This was the message that I gave at Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church, Brighton, TN, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 13 April 1997. The scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 3: 12 – 19, 1 John 3: 1 – 7, and Luke 24: 36 – 48. This was the beginning of my work with the two Mason, TN, area United Methodist Churches.
As I was thinking about this sermon and as I began reading the scripture for this Sunday, I thought of the song from the late 60’s by Buffalo Springfield entitled “Something’s Happening.” The first line begins something like “Something’s happening over here; what it is ain’t exactly clear”. This song refers to the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60’s but it could just as easily apply to what we see around us today (actually, it refers to demonstration that were occurring in Los Angeles and it was not an anti-war song. But it became associated with the anti-war movement – see “What Are You Afraid Of?” for a link to the story about the song.)
Too often, we see the world around us in negative terms. We see the crime, the hatred, the poverty, the injustice in the world and we often ask why God would do this to the world. As David wrote in the opening psalter and like the prophet Habakkuk, we want to cry out
How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflicts abounds. (Habakkuk 1: 2 – 3)
But God told Habakkuk, “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”(Habakkuk 1: 5)
Now in the reading from Acts, the people saw Peter and John heal a crippled man. In the reading from Luke, Jesus appears to the disciples in a sealed room following the crucifixion. Both of these acts the people believed were impossible. As Peter said, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (Acts 3: 11)
The problem was that the people who saw that miracle, for the most part, were not ready to believe that such acts were possible. The common belief at that time was that such illnesses were a result of one’s sins and thus beyond hope of redemption. But as Peter also pointed out, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3: 16)
The people who watched Peter and John heal the cripple were not prepared to believe what they had seen. Even though the disciples had been told by Jesus that He would return after the crucifixion, at first they did not understand and when He did return they were not completely able to understand what they were seeing.
But because they had been told and were both willing and able to accept that they did in fact see Jesus with them in that room, they understood that the miracle of the resurrection was true. Thus they were able to accept, as it was stated in the conclusion of the passage from Luke, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” the Holy Spirit and they could begin to understand the scriptures, They then could go out into the world to preach the Gospel.
For us today, it is the same. Habakkuk was told by God to watch and be prepared to be amazed. Will we be like the poeple who saw the miracles or will we be like the disciples? Are we ready to say to others we have seen the Holy Spirit in action?
I stand before you today as a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. I know of church which six years ago was on the verge of closing. This church saw its membership drop from 200 to just over 100; its average attendance dropped to 70; the administrative council meetings were “battle grounds” when it come to paying the bills. Yet, some three years later, attendance had risen to 110 and the decision was not what bills to pay but whether to buy five acres of land for a new church building. I have watched that church over the past few years. What was a tentative decision to purchase the land then became a concern about meeting the terms of the loan. But now, that concern is no longer there and the only concern the congregation has at this time is how to celebrate when the loan is paid off almost a year ahead of the bank’s schedule. The success, the rebirth of this church cannot be attributed to anyone person nor would it be proper for any one person to accept credit. The credit for such an accomplishment can only be due to the fact that this congregation was willing and able, like the disciples, to accept the Holy Spirit into its midst.
When Wesley returned to England after his missionary work in America, he felt disillusioned and that his work was a failure for he did not have Christ in his life. But once he came to understand that Christ was his own personal Savior, that Christ died for his sins, his life and work turned around. He wrote
After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and he “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, in not often, conquered; now, I was always the conqueror. (John Wesley)
The problems of the world are not going to disappear overnight. Jesus told his disciples it would be a long and hard journey for them but, as long as they kept their faith, He would be with them.
The same is true for us. Our view of the world will continue to be a negative one if we do not, if we are not willing to put Christ first in our lives. The strength, the ability to solve the problems we faces comes from the same place it did for the disciples. It was not Peter or John who healed the crippled man; it was not John Wesley who gave the impetus to the Wesleyan Revival. It was the Holy Spirit
Today we must make a decision. John, in his letter to us today, tells us of the consequences.
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous keeps on sinning.
John is not asserting sinless perfection (see 1: 8 – 10; 2: 1), but explaining that the believer’s life is characterized not by sin but by doing what is right
Shall we stand amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, as those who watched Peter and John heal the crippled man?
Are we willing to let the Holy Spirit come into our presence like it did for the disciples after the resurrection and for John Wesley at that moment we call Aldersgate? Peter offered the group assembled that day when they watched that miracle the chance that Christ made possible by His sacrifice on the cross.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3: 19)
If we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, it creates a fire which cannot be put out.
And as others receive the Joy brought about by the Salvation offered by Jesus Christ, this fire gets hotter, brighter and larger.
To paraphrase the song I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon this morning, “Something will happen here and, what it is, is exactly clear.”