Jesus can be such a downer.
Not that it’s his fault. He had a pretty tragic life. Died at the age of 32 for a crime he didn’t commit. Brutally punished and mocked while his closest friends and allies denied even knowing him. Might have been spared but for a bunch of power-hungry, fearful religious leaders and the sheep who followed them. Sounds like the plot of a major Hollywood movie. Except it isn’t. It’s the true story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The roots of our faith are steeped in some pretty tough material and can make coming to church something kind of morbid and sad. To top it off we spend a lot of time in church talking about death. The death of Jesus, the death of the disciples, the death of John the Baptist, the plagues, the killing of the first born, Sodom and Gomorrah, Ananias and Sapphira – you get the picture. And while all of it is important, you can walk away from church feeling drained, depressed, and hopeless. At times we might even feel unworthy of the love of God. I had a friend who once told a pastor God could never forgive her for all the things she did and just wanted advice about how to help her children avoid the same fate since she was convinced there was no place in Heaven for her. Can you imagine living life with that burden? A life without hope? But think about it. Jesus wouldn’t have given up everything for a bunch of worthless people. He wouldn’t have come to us, sacrificed so much, and died if we didn’t have a spark of redemption, a chance to be greater than we are. And as important as it is to be reminded of all the life lessons in the Bible, it is also important to be reminded of ALL the life lessons in the Bible – not just the bleak ones.
Most of the time we need a reminder about how much we need Jesus.
We do a great job convincing ourselves that we are just fine without him. Human beings are often cocky, arrogant and self-serving, so coming to church to be reminded how much we have to be grateful for is probably a good idea. But if all we do is shine a light on our failings, we could easily develop a horrible self-image. Like my friend, we might think there’s nothing good about us that God would want to redeem and that’s not true either. Sure, we’re flawed and at times we need to be taken down a peg or two, but we are also worthy of being picked up and encouraged. Everybody needs a happy puppy moment. Even saying those words and I can’t help put a smile on my face. Happy puppy. Have you ever picked up a happy puppy? It gives you joy in unexpected ways. My sister just got a new puppy for their family and when we went down to visit my parents, my mom and dad were watching little Beatrice while they were on vacation so we got to play with her for a while. It’s been so long since our dogs were little pups, I forgot how full of love and excitement they can be. For me, a happy puppy moment inspires us and reminds us we are worthy of love. It is a reminder of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to dwell on how corrupt humanity is or how depraved we are or how undeserving we are, but sometimes we need to walk out of church with the confidence of being loved. Of knowing that we are worth the effort. If all we’re told week in and week out is how deficient we are, we’ll lose all hope for our future. Multiple studies have shown that its not good to work 6 days a week let alone 7. It leads to greater risk for “depression, heart attack, and heart disease.” Not only that we actually become LESS productive the MORE we work! One study showed that people who worked a 60-hour workweek for eight weeks had the same productivity as those who worked only 40! Those who worked 80 hours a week only lasted for three weeks before they could have done the same at half the hours. I think you would find similar results in every aspect of our lives. Putting our nose to the grindstone only works for so long before you need a breather and we need to do the same in church. We need to remind ourselves once in a while that we are worthy of the love of God.
There are so many inspirational passages in the Bible.
So many stories of hope and encouragement. When I wonder to myself if there’s a chance for me to make a better person of myself, if it’s really possible to turn things around, I gain a lot of inspiration from the stories in the Bible. Stories about people like Gideon or Moses who doubted God could ever use them. Stories about women like Deborah who stepped forth when women were often looked down upon. Or the story of the man on the cross who was paying for his crime and Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” There is always hope for us all. And then I read this story of Peter and John after Jesus had been resurrected and returned to Heaven. They were so full of enthusiasm nothing could stop them. Not even the threat of death. They were so sure of Christ in their lives they were willing to stand up to anyone, face any difficulty to do work in his name. And that’s where we pick up our reading this week. Peter and John have just healed a beggar near the temple gates who wasn’t able to walk since he was born. The temple leaders arrested them because they claimed to heal in the name of Jesus. They were fearful of the influence of this growing cult.
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
This would make a GREAT movie.
There are just certain moments that inspire our lives and for me this is one of them. To have that kind of self-assurance, to stand up in the face of fear and prejudice and stare it down is something we all aspire to. But Peter and John has that assurance because they knew that Christ was with them. Even if he wasn’t with them physically, he was with them in spirit and in their hearts, and they KNEW when Christ said he would not leave them, they could count on his word. As can we all. And because they had such faith, they could do extraordinary things. And we can, too. We might not be able to cure the lame or make the blind see – at least not medically – but we can live our life with boldness because we have a God who loves without condition and without end. We just need to believe this is true and it will give you a renewed sense of confidence in life to face the daily struggles we encounter all the time. To find the courage in those moments when we are called upon to do something or say something that might change someone’s life. We already get glimpses of the assurance of Christ in our everyday world. The kind word of a stranger that seems to make our day. A surprise gift from a friend that lets you know you are KNOWN and LOVED. The first time a person says “I love you” and means it! Don’t those acts make us feel bold and unafraid? We can be that bold and unafraid all the time because we have a God who loves us. We just need to be reminded once in a while about how great his love is.
We have a God who loves us so much.
So much that not only did he send his son into the world for our salvation, but he also gave us the capacity to know him and to love as he loves. We can know God today, not just through the Bible but in our every day lives by the love we give and receive. We know God in our prayers. We know God through our friendships and through the relationships we build in community. We can experience the love of God through the extraordinary ways we come together in moments of crisis. God’s love is around us all the time. We just need to have eyes to see it. This week, I don’t have a special task for you. I don’t have anything you need to do to draw closer to God. I just hope you remember, in times when you need courage and boldness that you have a God who loves you infinitely and unconditionally. And if you need a reminder, go hug a puppy.