"When Our Confidence Remains Unshakable"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 7, 2006
Acts 3:1-10; Acts 4:5-21
Every day a crippled beggar was carried to the gate called Beautiful to ask for alms. He had a captive audience. For years people passed him on their way to the Temple. Peter and John were going there to pray when the beggar asked them for some material expression of kindness. Peter and John did not have any money but Peter said, “I will give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I order you to get up and walk.” The man was healed.
The author supplied even more details. The healed man followed them into the Temple walking and jumping up and down while he praised God for what had just happened. When the crowd learned whom the healed man was, word of the healing swept through the city. This notoriety instantly put Peter and John in the headlights of the Jewish authorities that brought the two before them for questioning.
Again, the author was very careful with his details. He named the participants: “The Elders, the teachers of the Law, Annas, the high priest; Caiaphas, John Alexander and others who belonged to the High Priest’s family.” The purpose of the gathering was to squelch any more sensational events from taking place in the name of Jesus.
The problem facing this highly esteemed gathering of religious leaders was two fold. First, they had concrete evidence in front of them that something quite remarkable had happened. A highly visible crippled man had been healed. Secondly, they had two men standing before them whom the Scriptures say, “Were ordinary men with no education.” What was unique about them is that they did not cower or bow and scrape before the religious leaders as did others of their social class. These men spoke with an unshakable confidence when they said, “You tell us what we should do. Should we obey you or God?”
What made this issue difficult for the religious hierarchy to resolve was that this was not simply another belief system that was challenging those who followed the Law of Moses. These men were very bold and confident as they made statements that were backed up with a power that was quite convincing and its display had become visible to everyone.
The reason this story is so pivotal to the early days of those who followed the way of Jesus was the realization by the religious authorities that nothing could stop their discipleship from spreading. In the next chapter of Acts the high respected Pharisee and Teacher of the Law, Gamaliel said, “Do not take any action against these men. Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them.” (5:38)
We might conclude that Peter and John spoke with such confidence because they had experienced Jesus after his crucifixion. In this lesson, however, we read these words, “We cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heard.” (4:20) This statement makes the point for our lesson for today.
What is the source of power for how we express our faith? Do we face the issues of life with the same level of confidence as did Peter and John? Being a follower of Jesus is not an intellectual exercise. Being a follower of Jesus does not translate into being in a comfort zone with members of a fellowship group or church family known as St. Matthew’s. What makes anyone’s discipleship to Jesus such a powerful statement is that it is accompanied by a changed life. It is not what we say that matters. What matters is who we have become.
For example, being a follower of Jesus can translate from having an attitude problem to being open and gracious, having unreasonable expectations of our spouse to being accepting and supportive or having a neediness to spend money frivolously to becoming both frugal and generous. What changes have we experienced in our living patterns because of our discipleship?
Jesus said, “People do not put new wine into old wine skins.” We must be changed on the inside so that it becomes outwardly visible. When the spirit of God’s love is alive within us there is a confidence that nothing in this world can shake. When we miss having that presence, we fall prey to many temptations that contribute nothing to our growth.
We can sit on the fence, for example, and say, “Let others take up that cause on behalf of our entire church family. Let our church budget cover those financial needs. Let those who have fewer responsibilities than I do, dash off to Mississippi, Louisiana, the Gulf coast, Juarez, Mexico or support a school in Liberia. I am proud of these people. They make us all look good.” Such thinking is little more than an exercise of excuse making.
Are we working on our growth everyday because of what and whom we represent, or do we choose to slide and continue to tolerate personality faults we have patiently nurtured through the years because they offer us fleeting moments of comfort and pleasure? The paths of least resistance are easy. They require absolutely nothing from us. By its nature, self-indulgence cannot radiate God’s love.
In the church we can have it both ways. We really can! Being around others who are busy making God’s love visible is not only easy; it makes us feel good while requiring nothing from us. What we will miss, however, is the power that comes to us when we become a participant. Who we have become is visible everyday even when we do not speak. What is the message we are sending?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, thank you for your infinite faithfulness to us. Your presence is constant even during fragile moments when we fear we have been abandoned. Empower us to confront our hesitancy during challenging moments. Inspire boldness within us to stand forth eager to be kind when others expect defensiveness, to remain compassionate when others expect resentment and to remain peaceful when others expect anger. Help us to understand that when you are empowering us, nothing can stop your will from being accomplished. Help us stand with the disciples of old who refused to stop speaking about what they had seen and heard. Amen.