Archive for December 2011

Being Radical for God

December 12, 2011

So I’ve decided to start posting every sermon I’ve done, starting with the one I delivered this past August 14th at First Presbyterian Church in Argenta, AR. Here’s the text of that sermon. I didn’t quite deliver verbatim and I added a little bit more opening, but this is what I have saved on my computer. Everything itallicized was emphasized in the sermon.

And many thanks to Rev. Anne Russ for her help with editing and her suggestions:

 

Shortly before this part of the story the Holy Spirit came down and radically transformed thousands of people, allowing them to speak different languages and communicate freely with foreigners. On Pentecost, there was a mass awakening of people and many of them came to be believers in Jesus Christ, after Peter convinced them that the people speaking in different tongues were not drunk.

The Holy Spirit energized the Apostles into action. They were led to go out on the road and convert as many people as they could through their words and deeds, hence the name of the book, Acts. It’s here that we find Peter and John shortly after they had gone to a temple, spreading the word of Christ. At the temple, they healed a cripple who was begging for money in the doorway. When all the people saw this, Peter explained that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God and the Messiah. Here we enter the part of the story we heard today.

When the leaders of the community heard what Peter and John were saying, they arrested them because they felt threatened. Now, it should be noted that the authority in Jerusalem at this time was no fan of Jesus or the Apostles. They believed that if the word of Jesus Christ took hold in their community, then their way of life would essentially be destroyed. In fact, despite Pontius Pilate’s willingness to let Jesus go, the authorities urged the people to demand His death. Surely Peter and John wouldn’t think that going to the temple, at a time of worship, when everybody was there, would be beneficial to their physical well-being!  They knew that if they were overheard by the priests or captain of the temple that they would, at the very least, be confronted. They probably assumed that if the authorities overheard their proselytizing, they would be arrested. In fact, Peter and John probably expected long prison sentences or even death! But they went out there anyway, because the Holy Spirit moved them. They were radicals. They were going out into their community, in the face of their enemies and spreading the Word of God. They were helping the poor, healing the sick and making changes in the rules that the guys in charge didn’t like at all in the name of Christ.

The Apostles weren’t concerned with whatever consequences lay ahead of them. They were just out there to do what Christ had told them to do. So when Peter and John were arrested, they took it, in what seems to me to be, a rather light fashion. Instead of showing fear or uncertainty, they approached the situation with the confidence that the Holy Spirit had instilled in them. Peter talked defiantly to the panel and said, “Hey, if you have a problem with me curing a guy who is well over 40 years of age because I did so in the name of Jesus, whom you crucified and rejected, then let it be known throughout all of Israel. Because, obviously, this Jesus guy really is the Messiah, if I’m using His name to perform miracles and cure people that no one else can.”

Now, if I was sitting on that panel and was a true skeptic of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that argument wouldn’t have convinced me at all. Putting myself in that situation, I would have thrown them in jail for whatever the prescribed time and washed my hands of their silliness. Instead, the panel debated about what Peter and John were doing, saying that using the name Jesus was the real bad thing here. They asked Peter and John not to do these things in the name of Christ or spread His teachings anymore. Peter and John simply refused, because they had seen the miracles of Jesus and were true believers. Then, something amazing, something miraculous, something totally unbelievable happened – the council just let them go. They simply let them go. Peter and John were free to go on their way and continue preaching the Gospel however they see fit. The two Apostles stood in front of a council that was clearly out to get them, blatantly defied said council and walked away, scot-free. That, my friends, is pretty radical.

So let’s think of some other radicals that we’ve seen throughout history. Some of the names that come to my mind are Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa. All of these people had a specific call in their lives that they pursued in a radical fashion.

Mohandas Gandhi, also known as Mahatma, which means “Great Soul,” pioneered the concept of civil disobedience through total nonviolence to free a nation from tyrannical rule. Gandhi saw the brutal repression of his people by the British time and time again. But instead of inspiring the people of India to fight fire with fire, he did the exact opposite. Gandhi gave his country freedom through love and peace.

The Rev. Dr. King became the leader of a movement that demanded civil rights for a class of people who had never known equality in the New World. Inspired by Gandhi, King used nonviolence to overcome obstacles and gain equality for himself and others. This culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended, for the most part, the rule of Jim Crowe in the South.

Nelson Mandela started his campaign for equality with violence. He was co-founder and leader of the African National Congress, which led several bombing campaigns and other such raids against major South African government and military facilities. Mandela was convicted by the government of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison. Once Mandela was released after 27 years of his sentence, he was elected as president of South Africa and led his country towards reconciliation. Mandela’s administration granted amnesty to many of the people that raped and murdered people on a mass scale. If the people who committed these atrocities would only reveal secret location where victims were buried, so that families could lay their loved ones to rest, then the perpetrators of great violence were forgiven. Instead of focusing on the “eye for an eye” theory, Mandela focused on forgiving them. This radical act took South Africa in a direction that could bring about true reconciliation.

Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun and, for many, the symbol of what true mission work should be. Teresa started her career as a teacher at a prominent school in Darjeeling. She could have stayed in this school and continued to be a teacher, but when she saw the poverty that was brought on by the Bengal famine of 1943 and the intense violence between Hindus and Muslims in 1946, she decided that she could no longer stay behind safe walls. She knew that her true calling was one amongst the poorest of the poor. For the rest of her life, Mother Teresa dedicated herself to making life better for those that had virtually no chance in the real world.

Whether or not you agree with all of the actions of these people, it is important to see that they were all radicals that used ideas outside of the norm to change the world. And that, my friends, is what we must strive to do in our lives as well. We must be radical in order to free the oppressed, bring worlds together and help others in any way that we can. People have said it before, time and time again, but I’m going to say it at least once more: we have to think outside of the box to make a difference in the world. Jesus came to us and told us, as disciples, to change the world in order to bring God’s kingdom here. Therefore, sitting and watching things go on the way that they are is simply not an option any more.

This past Wednesday night at our weekly Bible study, we started with our discussion of some verses from the book of Revelation. In our conversation, we talked about who gets into Heaven and/or Hell and whether or not that whole process is “fair.” We talked about several individuals who, in our eyes, were not “deserving” of entry into Heaven. The fates of people such as Warren Jeffs and Adolf Hitler were discussed. As you can imagine, it was hard for a lot of people to accept the idea that such modern-day “monsters” would be in Heaven. As the discussion continued, I tried to bring some radical ideas to the table. I challenged the group to really think about the positions they were taking by using Alexander Pope’s quote, “To err is human to forgive divine.” By using this concept, we forced ourselves to really focus on whether God would forgive the people and actions that we consider evil. Ultimately, we don’t know whether or not God will forgive these things. We can only have faith in Jesus that all will be forgiven.

As Christians, in order to make the world the place God created it to be, we have to embrace the radical ideals presented here. It is our call to push for change by using aspects that others find unconventional and challenging. Peace instead of violence, sacrifice instead of the easy way out and forgiveness instead of revenge. None of these tasks are going to be easy for any of us to accomplish. It’s not easy to be different. It’s not easy to forgive someone when they’ve wronged you and it’s certainly not easy to give up things in your life to make things better for someone else. But all of these things are what we are called to do. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We should do as John and Peter did and put our faith in Christ, so that we may conquer any obstacles that come our way.