I’d have to say, I don’t find the lectionary texts particularly easy to preach on today. I find it interesting that in the Acts passage we only hear about part of the scene at the temple. We hear Peter calling out the Israelite crowd but aren’t told what happened. If you jump back a few verses you see that Peter and John had healed a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus.
[read Acts 3:1-11]
Then Peter talks about how humans killed the Author of Life but also how that was foretold by God. So, did the humans really have a choice in their action? Lastly, he calls for repentance so that sins can be wiped out.
In response one thing I would like to say to Peter is, “why are you calling me to repent for something that I seemingly had no choice in doing?”
Then, we also have the passage from Luke where we find confused and startled disciples. Jesus does his best to reassure them that he is indeed real. He asks them for something to eat. He also talks about how he fulfilled everything that was written about him in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms. Then he exhorts them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness to all nations, beginning where they are—Jerusalem.
There are so many different places a preacher could go with these texts… I’m going to begin by asking, how do you locate yourself in these stories? In asking this question I’m not assuming that we’re side-stepping the culture nuance that separate these stories from our own story… I’m just asking us to think about which character or characters we identify with.
Is it Peter who is confidently healing and speaking in Jesus’ name? Is it the beggar who has just been healed, although his story seems to only be the set up for Peter’s speech? Are we someone in the crowd who’s trying to make sense of Peter’s words? Are we one of the anxious disciples who is doubting Jesus’ presence?
My initial response is that I might be one of the folks listening to Peter’s speech, not quite sure what to do with what he’s saying, but curious about how the healing took place.
In both of these stories we encounter someone with a suffering body who has been “made new.” At the temple a beggar who was known by the community as an invalid began walking and leaping. In the room with the disciples Jesus assures them of his identity by referencing his body which is whole, but also still carries marks of his suffering.
These two “new” bodies are challenging Easter images. The resurrected Jesus still has wounds and still needs food for his body. The resurrection did not separate Jesus from his experience of suffering by giving him a new “heavenly” or “perfect” body. And he still needed food like any other human being.
Wounded and bruised, his hands and feet were proof to the disciples that “he had gone through the danger and not around it.” Through the danger, and not around it. Much of our time and energy is spent on finding a way around things, rather than living through them. We don’t want to experience pain or danger, or even to come face to face with the suffering of other people, or the suffering of the earth.
I would also suggest that the man who was healed at the temple still carried all of his memories of being an invalid and a beggar. Yes, he could now use his body in new ways, but still could relate to other crippled people in a way that folks who were never crippled couldn’t.
In my work with Mennonite Church USA, I am sometimes asked about the “new” things I see happening around me—How can intentional communities or various other alternative discipleship communities help Mennonite Church USA become something new?
I think this is a very good question. In light of the passages this morning, I would answer, I hope that Mennonite Church USA can become a resurrection community. There are certain parts of our history that I wish we could erase. I think there are crippling experiences in all of our congregations that we wish had not happened to us. And there are ways that Mennonites have perpetuated oppression throughout our history and continue to perpetuate it today.
I think claiming these stories and experiences is part of what it means to be a resurrected community. Since we know that God has overcome death, we know that there is hope beyond our personal and corporate failings… and at the same time we need to take responsibility for them.
So maybe I am able to get behind Peter’s and Jesus’ call to repentance if it means acknowledging the ways that we haven’t believed resurrection is possible in our lives in communities… or the ways that we’ve actively worked against it.
Even with the disciples, who were Jesus’ closest friends, he had to again open their minds to understand the scripture, after also reassuring them that he was real.
I mean, if they had really been paying attention during his ministry this wouldn’t have been a surprise right? But they, and we, have our own ideas about what salvation and the kindom of God look like. Repentance, then, is a way to reorient ourselves to the actual good news of Jesus.
And now I will go out on a limb and try to connect a few more things that I’m still struggling to understand—what does it mean that Jesus fulfilled what was written about him? Like I said earlier this can make it sound like humans are merely pawns in a game God is playing.
When we think back to Jesus’ ministry before his execution, he was constantly at odds with the religious leaders and the disciples were pretty constantly confused by what he was teaching them. Even Jesus’ first speech from Luke 4: 18-19 got him in trouble:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
So as Jesus lived out this vision he suffered for it since it did not make sense within the religious systems that existed. It wasn’t as if these humans were acting any differently when Jesus hit the scene—God knew that God’s ways were so at odds with human behavior that any God-representative would be sorely misunderstood and mistreated.
I think this means that my and our repentance can be genuine as we recognize the ways in which we’re so disconnected from embodying shalom.
And I think that’s what Jesus was calling the disciples to do—go and embody shalom! Share the good news—the year of the Lord’s favor—the Jubilee year!
We bear hope for the world because of the commission Jesus gave the disciples and the whole church. We are the Body, and the Image, of the Risen Christ in the world today: “Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes but our hands and feet – what we have done with them and where we have gone with them”
I love what feminist theologian Carter Heyward has to say about “being in Christ.” This passage is from her book “Our Passion for Justice.”
“To be in Christ is to love with passion, which involves our willingness to suffer, or bear, the power of God in our choices and actions; to insist that God’s power moving among us in the world effects love in relation, justice in society, food for the hungry, liberation for the oppressed. To be with Christ is to live with our feet on the ground of ambiguity and confusion every day, and to know that our decisions make a difference…
I want to say again, emphatically, what I believe to be the most pervasive and troublesome difficulty in being Christian: namely, that most Christians have made of our religion the same kind of religion Jesus and his friends were radicalizing in their time. Like many of Jesus’ contemporaries, we tend to worship the past…
To be in Christ is to believe in God’s grace and power to help folks like you and me use every available resource in our lives, including some common sense, and some courage, to do what we can to establish justice between and among ourselves, in our own homes and throughout the world; nothing in life untouched by God’s power, God’s justice, among us.
No one is left untouched: not starving children, battered women, boat people, tortured prisoners, harassed sexual and religious minorities, races/classes/sexes/nations/religions of people whose losses of food, home, money and life are devised systemically by an ugly greed for profit on the part of the privileged peoples of our world, among whom you and I may count ourselves.
To be with Christ is to say No more! and to seek ways of stopping this destruction of life.”
As Mennonite Church USA I think this calls us to some hard work. Yes, we have a radical history but are we living it out? Are we “in Christ” as Mennonites today? Has the dominant culture of Mennonites too