This sermon was preached by Rev. Jill Sander-Chali on April 27, 2014, at University United Methodist Church.
O God, in the stillness, come meet us. Amen.
Christ is risen! (Christ is risen, indeed!)
Did you know that Easter is a season, not just a day? Of course, we did celebrate Easter Sunday last week, but Easter Sunday is the beginning of several weeks of proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and pondering what Christ’s resurrection might mean for us. The Easter season ends on Pentecost Sunday, which is June 8, of this year.
During this Easter season, there is first and foremost the proclamation that Christ is risen. But, there is also an invitation to deeper reflection. What does it mean in our lives that Christ is risen? What difference does it make? How do we understand and relate to the statement that “The risen Christ is Lord.” What does that mean for us?
We aren’t the first who try to answer that question. It has been quite a journey for the disciples, the friends who follow Jesus and try to walk in his ways. Their beloved leader has been crucified, then he shows up again in a different form and they have to grapple with what that means. Then, at this point in the story that is recorded in the book of Acts, Jesus has already ascended (or risen) into heaven and he is no longer physically with them in any way.
People are coming to Jerusalem from near and far to celebrate Pentecost (also known as the Festival of Harvests or Weeks). Something miraculous happens while they are there and the crowd starts speaking and understanding many languages. They are all wondering what is going on.
All of a sudden, Peter who is standing with the eleven disciples raises his voice. This is the same Peter who has followed Jesus since Jesus called him away from his fishing boat. This is the same Peter who Jesus promised he would use as the rock to build the church upon. This is the same Peter who denied that he knew Jesus three times before the cock crowed twice.
This is the same Peter who stands with the eleven disciples and raises his voice to tell the story of Jesus.
He explains and interprets Jesus’ resurrection in a way that helps people interpret both previous and subsequent events. He knows his audience and he speaks directly to them. They are primarily Jewish, so he taps into the prophecies and scriptures from the Hebrew Bible.
In the first part of his sermon, which we did not read today, Peter interprets the Pentecost events as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. He says something like, “This is exactly what the prophet Joel said would happen! God will pour out the Spirit and everyone will dream and see visions and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Peter goes on to affirm what this same God has done in Jesus. This part is almost like a miniature theological essay. It is deep, there is profound theology written in this tiny paragraph. It is the gospel in a nutshell. And the three basic elements of the gospel according to Peter are this: 1) God works through Jesus’ deeds, which are many and miraculous, 2) Jesus was crucified (killed) by human hands, and finally, we cannot forget, 3) Jesus was resurrected by God and freed from death! That’s the proclamation of Easter Sunday!
The final part of the speech focuses on the resurrection and its implications. And that’s the focus of the Easter season! The first move Peter makes is to talk about King David, a familiar character to his Jewish audience. He highlights a saying of David that praises God for being great! Then Peter basically says, “Look, even David, who was a great man of God who praised God all his life, died and was buried and his tomb is still with us today. On the other hand, Jesus was raised up by God and is exalted at God’s right hand! And, we are all witnesses of that!!”
When Peter is finally done with this long speech, the crowd feels convicted. In verse 37 that follows the part we read today, it says that the crowd was cut to the heart and they exclaim, “Brothers, what should we do!?” And the reply from Peter? “Repent and be baptized!”
For the crowd, it is quite a journey to get to the point of being able to hear Peter’s story. They travel the busy roads to get to Jerusalem and once there, the streets are packed with people. Then, one day, all chaos breaks loose as people speak in other languages. All of a sudden, out of seemingly nowhere, a man named Peter stands up to tell a story.
But, the result of Peter’s sermon on the hearts of the people in the crowd is profound. Acts says 3,000 people respond to the message and are baptized.
I wonder how the crowd’s journey and struggle to hear Peter is like ours on Easter morning. We may get too busy in church, but also in our homes because of cultural pressure to celebrate the holiday.
Are we able to hear the story of Christ’s resurrection in the midst of all the candy and eggs?
And if we’re able to hear the story, are we able to take it all in to the point that we actually consider what it means for us? What does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with me and my life? What does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with you and your life?
For me, Christ’s resurrection gives me a deep, deep hope. It shows me how to live as a loving and caring person, even in face of violence, evil, and tragedy. It helps me find strength in good times and bad. It moves me to prayer and to open myself up to God’s presence. And because of the meaning I find in Christ’s resurrection, it motivates me to tell this story to others—to become a storyteller.
You see, Peter is just an ordinary person like you and me. He does ordinary work like fishing. He takes risks to follow Jesus. He asks questions when he doesn’t understand. He doubts he will betray Jesus. He denies Christ three times.
But then, somewhere deep within himself, when presented with the right opportunity, he finds the strength to tell the story of Christ’s resurrection and to help people see why it matters.
What brings about this sudden change in his life? How does he find the courage to stand up and preach when he could have denied Christ yet again?
After Jesus’ death, I can imagine that Peter had many sleepless nights, that he felt lower than low. I think he must have spent much time in regret and probably even more time in prayer asking for forgiveness. But, through the power of Christ’s resurrection, God redeems this broken, ashamed, and deeply doubting man and gives him a new confidence. God raises him up to be a witness, a storyteller of the good news of Jesus Christ!
And the way that Peter tells the story is brilliant and inspired. First, Peter knows his context and his audience and he tailors the message he shares directly to them. He uses familiar language and images from stories to speak to the Jewish audience personally. He also tells the story in such a way that it brings out feelings and emotions in those to whom he is speaking. They are compelled to do something, to change something, to join him by the time he is done telling the story.
I wonder, this Easter season, will we make a space to truly hear the good news proclaimed? Christ is risen! But, will we also move beyond being those who receive the good news to those to tell the story ourselves?
Will we allow the message of the resurrection to make a difference in our lives, to transform us?
Will we find the courage like Peter to stand in the crowd and be a witness to the resurrection? Will you be a storyteller, too?!
Copyright 2014 by Rev. Jill Sander-Chali