Building a Church: Faith in the Author of Life

Acts 3:11-26              4.18.21

We continue a survey of what is needed to build a church in the book of Acts.

  First, a little background. In Jerusalem, the amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit had enabled people from many places to hear their own language speaking the might works of God. The believers had begun to phase one of church building as they created a strong sense of community with one another, sharing meals, praying together and sharing their resources so that all had enough. Peter and John continued the practice of going to the temple to pray. As they entered one day, they met a man disabled from birth, who was asking for money at the temple entrance. When he asked them for some coins, Peter and John looked at him intently, instructing him: “Look at us…” Peter told him: “I have no silver or gold, but I give you this—in the name of Jesus of Nazareth—stand up and walk.” Suddenly, the man stood up, walking, leaping, and praising God. His life completely hanged, a resurrection of sorts, he went into the temple with them.

            So there they are, standing in the portico named for Solomon, with this recently healed man clinging to them. People started to gather around them, astonished. Everyone knew this disabled man—he was brought to the temple gate every day to beg.

            Peter begins to preach. He wants the crowd to understand that his healing was not anything he or John did on their own. Although they were both witnesses to the risen Jesus, it was not because they were witnesses that this man was healed This healing was the power of God at work. And now the man becomes a living sign of God’s resurrection bower that we know in Jesu Christ. He is a tangible proclamation of faith in Jesus, who Peter calls the Author of Life.

            We know a lot of names of titles for Jesus, but this is not one of those that just rolls off our tongues. We are familiar with names like Christ, or Messiah, Lord, Son of God, Rabbi, Lily of Valley, Bright Morning Star, shepherd, Gate, Vine, and so on. Peter first connects this Jesus with the God of our ancestors, clearly identifying himself with the crowd of Jews gathered around. HE and John share faith in the same God, with the crowd—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Somehow, all of a sudden, without any seminary training, Peter the fisherman is a good preacher. He clearly connects with his audience and makes their shared faith in God the starting point for his sermon. That would make them continue to listen.

            You see, with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish community is thrown into a serious debate: who makes up the true Israel of God? Is it those who follow Jesus or those who don’t follow Jesu? Peter points out their role in sending Jesus to the cross. He and John surely can’t get out of their minds the cries of that angry crowd who, a couple of months before, insisted that Jesus be crucified and that a traitor to the empire be released without bail. We don’t know if some of these individuals in the temple had been there that day, but even if they were not, everyone in Jerusalem would have known about what happened to the teacher and healer from Nazareth. Peter indicates that the crowd gathered in the temple that day were complicit in the killing of the Author of Life. The very One who began it all at creation. The very One who made life possible for each person present that day, including the once-disable d man. The very One who delivered da new lease on life for that man who had never walked before. The very one who is referred to in Hebrews as both the author of salvation and the author (or pioneer) of faith (both phrases use the same word that Peter uses here.) Jesus is the author, the initiator, the principal, the guide, the source of life itself.  What an appropriate title to carry—the one who God raise from the dead is the Author of Life. And this healed man standing in front of them is living proof, a sing of Jesus.

            Peter then switches to your instead of our. His listeners are descendants of the prophets and all the prophets, from Samuel on, have pointed to the coming of this Author of Life to earth. His listeners are inheritors of the covenant God made with Abraham, promising that his progeny would bless all families of the earth. They would be nodding their heads at this point. Yes, that is what we believe.  Abraham is our ancestor. God made promises to Abraham and therefore, to us.

            And here is the kicker. They must have been wondering to themselves, “So what do we do with this information?” Peter answers their unspoken question: “Repent! Turn from your wicked ways. Turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” He even draws on the words of Moses, reminding them that those who do not listen to this prophet raised p by God will be utterly rooted out of the people.“  Wow. I have a picture in my mind of what happens to those pesky weeds who have already found their way through the new black mulch we spread in our flower gardens. When we give the gardens attention and care, we uproot those weds so they don’t cause damage to, or stunt the growth of the plants we want to grow. Standing in the Jewish temple, on the portico named for King Solomon, Peter is calling his listeners to come to his side of this debate—he believes that the true Israel, the true descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are those who repent, who will begin a whole new life, who will enter into an entirely different community of believers in Jesus.  Just like the man who had been healed. Just like the growing community of believers who were already beginning to build a church, just a short time after the resurrection of Jesus.

            Last week we looked at, what I am calling, phase one of church building—creating a community of believers who trust one another, who care for one another and who share things in common. Now, through Peter’s sermon, we see that church building does not happen without faith in the Author of Life. With their own eyes they had seen the risen Lord. With their hearts they had made their commitment to tell others about him. Now these witnesses in the temple had seen with their own eyes a man disabled from birth get up and walk, beginning a whole new life. Will they make a commitment to Christ as Lord in their hearts as well? That is what it takes to build a church, a gathering of believers who will follow Jesus. Visitors can watch. Onlookers can observe. Reporters can even share the news with their neighbors. But those who believe will be building a church. Not the physical structure, but the structure of a community of faith.

            This entire pandemic experience has been for us and unforgettable reminder that the physical structure does not a church family make. Christians, along with Muslims, Jews, and believers of all kinds, have learned the true meaning of a community of faith. For us, it is our shared belief in the Author of Life. That is what unites all Christians, arching over top of any differences we might have in the interpretation of Scripture or in our understanding of church doctrine, over the variety of spiritual practices found within the broader Christian church. We believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Author of Life. He is not the founder of the church. He is the Author of Life. The source of all that is, the author of all that we see in God’s creation, all of the human brothers and sisters we see around us, all of it. Jesus is the Author of Life. If we believe that, then surely our response must be to care for life in all of its forms, to respect the natural resources so that abundantly provided for us, to move away from a culture of extraction, the practice of take, take, take, which continues to deplete this rich resource of God’s earth due to human greed and careless waste. Indeed, our faith in the Author of Life puts us in a crucial role—dare we say it? We are trusted partners with God in tending to this earth we live on. Let us life in a way that is worthy of that trust from the Author of Life. Amen.

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