Last Sunday was a day of celebration…Holy Week and Easter 2019 are now in the history books! But even though Easter lasts only one day, the impact of the resurrected Son of God for you and me is for every day of the year. This season we begin a new sermon series on the Book of Acts. Each of the appointed readings from the Book of Acts from now until Pentecost will highlight some event from the life of the early church that focuses on God’s amazing work of renewal in an unlikely place. It began among a small group, a profound “minority” of Jewish Christ-followers who worshiped in the Jerusalem temple. Because of the resurrected Lord Jesus, it would spread across the world and through the ages!
This week’s story (you can read it here) tells of Peter’s witness to the resurrected Christ to the powers-that-be in Jerusalem. It contains the famous line, “We must obey God rather than man.” There is a lot that could be said about this passage…especially in the context of Easter 2019…but it got me to thinking about the call that followers of Christ have, even today, to be countercultural…to obey God, rather than men. But this calling (if I misunderstand it) could lead me to an attitude of superiority and disdain. Despite the fact that the first apostles ran afoul of their own church and community leaders, they were not called to engage in struggles for power with them. Their calling was not to fight, but to heal and to speak “all the words of this Life” (5:20). If Peter was freed to testify to the members of the Jerusalem council about Life and not merely point the figure of blame and attack at them, neither was he to accommodate himself to their expectations. His life had become forever focused on a new orientation by One who gives “repentance and forgiveness of sins” (5:31). Peter knew only too well that “all the words of this Life” started with repentance and forgiveness of sins that he himself had received. It was only as one who’s own soul had been touched by God’s Law and Gospel first that he could become a witness of it to others, who might listen or seek it out.
It has been many years since Timothy Keller first invoked the phrase “Counterculture for the Common Good” to describe a helpful orientation for the Church in the “post-Christian” world. When I first learned of the B.L.E.S.S. model (Bond, Learn, Engage, Serve, Share) as a model for engaging meaningfully with the people around me, I couldn’t help thinking how “bonding” meant looking for that connection that God gives me with people who are close at hand yet (perhaps) are eager to judge me as “too religious” or too “different” because of my beliefs. Re-imagining others as people for whom God will provide a common interest for good frees me to live with integrity as one of God’s Easter people. I will never be a “Peter” in the Jerusalem temple. But I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. On this side of eternity I will always be a sinner, but a renewed and forgiven one. That means I will always be able to make a defense, inadequate though it might seem at the time, to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in me (1 Peter 3:15).
Easter set Peter free to be an instrument of God’s healing in the world and one who would speak “all the words of this Life.” What will Easter do to you and me (God’s Easter people) this year?