Sermon 5/3/2009

Sermon for Easter 4 B

May 3, 2009
Michael Coffey
Text: Acts 4:5-12

They were upset
because someone did something good.
The rulers of the people
and the religious leaders
were upset
because someone did something good,
someone healed a crippled beggar.
When does doing something good
to help
to heal
to love
become a problem?
When someone else thinks they are in control.
When someone else thinks they need to say what and when
can happen, especially the whats and whens of God.

You know it just drove them crazy.
You know those rulers and religious leaders
who liked to be in control of things
couldn’t stand that the Jesus groupies
were doing good things without their power
and without their authority.
They certainly didn’t mind that someone got healed
or that people got fed
or that lonely people found a new community that loved them.
What upset them
was that all of the power and authority to do these things
was completely out of their comprehension and control.

Their solution was to put Peter and John in custody
to try to stop them.
Then the next day they asked them:
By what power or by what name did you do this?
Because it clearly wasn’t by their own power,
and in their own name,
or in the name of the emperor
that these good things were happening.

When Peter and John answered
that it was in the name of Jesus,
whom, oh yeah, all you powerful leaders rejected,
and whom, oh yeah, even though some of you don’t
think talk of resurrection makes any sense,
God raised him up, without your permission or understanding.

So, now we have a picture
of what was happening with the followers of Jesus
after Jesus was raised:
They now had power and authority
to do the good things of the kingdom of God
in the name of Jesus.
And no one else could control them or stop them.

All of this challenges me
to think about where we are today in the church
or just in the world of the economy and politics and institutions.
There is much good work to be done,
the work of God’s kingdom,
the freeing, healing, loving, merciful deeds
that replicate the life of Jesus here and now.
And I have to wonder:
What are we waiting for?
Whose permission and authority are we looking for
to tell us what and when and where and who and why
to do the good things of God?
Because in general,
and not in all cases by any means,
but in general,
we churches have become so nice and so afraid to upset anyone
that we find it tough to do the good of God’s kingdom,
t0 initiate new things,
to take steps in unknown directions.

We want to do many good things,
and we want to bring healing and change
and create a world of justice ruled by mercy,
but we stop and ask ourselves before we even
get one foot out the door:
By what authority?
By whose permission?
How can I have the power to make this decision,
or do this good thing that no one has said is OK to do?

It’s partly the burden of the church shifting
from a dynamic, organic organization of empowered people,
to a controlling, safe, self-preserving institution,
with religious leaders
who have a vested interest
and status and power and pensions to maintain.

But it’s also the problem
that we have become a less bold people,
less risk-taking,
less willing to go into unknown territory
and trust that our God is leading us through Jesus.

Sometimes I think we are waiting for permission,
waiting for a committee,
or a bishop
or a pastor,
or a council,
there must be some authority granting permission
to do the things of God.

Maybe we’re all stuck with a father-need
or a fear of authority
because no one ever helped us internalize external authority
into an inner sense of self with our own God-given path.

But in fact,
listening to the reading from Acts,
and living in this faith where resurrection happens,
all authority to do the good things of the kingdom
has been granted,
and attested to in Jesus.
The power, which we call the Spirit,
and the name, which was given us in baptism,
is already given.
What are we waiting for?
The resurrection of Jesus
empowers and authorizes his followers
to do all the good things of God’s kingdom
that he himself did, with the same authority and calling,
and the same boldness and risk-taking,
living by the same faith and facing the same struggles.

I find that word “authority” very interesting.
The root word of course is “author.”
It takes a lot of inner authority to be an author, I think.
An author is one who has the authority
to create and tell the story.
We are authored by God,
we are the story God is telling.
And we have our own calling and authority
to tell and live our part of the story of God’s world unfolding.
It is shaped by and named by Jesus.
But it is up to us in each time and place
to trust the name and power given to us
to do it.

Let’s face it.
Just like all of the government bureaucracies that drive us crazy
and all the corporate offices that can’t seem to pick up the phone
when we call them for help,
the church has too often
been a top-heavy, need-t0-be-in-control institution
that leaves us thinking we need permission
or authority from someone higher up
to go and do the good things of God,
to look and act creatively and faithfully
in our own time and place.
And like so many of those phone calls for help
after pushing 11 buttons to navigate mention options
that lead no where and just hanging up,
too many folks are simply hanging up
on church as a way to live a faithful life
and get excited about empowerment from Jesus
to do good things for God’s kingdom.

The whole phenomenon of the emerging church,
whatever you think about it in terms of worship style,
is emerging because people are getting excited about faith again
and the church is too often quashing their excitement.
Instead of empowerment,
they get road blocks.
Instead of daring acts of mercy to do,
they get creeds to memorize.
Instead of risking themselves to bring good news to the poor,
they get doctrinal arguments.
Instead of loving the outsiders of the fold,
they get rules and regulations about who can belong.

So, in hearing this story from Acts,
we have to hear two challenges:
One, for myself at least,
I don’t want to be the religious authority
needing to be in control of people of faith
and needing to authorize and give permission for
the hopeful dreams of people to be enacted,
and the good deeds in people to be done.
All we should hope for as church, as leaders,
as congregations, as bishops, as pastors,
as councils and elders,
is to help people live out the permission and authority
to do the good things of God in Jesus’ name
they already have.

But the second thing I hear from this story in Acts
is that we ourselves have to stop thinking
there is someone out there who needs to give us permission
to do the mission of the church,
to heal and bless and forgive and love and change
and reconcile and embrace.
Do we still need some office in Chicago to tell us what to do?
Do we still need a bishop to say its OK?
Do we still want a pastor to say what is the right way to do it?
All power and authority has been given us
in the resurrection of Jesus.
The only thing holding us back from doing the things of Jesus today
is ourselves,
our need for internal authority from God to do good,
our fear of taking the risks necessary to live it all fully.

If this Jesus is shepherding us anywhere,
it is into our lives, communities,
politics, culture, and world,
to be the very life-giving power of God
witnessed in the resurrection...
You see once Jesus was raised in the big resurrection,
all the little resurrections happening in his name are no big deal...
They are just ripples in the pool caused by God’s raising of Jesus.

This church of Acts was a small, persecuted minority
acting and speaking boldly in a context of risk, rejection,
and even execution.
So to say they don’t need the authority
of the leaders, elders, and Scripture scholars is bold stuff.
They have the power and name of Jesus by which to do these things

Who do we stop today from acting
and doing the good things of the kingdom
because they aren’t working within the framework of authority
in religious traditions and institutions?

How do we limit ourselves
because we keep thinking someone else has to authorize us to act,
to love, to share, to do something bold and unheard of
in the name of Jesus?

Jesus is risen, for God’s sake!
What else are we waiting for?


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