Ordinary People – Extraordinary God
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Easter Sunday, 20 April, 2014
Acts 10: 34 – 43
Gentiles Hear the Good News
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
Matthew 28: 1 – 10
The Resurrection of Jesus
28After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
By responding in this age-old Easter greeting you are witnessing to the resurrection of Christ.
39We are witnesses to all that he did, says Peter to the assembled Gentiles, just before the Holy Spirit fell upon them and he and his companions realise, with amazement, that God has included the Gentiles in the new people of God, the Church – God’s storm-troopers in establishing a beach-head for the Kingdom of God upon earth.
Witnesses, says Peter, to all that Jesus did.
Witnesses are important people. It is they who testify, who confirm the truth about something that has happened. You don’t call any old Tom, Dick or Harry as a witness. Witnesses have to have been there and they have to be reliable.
And you only call witnesses if what they saw is important. In our readings today we are confronted with two of the most important events in the narrative of scripture: the resurrection of Jesus, and the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation.
Now Cornelius, the Roman Centurion in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, was no fool. He knew the significance of what he had heard an angel tell him in a vision: his prayers and his life of righteousness had been witnessed by God, and as a result he was to send for Peter. Peter, a Jew, and the leader of the growing religious sect who claimed their leader had risen from the dead.
And Cornelius entrusts the job, says Verse 7, to two slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks. We are not told the name of this lowly soldier but he was devout and clearly trustworthy. Cornelius entrusts a mission from God to a humble man whose name we will never know. He was an ordinary man who witnessed an extraordinary event.
Jesus entrusted his entire mission to ordinary Galilean men and women. Has it ever struck you that a huge appeal of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that the most important mission imaginable is entrusted to a simple Hobbit?
It is simple people to whom the greatest tasks are entrusted. Is there a more important responsibility than parenthood? It is entrusted to ordinary men and women.
The most important tasks still are. Paul says to the Church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1: 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
Ordinary men and women: you and me.
No single event in the history of humankind has greater significance than the resurrection of Jesus. It signalled the restoration of all of creation. It was no mere shot across the bow, but the first fell blow God struck for the triumph of good over evil. Our gospel reading tells us that the two persons called by God to witness this event and to carry the news to the apostles were Mary of Magdala and what Verse 1 calls “the other Mary”.
The other Mary! A no-name brand person! Simply, “the other Mary.” She and Mary Magdalene (not a paragon of virtue) are the first two persons to see Jesus alive, to speak to him, to touch him, to worship him and to carry out important instructions given by him.
Resurrection people are ordinary people. Not superstars.
Peter tells Cornelius They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
The privilege of witness is given to those who ate and drank with him, not to anyone who qualified because of rank or reputation. God still works like that, with ordinary men and woman. Are you an ordinary man or woman?
A few weeks ago Patrick Kelly, Gustav Scholtz and I gave a presentation to the Saturday morning Men’s Breakfast group. I spoke on the Theology of Recreation and at one point said this: The consumer-driven society will seek entertainment, brief glimpses of celebrity, rather than engage in meaningful community, where we celebrate the wonder of God’s image imprinted in fascinating ways in the everyday people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ – the community of the faithful with whom we form God’s Kingdom in our parochial patch.
Ordinary men and women. It is they, who when they are prepared to “eat and drink” (to use Peter’s words) – who when they are prepared to co-operate with God, see and do extraordinary things. Are you prepared to hang out with God?
Michael Hewat, in a Tuesday Herald article entitled: Unbelievers ignoring evidence of Jesus, wrote this:
If Christ were not raised then he was no more than a good man and a great teacher; he can make no claim on anyone’s life, nor promise anything beyond this life. Reason will respond that resurrection is simply not possible: dead people do not rise, therefore, if Jesus truly died then he cannot truly have been raised. But reason must also allow that, if Jesus is in fact God’s only son, all things are possible for him.
He then goes on to describe the many encounters people had with the resurrected Jesus and the importance of witnesses.
But what interests me about what Michael Hewat says is that when we become aware of something wonderfully beneficial to us we inherit with that blessing a responsibility – and I mean responsibility in its purest sense: the obligation for a response. Hewat says, If Christ were not raised then he was no more than a good man and a great teacher; he can make no claim on anyone’s life, nor promise anything beyond this life.
There is both a promise and a claim. The promise is what Jesus called abundant life – both here and in the life to come, but the obligation is the response of discipleship – following. The two are almost one and the same thing in the end because it is in following that we experience the abundant life.
Abundant life is life infused with resurrection life; lived in the trenches of this world amongst the people of this world: wealthy and poor, healthy and ill, attractive and unattractive. Abundant life is the joyful response to an infusion of the very life of the resurrected Christ within us. There is nothing more invigorating.
It is as far removed from the temporary dalliance that is the shallow life independent of God, as the East is from the West. It is deep, permanent and meaningful. It comes with tough times and good times but it is always tangibly brimming with God’s presence, with God’s companionship.
And it remains a response: not to a set of ideas, not to a philosophy, not to the demands of a religion, not to the requirements of an organisation – but to a Person: the person of Jesus Christ whose sacrificial death and resurrection we celebrate in this service this morning.
As you come to make your Communion, as you ingest the bread and wine, you are taking into your ordinary person an extraordinary God, and your God is expectant – expecting your response. Your response is an obligation to feast, to have fun, to open up to the life-giving and healing Son of God who brings joy, peace and life-changing love. It is an obligation to hand yourself over to him in trust.
I don’t know whether you feel like “the other Mary”, a simple person getting on with their life as best they can and who finds themselves in church this morning. I don’t know how significant you are in relation to the people you measure yourself against. It really isn’t important. As Peter says in Vs 34 ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
Whoever you may be this morning, the resurrected Christ holds out his arms to you. Your greatest act of witness, as an ordinary person, is to reach out in turn to this extraordinary God.
God bless you and a very happy Easter to you all.