Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
One of my favorite all time TV shows ran while I was in college and in seminary, House M.D. It stared Hugh Laurie, who was a famed and troubled doctor. He was insanely smart and had an incredible diagnostic team. When they didn’t know what was wrong with patient, it was up to Dr. House to figure it out. Now, I saw he was troubled, he was also addicted to pain medicine that stemmed from a painful leg injury. He was witty, sarcastic, and always on edge of getting kicked out of the hospital. One of the things I remember the most from the show was his philosophy that people don’t change.
This influenced how he lived out his life and his mission. It informed the way he would diagnose patients. He would assume that someone was lying to him if they showed some type of evidence that they had a change in their lives.
This idea that people don’t change, it can carry. It helps to establish grudges between people and even families. It’s an idea that makes it hard to give people second chances. Our legal system seem to built on the idea that people don’t change, and if you do something wrong you need to be punished because it wouldn’t do any good to help to change you.
This is even true with Christ followers and the church, we often assume that people won’t or can’t change. You know so and so, she’s just like that. She likes to complain about everything but never do anything. You know Tommy being raised by a cousin, nothing good can come out of that. People can get stigmatized even when they are in church.
When we first celebrated the resurrection just a few Sundays ago, we saw hope that fear and death were not the end. Then the next week we looked at how Jesus will come to us even when we forget about God and return to our normal lives. And last week we looked at how Jesus wants to move us from fear to hope and from hope to ministry.
This week, we are going to explore this idea of people not changing. Was Dr. House right that people never change, or is change possible somehow through the life of Jesus? If change is possible what does it take to happen? And what is the goal of life change in the first place? Is the goal of life change to live happy and enjoy yourself and retire well? Or Is there a different goal when we examine our lives?
To help us answer this question, we are going to explore the lives of those that were around Jesus during his earthly ministry and after he was raised from the dead. And, I think, that by exploring their lives that we might be able to get a better understanding what can change in peoples’ lives and the goal of real life change should be.
If you were in worship with us last week, we explored the stories that Luke tells us about how Jesus appeared after the Resurrection to his followers. Today we are going to look at the book of Acts, which tells the story of how the early church started. Our Confirmation students know that Luke and Acts were written by the same guy. And Acts is kind of the 2nd part of Luke’s story. Before we jump into the story of Acts, I want us to look back at what Luke tells us in Luke 24.
Here is what has happened so far: Jesus dies on the cross. He is executed by the Roman Empire and placed in tomb. His male followers scatter. I am sure that they are worried that the authorities might round them up and arrest them because they were associates of this troublemaker, Jesus. We get this sense that the disciples are hiding at this point. Even before Jesus’ death, Luke tells us that Peter was questioned by the authorities and denied that he even knew who he was. Luke also tells us that two of the disciples run away from Jerusalem. They get out of the city, they leave for a village called Emmaus. Maybe they think that they have a better chance of hiding out in small town instead of the capital city. And the rest of the disciples are gathered together, in all likelihood, hiding.
From these descriptions, it becomes pretty clear that the disciples are fearful and timid. If you are living in a spirit of fear you can’t do anything. If are timid and scared you can’t really do much except put your head down and hope that the storm passes you by. If you are timid and scared perhaps, you are just waiting for the authorities to find the other guy and forget about you. Jesus had spent his entire ministry with these disciples, they had done great things in his name, but now they are scared, timid, and ready to pack it up and head home. And I don’t blame them, their teacher is gone and their fears are very much legitimate.
So many people in our lives know what it like to live in fear. Children who don’t have a stable home environment. A dad who struggles daily with anxiety. A wife how is sacred that her husband will come home drunk again and take out his frustration on her. That lump that is growing that I am worried about. That relationship that just doesn’t seem to work anymore. People know what this fear is like. For some people this fear becomes more than a passing season but consumes their lives, and Dr. House is right there is no escaping this fear.
But them Luke tells us that Jesus rises from the tomb and appears to these disciples. Just seeing Jesus doesn’t mean that things will change. Jesus could have showed up again and left again, and the disciples could have remained in fear, but something changes. And the reason we know something changes is because Luke writes another book, Luke writes Acts.
