This is not the same Peter we usually hear about.
Peter, as we usually meet him in scripture, is a fisherman, a working-man, a little rough around the edges, a little thick in the skull. Nothing subtle about him. Prone to thinking big, but a little fuzzy on the execution. Peter begged Jesus, “call me to you, so I can walk on water.” And he sank below the waves, until Jesus extended a hand to rescue him. Up on the mountaintop, Peter said, “Let’s build a house up here, just us, in this holy place!” And Jesus just had to shake his head and lead him back down. At their last dinner together, Jesus says he must wash his disciples’ feet, and Peter says, – “Don’t just wash my feet, wash my hands and my head too!” And then, close to the end, Peter follows the arrested Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest’s house, and stands there, waiting, to hear what’s going to happen next. That night, he denied Jesus three times, saying “I do not know that man.” By the next afternoon, his desertion was complete - like most of Jesus’ followers, he ran away from the terror of the cross, and hid. Some disciple. Some student, he was.
Except, four Sundays ago, we learned it wasn’t the end. Three days after they thought all hope was lost, the Risen Christ shows up, walking through locked doors to get to his people, breathing the spirit of life into them once again. Yes, even Peter - the clumsy, clunky, imperfect Jesus follower who could never quite get it right.
And so when we meet Peter again in the book of Acts, we find a disciple we hardly recognize. He preaches a passionate sermon. “Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified,” he says. Going up to the temple, he encounters a man begging, and heals him in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. And when the crowds are confused, he preaches again: “Why do you wonder at this, why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” All this public talking about Jesus gets him arrested. And still Peter keeps talking about Jesus. Questioned by the elders, the authorities – in the very setting that Jesus had been questioned not so many weeks before – he boldly proclaims:
‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
“This man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ.” He might as well have been talking about himself. Because nothing else could take the Peter we know, and love, and shake our heads at, and turn him into a preacher. Nothing else could take the sad, broken man who had denied his beloved teacher and ran away in terror, and turn him into a passionate witness to the power of the Resurrection.
It’s a Jesus thing. We’re not so used to talking about Resurrection stuff in our UCC tradition. We connect with the moral teachings about “love your neighbor”; we like what Jesus has to say about forgiveness (it comes in really handy sometimes); we can feel really warm and fuzzy about the “come unto me and rest” Good Shepherd (especially after a rough week at work).
The Jesus part, we’re good with. But when somebody starts talking about how following the Risen Christ changed their life, we have a tendency to squirm. This Resurrection-and-New-Life business gets a little edgy. Doesn’t seem quite like “us.” A little too supernatural, a little too preachy. I spent 3 years in the South on a military installation after growing up in a nice little Congregational church in New England, and I got a lesson in “Jesus”-ing down there. Let me tell you, nothing shuts my willingness to listen down faster than when somebody gets their Jesus all up in my face.
Even so, I am here to tell you that Resurrection Happens. That the power of the Risen Christ is a life transformation that we cannot understand, that we cannot control, that we cannot co-opt.
This woman is standing before you in good health because of the transforming power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who died in alone and in agony, and whom God raised from the dead.
Resurrection happens. God took a woman broken in body and in spirit and gave her the power to preach. I would not believe it if it had not happened to me.
It happened to Peter. It can happen to you.
The Risen Christ came with transforming power, into a burned-out, worn-out group of disciples and built a church through them. It is happening here. Right here, right now.
Resurrection happens when you throw your broken self into the arms of Jesus Christ, and he says, “Rise!” When you recognize that there is no other way that a whole and abundant life is possible, despite all your striving. That following him is a whole lot faster way to find the still water and the green pastures than blundering around on your own. Those Paths of Righteousness aren’t just to make you look good in public, but for his name’s sake.
I don’t want to get my Jesus all up in your face. You have your own story. But I am here to tell you that Resurrection Happens. The Bible tells me so. My own life experience tells me so. And I offer my testimony to you: when you choose to follow the Way of the Risen Christ, miracles happen. There is power in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom God raised from the dead.
Alleluia, and Amen!
For the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2012
Texts: Psalm 23, Acts 4:1-12