Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Telling Our Story

Telling our Story
Acts 1:6-14[1]
At Easter time, it’s common to see the phrase “It’s not about the Bunny.” As it turns out, that might not be entirely true. The image of a rabbit or a hare is an ancient one, and its original meaning is difficult to discern. But there is abundant evidence that the image of “three hares” was given Christian meaning as early as the 13th Century.[2] It was associated with the Trinity in many contexts. But the “Easter Bunny” originated in the German Lutheran churches as a counterpart to Nikolaus, who comes to bring gifts to children who have been good and lumps of coal to those who have not. The first reference to an Easter Bunny playing a similar role is found in the 17th century.
While the tradition of gift-giving at Easter as well as Christmas may have originated in the church, I think I would have to say that Easter is the celebration of our faith that death could not hold Jesus in the grave. Rather, God raised him up to new life as a demonstration that God is in the process of granting new life to us all. That is the true gift of Easter. And yet, as foundational as that is to our faith, I would have to say that the point of Easter is not just about the gift. It’s also about the astounding task that Jesus gave to all of those who follow him: to bear witness to the new life we have through his death and resurrection to the whole world.
The story that the book of Acts tells about the early church is a story of witness—the witness to the resurrection of Jesus and the new life that comes out of it. As soon as the church receives the power of the Spirit, they begin to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, from then on, they rarely mention the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection without adding, “We are witnesses of these things.” One of the amazing features of this story is that, despite all obstacles, against all odds, the early church’s witness to Jesus’ resurrection is a great success. It is natural to wonder what made the witness of the early church so successful. I think it was the fact that their message was demonstrated by their life.
The message of the early church was that Jesus had been raised from the dead by God, who vindicated Jesus’ claim to be our Savior.   They proclaimed to all who would listen that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a sign pointing us to God’s new creation that is already working to transform us all. They proclaimed that the resurrection validated Jesus’ claim to be the bearer of the kingdom of God, the realm of compassionate justice and joyful new life.  And they proclaimed the hope that, just as God has restored Jesus to life, so also God will restore all creation to life.  
But perhaps just as important a factor in the early church’s witness was that their message was backed up by their life.[3] They lived out the good news by their mutual acceptance of one another and by extending God’s gracious welcome to all. They sought God’s guidance in prayerful discernment by asking questions together and listening together for the answers. They lived out the joy of the resurrection in worship that opened their hearts and minds to a genuine experience of God. They shared their faith and their experience of God’s love with one another by sharing their testimony. They integrated the good news into every aspect of their lives through open and humble study. And they went out from their prayer and worship and study seeking to put into practice the compassion of God’s kingdom in every facet of life.
Some who study these matters would say that it was these practices that made the early church’s witness so powerful.  I think I might put it a little differently—what made them so successful was that their witness came out of the experience of being radically transformed in their own hearts and minds and lives.  They were bearing witness to that which they had experienced first hand!  One of the early Christian leaders put it this way: what they spoke about was “something which … we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands” (1 John 1:1, Phillips).
This new way of living is the true gift of Easter. And it is a gift that is for everyone, everywhere. I’ve used the analogy of an immunization before to illustrate the power of this gift. Like a vaccination spreads protection against disease throughout the body, so Jesus’ death and resurrection spreads new life throughout the whole creation. Where the analogy breaks down is that a shot usually takes effect fairly quickly to protect us from illness. On the other hand, the new life Jesus “injected” into this world through his death and resurrection has been working to transform all things and all people for over 2000 years.
In part, that transformation is something only God can accomplish. And yet, one of the means God has chosen to carry out this work is through people like you and me. As we live out the faith, hope, love, and joy of the new life in our lives, we contribute to the spread of this healing power in our world. But at the end of the day, we also have to speak. We cannot carry out the task of bearing witnesses to the new life of Easter silently. We are called and commissioned and empowered by the Spirit to share the message of Easter with those we encounter. If the new life is truly a reality that makes a difference for us, we are charged with the task of telling our story to others. It can be that simple: as we tell our story, we too are witnesses to the new life that Easter brings to us all.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/28/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[3] Cf. William H. Willimon, Acts, 52; cf. also Anthony B. Robinson and Robert W. Wall, Called to Be Church: The
Book of Acts for a New Day.

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