Acts 3:1-20; Luke 24:36-48
3rd Sunday of Easter
St Barbara’s 15.04.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
If you were to write a history of all that you knew about St Barbara’s church, I wonder what you would focus on. Would you focus on the building, and its various developments and refurbishments and re-orderings over the years? Would you focus on the services, and how these have changed? Would you focus on various individuals, who have played significant key roles in the life of the church?
When Luke sat down to write the book of Acts, the book we heard read in our first reading, he would have had to ask himself similar questions. He had set himself the task of writing a follow-up companion, a sequel, to his first book, his gospel on the life of Jesus. The focus of his first book was easy – Jesus. But what was to be the focus of his second book?
We get a clue in the very first sentence of the book of Acts: “In my former book, Theophilus (the man for whom he was writing this book) I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven.” In other words the second volume is a continuation of all that Jesus continued to do and teach, but now, through his people, the church. The main character of the book, the one who links every story, the one whose presence makes sense of every chapter, is not Paul or Peter, or indeed all of the apostles put together. It is Jesus. Indeed, the traditional name for Luke’s second volume – the Acts of the Apostles – could be more accurately called, the Acts of Jesus and his Spirit.
Luke’s account gives us a wonderful insight into the life of the early Christians, and above all, how they are shaped by the work of Jesus among them.
So over the next few weeks in our sermons we are going to be focusing on some of the early chapters of the book of Acts. And if you have never done so before, or have not done so for a while, why not put some time aside to read the whole of Acts. Its a wonderfully exhilarating read!
We begin our story a few days after the coming of Jesus’ spirit to fill and empower the disciples at Pentecost. (We’ll look at that story in a few weeks time). Its an extraordinary account of transformation.
It begins with two of the disciples – Peter and John – encountering a beggar as they head up to the temple to pray. The beggar has been unable to walk since birth. He spends all day, every day, begging for money. But unsurprisingly, such a life has ground him down. He no longer makes eye contact with passers-by. The rejection, the disgust, even the pity, he sees in people’s eyes is too much. He retreats into his own world.
But Peter and John break into his world. They refuse to see him as an object, whether of pity or scorn. Instead they make eye-contact, they connect, they engage. Maybe for the first time in days this man is talked to, engaged with, as a human being. And then they speak the name of Jesus. What happens next defies logic and understanding. As Peter helps him up, he is healed. A man who has never walked in his life can now not stop jumping. He is filled with joy and praise.
The word Luke uses here to describe the man getting up is the same word he uses for Jesus rising from the dead. The power of Jesus that broke the hold of death and brought him victorious from the tomb is the power that is now at work through his people. The man’s life is transformed – from despair to delight; from begging to praise.
The power of the risen Christ is at work within us too. You may feel in a hopeless situation, or in a place where nothing can change for the good. But as we have seen many times through the prayer chain, through the healing prayer team, through all our prayers, the power of Christ can break in, can bring transformation, can bring light where there seems only darkness.
It is a story of transformation for Peter and John too. This is the Peter who just a couple of months earlier had been too afraid to even acknowledge that he knew Jesus, in the courtyard before Jesus’ trial. But now, he has the boldness, the confidence, the faith, to publicly pray for healing in Jesus’ name. What had changed? Encountering the risen Christ for himself, receiving his forgiveness, and being open to receiving and being filled by God’s Holy Spirit.
So whereas before he would have distanced himself from Jesus, now he can’t speak enough about him. As we heard in our Gospel reading, the disciples, including Peter, in that upper room are called by Jesus to be his witnesses. And this is exactly what Peter is now doing. He is quick to point people away from himself and point them to Jesus. “It is Jesus that has healed this man.”
This week, at a Prayer and Bears social morning at our house, one of the mums spoke of having recently moved house, and she expressed her gratitude for the way that things had gone remarkably smoothly by saying very naturally, “God really came through for us”. Too often, I think I am too hesitant to give thanks to God, to recognise that he is the source of all that is good, to give thanks to him, and to point to him.
Another friend spoke of how when they picked up some emergency reading glasses that had arrived in record quick time, the optician said to them, “the Easter Bunny has helped you out.” To be honest, if people can feel comfortable and able to speak such obvious nonsense then how much more should we have the confidence to attribute to God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, his work in our lives. Let us, like Peter, like that Prayers and Bears mum, be willing to speak of Jesus and publicly give him thanks.
And finally, this is not just a story of transformation of the beggar and of Peter and John. Luke invites us, through Peter’s words to the crowd, to make it our story of transformation too. Peter is clear. We have all fallen short. The crowd, he says, were complicit in Jesus’ death. As for us, we cannot live by our own standards of love and kindness and selflessness most of the time, let alone God’s. Just a review of our actions, words and thoughts over the last few hours is probably enough to remind us of that truth. We all stand in need of forgiveness, of a fresh start.
And that is what Christ offers each of us. Forgiveness, healing, being made clean. And what Peter calls “times of refreshing”, of God’s Spirit filling us, renewing us, reviving us. Of us living life fully alive.
During this season of Easter as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, may we pray for his risen life to transform us, revive us, renew us, and send us out with confidence to give him praise.