Rev. Kit Billings
October 5, 2003
The book of Acts is a most inspiring part of Holy Scripture. It recalls the awesome turnaround of a small rag-tag band of men who grew from being disciples to apostles, from feeling lost in their direction to becoming a band of faith-driven Christians inspired with both clarity and boldness! In my mind, the one book in the Bible that comes closest to proving Christ's Divinity is the book of Acts. Why? Because the book of Acts shows the awesome transformation of the once uncertain disciples into men and women bold and spiritually brave enough to launch the Christian Church at a time when doing so often meant both torture and death. If these men and women hadn't actually experienced the Lord risen and glorified, and the outpouring of His Holy Spirit among them, then how could there be massive conversions of hundreds of people, as well as miracle faith healings such as Peter's this morning in our Scripture lesson. I am moved by the truth that both while the Lord was walking in Israel before His crucifixion and afterward that we see the expansion of life in many ways.
God is a bringer of life, and those who would dare to be exposed to the sphere of love Jesus brings must know the great probability that the Lord will be brightening and lifting your life from deep inside the chambers of your heart. It gets harder and harder to feel blue and down as the life-giving Spirit of God energizes and beautifies your life.
The inspiration the early Christians felt was clearly this---to feel Jesus' love and the good power of His Life-force LIFTING THEM UP INSIDE and inspiring them to arise in their minds, just as Aeneas was healed by the Lord through Peter's faith and called to arise….just as Tabitha was brought back to life by Christ whose mission it is to brighten our lives by the gift of Divine Light He brings.
The Lord's apostles then knew as certain as looking at their own hands and feet that Jesus was much more than a prophet or great spiritual leader---indeed, He is “God with us.” And through the Glorified Lord came His power—His comforting presence and energy and Life, also known as the Holy Spirit, which was now being used beautifully by His apostles. Before experiencing Jesus resurrected, their faith and understanding hadn't fully developed, which was why seeing the Lord's physical body hanging dead on His cross disturbed them so deeply and made them run in fear, trembling at the thought of being charged to be a Christian.
The start of the Lord's First Christian Church era, which kicked into high gear when His Holy Spiritual Life-force and energy descended upon that large crowd with Peter at Pentecost, was an exciting time to be alive, but only if one had a burning faith in Jesus and knew that Christ was the power of love and truth who cures people from more than physical diseases and loss of natural life, but even more so from internal enslavement to self-centeredness.
I decided recently to re-read the New Testament from the point after The Gospel of John concludes starting in Acts 1. What we find is an amazing story of men of boldness and women afire with love and charity! These men and women were the outcasts at that point in history after Jesus was crucified. Even more so, they were being hunted down by people like Saul of Tarsus before his conversion on the Road to Damascus. On the face of things one would think that Christianity could have easily fizzled out of existence, and it would have I believe had the reality of Jesus' Resurrected-Divine-Love been just a fairytale. However, the truth of Jesus Christ expanded infinitely as His followers learned through experience that Divine Love and Wisdom was here to stay and was more powerful than any evil or hatred the people of earth could throw at it. To be true, evil human beings can kill the physical body, but they're no match for the Spirit of God who lives in Jesus Christ. As the Easter story reminds us, just try and kill real love, and watch it resurrect with even greater power the next time around.
The Lord's mission was and has remained ever since then UNSTOPPABLE. For you see, God Himself incarnated successfully through the life that Christ lived, and through His choices and resurrection has permanently brought Divine-and-saving Love into the very fiber of creation---into every least cell and particle of your humanness! Thus, God's goodness was lifting life everywhere higher into Heaven's light, and everyday kindness was slowly becoming the new value for planet earth as more and more people converted to Christianity and Christ's message of unbeatable love expanded. Back then you see, even though an entire planet may be against the true Christian believer, it simply mattered not. For when the Holy Spirit infills one's heart and spirit, there is but one thing that stands out in one's mind---“No matter what the cost I will be a servant of Jesus Christ and my fellow man! I will serve the life-giving energy that flows from Christ the Lord. Let all else around me crumble, but I will serve my Lord.”
Or as the Apostle Paul wrote, true Christian “…love never fails.”
This kind of basic spiritual devotion to the Lord, by the way, is what the early church leaders understood gave someone the title of “saint.” The Greek meaning of this word connects to the meaning of the word we would call “different.” A saint was not some rare individual within the church, but rather, every church member who loves the Lord and who therefore wants to be different from the worldly sort of person who doesn't care about God and spiritual values.
As William Barclay wrote: “Twice the Christians at Lydda are called saints (Ac.9:32,41). The same word is used earlier in the chapter by Ananias to describe the Christians at Jerusalem (Ac.9:13). This is the word that Paul always uses to describe the church member, for he always writes his letters to the saints that are at such and such a place. So then we who are Christians are not different from others in that we are chosen for greater honor on this earth; we are different in that we are chosen for a greater service. We are saved to serve.”
We're also reminded this morning of the beautiful story of the Lord raising Jairus' daughter back to life. The Lord did so with such softness and tenderness. Can't you just imagine being by the bedside as our caring Lord spoke those tender words, “Talitha cumi,” which translated into English simply mean, “little girl, I say to you, arise.” The spiritual, innocent part of you, represented by this little girl, which also can sometimes feel like it gets very sick and maybe feels like it sometimes dies away inside you, is just the part of you that the Lord is here to bring new life to, if you but let Him.
For your part, you're called to reach out and touch the hem of the Lord's robe as the woman hemorrhaging for many years did, by lifting your life in accordance with the Ten Commandments and other commandments the Lord gave through His holy Word. Your effort to reach out and up, reaching out to touch Christ as He walks by you each day, then enables Jesus, who brings Divine Love into our level of life, to call you to arise in a wholistic sort of way and feel the beauty only He can bring.
Truly, we're all meant for Christian sainthood, to be “different” from those who just want to skate through life. External miracles don't really do all that much. They remind us of the enormous power God holds. It's the miracles the Lord performs deep inside the chambers of your heart, as well as in the perceptions occurring in your mind, that make life in the Christian Church something very beautiful to behold. I am a witness to this every week in the ministry of Christ within my own mind, and certainly in what we experience in this congregation, partially through the wedding ministry.
Sometimes the way of spiritual regeneration, however, gets very hard and messy, and sometimes we can think we've really blown it one too many times. But the truth is that each day we persevere, keeping faith in our Savior one day at a time, the often silent miracle of spiritual regeneration moves along steadily. The moving, dramatic stories in the Holy Scriptures are vivid correspondential representations for us of the new life our Lord constantly brings. When you're spiritually sick, Jesus can heal you. When you feel like some important part of you has fallen down and died, Christ's love can resurrect you! Peter symbolizes the power of faith that grows inside your mind—through this “apostle” or ability within you Jesus' healing power comes in and saves.
I pray that you can more and more seriously believe in the faith-power God has called into His service inside of you, which Peter represents, so that the Lord may call into action the same restorative power of Divine Love that saved Tabitha's natural life back then. This is a Force of Life that is joyful about being able to serve. Let us celebrate this gift, the free gift of the Lord's Holy Spirit, as it restores life in service of spiritual love. Amen.