Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Easter, 11 April 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 5: 27 – 32, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 20: 19 – 31.
This is presented by Nathaniel Bartholomew and focuses on the growth of an individual church. Following this message was a brief stewardship presentation.
Good morning! I bring you greetings and peace in the name of The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God Who Is To Come. I greet you as members of the kingdom, as those empowered to bring the Gospel message to the world. My name is Nathaniel Bartholomew and I was one of the disciples.
On the evening of that First Easter two thousand years ago, I had gathered with my friends. That morning, Mary Magdalene and some of the other women had gone to the tomb of our Teacher, Friend, and Lord, Jesus, only to discover that it was empty. He had appeared to Mary and told her that He had risen. When she told us of her discovery, Peter and John had rushed to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty. So we gathered together, in part in fear, in part in amazement.. And as we gathered together in a locked room, still fearing that the authorities would come for us, Jesus appeared to us.
Thomas was not with us that evening and when we told him what had happened, he would not believe us. You call Thomas the doubter but he never doubted that Jesus was the Messiah, that He was the Christ.
Now, three years ago, when Philip had told me that they had found the Messiah and that He was Jesus of Nazareth, I had my own doubts. But, when Jesus told me how He had seen me studying under the fig tree, I knew that He was the Messiah, the one the Scriptures had promised.
But Thomas always wanted that little extra bit of proof, you know, that Jesus had really risen. And a few days later, as we gathered again, Jesus appeared all of us and Thomas was convinced that what we had said was true and that Jesus the Christ had truly defeated death and had risen from the grave.
And He told Thomas and each one of us that others would come to know what we knew, even though they never experienced the First Resurrection. But like so many of Jesus’ teachings, it left us with other questions.
“How will they know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ? How will they know that He lives? How will the people know that the message of hope and promise didn’t die on the Cross that first Good Friday?”
These were simple questions but many times the simplest questions are often the hardest ones to answer. And as He often did, Jesus left it for us to ponder the answer. It was probably the reason that many people left our movement early on; they wanted a king to lead them and release them from the burdens of life under Roman rule. They didn’t want a king who would require them to do work and who challenged them with parables and stories that pushed them to think. As today, they preferred to be told what to think.
We, the disciples and the early followers, were still overwhelmed by all of this but Jesus comforted us by saying that we would receive a gift, a gift that would help us as we began to tell others of what we saw and what we did during those three years of walking through the Galilee. And then, on the day that has become known as Pentecost, we received that gift, the Holy Spirit, and we began our mission to tell the world the Good News.
It seems incredible that we could even think of going somewhere beyond the boundaries of our home towns. We knew little of what lie on the other side of the Jordan River; we only knew that Rome was somewhere to the west across the Great Sea. It was a challenging task to take a road and not know where it led.
It was a challenge to leave our homes and our friends. It became an even greater challenge because we had no money or resources and we would take very little with us. Some of our friends did not doubt that Jesus Christ was the Savior; they just wondered how we would survive; who was going to pay for these journeys? Where would we stay? Where would we find food? What would we get for ourselves?
But we remembered what Jesus had told us when He sent us out on our first mission. Take only what you need and nothing more; you will receive just payment for your work. Do not go as a beggar or as one who calls attention to yourself nor burden others as if you were a parasite. You will find friends at the end of the day who will offer board and lodging. It will be offered as an expression of faith in the Heavenly Father who sent you. You will be rewarded for your work, not as an act of charity but rather as a reward for your labors. God Himself endured toil and labored for man’s sake (Isaiah 43: 24) and Jesus labored on the cross for our salvation, even unto death (Isaiah 53: 11); so too should those who work in the name of the Lord not be ashamed to receive a daily reward for their labor. If others cannot see this, then perhaps they have yet to discern the true nature of the mission of these messengers of Jesus. (Adapted from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
We were also told to look for those with open minds and open hearts, those who were worthy. If we were to find such worthy people, we were to offer them the peace of God. But if they were not worthy or if their minds and doors were closed, then we should shake the dust of the town off our feet and continue on our journey.
Oh yes, there would be opposition, individuals like the high priest who told Peter that he could not preach in Jerusalem. In some of the towns we visited we were told that if we were to stay and preach, it would have to be in accordance with what they felt was appropriate, not what we were taught and had come to believe.
But if we were to only preach that which others find acceptable, we would not be obeying God’s authority. And the truth of God cannot be silenced by man-made restrictions. If we focus on human authority and the desire to hear only that which is human in nature, then we cannot focus on the Holy Spirit. And if we cannot focus on the Holy Spirit, we cannot tell the story of what we saw and what we know and what we were taught.
And just as there were those who would seek to bar us from telling this story in our time, so too have others tried to bar those who heard the story as well. Even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was told that he would not be allowed to preach. But he preached anyway and the world changed because of his message.
On August 18, 1739, Wesley recorded the following dialogue between Joseph Butler, the Anglican Bishop of Bristol, and himself. This followed a discussion on the manner and style of what was transpiring with regards to the Methodist Revival then beginning in England.
Butler – “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”
Wesley – “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay.” (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal; also noted in http://frterry.org/History/Chapter_15/Chap.15%20Handout_205.htm)
Fortunately, Thomas and I did not find many towns where the Holy Spirit was not present. There were numerous towns where people sought answers to questions that could not be answered through scholarly work or prayers to nameless gods. Many days, we would find towns where the Holy Spirit was present, looking for the opportunity to grow in the hearts and minds of the people. It was in those towns that we would stay to preach and to teach, heal when we were asked, and to build a new church that would continue the work after we had left.
The power of the Holy Spirit cannot be denied, simply because someone feels that it is not appropriate. That is what makes a church grow. It is sad when you find a church today where it feels that its needs are greater than the needs of God, it is a sign that the church is dying. And if it is not dying, then it is not in very good health.
And that is why I have to come to this place today, traveling over time. I have come to this place because this is a place where one can sense the presence of the Holy Spirit; it is a place where the Holy Spirit can grow. It is a place where the Holy Spirit seeks to empower people to live out their daily lives as an embodiment of the presence of Christ in their private lives. It is a place where the Good News of Jesus Christ is shared with one’s neighbors, one’s friends, and the people you meet on the street and the people you have yet to meet.
I began my journey wondering how people would come to know the story that I knew and that I lived and that I have told over the ages. It is still a question that resonates today. And today, in this town and in this place and at this time, we are going to explore the first of several steps that you can take so that you can help others know this story.