Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter - 4/6

Peter must have been feeling pretty good at the conclusion of the sermon which we heard the tail end of in today’s first lesson.  It may have been awhile since he had felt this good as his track record as a disciple of Jesus had been pretty spotty at times especially during the time of Jesus’ trial when Peter denied him three times after saying he would never do such a thing.  Peter had his share of weak moments, but things were looking up.  After all, Jesus had been raised and Peter was a witness.  He knew it was true and that in itself was a reason for joy and hope.  Jesus being raised made up for a multitude of sins.  

Peter’s betrayal still gnawed away at him though; it’s tough to get something like that out of your mind, but what was done was done and the task now for him and for the others was to proclaim what they had witnessed and what they knew to be true which was that Jesus had been raised and was exalted at the right hand of God. 

A long time ago Jesus had said to him, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church,” and that gnawed away at him too in a different way.  With Jesus raised, Peter couldn’t help but think about what Jesus had said and wonder just what it meant.  How could he be the foundation of any church?  He had always been quick to shoot off his mouth, but even those who knew him didn’t pay much attention so how was he supposed to bring others to faith in Jesus. There had to be someone else better suited to be the rock. Despite that, because of his impulsiveness it wasn’t a big surprise when Peter raised his voice to speak, but even he must have been surprised at the effectiveness of his preaching…

          Because…any preacher who preaches a sermon that results in the baptism of 3000 people must be pretty good; and Peter might not have had the most receptive audience either.  After all, this is the sermon delivered following the chaotic events of the first Pentecost with wind and tongues of fire and people speaking all kinds of languages the result of which was that many suspected they all were drunk!  That’s when Peter stepped into the pulpit.

          By the time he was done, the skeptics were quiet.  The text tells us that they were cut to the heart which isn’t an expression that we normally use, but I assume it means that their skepticism, their hardness of heart was gone such that all they wanted to know now, was, “What should we do?”  Peter had to feel pretty good.  They were eating out his hand.

          At this point though, in his life as a disciple, Peter had to know that there was something else going on here, that this wasn’t all about him.  The power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Risen Christ was on the loose and Peter knew it.  That’s what he started with when he began to speak that day, pointing out Old Testament prophecies that indicated the coming of the Holy Spirit because he knew the Spirit was among them.  The success of Peter’s proclamation wasn’t about his great preaching skills and he knew it because all he really did was to tell the story of Jesus who was crucified and on the third day was raised.  Peter just proclaimed the truth that he knew, and then let the Holy Spirit work on the hearts of the people.

          For those of us who preach and for those of you who listen to sermons, this reveals an important truth…about preaching; that is that the power is not in the cleverness and charm and personality of the preacher, it’s not in the preacher’s brilliant and innovative insights.  The power is in the old message of Jesus’ cross and resurrection faithfully proclaimed as it has been taught from the beginning, a message that is old but is also new every time we hear it.  The power is the gospel message genuinely proclaimed from the heart as Peter proclaimed it, and the power of the Holy Spirit to connect people’s hearts to the truth of this message, to the truth of the relationship Jesus offers us, a relationship where we are accepted and forgiven as beloved children of God.       

          The power belongs to the Holy Spirit and that power then moves us to ask, “What should we do?”  These days there is no shortage of answers to that question.  There are all kinds of religious and quasi-religious self help books out there full of advice and promises.  But Peter was short on such advice; he just said, “Repent and be baptized that you might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  No helpful hints on how to live a more rewarding life; no list of projects and behaviors they had to take on; no feel good be happy attitudes, nothing like that.  Just repent and be baptized and you can probably expect that some of the skepticism returned as people thought, “That’s it?  That sounds way too easy.”

          Well, it is and it isn’t which I’m sure Peter also knew.  Baptism was and is a visible means of God’s grace which means it is easy because it’s pure gift.  In baptism, we enter into and become part of the divine mystery of salvation and relationship with God.  To an outsider it doesn’t look very mysterious, just water, whether a little or a lot.  But as Luther says in the catechism, it’s not about the water, but the Word of God in the water.  “For without the Word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is a grace filled water of life and a bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit,” and that is mystery which really can’t be explained any further, only received in faith.  It is a mystery which gives us a new identity, a new birth as children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

          You could say that’s the easy part.  Baptism is a free gift of grace, but if it’s understood as a free ride, it’s misunderstood.  The gift is free; the identity is free and we can’t undo the work of the Holy Spirit.  But if the identity doesn’t cut to the heart, it doesn’t mean much. 

          Peter said repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  To be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ means accepting this new identity and living with Jesus as Lord.  To live with Jesus as Lord means to take his teachings seriously and that’s the hard part because to do so means to place oneself in opposition to all kinds of policies and practices that society and/or the government says are OK.  That poses challenges for all of us, liberal or conservative or the majority who are somewhere in between because we all tend to be selective in which of Jesus’ teachings we want to take seriously; we all have our self-righteous blind spots.  Having been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ though, the voice of Jesus becomes the one we hear above all the others, even some of those we hold very dear.

          “What should we do?”  When the truth of Jesus Christ is revealed to us,  Jesus, crucified and raised from the dead, exalted at the right hand of the Father, when the truth of the relationship to which we are invited is revealed to us, in preaching, in Baptism, in the breaking of bread as was the case of the two on the road to Emmaus and is the case for us each time we share the meal of Holy Communion, when the truth of Jesus is revealed we have to ask, “What should we do?” 

          There’s no one answer to that question, but like Peter it starts with recognizing that it’s not about us.  In ways that we can’t fully understand, there is a power at work among us, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Risen Christ.  It is power that witnessed the baptism of three thousand people following Peter’s sermon.  It’s power that continues to cut to the heart, placing us in fellowship with the Risen Christ, equipping us for the work of Christ, which means taking his teachings seriously. 

          It’s not about us; like Peter, we’re just ordinary people, only capable of ordinary things.  But…as John Chrysostom, one of the early saints of the church said, “In the presence of the Holy Spirit, people of clay are turned to gold.”

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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