Message of the day for Francis Asbury United Methodist Church
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Reverend David Melville
This morning’s scripture tells the story of Peter and John defending themselves against the terrible charge of healing a man crippled from birth. The lame man leaped to his feet and began to walk. Here’s what happened then:
“The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
The next day the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them. ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and everyone else in Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you completely healed. He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.” [Psalm 118: 22] Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Bug Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’
After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them because all the people were praising God for what had happened.” [Acts 4: 1-21]
Before I came out of the closet … i.e., before I grew older and stopped playing dee jay in my room closet, I would spin record after record for my audience’s pleasure in my makeshift radio station. I remember my stack of 45’s included an orange-labeled Capitol record hit by Nat King Cole:
Roll out those lazy, hazy crazy days of summer;
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer.
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer;
You’ll wish that summer could always be here.
I remembered and thought about Nat King Cole’s song this week as I realized that we are once again, liturgically speaking, beginning “Ordinary Time,” and we won’t have a special, more focused Sunday until All Saints Sunday, November 5. And then we will again have a slough of special Sundays, which sometimes are easier to preach about, to get excited about, and to show our spiritual stuff. It’s almost as if we are spiritually strutting on special, High Sundays. But what about the lazy, hazy crazy days ahead that are labeled “ordinary time?” Now that sounds real exciting, doesn’t it? Not the same ring as Christ the King Sunday, or Epiphany Sunday or Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, or Super Bowl Sunday, right? Well, I guess technically Super Bowl Sunday doesn’t count … We even sometimes refer to the coming days as the “Dog Days of Summer.” What a shame if we also treat them as the “Dog Days of the Christian year!”
This year I urge you to seek and to live out of the ordinary as if we don’t have any time left, as if this is our personal or collective final ordinary time. I urge you to see Christ in new ways, which is what happens on other special Sundays and times on the Christian calendar. The image and presence of Christ should not be felt less in any one season than another. So let’s not have a lazy, hazy, average or ordinary Summer and Fall before we get busy again. Let’s have a crazy, extraordinary season in the life of the church.
How do we pump life into “Ordinary Time?” I suggest we live like Peter and John did in the immediate days following a very special time: Pentecost. Not long after Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Holy Spirit arrived, Peter and John were healing others and telling others what had just happened. The Resurrection and Pentecost permeated their lives, so their days were anything but routine and ordinary.
Imagine if Peter’s and John’s friends had asked them, “Wazzupp!?” “Yo, what’s happnin’ dudes?” and the disciples of Jesus had answered, “Not much, man,” or “Oh, you know, man, same old thang.” We might not be here today talking about Jesus.
But scripture says the authorities, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” [Acts 4: 13] There was something special and different about these fellows that the Temple elders couldn’t quite put their fingers on. Something out of the ordinary was going on –something the authorities had assumed would stop after Jesus was killed.
So maybe that would be a few ways to make otherwise ordinary time come alive: live courageously, astonish others, and live as though we have been with Jesus. We must stand out in an increasingly secular world in which Christians are an ever-increasing minority. Otherwise, our lives are ho-hum, making no difference one way or another, which is not exactly what Jesus asked of his disciples before He left. I definitely recall the Savior requesting, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” [Matthew 28:19-20]
Will others take note this summer that you have been with Jesus? Acting courageously may seem to be unrequired in a free nation like America, but I submit that in our time and place the opportunities to act courageously may include standing up against bullies, knocking on doors like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons continue to do (mocked all the while), not laughing at racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes, kicking a destructive addiction, staging an intervention, getting up and going to church when no one else in the household does, tough love with family members and friends … all of these actions take courage, or something akin to courage.
I submit we let others know that we have “been with Jesus” when we have a certain peace about us, even in a storm. Remember the story of John Wesley traveling by ship to America for the first time. Like most sea voyages back then, the trip had its scary moments, and once when capsizing and death seemed imminent, our fearless leader was scared to death. Our ordained priest in the Church of England was scared to death. But he took note of one group of Christians on board—the Moravians – who did not appear to be scared, or at least overcame their fears with the peace of Christ. Mr. Wesley learned a lot from that experience. He didn’t learn and promulgate any new fancy theology and doctrine from the Moravians; what they believed and sang about the risen Lord was not important that day. That kind of stuff can be boring anyway and go in one ear and out the other. What was important for the Moravians was that they, like Peter and John in Jerusalem, showed their relationship with Jesus. As Peter and John astonished the Jewish leaders, the Moravians astonished John Wesley. And believe me, John Wesley spent the next fifty years astonishing ordinary villagers and miners and colliers and those just trying to survive. There were no ordinary times in John Wesley’s life. Even though he lived to age 88, Wesley knew time on this side of eternity is short. John Wesley lived as if every day would be his last. And your last day on earth should be anything but ordinary! It should be like your birth: even though births have occurred billions of times in the history of evolution when you stop and think about it, each birth is still astonishing, miraculous and extraordinary. You are a unique human being, capable of doing unique and extraordinary things. And all the time … not just in certain seasons of your life, or in certain seasons of the church life. Don’t be lazy, lackadaisical, average or ordinary at any point.
