Sermons

Sun, Apr 15, 2018

Resurrection happens now

Series:Sermons

I want you to cast your minds back to when you were young--

maybe when you were in your teens...

or at the age when you started to think about your future...

and I mean seriously started to think about your future.

What did you expect to do?

What were your hopes and your dreams?

How did you expect your life to pan out?

And has that actually happened?

 

Early on, in my teens, I wanted to be a vet.

I wanted to go to Melbourne University to study...

and then to return to South Australia... 

and get a job in a country practice...

working with cows and especially with goats.

But, in my spare time, I wanted to go scuba diving;

to have holidays in Fiji and in Europe;

to get my pilot's licence and own a plane.

One day, I expected that I would get married and that I would have a family...

and that we would be close--

unlike the family in which I grew up...

where my parents were always bickering and arguing.

Well, eventually, I did go to Melbourne University to study...

and I did become a vet...

and I did return to South Australia.

But I never did work in a country practice with cows and goats...

and I wasn't in practice for very long before I sensed a call to ministry.

Going into ministry was something that I never anticipated doing when I was young--

let alone going on to do a PhD in New Testament...

and becoming an academic.

Admittedly, I have been to Fiji a couple of times--

although I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Vanuatu.

I travelled to Europe as part of my doctoral research...

but I have never holidayed there.

I never obtained my scuba accreditation... 

and, now, I wouldn't want to--

I enjoy freediving too much.

And I never got my pilot's licence--

although I did have a couple of lessons in a glider.

My parents eventually did stop arguing- 

but only because they divorced and never again had civil contact with one another.

My father died quite young...

and my brother and I only speak occasionally...

our lives having gone in very different directions at opposite ends of the country.

And, having been through a messy marriage break-up as a child...

I never expected to go through one myself.

 

Life never quite turns out how we expect, does it?

Sometimes things go well--

even if it's not exactly what we envisage or plan.

But, sometimes, it doesn't go so well.

We make mistakes.

We suffer misfortunes.

We experience pain and suffering that we never anticipated.

Sometimes, it can seem like life keeps kicking us when we're down...

and it's hard to maintain a sense of hope...

let alone a sense of dignity or worth.

 

In our story from Acts this morning...

the author crafts a character who knew that sort of experience.

Admittedly, by our standards, his character isn't really fleshed out--

there's no real description, not even a name.

But, in the context of the first century world--

a world that firmly believed that you could tell a person's character by their outward appearance--

we're told enough.

The author crafts a tragic character:

a man who spends his days begging at the Temple gates...

unable to work...

unable to lead a full life...

because he's been lame or crippled from birth--

because, as the author describes it, his feet and ankles are "weak".

And yet, according to ancient writers... 

soft and weak ankles signified a morally weak character--

they indicated a person who was cowardly...

even "unmanly". 

And perhaps that's reinforced by the description: 

that he's dumped at the temple gates each day so that he can beg for money.

He's entirely passive.

He's dependent upon the charity of others--

which also implies that he lacks any significant family or extended kin-group to support him.

In other words, he's basically alone.

The fact that he was impaired from birth casts him as a particularly pathetic creature.

After all, this was a culture that didn't know how to deal with disability.

Being lame or crippled, he was among the most socially marginalised.

That he'd had this condition since birth... 

means that his condition would have been attributed to his parents' sin...

which means that he would have been even more marginalised...

regarded as even more pathetic or contemptible.

It's very likely that he would not have been allowed into the Temple.

As a result, he would have had a very low opinion of himself.

Indeed, he won't even look up at those from whom he requests a handout.

 

All of that changes in the story when he asks Peter and John for a few coins.

Note, he doesn't ask for healing--

probably because he doesn't think that he deserves it.

He was, after all, useless and pathetic--

punished or cursed by God...

without hope.

Nor does he display the slightest skerrick of faith in Jesus.

But Peter--

in many ways paralleling and continuing the boundary-breaking ministry of Jesus--

tells him to get up and walk...

then takes him by the right hand...

and raises him up.

He took him by the right hand--

a symbol of friendship and trust...

but also a symbol of power.

Then, literally in the Greek, not "he raised him up" but "he raised him".

The author of Acts intentionally, and unambiguously uses the same language that's used of Jesus.

He uses, unmistakably, the language of resurrection.

He wants us to believe that this man was made whole and well...

by means of the risen Christ...

by means of God's power of resurrection.

Peter's speech after the event confirms that.

And yet, there's more to it than that.

By using that language, the author is also implying that, for this man...

this was a resurrection experience...

this was, itself, a resurrection.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the author uses the verb "to save" in healing stories.

Most of the time, when it says that Jesus "healed" someone...

the Greek literally says that he "saved" someone.

In so doing, the author implies that to be healed is to be saved...

and vice versa.

Here, in the Book of Acts, the author seems to do something similar.

He equates healing with resurrection.

And why not?

For this character in our story--

for this man who has been crippled since birth...

physically, emotionally, and socially--

to be able to walk, let alone to leap, and to jump, and to dance...

was not an act of restoration.

Rather, it was an entering into an experience of new and transformed life.

He was embarking upon a life that he had never known before...

a life that he would never have dared dreamed...

a life best described as a 'resurrection'.

 

So, what conclusions are we to draw from this?

 

Resurrection is not some future, pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die sort of promise.

Resurrection is not something for which we hope at the end of time.

Resurrection happens whenever healing...

wholeness...

and new life...

break into our experience of brokenness...

hopelessness...

and death--

be it physical, social, or emotional death.

Resurrection happens whenever we experience God's transformative presence.

Resurrection happens whenever we experience God's gift of new and abundant life.

Resurrection happens now.

 

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