Sermon Title “Act of Boldness” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! This is third Sunday after Pentecost, and the fourth in our series “Courageous Acts.” Beginning in Acts chapter 2, we have heard about communication, caring and healing and the ways in which the Holy Spirit spoke to and through the first apostles and founders of the church. The apostles who have been named in these accounts in the early chapters of the book of Acts are Peter — Simon Peter — and John. We are tracing their activities in sequence, as part of one story, but I have skipped some verses as part of that. It is not my intention to have you uninformed; I encourage you to read Acts 2-5 through for yourselves. Mostly what I’ve skipped are Peter’s sermons — these are recorded by Luke, the author of Acts, but I decided I didn’t need to have Jan read one sermon before I launched into another one.
The sermon recorded in Acts 4:1-12 is an important part of the story and it leads us right into the text which Jan just shared with us, so I want to give you a quick sketch of what has happened before we got here this morning. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, at the Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came like the rush of a mighty wind and danced like flames above the heads of the believers and followers of Jesus. They were able to share the good news of God’s power and the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a way that Jews from all around the Mediterranean who were gathered in Jerusalem could understand it. That’s the first sermon. More than 3,000 people became new believers, and began to ask, “What should we do now?” They repented and were baptized, and met together to pray and break bread with glad and generous hearts. Were told in Acts 2:43 that the apostles did many wonders and signs, and in Acts 3, Luke tells us about a specific wonder: Peter and John go the Temple in Jerusalem to pray, and encounter a man, lame from birth, who is begging by the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. Instead of money, they give him healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and the man is able to walk and leap, and goes into the Temple with Peter and John, praising God. That’s where we stopped last week.
What happens next — beginning in chapter 3 verse 11 is that Peter begins to preach to the men in the Temple. He tells them that they arrested God’s Holy One and handed him over to Pontius Pilate and rejected him, even when Pilate wanted to release him. It was by the power of that man, Jesus Christ, that the lame man was healed and stands before them and they, the listeners, need to repent and believe in Jesus. That’s Sermon Two.
The priest and the Sadducees are much annoyed by this sermon. After all, it’s happening right in the middle of their Temple, proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, and blaming them for his death. The Temple authorities have Peter and John arrested, and since it’s getting toward evening, they’re kept in custody until the next day. But the damage — if you want to call it that — has been done. About 5,000 people have already heard Peter’s preaching and some have come to believe in Jesus. So the next morning John and Peter are hauled up before the Temple council for questioning. Remember, the charge is that they healed a man who had been lame since birth. Caiaphas and Annas are there on the council, some of the same priest who condemned Jesus and handed him over to Pontius Pilate, and they ask “By who power or authority did you heal this man?” And, filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter replies (and I’m paraphrasing) If you are questioning us because of a good deed we did in healing a sick man, you ought to know it was done through the power of Jesus Christ. You crucified him and God raised him from the dead, and there is salvation and healing in no one else. That’s the end of Sermon Three, the man who is healed is standing — on his own two feet — right there, and the priests do not know what to say. They have been put in their place by a couple uneducated guys from Galilee. What now?
They dismiss the apostles so they can talk among themselves. They can’t think of a way to discredit the healing or dispute its significance — the guy was standing right there. But this Jesus-talk is trouble, and they need to stop it from spreading. So they call the apostles back and tell them, OK, we’re going to let you off with a warning this time, but no more speaking or teaching in Jesus’ name, you got that? Peter and John reply, You can decide whether it’s right for us to listen to you or for us to listen to God, but we cannot keep silent about we have seen and heard. The priests threaten them again, and let them go, partly because there are 5,000 people outside who want to know what’s going on. I told you last week–that healing was going to land them in trouble.
There is no telling where the church would be today if Peter and John had said Yes sir, and gone home quietly and said no more to anyone. Their boldness in speaking surely contributed to us being here are part of the Church today. Boldness can be an admirable quality — especially for men. It means you’re confident, resolute, a go-getter, a leader. It’s a good quality for women, too, but people might say you’re a pushy, opinionated person. If I were trying to come up with the opposite of bold, it would be meek: quiet, unassuming, not demanding. I thought Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth. Well, the folks who have it now are the bold. [I even wrote that in bold type] I think it’s helpful to make a distinction between the bold and the brazen. You can maybe think of people you know or maybe public personalities who say whatever they want, make definite claims regardless of facts, and assert with confidence things which may or may not be true. Politics attracts and rewards people like this, and that is not limited to any political party or system. Peter may be bold — he is not brazen. The key is in Acts 4 verse 8: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. Peter is speaking the truth; not his truth, or his opinion, but the truth which God’s Spirit inspired him to say — compelled him to say might be more accurate. The priests asked about power and authority, and Peter demonstrated the Spirit’s power and authority. Peter did not shy away from calling out the priests who condemned Jesus to death — some of the actual people, Caiaphas and Annas who turned Jesus over to Pilate — but his sermon didn’t end with condemnation, it was a call to salvation and healing ion Jesus Christ.
I would not characterize myself as a bold person. I am confident that what I share from the pulpit on Sunday mornings is from God’s Word, and I am intentional about seeking the wisdom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But you are unlikely to find me up on a soapbox in the public square — I pray that preaching to complete strangers is not a requirement for the kingdom of heaven. And although I admire people within the church who speak boldly, I also have a soft spot for those who speak gently and listen thoughtfully. Peter’s act of boldness is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence: he is filled with the Spirit and cannot keep silent about what he seen and heard — how his life was transformed by Jesus of Nazareth, and how the Spirit is inspiring and guiding the church. It is not too much further into the book of Acts — 5 or 6 chapters — when church leaders begin to have some disagreement about who should be invited into this new religious movement of believers in Jesus. Specifically, whether non-Jews are included and what they have to do to be included, etc. etc. We know how that question got resolved under the bold and courageous leadership and inspired writing of the apostle Paul. There have been, and still are, times when the Spirit inspires people to act and speak with boldness. But I would also advocate for boldness which has not as frequently been recorded in the Acts of the Apostles or in the letters of Paul, and that is bold listening. For bold speaking to be effective, someone has to be listening — and that can be a bold act, too. Next week we’ll hear about a Pharisee in the Jewish council named Gamaliel. Probably not in the top 10 of your Best-Known Biblical Characters list, but Gamaliel advocated a fairly radical form of listening, and got other members of the council to go along with him. It is an act of faith which the church could learn from today: we may be filled with the Spirit to speak boldly about what we believe and what we have seen and heard about Jesus Christ; we may also be called to listen for the Spirit’s continuing inspiration and guidance, because we believe that the Spirit is still working among us. Andif the Spirit is still at work in and among the followers of Jesus Christ, then we need both speakers and listeners. We need speakers who pay attention to the Spirit before they speak, and listeners who cannot keep quiet about what they have seen and heard. God knows what we need, and what the church needs, and I believe that there can be boldness in our speaking and in listening to the Spirit in others.We believe in God the Father, we believe Jesus Christ, God’s Son and his life death and resurrection. We believe in the Holy Spirit and the continued inspiration and guidance of the church. As we live into the mission of God, may the Spirit be in our listening, our speaking, our praying, our singing, our actions, and our lives. I believe this is our blessing and our call and our mission. Amen.