The Sanhedrin — the Jerusalem Jews’ ruling Council — faced a dilemma. Peter and John had backed up their words with action, and that’s a hard combination to beat. When Christians combine words with action, we accomplish the extraordinary. I urge you even in what may be perceived and accepted as a slower-paced, quieter, less ceremonial time of the church year and the secular year … I urge you to back up your words – including the words we employ so dispassionately in the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed each Sunday – with action. I wish the New Testament Book of Acts would have been named the Book of Action, for that is what it is: the formation of the early church, the leadership structure of bishops, apostles, and very importantly, deacons. And my goodness, the Book of Acts is mostly about the man of action: Paul. Words alone out of Paul’s mouth following his conversion would have simply gone with him to his grave. But his actions have lived on. Paul was no ordinary Christ-follower, and he lived at full speed all the time, because he knew he would have only so much of it.
I have never understood why churches feel like they have the right to slow down in the summer. Even large churches reduce the number of worship services, cancel choir for the summer, expect and accept less financial giving, and in general, have thrown in the towel to alleged different summer routines. Even though some in leadership (i.e., staff), or many people in the pews may be on vacation, the kinds of things Peter and John were doing can and must continue on. Fewer people around may actually wind up feeling and demonstrating a stronger Holy Spirit if those fewer people, like Peter and John, realize all that is at stake. The Holy Spirit’s power is not governed by numbers.
Don’t you love to leave your detractors or critics speechless? When the Temple police could see the man Peter and John had healed standing in front of them, scripture records, “there was nothing they could say.” [Acts 4: 14] The authorities didn’t know our modern sayings, but basically, they were thinking, “We can’t fight the facts;” and “It is what it is.” In a lost world, the church cannot afford to take months off during any given year without producing fruit … without producing action … without walking the walk. Under our present calendar, we are apt to look no differently than thousands of other clubs and organizations, taking a break in the summer and around holidays. But in a lost world the church must be above average and must be out of the ordinary. If not us, who?
Brothers and Sisters, we are the modern-day Peters and Johns. I’m sure the average, ordinary Joe healed by Peter and John’s out-of-the-ordinary actions was most grateful that he wasn’t left standing in the lurch because his needs happened to peak in the non-busy time of the church year. Peter and John were always on the job of being Christ-like. Healing, helping, saving are year ‘round tasks. As they say, hunger doesn’t take a break for the holidays; neither does domestic abuse, and any other social malady. Remember, Hurricane Katrina, and the Great Flood of 2016 occurred in Ordinary Time on the Church calendar. Hello? Is there ever a right time? We must be disciples of Christ all the time. An extraordinary response was required following Katrina and the floods of 2016, and an extraordinary response was provided, regardless of what season of the church year it happened to be.
You may ask, “Pastor, what about the scriptural and the common-sense needs for periodic rest, relaxation, restoration, and re-booting? Even God, after six days, re-booted. Surely pastors should preach and practice down time to avoid burn-out and to avoid becoming work-a-holics.” Pastors should be advising rest for ourselves and for our parishioners. Actually, we could be resting on 52 Sabbaths a year, which is what God prescribed, but our Sabbath for many Christians is a work day which is not replaced by a Sabbath during the week. And each church, in the Conference office, and every institution should be organized with shifts, with cross training and with planning to assure day-in-and-day-out Christ-like actions … not just on certain days. I don’t think God is pleased or impressed with Christians’ Lenten sacrifices, or Muslims’ Ramadan noble actions if during the remainder of the year such sacrifices and actions are average and ordinary, or even suspended because of the secular calendar and when convenient.
I did a little research and discovered that actually United Methodists – almost going it alone – adopted the term Kingdomtide for the long, temptingly lazy time of the year we are facing. I like that … it connotes that after the birth story of Jesus, recognition of who He was incarnate, His public ministry, His arrest, death and resurrection, and the appearance of the Holy Spirit, the new Christ-followers went about building the kingdom of God on earth, using all they had learned and through the power of the Holy Spirit. But for some reason, after 1992, the season called Kingdomtide fell out of disfavor even for Methodists, and now we’re once again stuck in a rut of the exciting season of “Ordinary Time.”
Well, I say, don’t always follow the church calendar … help the kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven, every day of the year!