Acts 1:1-14

(sermon note: 04-07 sermon note)

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who witnessed an accident and called 911. The switchboard operator promptly picked up, “911, what’s your emergency?” The man frantically responded, “A guy just got hit by a car and we need an ambulance!” “Calm down, sir. What’s your location?” “I’m sorry, he just looks like he’s all messed up! We’re on Eucalyptus Street!” “Sir, can you spell that for me?” There was a long, awkward pause that ensued until finally the operator asked, “Sir? Are you there?” “Yeah, yeah…I’m gonna drag him over to Pine Street and call you right back!”

I mean, can you blame the guy?! Who really knows how to spell “eucalyptus” even in a non-panicky situation?! Sheesh…silly question to ask the poor guy. There are any number of more pressing questions to ask: “What appears to be wrong with the man?”, “Is the driver of the other vehicle still there?”, “What’s your name?” And besides, isn’t that what satellites are for? Can’t they locate where the man was calling from? Be a human, operator, and ask better questions!

We’re setting out into a new season, the season of Easter, the 50 days between Jesus’ resurrection and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and our reading does a good job of setting the tone for it. Jesus had first appeared to the women, either 1, 2, 3, or a multitude of them depending on which gospel account we read, and then slowly appeared to the other disciples and more. It was important that Jesus made such appearances. Otherwise, we would have a hard time believing in the resurrection. We are not all that different than the disciples who needed to see the empty tomb and see our resurrected Lord, even go so far as touch him, so that they might believe in the resurrection. Of course, we don’t have quite the same witnesses as they had. They had seen his initial bodily form when he first preached and taught and healed. They had a helpful frame of reference to rely on when he came back to them. Not that he came back in exactly the same form as he had initially. Several people didn’t recognize him at first which suggests his resurrected form was different. But there was enough of his likeness to convince them of his resurrection. As our reading says, “he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs.” Whether they wanted to or not, they became witnesses of our resurrected Lord and helped keep him alive for the last 2,000 years.

Now then, just because we weren’t there in those days immediately following the resurrection doesn’t mean we aren’t witnesses in our own right. Jesus came back to the women and the disciples in a different, unrecognizable form. Several of them didn’t know it was him even when he spoke to them directly! Can you imagine having actually heard Jesus speak and actually seen his bodily form 2,000 years ago and then presented with the unrecognizable voice and body of his resurrected form? It must have been pretty disorientating to say the least. But eventually they all were able to make the shift in their minds and came to realize who he was. We are presented with the same challenge! We’ve been given his “voice” through the writings of scripture and we are expected to listen to the various voices around us and pick out his distinctive voice. Believe it or not, it’s there! Why? Because he is very much alive and well and at work in our world today and his “voice” can be heard in a variety of voices. In some ways, we have it a little easier than the witnesses of 2,000 years ago because we don’t have the timbre and resonance of his physical voice confusing us. We can focus on discerning his metaphysical voice, the voice that transcends physical time and space.

Yes, Jesus is very much alive and well in the world today and speaking to us. Jesus is preaching and teaching and healing all over the world. Sometimes inside churches, sometimes outside of churches. Sometimes in homes, sometimes in hospitals. Sometimes in nature, sometimes in dreams. Jesus is sharing God’s love in and through us and through all the people around us. Jesus is so much bigger than just one person now. His form is almost unrecognizable. But as with even the best illusions, once you discern his presence in your life and the lives of those around you, it’s hard not recognizing him anymore. That’s the thing about being a witness. Witnesses can’t go back to being non-witnesses! Once you’ve recognized Jesus, you can’t go back to not recognizing him. You see him everywhere! And what a blessing! Who would want to go back to the darkness after seeing the light of Jesus?! No, in becoming a witness to Jesus, we are filled with his light and love and goodness and what a joy and blessing!

Peter writes in his first letter, “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.” (3:15) The world wants to know where our hope comes from and all we have to do is point to Jesus. Too many people believe they have to defend Jesus or impose Jesus on others, that that’s what it means to be a witness. Jesus can defend himself! All we have to do is credit him for the hope and joy within us. That’s all that it means to witness to Christ. Simply share his love and credit him for it! The prophet Jeremiah often complained about sharing God’s love with an ungrateful world. But God calmly assured him. He writes, “but the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a boy;” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (1:7-8) Our God will protect us and our witness from an ungrateful world.

Witnessing is about sharing the love and light of Jesus with the world, plain and simple. We ought not be afraid to do this. God is with us in it! Let us boldly and fearlessly witness to the resurrected Christ! Jesus tells us in Matthew, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (5:16) Let us shine our lights this Easter season and give thanks for them. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.