Acts 3:12-19 - Main Text
Ps 4 - Call to Worship
I John 3:1-7 - Yes
Call to Worship:
Answer me when I call, oh God of my righteousness!
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself.
The Lord hears when I call to him!
There are many who say, 'Who will show us some good?'
'Lift up your face upon us, Oh Lord!'
Easter Said... Then Done
[note: this is a very rough manuscript and I do not use it when I preach. I preach without notes, so the link to the audio very likely will not match up with the following.]
Imagine you're sitting at home one evening. You're flipping channels, waiting for your favorite program to come on and you catch the last few minutes of the evening news. You hear mentioned an outbreak of some unknown virus in a country you'd have trouble placing on the map, even though someone you know visited their recently.
The next day, you see it mentioned on your newsfeed on Facebook by a few people and within a few days you hear on the radio that it's spread to several other countries and it's causing some panic there. By the next week, you're seeing news on Facebook and the local news that people are really worried because a few cases have shown up in the US and health workers are being diagnosed with it. Several fatalities have been reported and people are worried. It's spreading like wildfire in other parts of the world and it becomes the leading concern in conversations at work.
Someone shared this story with me years ago, and not so long ago it seemed all the more real with the Ebola virus. Continue to imagine with me that it continues to spread. Here in the US, entire cities are cordoned off by the National Guard. Quarantine zones become a reality. Looting and riots break out. Fear and panic rise, violence and disorder erupt across the globe, millions are infected, millions die. It seems no one is immune and it is highly contagious.
In earnest, the CDC and World Health Organization plead for people to come in and be tested in hopes of finding anyone with immunity to the virus. People live in fear of contracting the disease and will not comply. Soldiers move from house to house with medical teams testing everyone.
You and your family, your wife and your son head to the nearest testing site. None of you has yet contracted the disease, but you're being told the virus is lethal in 100% of the people who become infected. You wait in a ward with hundreds of other people who look completely hopeless and doctors and nurses who look afraid to even touch anyone. A doctor hurries around asking for someone, you catch your last name. Your eyes meet. He doesn't look afraid like everyone else. For the first time, you see hope. He actually looks happy, excited. He confirms you are the family he's seeking, and asks you to follow him to an office. Your spouse stays with your son.
He begins by saying how extraordinary this is, how finally there's hope. He says they have been looking for an immunity, something that they can use to create a cure, to halt the rising tide of casualties. That's when he tells you that it's your son. The cure is in his blood. He carries a rare trait, an immunity. Your relief comes in waves. Not only is your son not infected, he's immune. And his immunity can save your life and the lives of countless others. His blood can save the world.
The doctor explains that they will need to take samples immediately and begin to study his blood and synthesize a cure immediately. He uses a lot of medical jargon you don't understand about virology and immunology. A lawyer from the government and representatives from the CDC and WHO come in and are just as excited as you are starting to feel. They hand you a stack of documents to read and places for you to sign for consent to examine your son and take blood. On the blood donation page, there is a blank above the signature line. It says, blood in the amount of ______. You pause. It doesn't say how much.
The doctors and government reps all stop bustling and look to the doctor with whom you've been speaking. No one will make eye contact with you. Time is of the essence, he begins. I mean, if we had more time... If we had more resources or any other subjects... If there was any way... He can't finish a sentence.
Someone else lays a hand on his shoulder and looks at you with a pained expression. All of it. I'm afraid we need all of it. Perhaps you break down, perhaps you scream in protest. Perhaps you do both. No one can console you, but no one tries to contradict you. They know the weight of what they've asked. And you know that without your son, everyone you have every known and loved, everyone... will die.
In the coming days, it is announced a cure has been found. Doctors are applauded, teams of researchers are awarded. The military is thanked for their heroism in a time of crisis. Politicians vie for credit. The world celebrates. Dancing in the streets. Parades. Everywhere you turn, people are full of joy. The pain you feel as the world moves on with little to no mention of your son does not compare, however, to the weeks that follow, the months after that. Once things return to normal and the fear subsides, TV shows return, work resumes, vacations are planned, travel bans are lifted... no one follows the news of the recovery as closely as the descent into chaos. Few people talk about the miracle of the cure or your son and the sacrifice of your family. You find it hard to talk about and share that news because it seems no one wants to hear it. Every day, this news so precious to you, this miracle you witnessed, you want to share it. And so you do, with anyone and everyone who will listen. And those who do are incredibly moved by the bravery of your son, the sacrifice of your family, and they want to tell everyone they meet.
What if... WHAT IF... we lived our lives as Easter people EVERY day, people touched by a miracle. The passage today says that we are WITNESSES to this story. But Brian, Easter was two weeks ago! Easter was 2,000 years ago! We weren't there!
The Disciples were there. They witnessed his life, his miracles, his ministry, his teaching. They experienced his love firsthand, he was their friend. They watched their friend mocked, tortured, and killed. They experienced the sacrifice and the resurrection. They could not remain silent. And because they could not keep it to themselves, we know the story today, and we continue to be an Easter people. It's why we worship on Sunday, why Sunday became the Sabbath for early believers... the day our Lord was raised!
