by day, and well, “Joe says he is the real thing and to trust him.” How happy do you think your father is, even if he too has heard some fairly good things about the guy too?
Now, jump to scene two…. You have left your family and all of the responsibilities were expected that you to bare, so to go and work for a guy who is getting the reputation around town of doing great things, yet saying strange things and claiming things that others just can’t see as possibly being true. Like Galileo saying the Earth is flat, what he is saying goes against all that the people have ever learned in life and the ways that they think life should be. Yet, there is something about your new boss that continues to prove to you that there is more truth to what he says than you or anyone else realizes yet. Your family is not happy about the situation because they do not know him the same way as you do, and they think you are being duped to work for virtually free and are working for a con-man, so they are short and terse with their words to you, to say the least. You have to admit, you have seen and learned a ton. You are very impressed with what your boss has shown you and you are fairly happy with where you think your life is going, but you have gone out on a limb for your boss in so many ways and for so much, that it is hard to continually support and defend him when others come and get into your face. You even have denied knowing and working with your boss at times so to save face and step back to analyze things. Yet feel terrible for doing so.
But the next thing you know, the work you have helped him do for over 3 years is attacked and a law suit is brought against your boss, saying that he is criminally responsible for fraudulent acts that have hurt people. This mean that the law may come and attack you the same way and seek you being put into jail too. You run and hide with some other co-workers and try to make plans, whatever way it turns out, yet in your gut, you just can’t believe this is happening. You still believe in Joe, but your world really crashes when only a day after your boss is put into jail, an inmate kills him. Then, within a couple of days from the murder, you are told that the attorney for your boss had found proof that same day that he was murdered that he was innocent. Even a majority of the prosecutors in the case agree that they made a huge mistake; one that has led to a man losing his life….
You now understand how the underlings of Galileo, of Da Vinci, and of so many who were not believed and were thought to be traitors, must have also gone through for their loyalty to their mentors. You now have evidence and your family, your friends, and especially the enemies of the man you trusted and learned the most from, are having to back down because of what they are hearing, and apologize to you… Imagine your relief; your new energy; your wish to demonstrate even further that you knew in your heart what the truth was, no matter what they said before this new proof. It is time to be taken seriously….The world is not flat! I imagine I would have more adrenaline, more self-confidence, and not as much guilt towards leaving the family business. I would be on fire for telling others about this “resurrection” of sorts. It’s time to tell the world about what I know and what they should know….for the world is changing in this age we are in! Light has come to the world…..
With that feeling of being able to take on the world in a different and even more substantiated way….Hear the word of the Lord as it come to us from the book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 14 and 22-32. This is from the New Revised Standard version.
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
22 “You that are Israelites,[a] listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth,[b] a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death,[c] because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites,[d] I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David[e] spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah,[f] saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that, all of us are witnesses.
The word of God for the people of God…thanks be to God.
Simon, later called by Jesus, Peter, as the symbolic rock here on earth and on whom Christ’s church was to be built, was one of the first three disciples called by Jesus. He was a fisherman who met the Lord, was taken by him, and followed him, leaving his family and life with them behind. Peter was one of the few that, according to the Gospels, was with Jesus and was trusted greatly by Jesus, as they went around Galilee for about 3 years of time, speaking, teaching and preaching in temples about God. This was while they also ate with the greatest of sinners, those considered the foulest of people of their time, and while Jesus healed the ailing people, through the power of God.
Peter had to have gone through times of wonderment and despair, having left his family and responsibilities of the family as a fisherman and breadwinner, so to follow Jesus. He was not paid a salary nor did he receive much for his time or effort, as far as we know.
Little by little though, Peter realized that Jesus was not just another teacher or Rabbi. Jesus was not just a prophet. He was more, and even if Peter did not understand all that Jesus was trying to teach him with those darned parables that left him with more questions than answers at times, he was fulfilled in ways that only God could fulfill a man. He saw things that only God could do. He began to believe that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Then, he confirmed it with Jesus….So, yes, when Jesus was taken away and crucified, Peter was scared to death of being tortured and killed in this same gruesome way. Yes, Peter had even denied his best friend three times so to save himself. But what was going on….this wasn’t supposed to be like this…was it?! He went into hiding with the other disciples of Jesus, to figure it all out, if they could….. Then, only a couple of days later, Mary Magdalene had run Peter and the others to say that the tomb was empty. Could it be that Jesus had he arisen?
