Monday, May 15, 2006

Sermon - Easter 7 - Acts 1:15-26 (Winkel)

Winkel (Pastors' Conference)
May 15th (28th), 2006
“The Church Must Go On”
Acts 1:15-26

Grace and peace to you, brothers, in Christ our Lord.

I decided to use for today the readings for May 28th, the 7th Sunday of Easter, two weeks down the road. I always appreciate hearing winkel sermons with good ideas to steal, and so feel free to do that today if you wish, that is, if you hear any.

As you know, in this Easter season our lectionary takes a turn from the Old Testament to hear from the book of Acts. And I couldn’t help but key in on the reading from Acts 1:15-26, especially with all the hub-bub about the Gospel of Judas in recent weeks.

If you were at the recent pastors’ conference you heard Dr. Voelz expose the problems with this so-called gospel. And if you haven’t heard or read much about it, I hope you will at least have an answer to it, for your people are bound to be asking questions.

But putting that aside for now, this reading is fascinating in and of itself. I always wonder at the graphic depiction of Judas’ suicide – with his body bursting open and intestines spilling out (try picking a hymn to go along with THAT!).

And then Peter quotes the Psalms (and isn’t it wonderful how these buffoon disciples all of a sudden in Acts become exegetes par-exellence?). And he says that this was all part of the plan, and now another needs to be chosen to fill Judas’ vacant position.

He doesn’t say to become an “apostle” but a “witness with us of his resurrection”. In Acts, you see, it’s always about the resurrection.

And so you get Joseph a.k.a. Barsabbas a.k.a. Justus, and Matthias. The call committee is formed, and after they fill out their PIF and SET forms, the district president evaluates their strengths and weaknesses and then they interview the two men and see which one “wowed” them more and…. No wait. They don’t do that. They pray, then they flip a coin.

Well the point here is not to give us a prescription for calling a pastor. Nor is it just anecdotal trivia about the infant church. Instead, we have here a further example of God’s plan unfolding. For our God is a God with a plan.

We know planning, don’t we? I don’t know how you plan in your parish, but around here we have a yearly system of planning – who preaches when, coordinating with Sunday School and our day-school, planning Bible classes and retreats, Evangelism and Mission Sundays, and of course the high holiday of September, our annual church picnic.

We plan week to week – I start most Mondays out by picking hymns, a message for our outside sign, beginning my study of the readings. I make sure I have my ducks in a row for all my meetings, classes, confirmation, etc…

And then there’s all the planning in our personal lives. I’m planning to plant my garden in a couple weeks. We’re planning a Disney vacation this fall. Maybe you’re planning for your retirement. Maybe your congregation is planning for your early retirement.

Personally and professionally, individually and corporately, we make our plans. But then the plans go wrong. A health problem comes along. Someone reacts to your plan with resistance. People don’t hold up their end of the bargain. Some monkey wrench is thrown into the works.

Or I fail to do what I thought I could and would. Maybe what goes awry is our fault. Maybe it’s out of our control. Maybe God wasn’t copied in on our plan. Maybe he missed the memo. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen, Lord. Not the plan!

The best laid plans of men have been going awry since the fall. Since Adam and Eve’s plan to be like God didn’t work out. They wanted to be more like God, instead they became less.

Yes, plans get messed and mussed by sin. Always the problem, that sin. But God is always planning. He is dealing with sin. And his plan isn’t necessarily our plan. He knows better, after all.

Jesus wasn’t supposed to be betrayed! Judas was supposed to be a disciple, not a turncoat. Jesus wasn’t supposed to get arrested – convicted – crucified. What about all the miracles? What about all the plans? James and John were marking out their thrones next to Jesus in the kingdom they expected him to usher in. Judas had his own plan. We don’t know exactly what it was, but it might have been to force Jesus’ hand into establishing that earthly kingdom.

Those were their plans. Not Jesus’ plan. His was simple – to go up to Jerusalem, to be handed over to the elders and chief priests, to suffer many things, to be crucified, and to rise again on the third day.

Peter heard this plan and tried to rebuke Jesus. But Jesus rebuked him. And now, in Acts, after the resurrection, Peter has a little more respect for God’s planning. He sees and knows that this is how it had to be. That this was the plan all along. God’s way of dealing with our sin in Christ. The Christ had to die. The Christ had to rise. God’s plan of salvation, not ours. And now the next step of the plan was afoot.

They say in the world of entertainment, “the show must go on”. No matter what happens, if you forget your lines, if a prop is missing, if the audience doesn’t applaud – the show must go on! The church is like that too. “The church must go on!” No matter whether you have a bad day or week, the church must go on. No matter whether you feel up to the task, the word has been given you to teach and preach. No matter how incompetent and inept and inadequate and unprepared and unfaithful and downright hypocritical the law rightly makes us feel, for we are still wretched sinners…. The church must go on. The gates of hell will not prevail against her. Though it may have seemed the plan has been thwarted by scheming Judas, the church must go on! A new apostle is picked to take his place. The disciples pray and rightly allow God to determine who. They understand God is the one with the ultimate plan. And so from this small band of just 120 faithful, the church would grow and spread – and the good news would be preached to the ends of the earth. For that was God’s plan!

