Sermon for the Third Sunday in Easter

April 14, 2024. Texts: Acts 3:12-19; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48.

Do you remember when Bluetooth first became a thing? It was a little awkward, right? A stranger making no eye contact, in lively conversation with no visible correspondent. What on earth…? This was totally new territory.

A person talking to their own self is a slightly worrying thing. Someone having a conversation with no one at all can be truly alarming. Our only context for such things in those early days was mental illness. Our natural response was to be wary. Anything might happen.

The aftermath of Easter in the gospel of Luke was deeply unsettling in so many ways. More than a few people looked into the empty tomb. What they saw was confusing. Or, as Luke said, they were perplexed.

When the women shared their experience with Peter he went to see for himself. To his credit Peter believed the women. But he returned equally baffled. A dead Jesus they could handle. An empty tomb would have some explanation. But Luke makes sure we understand this: no one really had a vision for a risen Jesus.

There was no context for what people experienced with the empty tomb. It was just distressing. Even though at the tomb two dazzlingly dressed men told the Galilean women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Meanwhile the disciples were still in Jerusalem waiting together for…something to happen.  Luke says all eleven were there when two people arrived to tell of meeting a stranger on the road out of town to Emmaus, and over dinner with him, discovering he was Jesus. That was going to be a very awkward conversation, except that Jesus popped into the room, scaring the living daylights out of everyone.

The disciples had no context for this. They thought they were seeing a dead person. Who wants to be haunted by a ghost?

See, the thing is that we have a context for living. And we have a context for dead. We have a context for mortal, and a context for immortal. But Jesus always did challenge boundaries. The disciples had no doubt that he’d died on the cross. Yet he said, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Resurrection presents a context for God that isn’t easily understood or valued. Our God is a living God. Israel believed this from the beginning. David took the living God seriously when he was preparing to go up against Goliath. The giant didn’t, and that made all the difference.

The first witnesses to the resurrection got to meet the risen Christ. They were eventually convinced that Jesus was alive. Now they had to learn how to take Jesus’s message to the world.

It would be a mistake to think that the church’s beginning was a meteoric rise to prominence.  The message seems rather to be that being witnesses to the living God requires learning how to get ourselves out of the way so God’s power can be recognized in the world.  This is certainly the story of Acts 3.

When Peter and John healed a lame man everyone assumed they were miracle workers invested with special powers to heal. But Peter tells them God is the one who did the healing. Really, this part of scripture should never have been named “The Acts of the Apostles”.  It should be called “The Acts of God.”

Moreover, God was prepared for more action than just to heal a lame man that day. There was a rift in God’s community between those who had believed Jesus and followed him and those who rejected Jesus. Peter brought up this painful divide. It sounds like he was angry.

But under greater scrutiny, it turns out that Peter was using this as an opportunity to speak to them as brothers in faith out of deep care, saying that he understood why they acted as they did. Because they either did not remember their own scriptures or had not learned them well enough to see God’s presence living in Jesus. So they rejected God’s Messiah.

But God raised Jesus. Peter put God’s action into the context of absolution. Jesus raised from the dead is God’s living Word of forgiveness to everyone who sins. Which is everyone. Peter had needed this forgiveness himself.  He left his brothers with this beautiful message: what has life in God, you cannot kill. So let the division in our community be healed.

Finally, the first letter of John reminds us that the community of faith needs to constantly review our core convictions. For what we are called into being? Our first work is to recognize ourselves as being people dead in our sin who turn to God for new life through grace and forgiveness.

Salvation is God’s work. We place our own lives in God’s hands, and hope mightily that the risen, living Christ may be made known through us. Our context is resurrection. Our work is to pray, listen, care for one another, and patiently wait with God. And to believe anything might happen. This truly is our whole witness.