Monday, May 29, 2006

Sermon - Easter 7 - Acts 1:15-26

(note: This sermon was also preached, in a slightly different version, for the monthly winkel meeting. You can read that version here.)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28th, 2006

“The Church Must Go On”
Acts 1:15-26

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

In this Easter season, as every year, 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.

At our May pastors’ conference we heard a seminary professor expose the problems with this so-called gospel. It really is just another attempt of the enemies of our faith to cast doubt on the Bible and its teachings.

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. A gruesome image.

And then Peter quotes the Psalms (and isn’t it wonderful how these buffoon disciples all of a sudden in Acts become incredible teachers and preachers?). 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. Both men are qualified. Both have been “with them from the beginning”. And so the disciples pray, and the lot falls to Matthias, and he takes Judas’ place.

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? Here at church, 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… I’m sure in your profession, planning is just as important.

And then there’s all the planning in our personal lives. I’ve been planning to plant my garden this weekend. We’re planning a Disney vacation this fall. Maybe you’re planning for your retirement. Maybe your boss 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 own fault. Or, 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!” For that is his plan…

A few weeks ago, our guest preacher, Dr. Schulz, reminded us of the passage in which Jesus said, “I will build my church” and “the gates of Hell will not prevail against it!” And when Jesus says church, he doesn’t mean a building, he means a people. Those who are called by the Gospel, washed in Baptism, and fed by his Holy Supper. “The Church must go on” means you must, you will – go on. “I will build my church” is a promise to each and every one of us individual members of the Body of Christ.

So when our plans fail and go awry and disappoint and frustrate… God’s plan for us continues on. No matter whether you have a bad day or week, the church must go on. 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 us. Christ has died for us, and lives for us – his plan is flawlessly fulfilled.

Though it may have seemed the plan had 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 it will be. 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 such children grow up and are confirmed, and learn more, and become husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, teachers, accountants, factory workers, doctors, pastors, and everything else under the sun – and as we do, we serve God. And as we do, we too witness to what we have seen and heard concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. And the good news is brought to the ends of the earth in THAT place, wherever we may be, 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.


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