Yes, within days, Peter would see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears, what he and quite a few others would see and hear; Jesus, alive and resurrected, just as Jesus had claimed it would happen…Jesus was the Messiah and there was nothing anyone could do to hold Him down, nor stop the Good News from spreading. The resurrection proved it, once and for all!
Our scripture this morning comes from Peter’s witnessing to the people who had come for the festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Peter had much to remind them and tell them about. First, Jesus’ arising was not the same as Lazarus’ resuscitation and living for just a few more years of time. Jesus was resurrected and would be alive forever! Even if Jesus had to ascend from earth to be with God the Father, He would never be conquered. This is how the foundation of the Christian church is begun, as Peter and the others then gather steam and confidence to go out and tell the world of the resurrection of Jesus by God.
As author, Reginald Broadnax wrote, “God confirmed Jesus’ earthly ministry: his works and deeds, his teaching and authority. In raising Jesus from the dead, God confirmed that Jesus was sent by god to perform miracles….and to teach with authority.” Broadnax also points out in his writings for Feasting on the Word (p.378) that the charges of blasphemy and other crimes against the Jewish religion and the Romans, as their rulers, were false. Jesus was indeed the Christ and anointed one sent by God…He was the Messiah, even if they expected a different type of Messiah and different results for their own lives, once the Messiah came.
As we go on in the next weeks we will talk more about Pentecost that year, but this morning, I’d like to talk about two things that come from these verses above.
One is the disturbing truth that Peter accuses all of the Jewish people of giving over Jesus to be the Romans and causing his death. More than unfortunate is the fact that these words have long been used as fodder to use against the Jewish people, yet they need not to be! This was what Peter felt, I am sure. It is why I hoped to put you a bit into Peter’s shoes, before coming to the scripture itself. We need to understand where this human being, even if now a revered apostle of the Lord in our eyes, had been coming from when he spoke.
The truth of it is that we are all guilty of grouping people together into a bundle, but if we allow these damning words of Peters, said after coming out of what he had just lived through and maybe was still exhibiting of a post traumatic and stressful situation; a PTSD mentality, if you will; we are giving ourselves an excuse to be anti-Semitic.
Let us be wiser and step back as we read today’s scripture. We are not Peter, nor living through was Peter lived through. We have knowledge that not every Jew had a say about Jesus’ future, by any means. We know that not even every Jewish leader that was a Pharisee at the time, agreed with Caiaphas and others who took Jesus to Pilate, nor did all of them have the crowds riled up so to let Barabbas go, instead of Jesus, that we can group them completely. And we have the hindsight now to know that all that Jesus went through was part of God’s plan to start the New Covenant with all of God’s people. Jesus was resurrected by God to show his power and might, to teach through Christ’s life on earth, and to show God’s never-ending love for all people, once and for all. Peter, talking to all people wanted all people to know that love and the Good News.
Unfortunately, those who wish to have a scapegoat and to judge others, have often quoted this passage and used it against the Jewish people, from that day onward….Haters still use it….So I want to call it out for what it is. Partial truths are dangerous, but more dangerous still, are they when taken out of context of the day and person who was trying to show something way more important than pointing fingers of condemnation. Peter’s main point was that they now should wake up, listen, and be able to see it all for themselves, as Peter saw it. Jesus is, and was, and always will be the Messiah…Lord of all.
Second off, my friends, is the point that today is as good of a day as any, to look at Peter and to take heed that sometimes what we believe in with every ounce of our being, without being open minded, is not really the way it is. New information comes forth and new revelations are found through the hand of God; in the time God chooses them to come out. The truth of life is that none of us knows the ways or thoughts of God so to speak for God, and when we go to the Bible, as the Jewish people did back in Old Testament times, with such fervor as to say that we know God and God’s ways in deed, we have done the same thing as most of the Jewish people did back then too. I think this passage should remind us that we must do better. We must be ready to say, “I may have misinterpreted…I may not be discerning correctly…I am not God and only God knows 100% of the time what is 100% correct.” Otherwise, we are no smarter nor any better off than those that Peter accused of killing Jesus and that did not, because they could not get their minds around anything that would say Jesus was the Messiah.
I would prefer though, to leave us all on a positive note and to bring us forward into the season of Pentecost. I’d like us to leave thinking about the words that the theologian, John Holbert, once wrote. He claimed that Peter was using the materials and proofs of his own day to successfully, “proclaim the power of the resurrection in the face of great skepticism.” (p.381, Feasting on the Word) “We need to use the tools of our day,” said Holbert, “to announce the power and wonder of Jesus’ resurrected life that has changed everything about us.” That is the take away of this moment of scripture with Peter!
