A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Acts 2:42-47
A friend of mine in seminary once said it best. We had a big test coming up, and we were worried and complaining. I remember my friend saying, “Listen, y’all, we can do hard things.” “How can you be sure about that?” came the reply. My friend said, “We can do hard things because Jesus is risen from the dead.”
That’s a silly example, sure. In hindsight, finishing up a term paper and preparing for an exam were not hard things–not really. We did just fine. And if we hadn’t, the sky wouldn’t have fallen in. But her point still stands: In life, we are able to do hard things, not by our own power, but because Christ has risen from the dead and the Holy Spirit is within us, giving us power.
In the book of Acts, they were doing some hard things. Our reading today is from the end of the second chapter, after the first Day of Pentecost. The Church has been formed. Her leadership has been established: a motley crew of fishermen and tax collectors and ordinary folks without any extraordinary abilities. Overnight, thousands have been added to the parish register. Thousands have been baptized by water and the Spirit, and the Church is in full gear. Acts tells us that this group “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” In order words, they came together united by the apostles’ teaching about the death and resurrection of Christ; they celebrated Eucharist as Jesus commanded them; they prayed for one another and the world. Acts tells us they also held things in common and distributed proceeds to those in need. They spent time in the temple. They lived with happy and generous hearts, thankful for what God was doing in their midst.
Perhaps after reading that brief passage, we are tempted to think, “Oh, how nice.” Perhaps we are tempted to move quickly. But when we do that, we miss some things just in the background, some difficult things stirring, some darkening skies and incoming storms.
We can forget that the religious authorities and the Roman authorities are still on high alert. The early church was not just an unusual religious phenomenon. In proclaiming that Jesus was King, and not the emperor, the early church was a potent political threat. We don’t have to read much further into Acts before Stephen is stoned for declaring the gospel, before Saul starts hunting down Christians near and far.
We can forget that Jerusalem was a powder keg about to explode, with zealots and rebels pushing against imperial authority. It would only be a few decades before the Romans would have enough of it, destroying the city and its temple, scattering peoples abroad for centuries.
We can forget that to be part of what they called the Way was controversial. It divided families. People dear to you might shun you, cast you out, exclude you from the community.
And we can forget an important fact about this Jerusalem church, a fact that will become apparent in the letters of St. Paul. The Jerusalem church was full of folks at the end of their ropes, folks without economic security, folks at the bottom of the food chain. When Luke tells us in Acts that they shared what they had and held it all in common, we should know that it wasn’t much at all.
This church faced some hard realities: persecution on every side, political and religious violence, hatred from loved ones, poverty and insecurity. With that context in mind, what Luke tells us about them is even more incredible: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
They could have taken my friend’s comment as their motto: We can do hard things because Jesus is risen from the dead. We can live faithfully in an unfaithful world–because Jesus is risen from the dead. We can be forgiving in an unforgiving world–because Jesus is risen from the dead. We can be generous in a greedy world–because Jesus is risen from the dead. We can have hope even when we are threatened and hunted down–because Jesus is risen from the dead. We can love and have joy and live in peace–because Jesus is risen from the dead. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we know that sin and death are defeated, so we can live differently. We can live boldly. We can live with our eyes looking for that city whose builder and maker is God. And no matter what comes, come hell, come high water, we will make it. All because Jesus is risen from the dead.
This is not just optimistic thinking. This is not having a positive attitude. This is not living life with rose-colored glasses on. No, this is hope–real hope. This is living a transformed life because we know that the world is different because of Christ’s death and resurrection–and we are part of that new creation.
I wonder what hard thing God is calling you to do? What difficult challenge is present in your life? What do you have to endure for the sake of the cross? It can be tempting to give up, to throw our hands in the air in surrender, to set our faith to the side as if it has nothing to say when we must do hard things. In difficult times, it can be so tempting to live in anxiety, in fear, in hopelessness, in despair, to give into gloom and fear. But we don’t have to do that. We have another choice. We can live differently. No matter what, we can choose to live in love, to live in peace, to live with joy in our hearts, to live with hope for a brighter day. We can do this, not because of ourselves, not because of what we can do, but only because Jesus is risen from the dead. And in rising, he has called us to rise: from the gloom of sin, from the death of despair, and into the hope of life everlasting, into the light of God’s love. And no matter what comes, come hell, come high water, we know that Jesus Christ, who is alive indeed, will lead us through it.
Whatever hard thing you may be facing, lift up your head in hope. Look up. Your Savior is here. No matter how hard things may be, we keep the faith, and we know we will be alright, because Christ is risen from the dead, and his Spirit is with us.
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