A sermon by the Rev Linda S Harrison
Easter 3; April 15, 2018
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Peter’s little sermon comes in the immediate aftermath of healing a person who had been unable to walk since birth. He and John, being faithful Jews, were on their way to pray in the temple, and this person was begging for alms. They had no money to give, so instead, in the name of Christ, they made the “lame beggar walk”.
The overarching theme in the Book of Acts is that God is consistently active and present in the life of the followers of the Way. The writer of Acts makes it very clear that the God of our ancestors is ever-present, that the God of our ancestors glorified Christ. Peter attests that this healing has taken place by the Divine power of the name of the risen Christ.
Restoration occurs through resurrection. And what is restoration? It is the result of repentance and reconciliation. Restoration is a life healed and made whole – and the path to wholeness begins with an honest accounting and repentance. It is not a life without scars. It is not a life that rejects or denies what has gone before … Jesus showed the gathered the marks of crucifixion upon his body, the marks of the torture Jesus endured. And those marks were transformed, and in and of themselves they became an attestation to resurrection – to healing and wholeness and new life.
And Jesus says we are witnesses of these things. Are, not will be, but are. We are witnesses to repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration. Just as we live resurrection lives now, we are witnesses to these things now.
A resurrection life calls for a new perspective – which is exactly what repentance is. Repentance means we first name our sin: personal, structural, institutional. What has broken relationship? Greed? Idolatry? Mistrust or distrust? Complicity? In the new life offered by Christ, we are given the courage to look at our sin in the glaring light of reality. And in that light, we see with a fresh perspective. We have an “aha!” moment; we come to comprehend differently. We are able to say, “I thought this circumstance or perspective or ideology was normal or true, but now I understand that it is not.” We move from error to a new reality.
And then we live that new reality in living a resurrection life. Carrying the scars of watching their friend, leader, and rabbi tortuously executed, Peter and John lived into a new reality. As the story in Acts unfolds, we watch this little band of followers of Jesus grow, and we hear how those followers live out their new reality, their changed perspective.
They do so boldly, criticizing the powers that be, calling into question past assumptions and perspectives. They engage in prophetic criticism. They have nothing to fear because death has been conquered. Death has been conquered.
Surely, if death has been conquered, what is left to fear?
The U.S. has seen this kind of prophetic criticism throughout its history. The people who took part in the abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement engaged in prophetic criticism. We are witnessing yet another moment of prophetic criticism in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The students have named the various institutional and structural sins that perpetuate gun violence in our society. They have even named a few personal sins: their own apathy that has led them now to embrace intersectionality as concerns violence in America.
To be sure, they bear their own scars. And they have a renewed perspective.
Delaney Tarr, one of the student survivors of the shooting was quoted on CNN some weeks back, “The only reason that we’ve gotten so far is because we are not afraid of losing money. We are not afraid of getting reelected or not getting reelected. We have nothing to lose. The only thing we have to gain at this point is our safety.”
Resurrection life; restoration; witnessing. Oh. My. Word. Those students have faced death! They have conquered death! Really, what’s left to fear? The SAT? Adults turned cyber-bullies who mock up mean-spirited and sophomoric memes using the images of these students? Calling them Hitler’s Youth and whiney babies? Really? They have faced death. To be sure, they bear the scars – physical and emotional. And even in their PTSD and as bodies heal from multiple surgeries, they are calling out the sin in America and American politics. Let’s be clear, they are not advocating for a repeal of the Second Amendment. They are beseeching a new perspective – common-sense limitations not unlike the common-sense limitations that are in place on other constitutionally protected rights.
Prophetic criticism calls a people to repentance and lives into that restoration through proclamation. Luke’s gospel has Jesus tell us, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in Christ’s name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Those who worked in the civil rights movement called for repentance and were witnesses to a new perspective. They were insulted, maligned, threatened, and accused of being unpatriotic and un-American. Protesters against the Vietnam War were equally maligned, labeled communist sympathizers and accused of being unpatriotic and un-American. When the status quo is confronted with prophetic criticism, the powers that be will malign the prophets calling them unpatriotic and un-American. MSD students sure are in good company.
I dare say prophetic criticism is about the most patriotic thing an American can do. We call our nation back to its better self, back to our founding ideals.
Throughout the ages, Peter’s little sermon has been used and abused and accused of being anti-Semitic. Those with anti-Semitic views hear Peter blame all Jews for killing Jesus. Peter is a Jew. Prophetic criticism begins at home. We call out what we see are the ills at home. Peter is a Jew speaking to Jews. Peter is calling out the establishment of Jerusalem for preserving itself at all costs. Peter is asking the people to take on a new perspective.
We are Americans called by Christ to speak to Americans, to resist and persist in our prophetic criticism, to call out the establishment that preserves itself at all costs, even the cost of so many innocent lives – the lives of black, brown, and white children. We are Americans called by Christ to proclaim and invite Americans to take on a new resurrection perspective. That does not mean converting people to Christianity. It means modeling through our lives: through our actions, our conversations, and our attitudes. We live confidently our resurrection lives and invite others into justice, mercy, and compassion.
Death has been conquered. Of what is there to fear?
Death has been conquered. What is your witness to this resurrection life?
Thanks be to God: death has been conquered.