What Have We Seen & Heard
So, we continue with our sermon series/study of the book of Acts.
I hope you are finding, or making, the time to read for yourself each week the chapter of Acts that we will study the following Sunday.
If you are able to do this, I believe it will help you to grow in your faith and in your discipleship to Jesus, which is after all the whole point of our Christian life.
If we want to be like Jesus, as the hymn says, “Lord, I want to be like Jesus, inna my Heart”.
One of the biggest helps in achieving this, being like Jesus in your heart, is to know what Jesus was like when he walked the earth.
To do that we engage in close and contemplative study of the four gospels.
But it also helps to know what Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, continued to do in and through the early church, after he returned to the Father.
And for that heart forming knowledge we must prayerfully study the book of Acts.
Of necessity any sermon on an entire chapter of the Bible, such as you will hear today, can only cover one or two aspects of the contents of that chapter.
So, to get full value out of this sermon series/study I invite you to read and reflect on each chapter of Acts as we work our way through this amazing book of the Bible.
Acts is truly amazing because it is as close as it comes to having a history of how the Holy Spirit empowered the formation, development and growth of the early Christian church.
So, Acts is a very important book of the Bible.
All this being said, let’s get into today’s sermon.
Two things struck me about today’s reading.
The first point that caught my attention was this.
In its earliest form, the church, the Christian faith that it embodied, was totally counter-cultural.
Using the terminology of the sixties, you could say that the early church was anti-establishment.
Chapter four of Acts makes my point for me.
What we have here is the story of a couple of ignorant and unlearned fishermen standing up in opposition to the religious powers of an entire nation.
Those two fishermen, Peter and John, stuck by their faith even in the face of threats from the religious establishment of their day; the same religious establishment that was instrumental in having Jesus executed on the cross.
So, truly, early Christianity, the early church was a counter-cultural movement.
It was not a movement that had the blessing of the broader culture in which it found itself.
It was a movement that quickly gained the support of those who, like the healed lame man, were living life, oppressed under the self-serving religious powers of the day.
People in the early days of the church were clearly hungry for something new, they were craving change.
Why else would five thousand have joined the church on the same day Peter and John were arrested, if they were not already anxiously looking for a better way of life.
The message of liberation that Peter and John brought with signs and wonders, bringing it even in the face of strong resistance from the established powers of the day, was that something new.
Therefore, we see that Christianity, from the outset, was meant to be, and was, countercultural.
The second point that caught my attention about this chapter is the healing of the lame man.
The healing actually happened in the previous chapter.
But it was such a big deal, caused such a stir in the religious culture of the day, that the consequences of it bled over into this chapter as well.
The healing was indeed a big deal.
It was a really big deal because this healing was Jesus’ first miraculous sign and wonder, which he performed through his followers, after he sent the Holy Spirit to empower his church to do these signs and wonders in his name.
The miracle of the healing of the lame man is the central act in this chapter.
The events of chapter four flow from the healing which occurred in chapter three.
Because of this we have to look reflectively at the miracle in our study.
This miracle, like all miracles in the Bible, presents a lot of questions for reflection.
This is especially true for us today.
When it came to miracles, back in the day, the early church folk did not have to ask of themselves the questions that we in the church of today must ask.
As is well attested in Acts, Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the bold obedience of his followers to the Spirit, performed many signs and wonders.
No problem, no questions.
Miracles quickly came to be expected in the early church.
It soon became a given that ministry in Jesus’ name happened with signs and wonders following.
But today, ours is a different story.
I don’t know about you, but in my ministry experience signs and wonders are pretty thin on the ground.
As in I haven’t seen a lame man healed, in like – ever.
So, why not?
Why no signs and wonders in today’s church?
Is there too little faith in the church?
That’s a quick and easy answer.
But I don’t think this is it.
Jesus said if we have faith as small as a mustard seed that it’s enough faith for us to make trees fly.
Surely between all of us sitting here today we could scrape together a lump of faith that is bigger than a tiny seed.
So, lack of faith – not the problem – not the reason for the absence of signs and wonders in the church.
Is it that signs and wonders were necessary for that desperate time when the newly born church was fighting for its life?
But are no longer needed in our day and age when Christianity is firmly and safely entrenched in our culture?
This could be the case.
After all, God worked very hard with amazing signs and wonders when he was freeing the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt.
God really moved mountains feeding and watering his people in the wilderness.
The Lord kept up the miracles as He cleared the way for his people to enter the Promised Land.
And then, once the people were safely settled God seemed to back off somewhat on the miracles.
