4-18-15 Inspired to Care: Loving Jews

In this season of resurrection, of renewed life calling us to new birth, we may be inspired by the Spirit of the Risen Christ to a new level of compassion for God’s people, beyond the ones we usually care about. That’s my thesis for this new sermon series Inspired to Care.  I want to show you how the mistakes we make in not showing compassion, end up hurting us; how living compassion past our usual boundaries rebounds on us. Showing compassion for others is showing compassion for ourselves. Listen to the word of God for you today.

Acts 3:12-19 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people as follows: “Why does this surprise you?  Why do you stare at us as if we had made this person walk by our own power or holiness?  You are Israelites, and it is the God of Sarah, Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Leah and Rachel and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified Jesus—the same Jesus you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate, after Pilate had decided to release him. You disowned the Holy and Just One and asked instead for the release of a murderer. You put to death the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead—a fact to which we are witnesses. It is the name of Jesus, and faith in it, that has strengthened the limbs of this one whom you see and know well.  Such faith has given this beggar perfect health, as all of you can see. Yet I know, my sisters and brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did. God has brought to fulfillment by this means what was announced long ago by the prophets: that the Messiah would suffer. Therefore, reform your lives!  Turn to God, that your sins may be wiped away.

April 18, 2015

Inspired to Care: Loving Jews

Most of us probably feel like we have plenty enough people to care about already, thank you very much. It’s hard enough caring for my own kids and my own dysfunctional family, let alone people outside my normal circle of friends and acquaintances.

Check it out though. As we listen to God’s word to us this morning, we may find a nudge toward compassion beyond our usual circles that will help us with our caring within our usual circles as well – within our own lives in fact.

Here’s where I start from: the Acts reading that Nancy read this morning made me angry when I first read it. In it, Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, portrays Peter as chiding a Jewish audience for killing Jesus. Did you notice that? I’ll read it again, “You are Israelites, and it is the God of Sarah, Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Leah and Rachel and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified Jesus—the same Jesus you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate, after Pilate had decided to release him. You disowned the Holy and Just One and asked instead for the release of a murderer. You put to death the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead—a fact to which we are witnesses.”

I was in an interfaith Bible study once where we read passages like this with a group of Jewish friends from a local synagogue. We Christians were embarrassed by the passage and we said to the Jews there, “We don’t read this kind of passage in our churches and we won’t read it anymore.”

And the Jews said, “No, you need to read these passages in your churches. We need you to read these passages and tell your people that it’s not true. Jews did not kill your Messiah.” So that’s what I’m doing today, reading this passage from Acts and telling you, “Our Jewish friends did not kill Jesus.”

Moreover, Peter was a Jew talking to a Jewish audience about Jesus who himself was a Jew and never became anything else but a Jew. So when we read a passage like this, we have to understand that we are meant to hear Peter talking to us, not to some other group. If we stop vilifying the Jews as being the ones who got it wrong, we can have compassion for this crowd; we can have compassion for ourselves. Peter is trying to show three things that the crowd (and therefore we) get wrong.

First, Peter takes this audience to task for thinking that they healed a beggar the morning that he gave that sermon. There was a beggar healed that morning and everybody in the audience knew it, so they were pretty jazzed about these disciples. But Peter says, “No, we didn’t do that healing. That was the power of the Living God in Jesus Christ, not us.”

And we are like that audience – looking for someone who can move us or heal us or help us. If we find somebody, we’ll buy their CD’s and their books, and tell our friends about them, watch their programs and give them the credit for changing our lives. Peter says “No, don’t look to us as the healers. That was the power of the Living God in Jesus Christ, not us.” We always want to look for the deepest, most genuine healing in our lives from the Living God.

The second mistake Peter’s audience (us) makes was that they “misunderstood the nature of life with God, thinking that brokenness is the rule and healing is the astounding exception.” [Tom Long] Think about it. Our society today and even our churches have a kind of functional atheism going on where we tend to think the world is barren of God’s action. If God ever should speak or act, or appear in a piece of buttered toast, everybody would flock to see the great miracle and be astonished.

The truth is that God is active every single day in healing, bringing new life, helping us make a new start, forgiving and renewing. “Why do you wonder at this?” Peter asks the crowd which has flocked in amazement to the healing which has happened. Don’t live in a Good Friday world, despairing of God’s presence. In this Easter world we know, because of new life in Jesus, God’s activity is as common as rainfall in Seattle or sunshine in the spring.

The third mistake Peter pokes at in this audience (us, as loving Jews) is that in their astonishment, they miss the bigger call and opportunity for repentance. When the crowd focuses on the wonder of a fantastic healing, they miss the chance to turn toward a bigger experience. When we as Christians consciously or unconsciously hold Jews or Muslims or other people responsible for killing Jesus or for all the ills of the world, we miss a chance to look at ourselves and take in God’s everyday forgiveness, renewal and love.

There are wonderful things happening in the world every day. I’m always telling my wife about something in the news, a possible cure for cancer or Alzheimers through “immunotherapy”, or some good news about work for justice or for peace. Peter tells us not to just say, “Oh how wonderful” but to be part of what God is doing in the world. Peter tells us that God gives all people the chance to be Easter people, to be part of a new movement, to change our citizenship from part of that Good Friday world to citizenship in a world of hope, to be an Easter people, to become a faithful part of God’s work in the world.

[This sermon’s three problems formulation comes from Tom Long in Feasting on the Word, p. 410, Third Sunday of Easter.]