Texts: John 10: 22-30; Acts 9:36-43
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Apr. 17, 2016
Thank you Mary, for your reading of the Gospel this morning. It brings back so many fond memories. It was my first trip to our capital city Jerusalem. I remember how excited I was when Jesus told us we were going there to celebrate Hanukkah that winter. Of course, you know this festival as the Feast of Dedication or Feast of Lights. Although it comes near the time that you celebrate the birth of our Lord, it is one of our national holidays, much closer in spirit to your 4th of July. It commemorates the day we won our independence from Greek occupation.
Judas Maccabees, who lead that revolt, upon gaining control of Jerusalem proceeded immediately to the temple to cleanse it from the pollution and blasphemy it had suffered at the hand of the Greeks. (One of their rulers had actually sacrificed pigs to their pagan gods on our holy altar. You can’t begin to image how outraged our people were when that happened. It had, in fact precipitated the revolt.) Anyway when in the temple he discovered a cruise of oil that was sufficient to light the menorah, our seven-fold candle stick, for a day. By a miracle it burned for eight days. So each year we celebrate our national independence for eight days.
As Jesus led us to Solomon’s gate of the temple, I couldn’t help but think of the day 150 years before when the temple had been cleansed. Little did I realize then that in only two and a half years we would be back and, like Judas Maccabees, Jesus would enter the city like a triumphal hero and like him proceed to the temple to cleanse it. But already on this day we had an intimation of those events that would come later.
For as we entered the Portico, some Jewish leaders recognized Jesus and accosted him. “Don’t keep us in suspense,” they said, “If you are the Messiah who is to come, tell us plainly.” I looked at John and gave a knowing wink. We had suspected for a long time now that Jesus was our-long expected Messiah. Maybe now we would actually hear him admit it. But his answer was ambiguous. “I have told you,” he said, “but you would not believe me. I am the Good Shepherd and my sheep know my voice.” So often he would speak in riddles or in parables and keep us guessing. Sometimes he would later tell us privately what he meant, but other times he would say “you cannot bear it now, but the time will come with the Holy Spirit will reveal it to you. Of course, now we know he was right, but at the time it could be very frustrating.
Well that was a much longer introduction than I intended, but I’m going to blame it on you, Mary. Your reading of the Gospel just set my mind to racing. However, when Fr. Bill asked me to speak to you today, he said you would be observing the Easter Season, reflecting on those fifty days between the time that our Lord was raised from the dead and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon us. He asked to share what those days were like for us disciples.
At first, of course, we were devastated. After following him for three and a half years, we were absolutely convinced that he was the Messiah. We interpreted this to mean that he would restore national independence to Israel and be crowned King, thus fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would come from the line of David and rule his people.
We had simply refused to hear him when he repeatedly told us that he must die. It simply didn’t fit into our understanding of the prophecies. Then three days after his devastating and cruel death he suddenly appeared to us alive. In fact, he appeared several times over those forty days before his ascension. His appearances were so real (we could actually touch him) and we were filled with joy. But just as suddenly as he appeared, he would disappear again. We were left bewildered, wondering, what were we supposed to do. We thought we would be taking positions in his government. We used to argue over who would be given the greatest positions of authority when he came into his kingdom. But now, during those forty days it became increasingly apparent that he was not going to be king in any way that we had understood. Often in his absence, fear would again seize us. We would return to the upper room and lock the doors in a feeble attempt to keep from being arrested. What were we to do next? We simply didn’t know.
Finally, I made a decision. I would return to my old way of life before I had met him. “I’m going fishing I said, and left Jerusalem for the Sea of Galilee. The others decided to tag along. But though we left the city, we did not leave Jesus. One morning as we rowed to shore we saw him on the banks. He had started a fire and was cooking our breakfast. As always he was so patient with us, never scolding or rebuking for our lack of faith. He told us to return to Jerusalem. A few days later he appeared to us a final time. We followed him outside the city gates to the Mount of Olives where had been arrested. There, he told us to continue to wait in the city until the Holy Spirit descended upon us. The Spirt, he said, would call to our memory everything that he had taught us and would make clear all those things we had not understood. When the Spirit came, He said, we would know what to do. We watched in amazed silence as he ascended into heaven.
