The Rev. Preston B. Hannibal
Let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit:
Come as the wind and cleanse;
Come as the fire and burn;
Convict—convert—consecrate our lives,
To our great good
And your greater glory;
In the name of God, father, son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The day after they had arrested Peter and John for teaching about Jesus and the resurrection, they asked them, by what authority, or by what name do you do this?” Paraphrase Acts 4:5-6
It goes without saying that the post resurrection experience of the followers of Jesus could not have been an easy one.
Not only did they have to come to grips with the idea of Jesus’s death and resurrection but they also had to deal with the doubts and skepticism of those in their midst who could not, or would not accept the truth of this divine act of human liberation.
The notion of God acting within the affairs of all humanity made for great mythology but was in fact unimaginable and a totally foreign concept to those who saw themselves as the only ones open to the truth of God. God acted on the behalf of only the chosen ones.
The fact that Peter and John were arrested for healing in the name of Jesus, or as Peter says, “because of a good deed done to someone who was sick,” (Acts 4:9a) called into question the religious status quo and all that had been held up for so long as righteousness. The point was that God did act, and the result was not only a new order but also a return to an ancient truth.
And that truth is that God often chooses those who are deemed least likely to be the agents of reconciliation and change.
In the writings of the Acts of the Apostles we see the story of the community of faith unfolding before our eyes.
Through the vivid word picture that is painted for us we see real people, dealing with real issues and trying to solve real problems.
Further, in Acts we have an almost complete overview of the elements that, over two thousand years ago, went into making our faith and trust in God a reality today.
—The tensions and testing that strengthened the earliest communities of faith are the same tension and testing that we experience today as we attempt to discern the will of God for our lives.
—The obstacles and obstructions that were employed to retard the expansion and growth of the early church are still with us today as we, in our time, attempt to lead lives of faith and trust in the risen Christ.
—And as with the earliest followers of Jesus. Today, God still uses the most unlikely people to be God’s messengers to those of us who, from time to time waiver as we attempt to know the love of Christ.
They are the people who, when touched by God dedicate their lives to living the reality of Christ’s unconditional love, by their very presence among us.
One of my college roommates was a faithful member of a local Pentecostal church. He would often invite me to come to Sunday service with him.
Being a devoted Episcopalian heading for seminary I politely deferred his invitations. Somehow one Sunday morning well into my senior year I ended up sitting in that church listening to a rather long, but enthusiastic sermon.
When the sermon was over, I noticed two things. First, my roommate, was no longer sitting beside me. But what was more troubling was that I suddenly heard my name being called out from the pulpit.
It was the minister calling my name and my roommate, now in full view, standing right beside him smiling slyly.
“Brother Hannibal,” the minister said in all earnestness, “I understand that you have been called to be a preacher.”
The fact was that I had just been admitted to seminary and knew nothing about preaching, except what I had heard on Sunday mornings at my father’s parish, and in the college chapel. But that was no concern of this particular minister. As far as he was concerned I was the genuine article.
“Brother Hannibal…Brother Hannibal!!!” He said again, this time with a tone of insistence that was not to be denied!!
“Why don’t you come and join us here at the pulpit and tell us what the Lord has put on your heart?” I had no idea what to do or say, much less what he really meant.
I was frozen in place. But a strange thing happened. After what seemed like an eternity, I found the physical strength to move forward toward the altar. And the inner strength to open my mouth.
As soon as I opened my mouth to speak, it became obvious to the assembled multitude, that the minister had made a big mistake calling me forward.
And I had made an even bigger mistake accepting his call.
Nevertheless, in spite of my embarrassment at having to get up and talk in public about my faith, (something most Episcopalians don’t seem to be comfortable doing) I was able to get a few words out about what God meant to me, and how I had been led to that church on that particular morning.
I saw people nodding their heads in approval. I thought that I had better quit while I was ahead. So I thanked the minister and the congregation for their hospitality and started to return to my seat in the congregation.
But before I could make my escape the minister stopped me and asked me to sit beside him for the remainder of the service.
In spite of what had just transpired, I was honored by his invitation, and touched by his patience and understanding as I tried to babble through my remarks.
Years later as I think about where God has led me, and what I have been called to do, I often think that it was in this moment of my self–imposed embarrassment, and as a result of the unconditional acceptance and Christian love on the part of that small black congregation that I have come to understand what people mean when they speak of the awesome responsibility involved in the proclamation of God in Christ Jesus. And it does not matter if that proclamation comes on a street corner in the depths of the inner city or from a cathedral pulpit.
As with the members of that small Pentecostal church, so too with Peter and John as well as all of the women and men of faith that we encounter in the post resurrection narrative we hear Sunday after Sunday.
In them there was No hesitation when it came to proclaiming God’s love; No hesitation to call upon the name of Jesus to enable them help others and No embarrassment involved in preaching Christ Jesus crucified and risen.
For them it was as natural as breathing air in and out, and just as necessary.
The message of salvation that Peter and John were teaching in today’s reading was based entirely on the cross of Christ and what our lord’s death and resurrection meant for them as they attempted to live out their lives in union with God, and in a full awareness of the meaning of the cross.
The author of Acts tells us that although a good number of people accepted the teaching of the apostles and disciples of Jesus, there was also a group of people that found their words of hope anything but helpful to the maintenance of their community of faith. For them, the followers of the risen Christ represented everything that they thought had been eliminated with the death of the itinerant rabbi Jesus.
No doubt these keepers of the religious establishment saw themselves as faithful followers of the Law and the Prophets.
They were people who simply were exercising their responsibility as good and decent citizens faithful to their religious principles and eager to protect their community from the outside influence of an unhealthy way of thinking about life and faith. They were the keepers of the status quo who would do anything to prevent the world that they knew and loved from being altered or changed.
Good and decent people often are caught in a web of fear and mistrust as they seek to preserve and protect that which is familiar and comfortable.
It has been said that it is a terrible thing when a person identifies their aims and ambitions with the will of God, instead of submitting those aims and ambitions to God’s will.
The great danger using righteousness as the reason for justifying any means to an end is that in doing so we often forget that the power to be positively provocative comes not from our own self–righteousness, but only from the God who enables each of us to embrace a true love for doing what is just and right.
The earliest disciples of Jesus, to the best of their ability followed the example of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and it was in the very depth of Jesus’ unconditional love for each of us that he showed the world the most upsetting thing of all. (The Interpreter’s Bible  Vol. 9 pg. 229)
How to serve God totally and without reservation.
In serving God in Christ Jesus the disciples also learned to love, respect, and serve the world that Jesus came to save.
Jesus gives to each one of us the power to turn the world upside down by seeing death in his name as life eternal.
By seeing weakness as strength.
By showing service to others as leadership.
And by acknowledging that the power of God’s gracious mercy always overcomes the evil that seems to have been loosed on our world.
Christ has given us the power to change the world, and the apostles and martyrs of the ages have shown us how God often chooses the most ordinary among us to fulfill the purpose and plan of salvation.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘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 person has been healed, let it be known to all of you, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus of Nazareth’”. (Acts 4:8–10b)
This is the legacy that enables each of us to fulfill our destiny as the sons and daughters of the living God.