Sunday becomes an opportunity to share the Gospel. I don't know how many times people have told me they just don't have opportunities to share their faith. Every person in this room has an opportunity because they were here today. Hear me out.
In the story I told you, imagine the opportunities created. Every single time anyone would mention their health or a hospital or a doctor or the cure, travel or the government or military or anything that happened during that crisis, that's a window of opportunity to mention your son and what he did.
Just to be a church on Sunday weekly opens a door. You go to lunch after this, nicely dressed. No one has to ask where you've been. They know. You're incredibly kind and gracious to your waiter. You ask to pray for your waiter. You are encouraging and patient of slow service, understanding it's a busy day and perhaps they are new or they have a family member facing crisis and didn't get to be in church today to share their concern with those who would pray and love them. You're complimentary and appreciate of a job well done. You tip well.
You have Saturday evening plans and as you head out, you tell them you'd love to stay longer, but you have church tomorrow and you want to be well-rested so you can teach a good lesson or pay attention to the sermon or prepare your children for worship.
Your son or daughter has a soccer match rescheduled for Sunday morning because of rain. You tell them you won't be able to make it because your faith and family are a priority and a commitment you take seriously. Another parent hears you and finally has the confidence to say, yes, us too. I didn't want to be the only one. Hey, us too, actually.
Your employer asks you to work Sunday morning and you say, ok, that's tricky with church, but my church has three services and I'll go to an earlier one this week. I definitely can't miss my Bible study Tuesday night if I take this shift.
You're visiting family or friends out of town who rarely go to church. Can we go to your church this Sunday with you? We'd love to worship with y'all and meet your family of faith.
You have countless opportunities to open a door and invite someone in. But, Brian, then what do I say? Someone ask me... Brian, what do we say???
I'm glad you asked. Because as believers who gather together to learn, to grow, and to encourage, we are here to help each other tell the story... our story!
I have been asked countless times in my journey how I came to be a pastor. Perhaps you've been asked how you ended up in your calling or at this church, or a believer...
I've learned how to boil it down, to get at the marrow of it. As our custodian here at church, Archie says, "to make a long story short..."
My first summer of college, I worked for a few weeks in the District Attorney's office of Cabarrus County, where I grew up. In that time, I saw people I knew, friends of mine, marched into court in orange jumpsuits and shackles. I spent the rest of the summer at Camp Grier in Old Fort, NC. I worked as a camp counselor with kids from the boondocks, kids from the burbs, and kids from the inner city. They had one thing in common that my friends in jumpsuits did not. They were given the opportunity to hear the Easter story, to hear that they were loved, by God and a community of believers, part of a tradition of a people of faith. That was something I knew my friends had not had. I decided then that I wanted to be on the preventative rather than prosecutorial end of that process.
When I told that to an older gentleman shortly after that became my story, he said, "So basically you were tired of pulling them out of the water and you wanted to go upstream and keep from jumping in in the first place?" That's exactly it.
You see, that's my story of my encounter with God in my life. It's not a conversion experience or a miracle. God showed up and it was so profound that it could not be ignored. And he does that for each of us. Sometimes it's a moment or an experience. Sometimes it's a summer or a relationship with someone who nudges us in a new direction. Maybe it's years of growing up in Sunday school classes or youth groups or away from the church completely that has shaped you and opened your heart to the Easter story, the life-changing existence of a God who loves you and changes your life for the better. What is that for you? What is your elevator speech? What is your commercial spot? What is your movie teaser trailer that hooks someone so much they want to... need to know more?
Because once you have opened that door, with your commitment, your life, the way you clearly prioritize the places you go, the things you do, where you give your time and money and the talents you take pride in... people will want to know.... THEN share that story, that bite-size sample of God in your life.
But Brian, I don't know how to condense my story or to choose a moment or experience like you shared... YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There is a faith hero in your life. A teacher or a relative or a pastor ;-) who can help you find the story that is yours, the words that will tell it. And in each retelling, it will deepen, it will inspire.
You have homework this week. Turn to the person beside you... if you don't know them, introduce yourself after this service right away. If you know them, this will help even more... Tell them... YOU HAVE HOMEWORK THIS WEEK... If you have your story, your elevator speech, your teaser trailer... you find the moment to share it, the door that opens because someone wants to know about this priority in your life, this thing you call faith. You find it, you make it, and you share.
If you are one of those people who just said, but I don't have one! YOUR homework this week is to learn to tell yours. Think now, write it on your bulletin, who is your person, your faith person, your go-to spiritual advisor, accountability partner, your small group, or your mentor. Write it down now. Go to them. Ask them for help. Write down, "my Easter experience." I will be asking you when I see you this or at church or at Go Burrito or Mean Mug or Harris Teeter what your story is and I really want to know. Your experience of Easter is what makes you a follower of Christ. It's what makes US an Easter people, children of God, descendants of the resurrection!
Do not be a people who have Easter for just one day, Easter preached, Easter experienced, Easter said... and then DONE. This is our story. We have to find ways to share it every day.