Well, the rest as they say is history. Our historian, Luke who became a companion of Paul, has stated in great detail what happened on the day of Pentecost. When the Spirit came, we were filled with understanding and with a holy boldness. We proclaimed the good news of our Lord’s resurrection and what it meant, not only for our nation but for the whole world. Not that I was exactly shy before that time, you understand – but now I did not speak empty words. They rang with authority and all kinds of things happened, healings, miracles, conversions, to back them up.
In those early times hundreds of people joined our ranks. At first we stayed in Jerusalem and the Spirit led people to us. But as they returned to their homes in the surrounding villages and shared the good news with their relatives and friends, we began to get invitations to visit them and bring further instruction. In the first scripture lesson that you heard read this morning, you learned that I was preaching in Lydda. It’s an ancient town that was been founded by the descendants of Benjamin shortly after our ancestors conquered the land of promise under the leadership of Joshua, (which, you know of course, is the Hebrew name for “Jesus”.) The town was strategic in our history because it lay at the crossroads with two main highways. One was the road that went from Egypt up to your modern day Turkey and was used both by Egypt and Alexander the Great as they battled each other for control. The other main road ran into it at Lydda was the major highway going east to Babylon. So whoever controlled Lydda controlled a strategic point in our ancient world.
I digress. While I was preaching at Lydda, there was a sudden commotion in the house and I saw several men carrying in a man that I later learned had been paralyzed for eight years. As I looked at him I couldn’t help but remember when early in his ministry Jesus had been teaching in a house when suddenly we heard the scraping of the tiles being removed in the ceiling above us and four men lowered a paralytic down in front of Jesus. I followed our Lord’s example. I looked at the man and said, “In the name of Jesus you are healed, take up your bed and walk.” And he did! Even I was amazed at what God had done. We all gave thanks to him and several came to faith.
It didn’t take long for word of this healing to spread beyond the city. I soon got a request to go down the road to Joppa, the port city where Jonah had taken a boat to try to escape the call of God to go to Nineveh. There, a new disciple, Dorcas, who was known for her charity and good works had taken ill and died. As I hurried down the road toward Joppa, I couldn’t help but think of the funeral procession we had encountered just outside the village of Nain. Jesus had commanded the procession to halt and called the young dead man to rise up from the coffin. He did. I couldn’t help but wonder, would God’s healing power also work to raise the dead now that our Lord had ascended into heaven. You see, what I was starting to realize was that we were on a road of discovery. Our Lord was revealing what he wanted us to do as we went along.
So when I arrived in Joppa, I found Dorcas’ home filled with mourners. In our culture, when someone died wailed and cried making quite a scene for days. I wanted quiet, to be alone with the body so I sent the mourners outside. I prayed silently and said, “Dorcas arise!” Immediately she opened her eyes and sat up. I gave her my hand to help her out of bed. We walked out of the house together into the midst of that wailing crowd. Their cries of sorrow turned to tears of joy.
I could go on and on, but I tell you this to remind you that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The same Spirit that empowered my ministry has been given to every believer down through the ages. I know as you look back on the history of St. Paul’s, you have many stories to tell how God has worked miraculously in the lives of people, and I’m sure if I had time to chat with you individually, each of you can recall, probably many times in your lives, that God has worked powerfully to accomplish what you thought to be impossible.
Today, I know St. Paul’s faces many new challenges. I’m here to tell you this morning to step into your future with confidence and faith. You will find God’s spirit, the Holy Spirit, will empower you. I’m confident that like me, you will be amazed at what God will do through you as the future unfolds.