Sunday, April 3, 2016

Easter 2 - "Seized by a great Hope!"

Easter 2
April 3, 2016
Fr. Phil Eberhart
"Seized by a Great Hope"

As I was considering the sermon for this morning, a quote came into my field of view in a post from our brother, Oakley.
A quote from our favorite theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer just shortly before he died in Flossenberg Prison:

"The liberating thing about Good Friday and Easter is that one's thoughts are swept far beyond one's own personal fate to the ultimate meaning of all life and suffering, and of whatever occurs, such that one is seized by a great hope."
Seized By A Great Hope!
That is the ultimate meaning and result of Easter.
I was captivated all week by the passage we just read from the book of Acts.  The disciples are transformed from the cowardly band of abandoners and deniers of Jesus Christ, into this fearless group of special forces commandos who quickly infiltrate the whole of society,  just as Jesus sent them to do - like "Leaven in the Lump of dough" or like light into the darkness.
Within weeks of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples have experienced something that completely radicalized them!  That's not a good word today is it?  radicalized!  But in this case, the disciples were radicalized with and by the Good New - Jesus himself, his presence with them post-mortem!  And by his words spoken to them over three years together; by his example of humility and servant-leadership; by his cross and crown of thorns!  They were radicalized by LOVE and gripped by HOPE!
Remember our passage from last week?  1 Peter 1
Just v. 3: 
"3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,"
Born Again to a Living Hope -  Seized by a Great Hope !!
Now look with me at our Acts reading:
  The accusation just weeks after the Resurrection and Pentecost:  "You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching!" 
   The disciples response is an outline of our commission:
1.  It's basis:  We must obey God, rather then man! 

The good news is that the God of the Universe has come among us, has become one of us, and has in fact, opened a way back to a lost relationship with himself through an atoning death at the end of an exemplary, sinless life!  How can we ignore such a great salvation?  We cannot!  Therefore, we must obey God, not human authorities who would set themselves up against Him!
2.  It's ultimate end:   You are determined to bring this man's blood on us!
Precisely!  How prophetic of the ultimate aim of the Christian message and of the evangelization of the world!  ... to bring the blood of Christ ON the WHOLE WORLD!  Amen!  They had a clear understanding of the goal of the disciples and of Jesus Himself! 
3.  It's purveyors and perpetrators:   Peter and the other disciples...
The one who denied Christ is now the ring leader, his name mentioned, the others not.  Just remember the words to Mary at the tomb:  Go tell my disciples, AND PETER...  and remember the walk on the shore of Galilee -  Peter, do you love me?  Three times asked.  Three times affirmed.  Peter is the Rock.  What a change!  How do you account for the change?  Just take Peter only, never mind the others among the 12,
all but one of whom, including Peter, died martyr's deaths on account of this message.  How do you account for the change?
The Good News and Hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is best illustrated in the changed lives of His followers, from then to now!  I once was blind, but now I see!  What is YOUR story?  I once was _______,
but now I'm ____?_____.   How do you fill in the blanks?
Here is the Good News that Peter and the Disciples were telling:
4.  The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus...
This 'man' was the Son of God:   John 3:16!  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son;
John 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God!  v. 14 and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory...
5.   Whom you had killed by hanging Him on a tree!
This death on the cross was no mere mistake - it happened with the full foreknowledge and ordination of God - Jesus came for this purpose - to be a sacrifice of propitiation - the atoning sacrifice, once for all time.  Anything that lessens the impact of Jesus on the Cross, lessens the Gospel and Good News.  And it lessens our basis for Hope in the midst of our own suffering.  If we deny the Cross, we deny the meaning in our own suffering and trials.  But as we embrace the Cross of Jesus, we embrace His Work in our lives through our sufferings and trials.
6.  God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior...
The message of Jesus exaltation is in the forefront here!  He is the Leader - the word that Luke chooses here is one that was chosen by the writer to the Hebrews:  He is the AUTHOR of your salvation. Heb 12:3
He is the originator and forerunner of your faith!  Paul speaks of this exaltation on the heals of his Kenotic passage, we talked about that a few weeks ago.  Philippians 2:9-11

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; 11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
7.   That He might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."   Isn't that so true of all of us?  We know not what we do!  We go through life injuring and being injured by each other, because 'we know not what we do.'
But like our own legal system, which like it or not is based on the legal system of Moses the Lawgiver, "ignorance of the law is not an excuse!"  Anyone ever heard that from someone with a flashlight in your eyes."  I didn't know that was the speed limit!  Oh well! 
Part of the end game of Jesus - of his stated mission group - of His target audience in modern speak, was His own people, the Jews.  The chosen of God - God's holy people - the Kingdom of priests !  There is still agony today over the waywardness of God's Chosen People!  Our prayer is that he might give Israel repentance and forgiveness... and that they might accept it and Him!
8.   And we are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit...
Do you remember Jesus words just before the Ascension?  In the upper room in Acts 1:8 ... But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses...  This is the Jerusalem phase of that promise!!  We are the "ends of the earth" phase of that promise!!  and Jesus is the same, "yesterday, today and forever!"  The promise is unchanging from beginning to end.  The commission is unfading and unfinished, my friends!
Jesus is still alive today, and as such is still the source of a Living HOPE that is able to take ahold of us in such a way that we are fearless in the face of ungodly opposition.  We must obey God rather than men.  Although increasingly, like the rest of the world, the Cost of Discipleship is coming to be a reality in America too, we are called to stand for the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ and his Authorship of our Salvation, and Leadership of our lives.
To quote again from Bonoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison:
"The liberating thing about Good Friday and Easter is that one's thoughts are swept far beyond one's own personal fate to the ultimate meaning of all life and suffering, and of whatever occurs, such that one is seized by a great hope."
May we be "seized by a great hope" these days ... a living hope that we have been born again into.  May we live in that hope in the face of trial or suffering, especially that which may come because we name the Name of Jesus Christ in our world and in our nation.
Shall we pray?
Lord our God, give us the faith, the courage, the HOPE that gripped the disciples of Jesus as a result of His resurrection - give us the hope that captured Professor Bonhoeffer as he awaited his fate in the prisons of Nazi Germany.  Give us a fearless boldness, like that You gave to your disciples when they prayed and the place was shaken.  Shake our land and use us, Lord Jesus Christ, as your witnesses to Hope - in the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the Name of your Holy Son Jesus, we pray it.
Amen and Amen!