Thursday morning in the Preacher's Study
First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (3 Easter Year C)
Some weeks the preacher does not begin sermon preparation until Thursday, so this week it will be “Thursday Morning in the Preacher’s Study”!
In Acts we see some patterns of human response to the Resurrection Gospel and to the movement of the Holy Spirit of God. The patterns seem to be a response to the questions, “How does one become a believer? How does one acquire Christian identity?”
What follows can be applied to three passages from Luke-Acts, A) The Road to Emmaus (Lk24:13-35), B) The Road to Gaza (the Ethiopian’s baptism in Acts 8:26-40) and C) The Road to Damascus (the first account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-20). However, we will focus here only on the Road to Damascus as it will be heard this Sunday.
We are not Christians at birth, but through baptism. A person becomes identifiably Christian when he or she makes a confession that Jesus is Lord—Jesus is Christ—Jesus is Son of God. How do we get to that point? How do we lead others to it? I have learned a great deal from Louis-Marie Chauvet and his analysis of the patterns found in Luke-Acts. (see, The Sacraments, Chapter 2)
How does one make this “passage” to faith? First, in all three cases Luke places the action within “the time of the church”. The Lord is no longer visible. Beginning from Jerusalem (Cross, Resurrection, Ascension) and until he comes in glory, the time of the church must be a time of encounter and witness (“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and to ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8)) in a particular place (on the road A: to Emmaus, B: to Gaza, C: to Damascus).
Second, all three narratives clearly show an initiative on God’s part. The Lord is no longer recognizable, but the Triune God is still at work in the story. In Acts 9 it is an intrusion into Paul’s mission of the light and the voice of the risen, but not visible, Jesus.
Finally, the third parallel characteristic is that, in all three narratives, “this divine initiative, which alone allows the witnesses to accede to faith, happens through the mediation of the church.”
Here, the preacher may choose to focus less on Paul and more on what Paul needed from Ananias—with the hope that listeners (the church) may identify with both of them. The church, through each member, may act as a mediation for the work of God—at three levels.
1. The first level is speech. Notice the role of speech throughout Luke-Acts (indeed through all of scripture). God—through the Word and the Spirit—acts in and through the speech of God’s people.
2. “However,” Chauvet notes, “this faith remains incomplete as long as it is not ‘informed’ by a ‘sacramental’ gesture.” In Acts 9 it is the laying on of hands, and baptism by Ananias. Only then is Paul’s ‘sight’ restored.”
3. The third level of mediation is often ignored in the interpretation of these texts: the eyes open but on an absence. On the Road to Emmaus, the risen One disappears as soon he is recognized; likewise on the Road to Gaza, Jesus’ witness, Philip, is “snatched away” by the Spirit. And because this presence has become invisible, the witness is urged to go on a mission of proclamation, and the witness is urged to embody it that proclamation. The passage to faith, which relies so heavily on the divine initiative and the Word’s interpretation, is incomplete without the gesture of reception and the act of witness, both of which are empowered by the Spirit.
This language does not translate easily into a sermon—however, it does help one to recognize patterns which deeply inform the church about its own identity and mission. Perhaps it will inform the sermon this Sunday.