Fresh Soil

Easter Sunday – 17th April 2022

How wonderful to turn over the next page in our Sacred Calendar! Easter is probably the second most exciting time for church members with Christmas holding first place. And yet Easter is the pinnacle of our faith. It is the mountain top upon which we see Jesus as God. Easter is where the babe in the manager is revealed as the Man of Glory. It should be no surprise that today’s reading is titled, “Gentiles Hear the Good News.”

Before I address the scripture text, however, let me introduce where we are heading. In our Good Friday service, I gave a review of the major sermon series themes to date:

  • Forward to Christ’s Coming (Advent Series)
  • Christ is Here (Christmas Series)
  • Power in Christ’s Presence (Epiphany Series)
  • Walking with Christ (Lenten Series)

Today is the start of a new season in our Church Calendar. This year, the Easter Season spans across 7 Sundays ending with Ascension Sunday.

So I want to introduce for you a new sermon series. Its theme is “Growing in Christ.” However, its underlying message is that it is “Time to Grow.”

During the Easter Season, our Lectionary replaces its Old Testament readings with readings from the book of Acts. Today’s passage is the one titled, “Gentiles Hear Good News.” It is from Acts 10:34-43. Let’s go through in three parts:

  • Church with a Crossroad
  • Church with the Christ
  • Church with a Cause

But before I go through those three points from the passage, I just want to say that Easter is celebrated in the Spring in the northern hemisphere. I know Kiwis born down-under get annoyed at that fact. The songs, illustrations, and celebrations of Easter all deal with Spring time activities. Remember, that is where our Lord was born and that is why it is celebrated in that fashion. So while we are facing Autumn and have a had a nip or two of Winter coming, Easter is normally a time of hope in the air.

I grew up in the northern hemisphere. I remember Spring time. There was a feel in the air that was invigorating. I remember working the fields on the farm. They had been covered in snow all winter. They were hardened by frost. Spring is when the soil thawed. We were able to take a plow and turn over FRESH SOIL. The worms and bugs would see sunlight. The birds found fresh food! It was a great time to feel alive. Let us approach our sermon text with that air of expectation.

Church with a Crossroad

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)

Acts 10:34-36 (ESV)

Acts 10 finds the Church with a Crossroad. In chapter 1, Jesus ascended into heaven. Chapter 2, they got on with the business of the Gospel by electing a new treasurer. In Chapters 3-9, they saw powerful persecutions, powerful movements of God’s Spirit, and powerful conversions. But predominately the story was all about Jews. In Chapter 10, that all changed. Peter, a Jew, was about to face the stark reality that Gospel belonged to Gentiles as well.

And it is that same reality New Zealand European Christians face when they realise that God’s Spirit is moving across non-European peoples. Numerically, the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand membership is more non-European than the Europeans who founded the Church in New Zealand. Our church right here at St Johns is an illustration of that phenomenon. How will we respond? Peter finally got the message and started treated Gentiles as equals.

Howard Aiken was the twentieth century physicist and early pioneer in computing. He once said, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas, If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Yes, it’s a bit crude, but it gets the point across in a visceral way. As an early pioneer in computing can you imagine the numerous times Aiken tried to explain what he did to those yet to discover the revolutionary power of the computer?

Forgive me for driving this point home but St John’s Whanau has FRESH SOIL in which to replant for a new harvest. I believe it is time to grow! Covid-19 has ripped up our ground. It has been turned over. It has fresh nutrients available for our growth. We have an amazing opportunity to become a Christ-centred church.

A true story, from the year 891, is told of those who cast off in an embodied journey to live “in a state of pilgrimage, for the love of God.” There were three Irish pilgrims named, Dubslane, Macbeth, and Maelinmun. They made the dramatic decision to set out into the ocean from their homeland in a boat purposely “without oars.” Their destination was in God’s hands, or, more precisely, in God’s breath. In Hebrew, wind, breath, and Spirit are all the same word.

The sail for their boat was made of two and a half hides, and they took provisions for only seven days. On the seventh night they landed in Cornwall, in what today is the southwestern tip of England, convinced that they were precisely where they were meant to be. Their purpose and experience and that of hundreds like them is described as “wandering for the love of God.”

Many pilgrims from Ireland had gone before, departing without external destinations, but guided by interior journeys. Trying to explain their motivation, one author says they were “seeking the place of one’s resurrection.” Such pilgrims felt compelled to do so, often against all odds. (Wesley Granberg-Michaelson)

As a church, we have been drifting these past 26 months. I am excited to discover where we are going to land!

Church with the Christ

You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. But God raised him on the third day and caused him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

Acts 10:37-40 (ESV)

Peter was plowing FRESH SOIL. He found it invigorating to spread Gospel seed across new ground. And he presented the Gospel in its simplest form: Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. He is promoting Jesus as the Christ—the Messiah—the hope of humanity. We are a Church with a Christ. Not just any Christ; a Christ who rose from the dead!

The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live. (Wolfhart Pannenberg).

One of the largest gaps that exists between us moderns and the ancient world is the perception that there is a huge gap in both the belief and experience of the supernatural. We think of the ancients as superstitious and us moderns as enlightened. So we assume that these women or the disciples would instantly believe that Jesus had risen from the dead the moment they saw him, or even heard another eyewitness testimony. But Luke 24 provides a quite different picture. They were just like us in the modern world. They shared the same doubts and uncertainties that someone they saw die just a few days earlier had actually been raised from the dead.

In some ways their skepticism seems on the verge of credibility. How could they have doubted when, as the angels in the text make clear, Jesus had already said this was exactly what was going to happen!

The idea that Jesus would not only die, but rise again was clearly outside of the ordinary for Jesus’ followers. No matter how many times Jesus said it, the idea that the messiah, the anointed one of Israel, the one who was supposed to kick out their foreign oppressors and restore the Davidic kingdom, would not only die, but be raised again three days later, was simply too much to take in. In effect, something this new and revolutionary would have to be right there in front of them to believe. (The Pastor’s Workshop)

Church with a Cause

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Acts 10:41-43 (ESV)

Peter worked the FRESH SOIL. He reminded the new Gentile Christians of their responsibility to preach and testify that Jesus will judge the living and the dead. The Early Church was a Church with a Cause. And today, we too have a cause.

As a church, we are at an exciting fork in the road of our journey. Covid-19 has forced us to reconsider not only how we “do” church but how we “be” a church. I believe it is time for us to grow! By that I mean it is time to come out of the Covid-19 foxholes and begin connecting with God and the Community in a new way. St John’s Whanau, it is time to grow!

The flowering of the Cross goes back to the 6th century It symbolises the new life that emerges from Jesus’s death on Good Friday. It is like the easter eggs broke open for the children this morning. The bare cross is Good Friday. The flowered cross is Resurrection. This year, we have provided flowers for you to place on the cross. Come to the cross, take a flower, perhaps even pause to say a short prayer, and place your flower on the cross. After the service, we will carry the cross out to sit at the road for all to see our symbol of hope—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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