* a sermon preached in class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on April 26, 2016 *
Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.
Text: Acts 4:5-12
Please pray with me this afternoon:
…in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Sometimes the task of preaching on the texts for the day require a little more imagination. If you’ve ever preached on the parable of the talents, or really any of Jesus’ parables for that matter, you know this to be true. Those sermons need a bit more explanation, illustrative examples, extensive metaphor… The preaching event, like the parables themselves, is a layered thing to be uncovered and unfolded.
And then sometimes, on occasion, the pericope itself comes out and names the kernel of Gospel truth that we are so often searching for. Sometimes Scripture “tells us plainly,” if you recall the Gospel text from last week.
And I think that’s what we have here today. I mean, Peter’s preaching a dang sermon. He’s taken the expository discourses from Acts 2 and Acts 3 and condensed them into concise declarations of pure Gospel. And the crux of his persuasive speech comes at the very end of our reading today: “There is salvation in no one else but Jesus Christ of Nazareth. There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Friends, there is a myth being floated in these hallowed halls of steel and glass. It’s a myth that I think many of us feel, and that most of us could name, but, as one of our classmates expressed to me on Friday, it feels as if LSTC is no longer a safe space to do so.
Some opinions feel welcome in the conversation, and others do not.
But here it is…we are not our own saviors.
We do not manufacture our own salvation.
We don’t even participate in our own salvation.
Our salvation has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the One who gave himself for us.
Peter knew this. Peter knew, deeply, that the balm of salvation didn’t come from anything he did or didn’t do. Peter knew that we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul writes to the ekklesia in Philippi.
Peter has been on a journey from denier to evangelist, as perhaps we all are…daily.
Perhaps Peter is so resolute in his assertion because he is plagued by the memory of denying Jesus three times. Do you recall the Gospel lesson from a few weeks ago, in which Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter reasserts his love for Jesus the same number of times as his denials?
Peter was the one who answered Jesus’ question of his identity in Matthew and Mark by proclaiming Jesus as “the Christ.”
We are Peter.
I am Peter.
It’s myth to suggest otherwise.
In one breath I proclaim Jesus as Christ, the Promised One in whom I have my being. And in the very next millisecond, I will deny with that very same being even recognizing the name.
“Simul justus et peccator,” as our own Blessed Martin Luther would say. In the very same breath.
This was Peter’s third defense of Jesus as the Christ in Acts. The first was on the day of Pentecost when he used the wisdom of the prophets to fashion his argument. The second was in Solomon’s Portico where he cited Torah, the Law. This third time, in front of the Sanhedrin, he cites Psalm 118:22.
Prophets… Law… Poetry…
May we all know our Scripture so well…
In his defense here, Peter engages the religious authorities on the grounds of Scripture. Pretty risky business, to argue the home team on the home team’s own field, but Peter’s convicted. That, and, “Prophets are never welcome in the prophet’s own hometown,” anyway. Right, Jesus?
Peter not only challenges the religious authorities’ reading of Scripture, he’s making the claim that the Holy Spirit has changed the game.
But what’s Peter’s goal? What’s his end game?
Y’all know how much I loathe platitudes and buzzwords and cliché…but……it’s all about relationship.
I don’t know if I would make the claim that Peter is inviting the religious authorities into relationship…maybe…but it is certain that Peter has been absolutely transformed by the restoration of his life-giving, life-altering relationship with the risen Christ.
A relationship that has clearly manifested itself in the Acts community. The sharing of resources, a discerning governing body attuned to the workings of the Spirit and the will of God, the unconditional care of the poor and the sick, the giving to any as they had need…
Throughout Peter’s story, we see the breaking of relationship followed by the chance, or the opportunity, to repair that relationship.
And that is the function of the Christ—to repair relationships—our relationship with God and our relationships with each other.
It is a myth that we are our own saviors.
For we who our Christian, our salvation is a result of nothing other than the Christ stretching out his arms on the cross and drawing the world unto himself. Dying to destroy death, and being raised by God to overcome it.
Salvation is God’s work. Liberation is ours. And to be clear, those two things are intertwined.
Luke uses the bodily word sozo to describe the healing of the lame man. The recognition is that salvation (soteria) is as much about the body (soma) as it is about the soul. It all comes from the same root. Salvation is an earthly, fleshly thing.
It is wholeness. It is completeness. It is unity. And it is wellness. And health. And physical well-being.
And being tied together in “a single garment of destiny,” as Dr. King reminds us means that “I am not what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
It means that my liberation and ability to live abundantly as God intends is inextricably linked to your liberation and your ability to live abundantly, is inextricably linked to the liberation and abundant life of the person sitting next you.
African-American womanist theologian and Professor of Systematic Theology at SMU, the Reverend Doctor Karen Baker-Fletcher says it this way, “[Peter] was intimately familiar with the sociopolitical oppression that leads to fear and denial. He also intimately understood the experiential power of freedom available in the power of the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection, ascent, and life as Son of the living God who is the power of all life.”
There is power in the very name of Jesus.
Image Credit: Dawn Armfield; Unsplash