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I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lord's Day Message: The Voice of Proclamation



Gospel Lesson: Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:1-5
Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
            And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Voice of Proclamation
The calendar of the church year is a really marvelous thing.   Since we began together, our church has been using what is called the Lectionary, readings appointed for use in Protestant churches around the world, coordinated with the church year.   The Lectionary works in a three-year cycle.  And if you stick with it, by the time you’ve completed the cycle of daily Bible readings, you will have drunk deeply from every part of Scripture, and begun to experience the depth of the Psalms in a way you never did before, because their cycle repeats more than once a year. 

The space between Jesus’ Resurrection Day and the Feast of Pentecost, when the Apostle Peter preached and 3000 came to Christ in a single day is a period that lasts 47 days, just about a month and three weeks.  What this affords us here at Immanuel Community Church is the opportunity this year to hear some of the voices of the Resurrection.  We’ve already met Thomas, the Voice of Lingering Doubt, and over the next six weeks we’re going to meet those Three Thousand voices of Unity.  We’re going to meet Stephen, the voice of a Martyr; Paul, the voice of Reason; Jesus, the voice of the Shepherd; Peter, the voice of Prophecy.  But first, we’re going to meet Luke, the Voice of Proclamation.

The Book of Luke and its companion book, The Acts of the Apostles, are generally acknowledged to have been written by the same man.  He was a non-Jew who was born in Antioch, in Syria, at just about the same time Jesus was being born in Bethlehem.  We talked earlier this winter about how the Sermon on the Mount was delivered not just to believing Jews who lived in the region around the Sea of Galilee, but that Jesus’ audience that day was made up of people from far afield, not just physically, but also far away from the roots of Judaism.   There is a high degree of probability that Luke was one of the people present to hear the Sermon on the Mount, a portion of which appears in his Gospel.  Even more probable is the tradition that Luke was one of the 70 or 72 disciples Jesus sent out as an advance team, as Luke’s account tells it, “to every place that Jesus himself was about to go.”

It is a tasty idea when you consider that the Scriptures about Jesus life and ministry the early believers thought were most important were not written by the central committee of the early church: Peter, John, and James.  They were penned by lesser lights; by a former tax collector; a peasant boy who happened to cross paths with Jesus on Palm Sunday and who, by all accounts abandoned being part of Paul’s first missionary journey because he was afraid; by a Syrian Greek who was so taken by Jesus’ life that he left his home and family to follow the man he believed to be the Messiah of a foreign god; and by a fisherman who wrote in such simple unscholarly Greek that his writings are today the primary teaching source for seminary students like my son who are struggling to get a passing grade in Greek 101, a long-dead language. 

These are the Voices of the Resurrection. 

The most important thing for us today to realize about the Gospel writers is that they were not trying to pen doctrine.  Nor are the Gospel trying to be the collected sayings of Jesus.  They are not even trying to write biography.  Instead, we must approach the gospels as the first-hand accounts of four men who lived through the events.  This is Proclamation, pure and simple.  As John says at the beginning of his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”  THAT is what they were writing. 

Our modern scholars miss something, I think.  I do not mean to in any way take away from the wonderful resource of scholarly work that has been done in the past couple of centuries to shed light on the history, the geography, and the archeology that proves these events actually happened in time and space.  That is significant.  But scholars and theologians often miss that what they may observe as discrepancies between the gospels may be nothing more than four men writing from memory at a distance of about 30 years.  If four of you had been present in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963, all of you could write your recollections of Dr. King’s now-famous, “I Have a Dream” speech.  A few of you might have taken notes that day or would be able to quote passages from the speech that have been passed to you by others who remembered it vividly.  But assuming that you were writing separately, the exact wording you would use would have your own personal nuances of style, your own memories of the day, your own slight variances.  And we would think nothing of it. 

The Voice of Proclamation is not the voice of an historian, or the voice a scientist, or the voice of a scholar, or the voice of a theologian.  The Voice of Proclamation is the voice of experience with Jesus.  It is the voice of men who lived with him, who observed his life and ways, and who were present for his resurrection, his ascension, and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  This is a voice that speaks with Power because it was in the presence of Jesus.

Because all this is so, we need to pay special attention to the content of the proclamation if we are to know Jesus in the same way Luke did, if we are to learn to proclaim Christ out of authentic experience, and not fall into the trap of offering class notes and outlines to people who have not context for our organized presentation.  They are hungry to see changed lives, they are not hungry to hear lectures, no matter how persuasive they might be.

As you would expect, Luke ends his Gospel with a summary he is wrapping up by sharing with his audience the things that are the most important about what he has seen and heard.  Listen to it again:

Then [Jesus] said to them…

Luke doesn’t end with a doctrinal statement.  He ends with Jesus’ own words.  He ends with the experience of the person of Christ, not with some teaching about him. 

