Lectionary Year A
March 31, 2002

Acts 10:34-43
Contemporary Address

Step VI - Contemporary Address

A. Goals

B. Describing the Audience

C. Contemporary Address

(JEA) Texts (John 20:1-18) Acts 10:34-43
Title: Easter and the Healing of Evil's Oppression

Introduction: This sermon of Peter is the next to the last of the five Easter sermons in the Book of Acts which mention the appearances of the resurrected Lord. This is important since the witness to Jesus' triumph over the grave is, in fact, based on a deduction of faith rather than on a firsthand observation: no one actually sees Jesus rise from the dead, but rather the witnesses to his post-resurrection appearances deduce that God must have raised him because they saw him when the grave could no longer hold him. This early Christian sermon invites you and me, therefore, to respond to its retelling this Easter morning with the same hearing in faith when apostolic witnesses preached...as Luke did in remembering Peter here. The question for us is what constitutes for them long ago, as for us today, hearing in faith?

I. The first thing that hearing in faith notices about this sermon is that the identity of the Jesus of Easter - the resurrected Lord - is one and the same as Jesus of Nazareth. The One who preached faith in God and the coming of God' kingdom is the same One now in whose name is preached forgiveness to all who believe in him. That is the sermon's final word and it is a good word for Easter morning because it is a message full of hope for people like you and me living in a generation where there are so many broken promises, so many betrayals, so many deceits and expressions of advantage-taking and manipulation by the oppression of guile...we can hardly believe any more that we dare actually to risk trusting anyone. God steps forward here to evoke and to enlist your trust. There is an echo of the gospel words here: "I will never leave nor forsake you." And for you and me these words are welcome in a world that is full of tele-marketers and their clones in every walk of life who will tell you anything to deceive you, if it means there is a monetary pay off for them. And every time deception prevails the fugitives from the camp of the victor are truth and credibility! Peter's sermon began here - if I may paraphrase - with the message that God is looking for people - few or many - who still have a regard for integrity and honest and who have reverence for God, indeed, who before God's holiness and power to shape human destiny acknowledge their fear and trepidation. God welcomes all quaestors of openness like this and, surely, that means us!

II. The second thing about this sermon for hearing in faith is that it seizes our attention by the way it summarizes the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and by the way it links it to the ongoing consequences for Easter morning people like us. It says that God anointed Jesus to do something in the world that no one else had been able to do since the days of our origins in the Garden of Eden. After connecting God's anointing power regarding Jesus at the time of his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist - this is the way that the Gospel of Mark tells the story too - the sermon of Peter says that Jesus went about "doing good." The English translation I read today makes you think that v. 38 contains two things that Jesus did because of the conjunction "and" (please excuse the grammar reference here but the distinction is critical): yet, this is no ordinary "and" in the Greek text; rather, it functions like our expression "that is to say" or "to wit" or "namely." The good thing Jesus did namely was to confront and to break the grip of evil upon God's creation and to heal those afflicted by evil's oppression. In a kind of understated postscript it adds that Jesus was able to do this because "God was with him." The drama of Jesus' ministry and its significance had a veil over them and people did not understand what was happening before their very eyes until that veil was lifted on Easter morning and the events of a three-year ministry - and especially the conclusion to a final week in Jerusalem - were cast in a new light of hopeful, faithful proclamation.

III. Whatever else ought to be said about this summary of the goal of Jesus' ministry and his Easter triumph, I think the following should be, can be truly eye-opening and liberating for us this morning.

A. The text says literally that the source of subjugation and oppression is "the devil," or more precisely "diabolos." Be careful not to tune out here. There is more here than meets the eye at first glance. For the New Testament evil has basically two names: "Satanas" and "Diabolos"; well, actually one is a name (the first) and the other is a title. Diabolos is a title/function...the area of professional expertise: telling lies. Evil has a doctor's degree in telling lies and has been lying since the Garden of Eden (and maybe before...whenever that was?!)...the title also means making accusations and threats and evil has been doing that for as long as the story of Job can remember too! The deceptions, lies, accusations, and threats that rob us of life, pit us against one another in the aggressive kind of behavior that is determined to get ahead at whatever cost - no matter who gets trampled - the evils that reduce our hopes and aspirations for a common journey with others in love, trust, and security...those are the powerful effects of the work of diabolos in our world. God's good work in raising Jesus from the dead is to shatter the grip and to break the paralysis that diabolos has had on God's creation for as long as anyone can remember.

B. The shattering, however, is not put in terms of some great cosmic theory, but rather - and, importantly - in terms of our greatest need: healing. What concerns God most, it would seem, is that oppression by evil has wounded us.. Philippians 2:15 speaks of a generation of people who have been twisted and bent out of shape...like the potter's mis-shapen vessel. The deceptions and accusations of evil have gotten us humans to believe things about God and about ourselves that are not true...on certain essentials we have become twisted and bent. We are bent and twisted when we hear and believe that "there is no God" or "God doesn't care even if there were one" or "the God of faith just wants sacrifice and offers no joy" or "you are worthless" or "what counts in life is what you accomplish and how much money you make" or "the highest good is to become a suicide bomber" or "there is no hope" or "terrorism is dispatched by military strikes and eradicated by education" or "for every ill there is a pill" etc. All such deceptions have left us with scars or even with wounds that seem to defy healing.

In Mark :13 Jesus sends the disciples into the world to cast out evil. In Mark 9:26f they return disappointed....they have not prevailed; the ante goes up, the true face of evil and its ultimate destructive intent and virulence is exposed; the final source for healing is revealed: this kind of oppression can only be healed through prayer, the prayer that invokes God's intercession.

Now don't get me wrong: I am not opposed to education, degrees, medicine, not to patriotism and the just-war, but finally, evil is so evil, so clever, so pathogenic, so multi-nationally patriotic and bullet-proof...so capable of turning itself into an angel of light for the sake of deceiving all intelligence and expressions of piety...that we are beginning to re-think what it means to be a people of prayer when it comes to seeking and receiving healing.

C. Finally, the seemingly understated postscript prevails for us today too: God is with us. This is the message of Easter and the Healing of Oppression...God will not dessert us in our need for healing; this is an Easter promise. The "us" is not to be mistaken as a singular, private "I, me, mine" nor is it an "us" of the group as though God plays the game of denominational favoritism or extends national preferential treatment. The "us" has to do with God having sided and continuing to side with us mortals since the days of our creation from of old when God dreamed the dream of walking with us in the cool of the Garden forever. And as the final chapter of the last book of the Bible announces there is a tree in this garden whose leaves are able to heal the wounds and illnesses of all the nations. Because of the new life of Easter God's dream for us will come true forever. Amen

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