The Easter story continues to be alive, it accumulates new meaning whenever and where ever it is preached, because with fresh and vital connections to our lives it continues to say something about God’s intentions for us and all creation. …
Beside the Gospel renditions of the Easter story Peter tells the story to Cornelius in the tenth Chapter of Acts.
Acts 10:34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Because the Easter story continues to be alive, it accumulates new meaning whenever and where ever it is preached, because with fresh and vital connections to our lives it continues to say something about God’s intentions for us and all creation. Peter’s short sermon delivered to Cornelius’s household illustrates how the proclamation of the resurrection can work. Peter’s summary of the story of Jesus has a deeper significance in the way that it reflects an enlarged understanding of the gospel and its capacity to transform how we comprehended God. I’ve found that to be the most important aspect in conversation among people within the broader church, ‘How do you characterized God?’ For these men in the Book of Acts the significance of Jesus’ resurrection does not consist in merely knowing or reciting details about an empty tomb, as vital as such details may be. The resurrection provides them evidence of God’s commitment to all humanity — a commitment that Peter, thanks to his recent spiritual encounter, has just come to perceive in a new light. The resurrection, he tells Cornelius and others, provides the foundation for the new realities that God has revealed to them.
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. I love that clear concise and universal statement of the gospel. But I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t receive universal acceptance by most in the church today. No partiality? You’ve got to be kidding. Of course God is partial! God is partial to those who say the right words, participate in the right rituals, articulate the right formulations. Peter’s vision of nothing or no one being ‘unclean’ must have left him confused. Hadn’t he read Faith and Practice? Hadn’t he learned by heart the meaning of the memorization tool of Reformed theology ‘TULIP’ that starts with humanity’s total depravity. Hadn’t he embrace the Nicene Creed or at least the five non-negotiable beliefs of the National Association of Evangelicals?
Yes, I think Peter’s proclamation has everything to do with his vision. Everything he had held sacrosanct before his encounter with the Holy Spirit about what was clean and unclean, who was acceptable and who wasn’t, had to go out the window. It resulted in him being in a home into which he never before would have gone, speaking to a household of people he had before rendered fuel for the fires of hell.
Our witness and our ministry only has integrity as it seeks to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and that requires patience and prayer as well as humility and the willingness to sacrifice some of our fondest notions about our privileged perspectives. Our witness and ministry is not about what we are accomplishing. It is about discerning what God is doing and how God is empowering, and then following God into the world. George Bullard wrote that: Vision is “a movement of God that is memorable rather than a statement of humankind that is memorized.”
I played with Bullard’s notion of vision. It is not seeing God at work, it is seeing a memorable movement of God. Detecting movement is an interesting subject.
After the meeting house in Kokomo was broken into several times we had Honeywell install of security system. Our first struggle with that was that the technology that we were employing was developed to detect and kill enemy soldiers in Vietnam. You know Quakers. But we found a way to get beyond that. As I understood it, the technology was based on determining how things were and then comparing it to how things changed a few seconds later. As long as you stood perfectly still the system wouldn’t “see” you. But if you moved it noticed a change, that you were no longer where you had been. And then the cycle started over again. It didn’t detect movement, it detected that a change had occurred. God’s movement can’t be seen, but if we can open our minds, allow our vision to be adjusted, we can notice that God is not where God was.
How about this for an example? In this political season it has become increasingly uncomfortable to continue to embrace being branded an Evangelical Christian. This week I listened to a candidate for the highest office in our land declare that as a Christian he would carpet bomb our nation’s enemies. Another declared that water boarding wasn’t horrific enough that we should escalate our willingness to torture. Where did love your enemies go? I watched, dumb struck, as Evangelical leaders endorsed the candidacy of persons whose values attested by personal pronouncements and public behavior contradict Peter’s line about fearing God and doing what is right. It left me sad.
When a thoughtful public servant in one State refused to sign into law a reprehensible bill which intentionally targeted for discrimination people whose gender identity doesn’t fit the binary mythology of human sexuality I couldn’t miss the video footage of a severely agitated person wearing a hat that declared him to be Christian shouting that the governor was going to experience the fires of hell. Somewhere the Christian faith in its more popular form in our country has lost its way. God has moved. Against Jesus’ admonition to fear not, Evangelicals seem to be the most fearful. Evangelicals seem to choose ignorance over stewardship in the creation care.
So where might God be at work in the world? Do we have the patience and the humility and willingness to prayerfully have our vision changed as to what the Gospel means in today’s world? Our vision of our witness and ministry won’t be formulated into a clever sentence to be restated time and again, it will be found where God’s movement is detected. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles begins with these words: In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Then in the eighth verse we read But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It doesn’t say you may be may witnesses – it say you will be the flesh and blood witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in our day and in our world – good, bad or indifferent.
Sit tight, wait for the promise of the Father, in not many days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Be patient and in humility and willingness to prayerfully have your vision changed to what the Gospel means in today’s world.