Risen: Week 3 - "Why Are You Surprised?"
This week we'll be continuing our sermon series for the season of Easter, a series entitled "Risen."
The question that we've been struggling with over the course of this series is a challenging one. Easter Sunday came and went. Now what do we do? Do we simply celebrate Easter and move on as if nothing happened?
If we believe that Jesus is risen, that he's alive--then what does that mean for us? For all of Creation? For our church? For our culture?
Today we take another step in answering that question. The passage of scripture that we'll be studying today from the book of Acts is about an unexpected moment of delight and transformation that shocked a bunch of people--who honestly had become used to disappointment.
As I was thinking about the sermon this week, I remembered a story I had read some time ago about some unusual signs that were being used by the English Historical Trust in Great Britain. These signs were not at all what you would expect to see at a historical site.
You can read the entire story HERE
What was it like reading those signs? Imagine if you were visiting that historical site and you saw them? Pretty awesome, don't you think?
Several years ago, when I was living in Chicago, I was in line at a 7-11 downtown to buy something or another. A young woman came in to the store with a bedraggled-looking guy, who looked like a hoodlum. I immediately had a bunch of judgements about her lack of judgement to be with a dude so nasty. Then I realized that he was actually homeless, and she was buying him lunch.
I was immediately ashamed of myself and surprised. Those kinds of things always take you a bit aback, don't they?
I don't know about you but I love watching the videos that get posted on Facebook and Youtube that show active-duty soldiers returning home and surprising their loved ones at public events, school, etc. Every single time, I get choked up.
What is it about unexpected good things that surprises us?
Why do we delight in them so much?
There's a story in the book of Acts that I think will help us figure this out.
Let's read Acts 3:12-19
12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, 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? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 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 completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,
Let me tell you a little about this story.
Peter and John were coming to worship and pray in the Temple that day. This is after Pentecost, after the big revival that we talked about last week when 3000 people followed Jesus. They walk through a particular gate called Beautiful, which was a popular entrance to the Temple. There was a guy who could not walk that for most of his life had sat right at the entrance to that gate. Every day someone would bring him there, and he would beg all day long. He would get people going in to church and then get them going out. Everyone who went through that gate on a regular basis knew this guy by sight.
Peter and John healed the guy. They told him to stand up and walk, and he did. Then everyone starts freaking out. "How can this be?" "Is this really the guy?" "How could this happen?" "What the heck is going on?"
And so Peter preaches to them, but at the beginning of his sermon he asks them a question--the question that stopped me in my tracks when I was thinking about this sermon. He asked, "Why are you surprised?"
The people who went into the Temple every day to worship and pray were all praying for essentially the same things. At some point in their prayers they would pray for the restoration of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, for the kingdom of God to come to earth. They had been longing for a new world.
And it came.
Jesus ministry on earth was the opening act of God's future/present kingdom. His death, burial and resurrection were the middle and climax. The kingdom of God was at hand. The new world they had longed for had arrived. And Peter and John healing the man in the name of Jesus was a sign of that kingdom.
Because of the Resurrection, everything was different. Everything they had been expecting was happening all around them.
Yet, they were shocked when they saw it. They were surprised by it when they were confronted with the new reality that God had done something so new, so extraordinary that nothing would ever be the same again.
They had longed for this. But when it came--they were still shocked, and not really able to see it properly. Which prompted Peter to ask that very important, very telling question...
"Why are you surprised?"
Let's go back a bit.
Those signs at the English Historical Trust that we saw... why do they speak to us? What is it about those unexpected signs that makes us feel something like joy and delight?
Is it because they invite us to enjoy the grass, the trees, the flowers... all of the things that typically we aren't allowed to touch. Is it because they encourage us to engage with the site, to take photos, to use our cell phones to tell others what we are seeing--when so many places like that tell you not to?
Or is it something deeper than that?
Could it be that it reminds us at a deep spiritual level that there was once a Garden--a perfect world, a world full of possibility, peace, beauty and oneness with God. And that world is what God truly wants for us--that world is how it should be.
And that woman in 7-11. Did it surprise me to see her buy lunch for the homeless man because it destroyed my stereotypes and taught me a lesson about my own prejudice and lack of empathy? Absolutely.
But it also gave me a glimpse of a world where there were no hungry people, no sideways glances at couples who "didn't match," no one who was dehumanized to the point that they had to beg for food from people who "ate too much" for lunch. The way the world should be, in other words.
There are lots of reasons why we get teared up to see soldiers welcomed home by their families. We think of the many hours that their children may have spent without them, wondering if they would return. We think of all of the many women and men who didn't get to come home, or who came home changed, wounded, traumatized...
But it also speaks to us in a deeper way. We see in that moment, the end of all wars. No more soldiers having to return home, because peace is more powerful than difference. We see the swords being beaten into plowshares and we rejoice.
Because that's how the world should be.
These unexpected moments of resurrection are glimpses of a world as it should be. Full of goodness, kindness, hope, peace, unity and love.
So why don't we expect them? Why are we shocked like those people in the book of Acts?
It could be that we want this new world on our own terms. They certainly did. Jesus came as their Messiah and they rejected him because he wasn't the Messiah they wanted. We do the same thing all of the time. When the change, the transformation that we seek for the new world we long for doesn't come in a package that is flashy and brilliant we often miss it when it happens. Or are shocked by it, which is often the same thing.
We also settle for the ordinary. It's safer that way. We lower our expectations so that we can be sure to hit them.
Or, like a lot of Christians do, we neglect the "now" for the "someday when." For many of us, our interpretation of what Jesus taught focuses solely on what happens when we die, or what happens at the end of all things, which we assume (like generations before us) is going to be any moment. And we miss all that God is doing around us to bring his kingdom to earth.
Some of us have grown jaded and cynical. We don't think that things can get better. We assume the worst. We think there is nothing new under the sun and that tomorrow is just going to be a lesser version of today, which was a lesser version of yesterday and so on. We lose our ability to create, to dream, to hope and to change.
So why have you stopped expecting the unexpected?
Who told you that you weren't worth more than ordinary? Who led you to believe that you don't deserve delight, wonder, joy and hope? Because you are worth more than simply ordinary things. You were created by God to experience the fullness of all that life both here and the hereafter has to offer. You should expect this.
Who told you that this world is not your home and that you are just a passing through? Some preacher? Some half-baked televangelist? Some best-selling author hawking his books online?
Listen, God has not given up on this world and neither should you. One day all things will be made new, I believe that. But until then, you and I are called to help people see what that looks like and to show them that they can begin living full and complete Resurrection lives right now. That they can expect a new world. They should expect it.
Who told you that it's never going to be better? Maybe you've been living under a cloud for a long time. You've gotten used to bad things. You've expected the worst is going to happen to you. It's time to claim your inheritance, child of God. It's time to step into the light of a new world, where sin, death, disappointment, guilt, shame, bitterness and fear are defeated once and for all. When he rose from the dead, Jesus left all of those empty things lying on the floor of that tomb just like the wrappings that had bound his dead body. You are set free! You need to expect the unexpected from this day forward!
Can I get a witness?
Because when you live a risen life, my brothers and sisters. When you live into the reality of God's new world. When you live into the hope of eternal life now and forever---you will learn to expect the unexpected.