And one day, a little baby – you – would be brought by his parents to the font. And that was God’s plan. And that child would grow up and be confirmed, and learn more, and become a pastor, and be called to serve a congregation, and there preach the good news to the ends of the earth in THAT place, so too was his plan. You and I are part of it all, just as was Matthias. God uses us all for his good purposes. Despite our sin and failings – which he forgives in Jesus Christ – for God has always justified and sanctified humble humans to do great things in His name.

And finally, God lets us in on the rest of the plan. Not all the details mind you, but he does promise a future. He has more to come in his plan. When history is concluded, when Christ comes again, and the dead are raised and judged and we, in our flesh, see God.

I don’t know if you ever saw the TV series, popular in the 80’s, called “The A-Team”. They were a small para-military band of mercenaries who would fight the bad guys with all sorts of contraptions. Their leader, Hannibal, always chomped a cigar and celebrated victory as he said his famous line at the end of each episode, “I love it when a plan comes together”.

We look forward to when God’s plan comes together – when it comes to fulfillment in the kingdom to come. Until then. The church must go on! And the good news must be preached to the ends of the earth. Whatever our plans, and however they pan out or fail, God has the plan in Jesus Christ. He is faithful, and he will do it.


Kenyananalyst said...

Stumbled on your blog while combing through Darius' blog; I liked your responses to his posts. The Lord bless you for your fidelity to the Scriptures. Jesse, Nairobi, Kenya.

Darius said...

Preachrboy and Kenyan A: Completely setting aside that preceding discussion on our blogs, and just sticking to the text of scripture:

I don't understand how Judas' betrayal isn't read as being explicitly presented as part of God's plan within the canonical gospels.

Jesus is portrayed as foreseeing his betrayal by Judas and allowing it to happen as an event necessary to fulfilling his mission of salvation. There are a number of verses that are explicit about this, don't you think?

Preachrboy said...

I would say the Gospels DO make it clear, inasmuch as they make the rest of his plan for the Atonement clear - mainly through Christ's words and actions.

The thing is, the disciples didn't really "get it" until later...

Darius said...

Ok... I thought you were saying otherwise with, "Jesus wasn’t supposed to be betrayed! Judas was supposed to be a disciple, not a turncoat. Jesus wasn’t supposed to get arrested – convicted – crucified."

As you say, the disciples don't understand the Father's plan for the Son until after the resurrection. But the gospels show Jesus as having understood all along - for example, when he's being arrested and prevents, I think it's Peter, from reacting to this by trying to protect him (Peter starts to try this approach, cuts off the ear of a slave...)

Preachrboy said...

Yes, Darius. It is as you say.

I was using a rhetorical device there to suggest what the disciples may have been thinking, quite in contrast to Christ's plan.

Darius said...

Thanks for that clarification. From what I've heard about the Gospel of Judas, it sounds like where it really deviates from the canonical Gospels is in presenting him as well-motivated - like he turned Jesus in from out of good intentions. Which, of course, is very different from turning him in for thirty pieces of silver.

Preachrboy said...

The truth is we don't know what Judas' motivation was. One tradition says he was a zealot, part of the militant opposition to Roman occupation. Thus, some have concluded, that his betrayal was an attempt to spark a rebellion and (ultimately) win independence from the Romans.

Then there is the greed factor, which is clearly seen from the silver, but also implied by his "keeping of the money bag" and his objections to the costly perfume used to anoint Jesus.

But whatever the "reasons" he had, the real reason he did it was rooted in his lack of faith. He truly went down "where he belongs" as Peter and the apostles said in their prayer.

Which might remind us that even "good intentions" can lead us astray. Sin is always lurking.

Darius said...

Interesting ideas about the possible motives. As you say, who knows.

Good intentions, however, can lead us only so far astray, I think. While there can be unintended consequences to trying to do good or trying to do harm, most of the time when we intend to do good, we do good; and evil intentions tend to produce results that harm ourselves and others.

Furthermore, when it comes specifically to the moral realm, even very young children understand the difference between causing harm on purpose vs. accidentally. America's judicial system acknowledges the same distinction - for example, a hunting accident vs. premeditated murder.

Preachrboy said...

When it comes to civil righteousness, I would agree with you, Darius. Good intention counts for much.

But when it comes to our standing Coram Deo, scripture says even our "best works are like filthy rags". Scripture makes it clear that the thoughts of our heart, including our intentions, are corrupted by sin. Never pure.

Adam and Eve might have argued "good motives" in their attempt to be "like God". The Pharisees certainly argued good motives - "it is better for one man to die...". Peter probably thought he had good motives when he told Jesus to stop the crazy-talk about dying, but Jesus said, "get behind me Satan".

