Monday, July 18, 2016
Pushing Boundaries - The Controversial Life
Preached on Sunday, July 17, 2016
Scripture reading: Acts 4:1-20
One of my grandmas (my Baci or Babci) was Polish and when I was a kid she taught me some Polish words. My favorite was “idź spać”.
“Idź spać” literally means “go to sleep”, but you can use it as one way of saying “shut up”. I loved that saying that!
When I was little, I would use that on people who had no idea what it meant. And I wouldn’t tell them what it meant. I was smart enough to know better. Or you could say I was just being silly.
The high priests of the Temple in Jerusalem must have thought that one of their most important jobs was to say “shut up”. I think they really loved that job. I think they were used to having people shut up very fast when they said it.
Peter had been on trial, once before, about Jesus. It wasn’t a formal trial. That first trail happened on the night when Jesus was arrested, when bystanders accused Peter of being a disciple of Jesus. Peter crumbled in fear and denied even knowing who Jesus was.
On this day in court, Peter was brilliant. Actually the Holy Spirit was brilliant. Peter said: “Are you putting me on trial for an act of kindness?” “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 all the people of 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 healed.” (Acts 4:9-10)
Sometimes Christians seem very weird in the wrong way, and for all the wrong reasons. The New Testament teaches us to be weird in the right way, for all the right reasons.
Or maybe it shouldn’t be weirdness. It’s about being controversial. Followers of Jesus are called to the controversial life. Jesus motivates us to live, and speak, and respond in extraordinary ways; in unexpected, surprising ways. We are called to imitate the pattern of Jesus.
We do it for him. We do it in Jesus’ name. Paul wrote: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
In this story about a healing, and the joy, and the fear, and the anger which that healing produced, we can see this element of surprise over and over again. When Peter and John made contact with the lame man, healing came as a complete surprise. The lame man never asked for healing.
There’s a little humor in it too. Peter almost joked when he said, “I’m sorry that I don’t have the money you need. All I can do for you is to heal you in the name of Jesus.” That’s an Evans paraphrase.
In the trial before the Jewish high court, Peter started out pretending to misunderstand the purpose of the trial. “Are we on trial for kindness here? Are you the kindness police?” Peter made light of something the court took very seriously.
The members of the court weren’t used to being treated like that. Even more surprising, the members of the court were very skillful in the art of creating fear and intimidation, and the disciples only demonstrated courage and conviction. It took the members of the court completely by surprise.
The court did nothing to Peter and John to hurt them, but the warning and the threat were real. The life of the disciples was set to change. Controversy for the sake of Jesus would be costly. Peter, and John, and the rest of the followers of Jesus would live into a life under threat.
How did they all respond? They prayed. What did they pray for? Did they pray for deliverance, and safety, and God’s all-powerful protection? No! Did they pray for wisdom, and prudence, and discernment?
No! The discernment they already had led them all to pray for boldness. That was the big surprise. The high court hadn’t sent them home for that. The Holy Spirit did the surprising thing and filled them all with boldness.
Peter and John had been courageous and positive. In their message to the crowd, they had made a point of comforting their hearers by recognizing that they had not realized what they had done when they shouted for the crucifixion of Jesus, and that the leaders hadn’t known what they were doing either. During the trial, Peter only talked to the high court the way he did in an honest effort to talk sense to them, and to tell them the truth that they clearly didn’t understand even yet. Boldness can be as simple as that.
In our controversial life we are only giving the world around us, and the people we see every day, a gift that we understand, knowing that they simply don’t understand yet.
In our controversial life we are called to do and to say surprising, unexpected things. In our controversial life we are called to humbly and good humoredly give to others something much better than what we are given. This is because of what Jesus has given us. It’s because of what Jesus is more than ready to them. We only give to the world around us the work and the words of Jesus.
The controversial life can be dangerous. In the end Peter died because he lived and spoke for Jesus. Of all the apostles, only John died a natural death. The others were all killed because they lived and spoke for Jesus, and because they did this with boldness.
Boldness for Jesus can be dangerous. People are dying for Jesus right now. We shouldn’t think that this danger is beyond the realm of possibility for each one of us. We never know what way the world will turn.
On a lesser note, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find yourself being told to shut up about Jesus. Someone you know very well, and have always gotten along with just fine, may basically say to you something like this: “We don’t care what you do as long as you shut up about it. Shut up about Jesus.”
Remember that you can be bold with humor, and grace, and with good sense.
Some Christians seem to think that Jesus does some sleight of hand with us. They think that, if you make a formal, heart-felt surrender of your right to a thing, that Jesus will turn around and give you that thing. I keep thinking that if I surrender what I consider to be my right to be married, that God will give me a wife. I’ve been making that mistake for years now.
If you surrender to God your sense of having a right to live a quiet, non-controversial life in which you are not called upon to have your faith judged and to have your faith mocked, that doesn’t mean that God will be OK with your retreat from the controversial life.
Of course you can play possum. You can play it safe, if you really want to do that. The price of playing it safe will be a life where God leaves you alone a great deal of the time. That can be a happy life, and a lot of people choose to live a life where God leaves them mostly alone.
Our calling is to rescue those people from that kind of happiness. You’ve got to choose your happiness carefully (or perhaps boldly).
When Peter and John were called back into court and told to shut up, this was their answer: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
One thing cannot be a surprise; and that is knowing whom to obey.
There is this other thing too. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” If we are to be followers of Jesus there must be something that we know of him.
Boldness is not a part of my nature. I had to start doing surprising things that no one expected me to do when I had a deep conviction in my heart that I could not stand the thought of being a person who said no to Jesus. I had to do something that I didn’t believe I had to do (and I still don’t believe I had to do it).
The Lord presented me with some minor thing that I had to do. I had to fight myself to do it. I had to be controversial with myself; that I would not say no in a little thing to Jesus, who died for me on the cross.
I have to be vague about this because, otherwise, I promise you, someone will make this little thing into a big thing that everyone has to do.
When I refused to be a person who said no to God, I began to change in many ways and to understand the Bible in ways I had never understood it before. I became happy in a way that I had not been, ever before.
There was no supernatural vision or hearing. There wasn’t even a sense of “my heart strangely warmed.” (Although I have had such spiritually warming experiences before and since.)
I had to perform the surprising gesture of disobeying myself and crossing a line that I had drawn in the sand. I was pushing a boundary. I was making myself into a controversy with myself.
When I did this, something in me cracked and opened. I simply became abler than ever before to see and to hear that Jesus is real, and that Jesus is Lord.
Before they were arrested, Peter and John spoke to the crowd about the times of refreshing that will come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19) This points to the new creation, the new heaven and earth that will come when Jesus comes again.
The times of refreshing, though, are beginning right now. They have been beginning for the last two thousand years. The times of refreshing come when Jesus crosses a line that you have drawn in the sand, when he comes to any person and cracks that shell that they have made to protect themselves from knowing who Jesus is.
The times of refreshing come with the forgiveness of that past life and the change that every person needs so much, so deep down inside them. That is the work of the death of Jesus for us on the cross, and his own rising to a new life to give us the gift of dying to ourselves and rising to a new life.
There is some way that Jesus will make you able to see and hear that he is real, and that he is Lord, that you have never understood before. Jesus died and rose to make this possible, and to make you his own person.
Then you will join the controversial life, and you won’t be able to help speaking and living what you have seen and heard of Jesus.