Then JESUS said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

The Voice of Proclamation is the voice of fulfilled prophecy.  Luke wants us to know that Jesus was very much aware that when he hung on the cross he would be fulfilling over 100 specific Old Testament prophecies.   This is also Luke, the Greek, the gentile, owning the whole faith history of the Jews.

This is someone who had no personal background in Judaism owning all that the Scriptures said about the coming Christ:

“He was despised and rejected of men,”

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

“For to us a child is born,to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

The Voice of Proclamation is also the voice of an Open Mind.  “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”  As long as your mind is made up about how things are where God is concerned, you are on the same dangerous ground as the ancient Pharisees and Sadducees.   The Pharisees couldn’t accept that Jesus was the Christ because he did not keep the rules the way they understood them.  He wasn’t primarily a political savior who was going to restore the Kingdom of Israel.  He was a personal savior who was here to restore the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Sadducees couldn’t accept Jesus as Savior because he spoke often of the Resurrection of the dead.  He spoke of his resurrection and of yours, if you are a believer, and the system they had worked out about God and about things eternal didn’t allow for that possibility. 

You can be assured there are two things that are an abomination to God: a closed minded Conservative and a closed minded Liberal.  Neither of them is open to God instructing them because they both have it figured out doctrinally how things are supposed to be.   They are not open to God, because, as C.S. Lewis has said, “Every poet, and musician, and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the thing he tells to love of the telling until, in deepest hell, they are unable to be interested in God at all, but only in what they can say about him.” 

But the Open Mind isn’t a mind that accepts that all is one.  That’s not an open mind.  That is a lazy mind, and it is no closer to knowing Jesus than one that is totally locked in to what it believes.  

The Voice of Proclamation is a voice of Understanding.  It is a voice that has examined the things of God and found them to be so.  John wrote that his proclamation was of what he had touched, what his hands had handled.  Thomas, whom we looked at last week, rightly wanted to see the nail prints and touch Jesus’s wounded side.  Understanding requires examination. 

The Voice of Proclamation is also the voice of Resurrection.   Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,” Apart from Christ, you and I don’t need healing in our souls, for they are not sick.   Apart from Christ, the answer to the question every pastor should always be asking his people is clear.  Apart from Christ, when I ask, “How’s your soul,” the answer is always, “My soul is dead.”  But, as Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 15, “Even so, in Christ shall all be made alive.”  If it happened to Jesus, he has guaranteed it will happen to all who know him.  For, he is our pioneer.  He has gone before us, and prepared the way.  In Christ, and only in Christ, is your soul made alive.

That is why the Voice of Proclamation is also the voice of Repentance.   Jesus said that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed.”   When you tell someone about Jesus don’t give them your testimony first.  Start where Paul did, “For I delivered to you as of first importance,” he says, “what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  THAT is the gospel.  It is narrative.  It is story.  It is the narrative and story of what God did in Christ.  Your narrative is always a narrative of repentance, for none of us can tell the narrative of Jesus death for sin and meet him personally on the Damascus Road without saying, “Who are you, Lord?”  and having him answer, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  Remember the Good Friday hymn,

Who was the guilty, who brought this upon thee
Alas, MY treason, Jesus hath undone thee.
Twas I, Lord Jesus.  I it was denied thee.
I crucified thee.

But if the voice of Proclamation is the voice of Repentance, it is, thank God, also the voice of Forgiveness.  Luke is so quick to acknowledge that that he is unable to get two more words in between repentance and forgiveness.  John says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

The voice of Proclamation is a voice of profound gratitude for the forgiveness that is in Christ.  When Jesus met Peter on the beach after his resurrection there was no long anguishing twisting of the knife on the part of Jesus.  Peter knew that he had denied his Lord.  But Peter was the first to the beach, throwing himself into the water and swimming to land.  He knew so deeply and profoundly that Jesus had already forgiven him on the Cross.  “Father, forgive them, for the don’t know what they are doing.”  All Peter wanted was to be with Jesus at that moment, that his experience of that forgiveness might be complete.

Finally, the voice of Proclamation is the voice of Promise and of Witness.   It is the voice of the Promise of the Holy Spirit that comes upon all who believe.  The power to proclaim is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Without his indwelling presence, you would not want to share Christ with others.  You would not care to.  But because of his presence, you are enabled.

You are witnesses of these things.  What it all comes down to is that the voice of Proclamation is a voice that has witnessed.   You who know the Savior have the voice of Proclamation within you because you have touched, you have handled, you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.  And you have the power of the Holy Spirit ready to open your mouth and cause you to speak.   Let the narrative of Jesus be on your lips and in your heart.  Tell them the stories and give them Jesus.  Just as it was for Luke, let it be for you.  HE is your story.

Amen.

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