Pastor Sherry’s message for April 19, 2020
Scripture lessons: 4/19/2020, Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20: 19-31
This week, in an on-line message meant to encourage us, our Methodist Bishop Ken Carter, quoted one of his early mentors, a fellow named Ken Callahan: “We are the people of the empty tomb, the risen Lord, the new life in Christ. We are the Easter people. We are the people of hope.” What does that mean to you and to me? To think of ourselves as “Easter People” and “People of hope?” On this first Sunday after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, these questions deserve our consideration. And, as usual, the Scripture passages appointed for today provide useful direction. Let’s check them out together.
You may have noticed that after Easter Sunday, the usual Old Testament reading is often replaced by a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. This is because the book of Acts records the actions of the first Christian Church leaders. Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, the new faith became known as “The Way.” The initial progress of “The Way”—its first 30 years–is recounted for us in Acts. Acts 2: 14a, 22-32 records a portion of Peter‘s first sermon. He is speaking to believing Jews only, Jews who have come from all over the Mediterranean world to Jerusalem, to celebrate Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus has left terra firma. The Holy Spirit has suddenly come upon 120 Christ-followers and has empowered them for ministry. At the Temple, they break forth into a jubilant and noisy celebration, speaking in many previously (to them) unknown languages, and those who hear them believe they may be drunk from carousing. After all, it is only 9:00 in the morning! But Peter launches into a Holy Spirit-inspired speech, boldly proclaiming Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, as demonstrated by His resurrection from the dead (vv.22-24): Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. Peter is explaining to the crowd exactly what had happened to Jesus.
He goes on to recite a portion of Psalm 16 (8-11), a Song of the Resurrection. Again, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter interprets this psalm of David as pertaining to Jesus Christ. We don’t know if King David even realized at the time he composed it that he was foretelling the resurrection of Jesus; but—from this side of the Cross—we can comprehend that the lines he penned refer not to himself, but to our Lord: (8) I have set the LORD [God, the Father] always before Me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (9) Therefore My heart is glad and My tongue rejoices; My body will also rest secure, (10) because You [Father] will not abandon Me [Jesus] to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay. (11) You have made known to Me the path of life; You will fill Me with joy in Your presence, and with eternal pleasures at Your right hand. Clearly King David is not referring to himself, as his bones were buried on Mt. Zion years before and had not made a reappearance since. Instead, Peter is referring to King David’s descendant, Jesus. In other words, Peter is saying verse 8 describes Jesus’ earthly life; verses 9-10, His death and resurrection, and verse 11, His ascension. Later on in (Acts 13:34-37), Paul quotes these same verses from Psalm 16, attesting to the fact that King David died and decayed in his grave, while Jesus was raised whole, neither deteriorated nor decomposed.
So, our first two lessons today reiterate the facts of the resurrection, both prophesied and fulfilled. Perhaps, then, our 1st lesson in what it is to be an Easter people, a People of Hope, is to tell others about Jesus’s death and resurrection (I recommend you first check with the Holy Spirit to determine if He is prompting you, as He best knows who out there is ready to listen and receive). The 2nd lesson, I believe could be derived from Peter’s life and example. When he walked with Jesus, Peter had been brash, impetuous, boastful, larger than life—all traits of someone who could have become a bully. Instead, having been chastened by Christ and realizing how he had failed his Lord, Peter assumes the mantle of leadership in “The Way” as a self-effacing, humble, obedient, but also confident servant of Jesus Christ. In the portion of his letter that we read today, 1 Peter 1:3-9, he celebrates our inheritance through Jesus and encourages us to hold up under our earthly sufferings [from Peterson’s modern paraphrase, “The Message”]:
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have Him, the Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping a careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.
I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of His victory.
You never saw Him, yet you love Him. You still don’t see Him, yet you trust Him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.
Easter People, People of Hope, do trust in God’s love for us and we love Him in return. We are people of faith who rely upon God’s care for us. We don’t have to fear the Wuhan Corona Virus, economic collapse, or the isolation our “sheltering at home” and “social distancing” have created for us. These things are transitory sufferings, or “every kind of aggravation.” These earthly threats and annoyances do not carry the value that eternal truths do. If we are to live as Easter People, People of Hope, we put our trust in God and in Jesus, not in newscasters or politicians or world events. This is not to say we remain ignorant. We want to stay informed, but we also want to be confident—like Peter—and calm. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7, For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of self-discipline.
Finally, our Gospel from John 20:19-31 provides us the example of Thomas. This is the Apostle Thomas who would not believe Jesus had been resurrected on the strength of the unanimous reports of his ten closest buddies. He insisted he had to see for himself before he would believe that Jesus was alive. So a week later, Jesus appears to all of them, Thomas included, and invites the skeptic to see for himself. Notice, Jesus doesn’t condemn him for his doubts. Jesus patiently granted permission to Thomas to put his fingers in the scars on His hands and in His side, to see the nail holes in His feet. The Bible doesn’t record whether or not Thomas actually felt Christ’s wounds. Thomas seems to have gotten it as soon as he saw the risen Jesus. That makes total sense to me. What is even more amazing–and reassuring–to me, however, is that Jesus doesn’t expect Thomas, or us, to park our intellect at the church door. Instead, He demonstrates in this encounter with Thomas that He is prepared to meet us where we are. And, if our hearts are willing, and our spiritual eyes are open, He will reveal to us that He is alive and victorious!
Easter People, People of Hope in the Risen Christ, believe Jesus Christ is alive—even if we have not seen Him with our physical eyes. We can experience Him through the pages of Scripture. We can and do come to hear from Him in our prayer life. We see evidence of His love and care for us in everything from locating a convenient parking place in a downpour, to realizing He has answered our specific prayer, to acknowledging He has shaped circumstances to protect us, to correct us, or to bless us. Easter People, People of Hope, see Christ at work in events and happenings around us. Recent research in Neuroscience tells us that our brain’s natural default process is to think negatively about most things. As a result, and if we want to be happy or content, we must intentionally practice thinking positively to overcome this natural, but unhealthy, tendency.
This week, let us try to focus on seeing God’s hand at work around us. Let’s look for evidence of His action in our lives with our “spiritual eyes”—eyes informed by His Holy Spirit rather than our own rods, cone, retinas, and optic nerves. Let us not allow the news or world events to drive us into fear or panic. Instead, let us place our faith in the God who loves us and who is alive and on the throne. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!
*Addendum: Friends of mine (Dr. Sarah and Rev. Jon Hall) have just written and perform a song touching on today’s readings. If you like, you can go to the following YouTube link to listen to “If There Ever was Hope.” The singer and commentator, Sarah, attended seminary with me. She has a Ph.D. in Old Testament and met her husband, Jon, a Brit, while completing her studies in England. Jon is one of the two founding pastors of Incarnation Anglican Church near the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee, Florida. He is the one accompanying his wife on piano. May this wonderful music (and art) bless you!
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams