As you know, we are in the Easter Season which runs until Pentecost Sunday in early June. Easter is not simply one celebratory day out of our Christian calendar; it is an entire season of the church year. We could even proclaim that our celebration of resurrected life, a new life in Jesus Christ and its meaning for us, continues throughout the year. Christ’s resurrection is more than the ecstatic phrase “Christ is risen!” It is also “Christ is now,” “Christ saves,” “Christ teaches us today,” and “We follow the path onto which Christ leads us.” Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is about the quality and depth of substance of our lives. Easter always intrudes on the very substance of our lives.
Gary Nicholson exchanged a life consumed by work for one defined by total surrender to God through a church family. Mallory Matthews went from feeling like an outcast in the community in which she lived, to finding a community that supports her faith journey. Now she is pouring her life into other people. Amanda Ross felt a void, like something was missing in her life. She had an encounter and a simple conversation with a church member in her town and now she goes to that church and knows she is never alone in Jesus Christ. These are brief summaries out of longer stories about real life people who have new lives in Jesus Christ. I would hope I could add a brief summary of every life here today, and of those not here today too, influenced much in the same way.
Just like new life for these people, Easter, for us, evokes worship, confession, change, repentance, newness, the communion, as in fellowship, of worship, transformation, mutual love, and a willingness to follow God’s will and the Bible’s teachings for our lives. Our two passages, one in the Book of Acts, one in the letter of 1st Peter, were written years after the resurrection experience and they encourage new and changed lives because of what Jesus Christ, the human and the divine, did for us on that horrible, lonesome cross almost two thousand years ago. In the two passages, there are two distinct notions, public worship and changed lives even though they are intimately connected.
Certainly as a Co-Pastor, but also as a Christian, it concerns me when a Christian proclaims: I can be a good Christian without going to church; or, I’m not sure church is doing me any good; or, the church isn’t doing what it is supposed to do so I don’t attend; or this wonderful excuse, the church is full of hypocrites! A friend of mine used to say to that excuse, “well, there is always room for one more!”
There really aren’t too many legitimate excuses for missing worship unless one is ill, out of town, or had surgery or a death in the family. Weekly public worship is one essential way we respond to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf as we thank and praise God for mercy, grace and love offered freely. Biblically speaking, believers worshiping together, or public worship, is required as a grateful response for the Lord’s gift of salvation offered to all people. The problem with excuses is that they become a pattern for a way-of-life. Excuses are easy to make. Following through with a grateful response, and the ways in which one does that, including worship is not quite as easy. It takes time, energy, discipline and, often, a financial commitment too.
Public, corporate, worship within a faith community like an individual church or when attending a conference, workshop, or retreat is vital to living sincerely changed lives. In Acts chapter 2, Jesus’ disciple Peter is sermonizing after the Pentecost experience of the disciples speaking in different languages so all present could understand while the wind and flames of the Holy Spirit rested on the eleven disciples. Jesus promised them that after his death they would not be alone, and they weren’t for the Holy Spirit was with them just as Christ’s Spirit is now with us.
Before his sermon starts, Peter laid it on the line to the many people who had gathered around the disciples during their Pentecost experience. From Acts 2 verses 22-24, “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God through deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through (Jesus) among you, / as you yourselves know– this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death… Therefore, let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah…” Our passage explains that Peter’s listeners “were cut to the heart.” They asked him what they could do now that they had witnessed the presence of the Holy Spirit and heard the disciples’ message. Peter encouraged their substantive responses to be through repentance, baptism, and through his example to them right at the time, as he was living in a worshiping community. So the people, about 3000, listening repented and were baptized and did as explained in our verse 42, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Their responses were through acts of public response that others witnessed, These actions were corporate worship, learning, praying and fellowship.