Friends, we are in the midst of finding a new normal and it is a new normal that, until a cure or a vaccine is created, will change daily, not only for us in our own communities, but for the world as a whole. This is a time when the world needs to have each and every Christian look deep within themselves and ask how we can help the world, as Peter was trying to do in his time. Personally, I do not think that we can do so without a strong faith and a faith that gives us hope to hold onto, a peace to hold onto, a way to look at a higher power more often than we simply look to ourselves. We need to hold onto God.
The resurrection we experienced and made us Easter People last Sunday, leads us to the message of Peter for the world today. God is here and God is with us, in power and might, suffering alongside us in tears and hardship. God’s power though, has already been shown, since the days Jesus was here on earth and according to the scriptures that inform our faith; even as ever-changing world leads us to new understandings of the words, through time and new revelations from God.
Now is the time for us to be like Peter. We need to tell about when the name of Jesus became important and significant to us. We need to say how our faith in the Lord has, and does, change our lives, and how we see our world in the midst of a pandemic, today! We need to be there for those whose faith is not as developed and not as strong as our own, but with eyes and ears to listen and to understand that our own understanding of God may be flawed and need tweaking, as we go along side others too.
Peter’s hearers were religious and thought-filled people. They had come to Jerusalem, and they had come out of their homes in Jerusalem, to attend a religious festival. But just as we deal with good meaning and loving people, religious or not, we need to use the tools of social media, of written word, of talking with others in non-threatening ways, to tell others about just how much our faith is helping us through this time period and about what Jesus means to us. We need to witness how we hope to come out of this time-warp of stay-at-home living and treat the world and the people of the world better….more like Jesus. Today, we need to start thinking and talking about changes that this virus should have awoken us to today…not tomorrow.
Now, I will not stand in front of you today to say that I think God created this pandemic nor that God is ignoring us in it. I am not God and you are not God. Anyone who claims to know why we have the coronavirus doing the destruction that it is doing and links God’s name with it, for explanation of it, needs to be someone we question and question well! The truth is that I don’t know how much God is involved in natural dilemmas or disasters such as this, nor how much they occur simply because of human being’s having free will and causing a chain reaction of many things. These kinds of questions are not answerable by humans. But what I do know in my heart, is that I have seen God’s hand on the worst of day and in the worst of situations use all things for good. I simply have had to be aware of the good that comes from anything that has knocked me down and be aware of my own “good list”, as I call it, so that I may praise God for these things on my “good list”.
My good list right now starts with the admittance that I had become so filled with work that I was exhausted much of the time, but in this time when I can’t run around so much and fill my days with so much, I have seen how much I needed a break and have a Sabbath day that was real, not just hours here and there.
My good list tells me that I have had real time to eat, laugh, argue, listen, talk, and just be with my family. My good list includes the fact that I have come to understand my own sons better as they are older now and being stuck together made me see the young adults they are becoming, which I might not have pondered, nor taken time to get to know in this way if this virus had not come to us. On my good list, is that I can’t help but think about how much of a break the o-zone is probably getting with all of the nations’ people not driving for a while. My good list sees that people are starting to see just how much our politicians, and those that control the talking heads in the media, have warped us and divided us into groups that everyone is immediately seen as being in, if you say word one. My good list says that we are beginning to see how much God means to us, family means to us, and long-lasting friendships mean to us. Maybe even opening some of those friendships back up again. My good list says that I have true time, without as much of a time-table to live into, such that I pray, I call and listen to friends who need an ear, I sit out on my front step and talk with people at that safe but hearable distance such that I am getting to know them and them me. My good list has me thinking about what I am really living for, wish to accomplish and to be known for, and to smell the garden flowers, plant a tomato plant, see birds nesting near by, and has given me time to tell people, “I love you”….To tell God, “I love you and not matter what, I know you love me.”
Friends, I take heed from a refreshed and reinvigorated Peter this morning. I put myself into Peter’s shoes to learn the good, bad, and ugly from the scripture verses, for what they show and what they say. Peter helps me see that I need to witness, in every way imaginable, and even more so in the time of the Covid-19 and in more than just religious jargon or theological words, what the Lord means to me and what the Lord can mean to you. I pray that God’s gift of hope, love, peace and faith, will bring you to feel and do the same. May we all turn into Peter that day of Pentecost! Amen.