Without Christ, even our best intentions and best works fall short of God's perfect standard. And as for being "far astray", any sinner is astray from God - eternally - without the forgivenss won by Christ. Well-meaning or not.

Darius said...

We are not told that Jesus sent Peter to hell. But as I recall, we're told that's where Judas is headed. And in the canonical gospels, he's presented as having intentions as bad as they can get. Since the effect of Judas' actions was to assure the fulfillment of God's plan for Jesus' death and resurrection, it's pretty hard to view him as presented by the canonical gospels as being judged based on something other than his intentions.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Mat 5:8 Maybe the best and most honest interpretation for this verse from the beatitudes is: "Blessed are those who believe that I am the Son of God who will be resurrected to judge the living and the dead." I can't read the Greek, but the English words sure do read like they're speaking to motive. Surely scripture contains doctrine, but surely that's not the only kind speech that it contains. I think it's misinterpretation to try and construe patently non-dogmatic words into assertions pertaining to belief.

Scripture aside, I'd have to question the complete disconnect you're saying exists between what you term, "civil" morality, but which many Christians would argue is based on the Ten Commandments, and Christian morality.

Preachrboy said...

No, the difference between Peter and Judas is not one of intention or even degree of sin. As I have said, we really don't know what their intentions were. Scripture seldom tells you what one if its characters is thinking.

The difference is a faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter had it, Judas did not.

Pertaining to "civil" or "civic" righteousness, I would refer you to the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which I have discussed extensively on this blog. Use the search box. I wouldn't say it's a complete disconnect, but there are distinctly different kinds of "righteousness".

Darius said...

Elsewhere you stated the conviction that reading the text itself is the best approach to scripture, and questioned the legitimacy of other approaches.

But concerning Judas, you cite the following.

"One tradition says he was a zealot, part of the militant opposition to Roman occupation. Thus, some have concluded, that his betrayal was an attempt to spark a rebellion and (ultimately) win independence from the Romans."

According to the text, Judas was a bad guy. Period. He betrays Christ out of avarice and is therefore going to hell.

Yet in actual effect, despite his evil intentions, he brings about Jesus' fulfillment on the cross. Therefore the point I made above is correct: intentions matter in Bible.

Speaking of the text, you didn't comment on how you understand "purity of heart" in the beatitudes - and how, in your view, it presumably does not refer to motive or intention.

We both have limited time, so I'll have to pass on researching your thoughts on the two kingdoms and on righteousness, as you've had to do on my suggestion to read the notes in the annotated RSV. (Actually, it doesn't appear that you've read my response to the last comment you left on my blog maybe a week ago.)

But you write well; I'm sure I could understand it if you gave me the gist.

Personally, when it comes to righteousness, I'd be interested in how those who view themselves as having exclusive title to the right understanding of Christianity and the Bible distinguish this state of mind from self-righteousness. I would think this could be a potential stumbling block, and an easy mistep to make. As you point out, it isn't possible to be human and devoid of sin. There must certainly be tempations involved with understanding oneself as representing God's point of view with complete adequacy while perceiving the views of others as fallacious and even evil.

Preachrboy said...


It is precisely because I don't trust any human's understanding of God that I continually DO go back to God's self-revelation. If I took your approach, I would have no certainty (except that those with certainty must be certainly wrong).

Citing a tradition doesn't mean I hold it authoritative. It was more a side-note to the main point I was making. In fact, I already made clear that because the scripture doesn't clarify the inner mind of Judas (though gives hints of his greed) we don't know it for sure.

And I am not saying intentions don't matter. I am saying that even the best of human intentions are corrupted by sin. That's scriptural. That's all.

And of course God can and does bring about good from evil, as he did with Judas' betrayal. That doesn't make Judas' actions good or even excusable.

I wasn't interested in the annotated RSV because I didn't think it would offer any new perspectives I haven't already seen elsewhere. If you're not interested in learning about two-kingdom theology that's fine too.

My goodness, Darius, do you really have limited time? I appreciate your interest in my blogging, but why take issue with every single thing I say? It seems less an honest inquiry and more agrument for argument's sake.

I thought I made it clear I was not going to get into endless arguing on your blog, I don't really want it here either.

Darius said...


My interest has been in trying to understanding the basics of the conservative perspective. With such differing viewpoints, I think that going through a lot of convoluted details has been unavoidable.

I also feel this is a time consuming process, and need to move on.

My last response to you on my blog was my best effort to sum up my understanding of your perspective. This present discussion thread on your blog has gone longer than I foresaw. Yes, let’s drop it - I have the feeling it would end up leading to the same essential difference suggested by my summary.

I tried to sum up as simply and accurately as I could. Would be interested, for my own information, if you feel I’ve got your view of the Bible about right. I gave it a title and put it in boldface: “The Conservative Premise,” almost halfway down the comments to my May 14 post.

Preachrboy said...

Yes, your summation looks about right.

Darius said...

Thank you; I've found this helpful.