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We Trust in Jesus Christ
June 24, 2012
06-24-2012 Sermon We Trust in Jesus Christ
Jesus proclaimed. Jesus preached. Jesus taught. Jesus blessed. Jesus healed. Jesus ate. Jesus forgave. Jesus called. Amen.
Yep, the Brief Statement of Faith does a pretty good job of tweeting an entire sermon. It fits. 122 characters. One subject, lots of verbs. Great. My job is done. What a time-saver Twitter is, really. They give you the headlines in 140 characters or less. When Peter was talking to Cornelius in our story from Acts, he does something similar. Just the highlights, just the facts:
Beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: God anointed. Jesus did good. Jesus healed. God was with him. We are witnesses. They put him to death. God raised him. God allowed him to appear. Jesus commanded. All the prophets testify. Amen.
Peter gives Cornelius some quality headlines also about the life and ministry of Jesus. Not quite good enough for a tweet at 195 characters, but we’ll give him a little credit since it would be 2000 years before Twitter was invented. Nonetheless, those are some really good headlines. I could see that scrolling across the bottom of CNN:
God anointed. Jesus did good. Jesus healed. God was with him. We are witnesses. They put him to death. God raised him. God allowed him to appear. Jesus commanded. All the prophets testify. Amen.
This summary of the life and ministry of Jesus seems to be enough for Cornelius. When Peter spoke the headlines of Jesus, it was enough for Cornelius and his entire household. Upon hearing those words in Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon them and boom! Baptisms for everyone!
It seems as though the headlines are what spurred on Cornelius and his entire household to the Christian faith. The highlights are enough. Just the simple sentences that concisely explain exactly what went on in the most simplistic terms are enough.
Headlines are sensational. Tweets are sensational. They cause fear, anxiety, overwhelming joy or sorrow to bubble up in us. They cause an emotion within us, and we see the newspaper at the coffee stand that reads, “Jesus proclaimed!” and we are spurred on by emotion… to read the rest of the story.
After all, a joke is not very funny if you only know the punch line.
Cornelius had to know of Jesus before this instance. I’m convinced. He had to know. He had to know that Jesus told the Pharisees “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” and left them scratching their heads, as he continued dining with sinners.
Cornelius surely knew about the story when Jesus was talking to the large crowd and the crowd got so huge that Jesus had to get into the boat and then he started talking to all of the people about farmers, which made so much sense because so many of them were farmers. And then he said that some seeds are on the path and get eaten by the birds and some seeds fell on rocky places so they didn’t have good roots and got scorched by the sun. And then there were those other seeds that were in the thorns and were strangled by the vines. And finally there were the seeds that fell on good soil and those yielded a crop that was more than anyone could have ever imagined. And then Jesus spent a long time explaining how parables were mysteries.
And Cornelius had to know about when Jesus went around screaming, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” just like John the Baptist did.
And he definitely knew about the time that Jesus was going to raise a dying little girl, but on his way, a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched his clothes and she was immediately healed. And Jesus knew that someone had touched him with the intent of healing even though there were lots of people around.
And for sure, Cornelius knew about the demon-possessed man who was chained up outside of town, and the demons spoke to Jesus. And Jesus sent the demons into pigs that jumped off a cliff. And the people were wide-eyed after that one.
And he had to know the one where Jesus and his disciples were trying to get away from the crowd again, but then everyone started to get hungry so Jesus told the disciples to take care of it but they were really concerned. So, Jesus took five loaves and two fish and fed five thousand people because he gave thanks and broke the loaves and just started handing it all out.
Yeah, Cornelius had to know about the time that Jesus was at the well and a Samaritan woman came by and they struck up a conversation, which was weird, but she just went with it. And then they had a conversation where the water was a metaphor for Jesus, and Jesus told the woman that she had no husband. And Jesus said he was the Messiah. Then, she went back and told many Samaritans about Jesus, and they believed her.
Surely Cornelius knew about this Jesus.
And we do too. We know all about Jesus. We can recite the stories too. We have heard the gospel text, and we know all about Jesus. Those headlines in the text from Acts and the Brief Statement of Faith call us back to those stories. And those stories inform so much of our world. People know that Jesus was a great man who taught and preached and healed. In fact, many other world religions openly acknowledge that yes, Jesus was a prophet who taught and preached and healed.
We know this stuff, and we took the time to read the headlines and read the rest of the story or at least skimmed it. We read the full article online, or at least skimmed it. We looked up the story that the tweet was about. We have the read below the fold. Just like Cornelius, we know those stories.
