Monday, April 20, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter - Sermon 4/19/2015

Easter 3B – April 19, 2015
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh PA
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III, STS

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The resurrection of Jesus is not a happy ending.
We think that the story is neatly wrapped up in a bow.
The disciples are hidden away in fear and grief and guilt,
and then the risen Jesus appears,
and they first tremble with fear and then rejoice in wonder.
But this does not mean a happy ending,
if only because nothing is ended.

When we read the ending words of Luke’s Gospel,
we read that the story is only beginning,
for the risen Jesus says to his disciples,
‘Thus it is written,
that the Messiah is to suffer
and to rise from the dead on the third day,
and that repentance and forgiveness of sins
is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.’
This is the part of the story that is still going on today.
It is why we are here today.

For the book of Acts shows us St. Peter
boldly proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth
is the promised Messiah of Israel,
and that those who turn away from sin
and put their trust in him will be forgiven;
‘their sins will be wiped out.’
This story has been told from St. Peter
on down through the succeeding generations,
until we in our childhood heard from parents and grandparents,
friends and pastors and Sunday School teachers
this story of a man who was God
who died for us and was raised again.
And now we are the ones who tell the story.
‘You are witnesses of these things,’
says Jesus to those gathered in the Upper Room.
The passing on of the witness has continued to us,
and if it is to be passed on, it must continue through us.

This is why we must be aware
that the resurrection of Jesus, Easter morning,
is not yet the happy ending.
It is the assurance of the happy ending,
but it is not yet fully come.
We live believing that it will fully come,
but we do not know when it will fully come,
In the meantime, 
we are given a task, an identity,
‘witnesses to these things,’
witnesses to the Resurrection,
to tell the same story that was told us,
so that others may be drawn up into God’s great story
of forgiveness of sins and salvation through Christ.

This body of believers
known as St Stephen Lutheran Church
has been a witness for many years in this community.
I must confess,
I’m not sure if we have any charter members
of this congregation still with us,
or if they have all passed into the Church triumphant.
But some of us will remember some of those first ones
who gathered in a schoolhouse in the early 1950s
to start a mission congregation
of the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod
in the growing suburbs south of Pittsburgh.
I think that it’s important to remember
that a Lutheran congregation is not constituted by a pastor;
it is constituted by laypeople,
The people own the mission;
they are the ones called to bear witness to the resurrection.
and when there are enough laypeople gathered together,
they call a pastor from the wider Church
to preach and teach in Christ’s name
and administer the Sacraments among them.

And so the people of St Stephen were here.
The witness was here
when a Christian family came from somewhere else,
or when a married couple with a young child
realized they wanted that child to be formed in the faith.
The witness was here when a person
who had been away from the faith for a long time
finally one day came through the door,
drawn by the cross, drawn by the promise,
‘Christ welcomes you.’
The witness was here when a child
was washed with the cleansing waters of Baptism,
was nourished with the Word and Holy Sacraments,
taught at the feet of parents and teachers and pastors,
to take their place as adult believers,
whether here or in another place where God led them.

The witness was here,
and the witness is here among us,
for as long as the people hear the call to be witnesses,
the Gospel will be proclaimed from this people,
in the cross to the people who pass by,
in the Word to the people who come in,
in the Sacraments to those who come to receive them.
The Risen Christ is indeed in our midst.

If you are here today,
you are here because of people you probably never knew
who were called to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you are here today,
you too are called to be a witness to the Gospel.
I think that the word ‘witness’ is a little confusing.
When we hear that we are to ‘witness,’
we may think of someone knocking on doors giving out Bibles
or trying to engage people in conversation about faith.
If that’s not our thing,
then we’re not witnesses.
Or we may say, ‘Well, if we give some food to the food bank,
we are showing by our actions that we are witnesses, and we don’t need words.’
I don’t think that either of these are enough

Remember what I’ve been talking about.
I’ve been talking about how ‘St Stephen,’
how our faith community, our congregation, is a witness.
Simply our being here is a witness to the Resurrection
and a call to others to celebrate it.
And so if we believe we are called to be witnesses,
the first thing we do is rededicate ourselves to the participation in
and the building up of this ministry,
this unique and special ministry
which proclaims repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.

Our congregation will be renewed and continue to grow and thrive
if we hear God’s call to be a witnessing people in new ways.
Your pastor needs to learn how to be a witness
and to lead his people in witness.
For many years I thought that if I preached and taught the Gospel faithfully
and administered the Sacraments rightly
the rest of it would take care of itself.
I believe now that part of the call to being a pastor
is to be able to aid you and encourage you in articulating a witness,
to help the congregation in discerning a vision and reason for being,
and to connect us with the witness of the Church in other places.
So I ask for your prayers in doing that.

It is especially imperative for our newer members,
younger and older,
those who have been here for a few years or less,
and there are more of us than we might think,
to remember that we are here because someone else bore witness,
that others gave generously and more than generously
of time and money and sweat and prayer
to build and maintain this ministry
so that people they didn’t know,
you and me, could come here
and hear the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness.
It is time that we take up the challenge to do the same,
to remember that our identity is in God
and in what he has done for us through Christ,
and to give our lives for the Gospel;
to grow this ministry with our time and money and our sweat and prayer
so that others may be caught up in this story.

But our long-time members
also need to hear again the call to be a witnessing people,
for our witness does not end after a set number of years.
Indeed, as long as we draw breath
we can bear witness to the resurrection.
And so we should not think that our witness must grow fainter.
Instead, it should grow brighter
as we look back over the years and see how faithful God has been,
how many mercies he has shown.

If this ministry is to grow and thrive and be renewed,
it will be because we who have the risen Christ in our midst
believe and understand
that his resurrection is not the end of the story.
It is only the beginning.
By God’s grace we may participate in his writing of new chapters,
by how we live and how we give
drawing other people into the story.
I invite you, with me, to follow our forebears in saying ‘yes’
to Jesus’ call to be witnesses,
that we may continue to know his Risen Life
and to pass it to others.