And in Acts, we find this story from Chapter 4. As we look at this chapter, I am going to read some of it and paraphrase some of it. But this is what is going on. By this point, Jesus had left his disciples again after the resurrection, but this time things have changed, this time their lives have changed, this time they aren’t left in fear. Instead, they with something else, and this something else, I think, is the goal of all life change. Luke tells us:
4 While Peter and John[a] were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2 much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
At this point, are the disciples timid or scared about arrested? No, we see them speaking to the people about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. We see, Peter and John preaching the Easter story in broad daylight. This doesn’t sound like the work of a scared man. The leaders of the area, though, are scared. They don’t want the Romans getting the idea that they can’t control these crowds. In the eyes of the religious authorities, Peter and John are preaching that a dead man has been raised and that all people can be a part of this resurrection through Jesus. On top of this, they had already healed a man. And people are buying it; a lot of people are buying it; five thousand people are buying it. So they arrest Peter and John. The next day, they question these two men about what they are talking about and the trouble they are causing. And the authorities realize something very power is happening. Luke tells in v.13
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14 When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. 16 They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
18 So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.
Luke tells us that in Peter and John the authorities recognized “boldness.” These were two ordinary men, but they were bold and could be recognized as companions of Jesus. Obviously, something has changed in the followers of Jesus. They have gone, in a matter of weeks, from a group on the run and hiding to a group that is recognized for its boldness and for its companionship with Jesus. This is people changing. They moved from a group in hiding to a group making bold moves for the kingdom of God because they had an encounter with the risen Lord. These Christians were setting the world on fire. And how did they do it? They prayed for this:
Luke tells us that after Peter and John were released from prison, their friends got together and began to pray with these words from v. 29
29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants[k] to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant[l] Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
These followers of Jesus prayed for boldness to change the world. They prayed for boldness to bring hope to the hopeless. They prayed for boldness challenged oppressive rules of authorities. And when they prayed, the place shook and they filled with the Holy Spirit who provided more boldness. They were filled with revival and changed the course of history. And in this, we see the goal of life change. The goal of life change is not a happy retirement. The goal of life change is a quiet church. The goal of life change is not a perfect financial portfolio. We see in Jesus’ followers, that goal of life change is boldness to make an impact in the world. The goal of life change is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to speak the word of God with boldness through our mouths and our actions.
Our humanness says that people can’t change. Or our humanness says that we what to change so that will be more like us. But this lesson is proof that through the power of God, people can change. Not only can people change, but this change can fill your hearts with boldness.
How do you usually hear people describe Christians? It’s kind of a mixed bag, if you asked me. Some see Christians as people with so call “good morals,” nice folks. More and more, though, Christians get labeled as judgmental, prejudice, and hypocrites. When I look at the way many high profile, so called, Christians act I get this. Whether Christians are described of in good ways or not so good ways, do you ever hear Christians described of as bold? As bold to love the unlovable. As bold to advocate equality and justice for all people. As bold to be in the business of healing anyone without regards to the ability to pay. As bold to proclaim the good news that Jesus offers a new way of life. As bold to proclaim even my life has been changed.
Friends, if you ever wondered if people can actually change, we have the recipe and the goal right here. Through the power of the Holy Spirit through revival, people can change and be filled with the boldness to do great things.
To tell you the truth, the world doesn’t want the church to be bold; it doesn’t want people to change. But we have a community that needs life change and boldness. We have a community in which the basic needs of many children in our community aren’t being met. We have a community in which many parents are absent from the lives of their children because of addiction or some other type of compulsion. We live in a community where we feed our kids afternoon snacks at school because for many of them that will be last food they for the day. We have a society that is fighting amongst all kinds of divides and issues that are not even central to the gospel, and at the same time people suffering here and around the world.
To really have change, we need revival. Peter and John spoke with boldness for Jesus and they prayed for boldness. Now I want to warn you, praying for boldness is dangerous. Praying for boldness got Peter and John arrested. Praying for boldness got the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr arrest and killed. Praying for boldness got Congressman John Lewis arrested many, many times. Praying for boldness got a friend of my ostracized from his friends because he is now involved with bringing hope to people facing addictions.
Ultimately, I don’t know what to tell you. I have heard the stories of how many in the church prayed prayers to ask God to change this church and to make it more bold. And through these prayers we are involved mission work in our community. And I know that I am praying right now of how we can be bold to connect children and families with the life changing love of Jesus.
I am encouraged, because I am amazed at how God took a group of scared and timid people that were in hiding and transformed them into people recognized by their boldness of their love and closeness to Jesus. God can do that with us again. God can change us again. God can make us bold again and in new ways. Our community needs this change; our community needs this boldness.
So, I want us to pray for it right now. If you aren’t buying it, If you still believe people can’t change, if you don’t want this boldness, don’t pray it. I realize that in many ways I’m preaching a message many of you already have in your hearts. I realize that I am preaching a message and many of you have better understanding of this boldness than I could ever have. But I think we all have room to grown. If you want this boldness; if you want more of this boldness, I invite you to pray for it. And I invite you to take this prayer and pray it every day this week. And I want you to look at your community and ask yourself how can I be bold? How can I offer hope and new life to someone in the name of Jesus? Maybe the place you standing in will shake, and you will be filled with the spirit and with boldness.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.