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Sermon 14th April 2024 Evensong

Acts 3:12-19, Luke 25:36b – 48

I’d like to invite you, if you will, to imagine that you are an old Jewish tradesman in the 1st century in the middle East. You are a puzzled seeker trying to make sense of this Jesus stuff. Your thoughts may go something like this –

I’ve been interested in this Jesus movement for years, but I’m no closer to understanding it now that I’m an old man than I was all those years ago in Jerusalem. It started when my uncle took me on a business trip with him, to give me a chance to see the world, and to see if I’d like to go into the trade with him, since he’d got no sons of his own. Now I send my sons and grandsons, and just sit at home and reminisce. They tell me I’ve earned that right, after all these years, but I notice they don’t listen to my stories!

Anyway, that first trip to Jerusalem, I was more interested in seeing the Temple than anything else. We weren’t the most religious family in the world, but we knew that our people are special in God’s eyes, and we did what we had to do to make sure God kept remembering that. So, I pestered my uncle, and that’s how we happened to be in the Temple the afternoon a lame man got healed.

My uncle insisted it was a fraud, but he didn’t see the expression on the man’s face. He was shocked, more than anything. Of course, everyone came running, hoping for a show, but the two men that healed him acted as though it was the kind of thing that happened every day.

They said that if we believed in Jesus, our sins would be forgiven, and we’d be able to do things like that too.

My uncle didn’t want to hang around, wasting valuable trading time, but he let me go out in the evenings and sniff around. I found out quite a lot more about these Jesus people.

Their Jesus had been killed by the Romans, though they seemed to blame us for it, saying that if our people had read the scriptures properly, we’d know that Jesus was the Messiah. They were causing quite a stir in the city, with their preaching and healing, and they’d made quite a lot of converts.

I liked them. They seemed kind, and they talked a lot about God loving us and forgiving us, if we believed in Jesus. I thought it would be good to be forgiven.

Us traders are always breaking the law, in little ways. You can’t get a boat to stop on the Sabbath, and you can’t be too choosy about what you eat when you’re sealing a deal. So I’ve got no hope of being righteous anyway. Even after I went home, I never entirely forgot about the Jesus people, and it wasn’t long before they’d spread to my part of the world. So obviously I wasn’t the only one who thought they were making some kind of sense.

I used to sneak out to their meetings sometimes and try and find out more. The main thing they were saying was that you can only find out about God through this Jesus. They said that Jesus showed us what God is like, and that Jesus came to die to take away our sins, and that he rose from the dead and is alive now. Apparently, some of the people had met people who’d met Jesus after he rose again, so they knew it was true.

That was all very interesting, but that main question kept niggling me. What do I have to do to know that I’m right with God?  Now that I’m old and I know I can’t live forever, it’s become the most important question in my life.

I haven’t been a bad person, but I haven’t been a good one either. Is it enough just to believe in Jesus? Some of these Christians seem to say that’s all there is. But some of them say that if you do believe, it will change the way you live, and that you will be good and loving.

If so, I can’t say that I’ve seen any proof of it. These Christians are as good at hating each other as anyone else. There are at least two different lots in my town, not speaking to each other. How can I believe what they are say about us being the children of God, free and forgiven, if they can’t even forgive each other?

They’re good at blaming others, like my people, or the Romans, or some other leader who doesn’t say or do things their way.

Perhaps they should try blaming themselves for a change. If they were to say, ‘We crucified Jesus, and we keep doing it, but he still forgives us and trusts us,’ then I might be able to believe that he’ll forgive me too.

 There is both comfort and challenge in these words. Comfort voiced by Jesus with his risen first words, ‘Peace be with you’, but also a challenge – how do we faithfully follow the way of Jesus, how do we live this life as followers and disciples?

Do we accept both the comfort and the challenge? Or are we selective followers of The Way? The ‘peace be with you’ may provide immediate comfort. Even if not always material, it can provide ongoing strength to cope with adversity.

But a challenge has to be accepted, as Jesus himself did on his path to the cross. The post-Jesus-physically-alive accounts in Acts give many examples to the early followers of The Way which they strive to emulate – to be the representative of the living Christ in all aspects of their lives. Success in human terms was never guaranteed and there were disputes and disagreements to be worked through.

Our contexts are different and varied, generally less dramatic, but still presenting the challenge of being Christ in our personal relationships and in our way of living. Allocating time and money, identifying need, caring, challenging the unjust, responding to external events. We each identify our own.

In the words of the hymn by  Richard Gillard,

‘Brother, Sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.’

Let us pray, Father, we receive you peace and rest in your presence. Reveal to us the ways we have strayed. Give us faith and perseverance and equip us to be Christ to those we meet and in all we do. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Rev’d Kia Pakenham / 14th April 2024

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