Sermon for Easter 4B: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The courtroom was packed, the full Sanhedrin in attendance. To picture the scene, imagine any case that’s gotten a lot of press. OJ. Bernie Madoff. Andrea Yates. Rodney King. I am sure that with those examples, you are seeing a three-ring circus of activity in your mind, and you would not be wrong. When the people saw a man disabled from birth get up and walk, they couldn’t help but talk about it. I mean, wouldn’t you? It was a laying on of hands that actually worked, a miracle in the midst of poverty. As Peter says, and I am paraphrasing, “I don’t have any money to give you, but through the power of Christ, I CAN make it where you don’t have to beg anymore.” However, the people’s reactions scared the hell out of the establishment, because “they were in charge.” Who were these nutbags trying to take their power? If Peter and John could heal people and the Jewish elected officials could not, this wasn’t a case based on the disciples’ wrongness in healing, but the fear instilled in the Sanhedrin that they weren’t the best game in town. Supposedly, Peter and John were just arrested for “investigation.” In light of our current court system, does this make any sense to you? If the Sanhedrin just wanted intel, why would they have to hold them in the first place?

Because this case was not about investigation. It was about containment. You don’t arrest people for doing good things if you aren’t threatened by them. The threat was real to the Sanhedrin, because how long would it be before there was utter chaos? What if this Jesus fellow got more followers than they did? Rulers need people to lead. What would happen if all the Jews they governed decided to follow Jesus of Nazareth instead? It would render them irrelevant, and it was not an idea they were willing to…………. entertain. By the time John and Peter were taken in, the message that the beggar had been healed had already reached, according to Acts 4:3, five thousand people. The Sanhedrin didn’t want to get intel. They wanted to get even.

Yet Peter and John stand strong. When asked about the authority under which they healed the beggar, they were bold to say, “Jesus of Nazareth, the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, it has now become the cornerstone.” They have, in a word, chutzpah. They told the establishment right to their faces that they were so over. To put this pericope in perspective, it would be like telling the Supreme Court that their services were no longer required. It is interesting to note that the extract ends with Peter’s declaration:

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

It does not, however, include the verdict.

Therefore, this week we are only asked to examine John and Peter’s faithfulness, and not what the Sanhedrin decides.

This particular scripture has been used for years as a “clobber passage,” and by that, I mean that there are LOTS of Christians that pull it out just to prove that Jesus is the only way to God, and that members of any other religion are condemned, because their God is the ONLY God. It gives that type of Christian license to discriminate, and they do.

But does that sound like the Jesus you know? In all of the wandering into the scriptures that we have done on this web site, is there any evidence that Jesus would have turned away anyone? What would possess Peter to say something like that about the Christ he knows?

Paraphrasing Inigo Montoyo, “you keep using that scripture. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Peter is begging to be heard, and it is stretching to say that he is being exclusive. He is speaking to the SANHEDRIN, not the entire world. He’s not saying that if you belong to another religion, you are condemned. Rather, he is saying to the Jews, “we found the Messiah and you killed him. The one person that could have saved us all and you threw him under the bus.” Again, I am paraphrasing here, but I am choosing to put the pericope in modern language. To hear the whole story, we have to look past the Lectionary and keep reading. Hear the words of Peter:

Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you- even Jesus.

Peter is so strong in his belief that Jesus is the Messiah that the Jews have been waiting for that he gets up in front of the crowd that has gathered around the beggar and boldly proclaims that the Jews have it all wrong, and need to ask for forgiveness.

In some ways, he chose………………………. poorly.

That sermon put him at the top of the watch list, because he was arrested shortly afterward. You know, just for “investigation.” It is therefore wrong for any Christian to separate others from their love and concern, because when we do, we are taking the audience out of context. Peter isn’t talking to us. He’s addressing the Jewish establishment and pointing his finger at them. It is unimaginable boldness.

Unimaginable boldness.

What, to you, does that phrase entail? How are you standing up and preaching the Gospel with a boldness of your own? How has the Christ become your cornerstone? Are you willing to talk about it? I am getting better about it, but for me, it’s difficult. As an introvert, the last thing I want to do is stand out. The last thing I want to do is preach the gospel in my daily life, because I do not want to sound like all I do is speak Christianese. You know the type. You’re on Facebook.

I choose to make my boldness the way I move in the world. If someone notices how I say something about Jesus and comments on it, I will respond. But I would rather feed the homeless and visit seniors and march in peace rallies than ever end a conversation with “have a blessed day.”

I also wonder out loud that if I was put on trial for being a Christian if there would ever be enough evidence to convict me. I talk a good game, but I am just as much of a miserable sinner as everyone else, because in the moments where I am called to be bold, I have a history of running away…. ironically, just like Peter. While Jesus was in jail awaiting trial, Peter hid and denied he knew Jesus at all because he was afraid of what would happen to him if he didn’t.

It is almost as if we are talking about two different people, but we’re not. We are talking about one flawed person who waffles his way through life, just like we do. We all have those moments where we know we can handle anything, and those moments where becoming an adult is the worst decision we’ve ever made. Two disparate thoughts in one brain, at different times in our lives. Boldness is in realizing those “I can handle anything” moments are a choice. We have the option to be bold. We get those moments when we can get up and preach like Peter, who proclaims the Messiah even though he knows that being in front of the entire Sanhedrin on trial for healing someone will likely not end well for him. He has unimaginable boldness.

If boldness is a choice, where do we turn when we feel the most weak?

Today’s gospel is the parable of The Good Shepherd, in the book of John. Jesus points out the difference between boldness and weakness by using the example of a hired hand. A hired hand will not take time to know his flock. When push comes to shove, if things get dirty or dangerous, a hired hand will just run away and leave the sheep to fend for themselves. It’s one of the most famous passages in the whole Bible, and most people take it to mean that Jesus will take care of them.

How ’bout NO?

The parable is not a statement, but a question. What type of Christian are you? Are you someone that knows the flock and takes care of it even if there’s trouble… or are you the hired hand who runs away when you don’t know what to do? The comfort is not in Jesus taking care of all of us, but that we obtain the skills to shepherd each other.

I will tell you a secret that’s not really a secret. All my life, I’ve been a hired hand, because I did not have enough self-worth to believe that I was capable of what Jesus was asking. Now, my journey is to accept who I am and how I can better myself so that my growth and development causes a ripple effect and touches the lives of the people who read me. I do not do this of my own accord. I do this because I reflect the words of First John:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts.

We are allowed to be bold, because God accepts us whether we’re right or not. Whether we’re bold or not. Whether or not we can believe in God, God can believe in us. This scripture begins and ends not with the actions of Jesus or Peter or John or anyone else. This scripture says that God will forgive us when our own hearts condemn us. God has forgiveness for us when we can’t forgive ourselves.

It is almost as if God can love us through anything, so why not be bold?

Unimaginably bold.

Amen.

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