Only showing up here and there in support of certain prophets and kings and usually in response to dire circumstances.
So, maybe we are on to something here.
Maybe God only shows up with signs and wonders when the church, which is the manifestation of his people today, is under threat.
This could be.
Except I wonder about my earlier statement that the church today is in a time of safety; comfortably and powerfully embedded in the culture we live in.
I actually think that we, the church, are now living in a time of mortal danger.
We are in danger, not of persecution by our culture like Peter and John because our beliefs and values and the way we live and express them are so different from our culture.
We Canadian Christians are actually in danger of being assimilated into our western materialistic culture.
I say this, because I wonder this.
When those outside the church look at the church, and I am thinking here of you and I as the church, when people see us, when they observe the way we live, do they have reason to wonder at the uniqueness of our lives?
Do they wonder why we live differently from them?
Or when they see us, do they see someone who lives just like they do; reacting in fear, anxiety, hatred, greed and self-interest to the events life brings our way?
If ever there was a time when the church needed a powerful witness in order to convert us and help us live in ways that subvert the culture we live in, the time is now.
So, Lord, please, a sign or a wonder.
Getting back to the possible reasons for, “Why no signs and wonders now?”
Perhaps the answer to the question is that the Biblical record of miraculous occurrences should not be taken literally; only metaphorically?
Now, metaphors should not be scoffed at.
Nor should their power to inform and transform be dismissed or even underestimated.
Metaphors are indeed powerful, particularly when they are prayerfully reflected upon and illuminated by the revelatory power of the Holy Spirit.
A case in point being Nicodemus when Jesus told him he needed to be born again.
Nikodemus rightly reasoned that surely Jesus didn’t mean for the him to somehow return to his mother’s womb.
The rebirth Jesus spoke of was indeed metaphorical.
And it clearly was a metaphor that worked for Nicodemus as he transformed from a midnight-questioner to being one of the two men who loved Jesus enough to risk removing his body from the cross and laying him in the tomb.
Jesus’ metaphor held the power to transform.
It was a metaphor with power because it was a metaphor pointing to a spiritual reality.
That reality is the need for all people to be reborn from above by the power of the Spirit.
Just as those in the upper room in Acts 2 were reborn and transformed by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
So, metaphors are powerful in changing lives.
But I don’t believe that the healing of the lame man in Acts 3 and the repercussions of it detailed in Acts 4 were metaphorical.
I believe the healing and its consequences are historical.
The miracle happened.
The birth and instant persecution of the church that resulted from it also happened.
Early miracles happened, they were not the early church’s metaphorical attempts to explain who Jesus was, or who he thought he was.
So why no similar miracles today?
Let’s take one more crack at answering this question by first summarizing the three reasons we’ve already discussed in attempting to answer the question, “Why no miracles in the church today?”
- Lack of faith in the church today
- Miracles are simply not needed in the church today
- Miracles described in Acts are metaphorical not literal
Here is how I would respond to the question and to the answers we have discussed.
First the lack of faith suggestion.
The fact that you are here today worshipping God is proof that this is not the answer.
The fact that you are here is proof that faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God is alive and well in the church, yet today.
And considering the many temptations, the thousands of reasons we all have for being anywhere else but in church, the fact that you are here today is actually, at the very least, a minor miracle.
The fact is we are all here because of the miracle of the gift of faith in God that brought us here.
The true miracle of our lives is that God is alive and well in our hearts.
Miraculously moving us to come together to witness to the world that his Kingdom is come.
Miraculously moving us to go from this place to live as God’s salt and light in the world.
I declare to you that the miracles of God are alive and well and living in our midst.
Miracles are still needed in the church.
We need the miracle of faith in our lives and in the life of the church still today if we are to live into our faith’s countercultural tradition and resist the temptation to live like our broader culture.
As for the metaphor thing; that is, healing as metaphor only.
I may not have seen any lame people get up and walk lately.
But I have seen lives healed by the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen again for the forgiveness of sin.
More than that, I have seen the Spirit miraculously active in the lives of people who believe.
I have seen people miraculously grow in genuine Godly compassion for others.
I have seen people’s lives transformed because their minds have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit allowing them to really hear the word of God and live past their biases and prejudices.
I have seen this miracle in peoples’ lives.
I have seen the miracle of mercy rejoicing over judgment as people forgive one another their trespasses.
Yes, I have seen signs and wonders even in our midst right here at LPC.
I’m still waiting, still hoping, still praying; to see my first lame person stand up and walk.