Easter 3, Year B, April 15, 2018
Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I read our first lesson for today, my first thought was: “Really, Peter? You, of all people, are criticizing what others did during the events of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution? Does the word hypocrisy mean nothing to you?” Peter criticizes the crowd of Jerusalem residents for what they did: for first praising Jesus, and then turning on him when he didn’t do what they expected, and listening to the religious and political leaders who saw Jesus as a threat. And then, when Pilate offered to release a criminal, they chose the one who’d been imprisoned for leading a rebellion against the hated Roman conquerors, instead of Jesus, who taught about peace and healing and love. None of this is good. But let’s look at what Peter was doing, during that time. First, in the days leading up to Jesus’ death, he consistently misunderstood what Jesus meant and tried to stop him talking about the upcoming crucifixion. Then he repeatedly fell asleep when Jesus asked him to keep watch in the garden. Then, after Jesus’ arrest, he watched the trial but not only did he fail to come to Jesus’ defense and point out the lies the witnesses were telling, he denied that he even KNEW Jesus! There is no point in this sequence of events where Peter does the right thing. Not one. He didn’t call for Jesus’ death, but he did not say a word to prevent it. And here he is, criticizing what OTHER people did? People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
And when you get right down to it, all human beings live in glass houses where sin is concerned. Christ Jesus died because of the world’s sins, and that includes our sin, here and now. And, unfortunately, a lot of that sin is the exact same sin of that crowd who first welcomed Jesus and then turned against him. They wanted to be saved, but on their own terms, in ways that were familiar to them. And then they listened to the voices of anger and fear telling them that Jesus was a way of threat to their faith and their way of life. And they swallowed all the lies about Jesus that anybody could come up with. When Jesus seemed like a winner, they were on his side. When Jesus seemed like a loser, they abandoned him and even cheered for his death and destruction. And given a choice between Jesus, whose promise of peace and salvation required them to change their hearts and minds, and Barabbas, whose promise of salvation was a bloody crusade against their enemies, they chose the violent one.
If you look around our society today, you will see exactly those same types of sin today, committed by good, Christian people. We get this idea in our heads that we already know what life in God’s kingdom is going to look like, and it’s going to look like things we’re familiar and comfortable with. Better than what we’ve got now, of course, but still pretty similar. After all, we’re already God’s chosen people, right? So we might still need God’s salvation, but we think it’ll fit neatly into our lives and society the way it is, just like those people of Jerusalem who called for Jesus to save them on Palm Sunday. Which means we may not recognize God’s salvation, God’s call, when it’s right here among us.
And there are a lot of voices speaking and shouting in anger and fear, right now. Fear about Americans of different races. Fear of Americans of different political parties. Fear of foreigners. Fear of anyone who is different. And while we are quick to see the flaws of people we count our enemies, we blindly follow the nastiest voices on our own side. We follow people who seem like winners, and attack those who seem like losers, with little regard for what is right or wrong. And we look for violent solutions, assuming that peace, security, and a just world can be created through violence and destruction. Even when we know this is wrong, we fail to speak out against it, or even deny what we know to be true. Every sin and flaw that led the crowds to call for Jesus’ death, and to Peter’s denial, is still within us here today. And that desire to blame others while hiding our own sins, as Peter did in our first lesson? That’s also still a part of us today. In the words of one of my favorite Lenten hymns, “Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee. I crucified thee.” You and I and every person living today are just as guilty of Jesus’ death as the people who stood in the crowd shouting “Crucify!”
So the question is, if we’re still plagued by all the sins and flaws that have plagued the world since the very beginning of the world, what does Jesus’ death and resurrection matter? What difference does it make, to you and I and our world, that Jesus died for us, and rose from the grave? Is it just pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by? Sure, we keep screwing up and hurting ourselves and others now, but when we die it will be okay because we’ll go to heaven? I mean, that’s true, but it’s also a little limited. Yes, Jesus’ resurrection means we will go to heaven, but Jesus also promised us new life in the here-and-now. Jesus repeatedly said that God’s kingdom was all around us, if we only knew how to see it.
We are full of sin, but we are also full of the Holy Spirit, and full of God’s love. For all that the world around us is calling for cynicism, hate, fear, and violence, God is working in us and around us to soften our hard hearts and purify us. God keeps calling us to see that there is a different way, a better way, a way of reconciliation that leads to mercy and justice and peace. Every time a bully stops hurting people, God is there. Every time people stand up to a bully and protect the victim, God is there. Every time people stop their knee-jerk reactions and choose to be kind and generous, God is there. Every time people stop a cycle of violence and destruction, God is there. Every time we give so that the hungry may be fed, the sick healed, homeless housed, refugees saved, God is there at work. God is working towards a day when love and peace will be everywhere and sin will be defeated for good.
And God is calling us, you and me, to be a part of that work. God is calling us to repent, to acknowledge the sin and brokenness in ourselves and turn to God for healing and forgiveness. The world is full of sin but we don’t have to let it rule us anymore. We can open our hearts and minds to Jesus, and let him change us. We can choose to do the right thing even when it is hard, even when it will not win us friends or popularity. We can choose to do the right thing even when it costs us. May we always confess our sins, and strive to act in love as God calls us to do.