And yet, the difference that stands between Cornelius and us is that we don’t have a man who had personal contact with Jesus standing in our midst. We don’t have Peter standing in front of us telling us the headlines, reminding us of the great man who lived just a few years ago. All of a sudden, the time between us and them seems insurmountable.
It seems as though this life and ministry of Jesus acts as a dot on the timeline of human history. It seems like there was this really nice guy who lived a really long time ago in a place we cannot fully understand, in a time period we cannot fully understand, and in a culture we cannot fully understand.
And yet we work so hard to understand, to make sense of it all, to paint a picture of it in our heads. We read the headlines and we are called back to these stories. We visualize Jesus healing the demoniac. We visualize Jesus give bread and fish to 5000. We visualize him, wide-eyed, screaming the Kingdom has come near.
But the Kingdom doesn’t look so near in 2000-year-old rear-view mirror. The Kingdom looks like a far away dream of a man who some have called crazy. We’ve read about those people too. We’ve seen the articles about the Pharisees and the scribes, the religious of Jesus’ day, who seem to walk away from most conversations with Jesus, perplexed and anxious.
These stories even act like little articles in our Bible, don’t they? The subtitle with the little black and white letters underneath, sprawled across those thin pages. Our Bibles are filled with these newspaper articles of stories, and we read them.
And, we put the newspaper down because the stories are just that: something that happened a long time ago that people wrote down and put in a book. And then we have spent centuries writing about what could have happened and painting pictures of what could have happened and trying our hardest to look back and distantly observe what could have happened.
And we distantly observe a man who proclaimed and preached, who taught and blessed, who healed and ate, and forgave and called. And he seemed really important. And so we listen to these words, from a book that sits on a lectern every Sunday, just giving us the facts, just tweeting 140 characters each week.
And the headlines just aren’t enough any more. When faith just becomes stories about some dude, we’ve missed something. When Jesus is just talking to the woman at the well, we’ve missed something. When Jesus is just healing the demoniac, we’ve missed something. When Jesus is just feeding the five thousand, we’ve missed something.
Peter sits with Cornelius and Mrs. Cornelius and their three children, Cornelius Jr. Cornelia, and Jason and he reminds them of a great story about a man named Jesus, who they had heard about, but never met. And reminding them of this famous Jesus, as he recalls the wonderful stories of Jesus’ life and ministry, he says emphatically, “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not 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.”
And can you hear Cornelius’s reply, “But I did not witness Jesus’ miracles. I did not see him crucified. He did not appear to me after the resurrection. And now he’s gone. He’s raised and ascended, and I missed something. I missed something big.”
And it is in that moment of doubt that the Holy Spirit comes. The Holy Spirit comes to rest on each of them. The mysterious work of this Spirit rests upon them, allowing them to have new eyes to see, ushering them into the community, inviting them to participate in those things that though they did not see with their eyes, they are witness to.
After this miracle, after the Holy Spirit descends upon them, after they are initiated into the community, it would be natural for Peter to leave. He is now a part of Gentiles being initiated into the community of faith, but he does not leave. He stays a while, and I imagine he stays, in a sense to say, “Here’s where the work begins. Here’s what it means to be a witness.”
We are all witnesses to the great work of Jesus Christ. We don’t just have to pick up the newspaper and read about something that happened long ago in a distant land. These articles, these summaries of all of those stories about Jesus recall our memory of the great man we heard about who lived 2000 years ago, and for some reason, in our memory as those stories are recalled, the Holy Spirit descends, and we are spurred on to continue the story.
For the book that stands on the lectern week after week does not stand closed and bound. It sits, open and full of space in the margins, and the newspaper print where these stories are recorded gets all over our hands. The tweets bust through the computer screen into our lives. These stories do not stand bound by the confines of a newspaper or a computer, they live within us, they allow us to move. For they are not written with ink, they are written by the Spirit on our passions.
Those things that we feel compelled to do, those vocations that the Holy Spirit moves us to do, are connecting us in a deep and mysterious way to these stories of Christ.
For when we decide to be a nurse, a doctor, a psychiatrist, or a parent we participate in the healing with Christ and we watch people become free of their ailments. When we reconcile with our children, our co-workers, our long lost brothers and sisters, we participate in the forgiveness with Christ alongside of a woman just getting water from a well who could not help but talk about her reconciliation. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we participate in the eating with Christ, with 5000 others, and our baskets overflow. When we promise to raise up a child during baptism, we participate in the blessing with Christ and the harvest is plentiful, even more than we could have imagined. When we embrace the other, when we proclaim the good news, when we practice ethical behavior, we participate in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In us, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus proclaims. Jesus preaches. Jesus teaches. Jesus blesses. Jesus heals. Jesus eats. Jesus forgives. Jesus calls. Amen.