FIRST LESSON Luke 24:13-35
SECOND LESSON Acts 2:14, 22-24, 36-41
SERMON: “About Face!”
In his sermon on today’s message from the Book of the Acts, Leonard Sweet poses the question, “Will you dance the metanoia with me?” He says, “Every generation has a signature dance. Anyone remember the “Twist?” The “Conga?” The “Hokey Pokey?” The “Funky Chicken?” About fifteen years ago you could not go anywhere — a party, a wedding reception, a baseball game — without being bullied to “Do the Macarena with Me.” I’m not much of a dancer, so don’t worry, I’m not going to make you get up and dance, but I do remember one thing about the Macarena:’ It requires repeated metanoia – changing direction. Peter, having been commissioned by the risen Christ to feed his lambs was now preaching to a gathering of his fellow Israelites. He doesn’t mince any words, but points directly to the role the Jews have already played in the drama. “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:22-23). That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: God has raised Jesus from the dead, “let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified (if anyone in the crowd hadn’t yet connected with their involvement in the matter, here it is again, this Jesus, whom you crucified) [has been made by God] both Lord and Messiah.” 37 Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, “So now what do we do?” 38-39 Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. (Acts 2:37-39, The Message)
Two of the most difficult words for us to deal with today are “sin” and “repent.” We hesitate to label much of anything sin in today’s culture. We’re pretty much okay with the Ten Commandments, but even there some of us struggle with some of them. I’m okay, You’re Okay, published in 1967 is a classic text on transactional analysis and used by many as a self-help tool to understand the origins of their own behavior. Sadly the title has been hijacked over the years and taken to mean that whatever I do is okay, and whatever you do is okay too. In a culture that no longer wants to recognize much of anything as sin, “I’m okay, you’re okay sounds good.
But Peter is speaking to a gathering of his fellow Jews, and they don’t deny the existence of, the seriousness of, or their participation in the sin of putting Christ on the cross. Feeling a sincere sense of remorse, they want to know what to do now.
Turn around! About face! says Peter. Change the direction of what you were doing. Instead of persecuting Jesus and now his followers, change direction, receive the mercy he offers and be baptized.
Metanoia, repent, turn around, about face, change direction. It’s not enough to be sorry. It’s not enough to feel guilty. Go in a new direction.
Not all changes of direction, not all changes in behavior are repentance. Sometimes we change behavior for self-centered reasons.
Giving to charity because it is a good tax break is not generosity.
Going to church because it is good for one’s business reputation, or political standing is not turning toward God.
Giving up of a sinful habit, not because I want to be controlled by the Spirit of God instead of by the habit, or because the habit inhibits my performance at work and is harming my professional reputation, is not turning toward God.
In all of those situations we may have changed our behavior, which may be helpful, but if we have turned because it happens to suit us and we can still believe we are in control, we have not yet turned around to let God be in charge of our lives. True repentance means turning and going in a new direction, a God-given direction, a Spirit-driven direction.
If you struggle with letting God be in control of your life, your business, your church . . . don’t feel alone. It is human nature that we want to have control over our lives and what we believe belongs to us. This may be one of the best definitions of “original sin” – self-centeredness instead of God-centeredness. It’s not that babies do anything that breaks God’s commands the moment they are born. But babies are self-centered. Psychologists tell us that for the first few months babies don’t distinguish between themselves and their environment. From the moment they first draw breath, it’s about what they want and what they need. Quickly babies learn that when they cry someone comes running to meet their needs – food, warmth, hold me, comfort me, get that sharp diaper pin out of me! Maturity begins to emerge when we develop the ability to respond to the needs of others.
Repent and be baptized – turn around and submit to God’s will.
Leonard Sweet reminds us, “If we about face from the rules for Life according to this world in order to embrace the behaviors mandated by Jesus as “the Life,” there will be conflict.
The world does not like it when we choose compassion over coercion.
The world does not like it when we opt for mercy over revenge. The world does not like when we offer forgiveness instead of judgment.
The world does not like it when we give second chances instead of “first dibs.”
When Peter offered his audience an answer for what they could do to get right with God, he did not create a creed or a mission statement. He did not propose a prayer. He did not come up with an updated version of the Ten Commandments or a revised Book of Order.
All that was required was to repent, to turn around, and to do so in
“the name of Jesus Christ.” Believing in the person of Jesus, not in any list of rules or litany of principles, was what brought the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, there is more good news, because we know more of the story. We have read the letters of the Apostle Paul. We know that repentance, baptism, salvation are not just for one group. God’s love and mercy are available to all. Years ago, there was a bag lady in New York City who attended a preaching service at a Manhattan Rescue Mission. Afterwards in the line to receive soup, she mentioned to the preacher she was now ready to give her life to Jesus. She said, “I never knew until today that my name is in the Bible.” The preacher smiled and said, “What’s your name?” She said, “Edith. My name is Edith. And my name is in the Bible.” The preacher said, “I’m sorry ma’am but you must be mistaken. The name Edith never appears in the Bible.” She said, “Oh yes it does, you read it a few minutes ago!” He opened his Bible and she pointed her dirty finger to Luke 15:2. The preacher had been reading from the King James Version, and it says, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” She said, “There it is! Jesus receiveth sinners and Edith with them!” Indeed, the good news is Jesus does receive sinners, and Edith, and David, and Jane, and Mary, and John and anyone else who comes to Him!1 If Peter could promise forgiveness and salvation to those who were complicit in putting Jesus on the cross, then we can trust that no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, you can do an about face, you can let God direct your life by the power of the Holy Spirit. You can begin again. 1 From a sermon by Fred Markes, What is God Like?, 8/30/2011)