Peter’s message was more than for his listeners at that time, it was for Luke’s readers too. It is commonly thought that Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts so those who knew of his Gospel, would likely have also known about Acts. It is probable that Luke’s community was made up of more non-Jews than Jews. As one continues to read Luke’s Book of Acts, the mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews), becomes more apparent so that believers know all people are offered full participation in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ. Full participation, including worship, is an important way in which the believer responds most completely to God’s command for changed lives through Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Our passage in 1 Peter explains “prepare your minds for action.” As I’ve said, our response to God takes the form of actions, through public worship, prayer, learning about God and changed lives, lovingly presented at the feet of our Savior. We also learn that after one joins- biblically the act of joining as in being a part of is important- after one joins the community of faith, a particular church congregation, they then express Christ’s new commandment given at the Last Supper found in the Gospel of John, “This new commandment I give to you that you love one another.” I Peter calls this love “mutual love” in verse 22. Mutual love means that the two or more parties’ love has strong, compassionate, dedicated feelings for each other on the same or very similar level. It is reciprocal love. Jesus’ mutual love for us is only mutual if we love him the same incredible, freely-given way he loves us. This kind of love informs the conditions under which the listener’s or reader’s life is lived as she or he are called to “set their hope” on Jesus. As we learn what it means to seek an understanding of God in Jesus Christ in a self-controlled, self-disciplined way, 1 Peter explains as being ‘sober,’ we then set our hope for a new, changed life now and eternal life later entirely on the grace and love given to us, through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The author of 1 Peter explains that the resurrection was not merely a fortunate, happy ending but it was out of God’s intended purpose and plan through love for us that brought it about. God’s love in this way is only mutual when we have much the same complete devotion to God as the Lord has for us. Mutual love is a high and demanding calling for the believer but without it a Christian life would have little substance.
Did you ever see the TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” back in the mid-80s through the mid-90s? I only remember seeing a couple stories of beautiful mansions, people with Lear jets, multiple cars and residences, jewels galore, from that show. I especially remember the fascination I had for those people’s lives of privilege. There are several shows with the same type emphasis today, many found on cable channels. For example, I watch one such show called “Treehouse Masters.” An amazing architect and builder designs and builds, along with his crew, treehouses for his customers, who are already living in amazing houses and who specify what they want in a treehouse. These customers obviously have money for the treehouses are sometimes the size of a small house. They cost tens-of-thousands of dollars, and in a few cases hundreds of thousands. I really enjoy watching the design and building process and especially the end product. Some of them are simply stupendous and gorgeous! These treehouses are purely a privilege!
The Real Housewives franchise and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, both reality shows, are about very wealthy women, and some men, and the way they live. And dramas like Gossip Girl and Revenge are two dramas of that nature that perpetuate the lifestyles of the wealthy. I don’t watch any of those types of shows for they are full of very self-absorbed people and that’s difficult for me to watch. However, I do confess to the enjoyment of driving through affluent neighborhoods and seeing their homes. There are several such neighborhoods in Pittsburgh suburbs that are fun to lazily drive through. I also had immense enjoyment watching Downton Abbey with their incredible homes, clothes, jewelry and lifestyles. Many people do seem to be drawn in by such allure. However, those things are about a lifestyle, not a life of substance.
Well, I know I own too much stuff in our consumer-oriented society- just ask Rodger! Do you own a home you take some pride and comfort in? How much of your income goes into that home paying the mortgage, purchasing new carpet or furniture, or repairing old roofs and plumbing? Do you keep a relatively green, growing lawn and perhaps a flower bed or two, or, in my case, about seven? How many Saturday and Sunday afternoons have you invested in mowing, weeding, planting and sweating over them? Do you have pets and spend money on them? Do you enjoy golfing, tennis, skiing, baseball, football, bowling or working out? How much of your energy have you given to perfecting your sport or exercise skills and how much time is spent driving back and forth to those places? Do you count your career’s success as the definition of your personal success? All of these questions point to particular lifestyles. We all choose to invest in some sort of lifestyle. Every one of us here today is rich compared to developing countries lifestyles.
Now, in comparison, consider how much time you spend in church Bible Study, Sunday School, prayer, committee work, mission projects and other forms of outreach for and through this congregation. How well does your work for Jesus Christ compare to the time, energy, skills and money you spend in other areas of your life? My guess is, not as well as it could be because those other areas are more about lifestyles than lives of substance and we are more comfortable with lifestyles. Does your life substance follow a path laid out for you by the resurrected Christ? Does your lifestyle reflect your Christian belief full of substance? These are questions we must answer for ourselves in private reflection and prayer, taking the time necessary for that kind of reflection and prayer. Just as Peter encouraged his listeners, I encourage you to think about such things so that we all will truly be a people of the resurrected Christ, living new and changed-for-the-better lives throughout the Easter Season and this rest of this year.
May God’s name be forever praised forevermore.