Today’s text is a continuation of the story we read last week. Peter and John had taken a break from the community of believers to go to the Temple for afternoon prayer. Along their way, Peter and John were stopped by a lame man who asked them for alms. They looked at one another and saw one another for their means and their needs. Peter and John healed the once lame man and he leaped for joy praising God. All were astonished and amazed.
In response to the crowd’s amazement, Peter wants to tell them what had happened. You’ll remember on the day of Pentecost there was the miraculous in-breaking of the Holy Spirit; the crowd was amazed and Peter told the crowd what had happened. God had acted in a mighty way and the Israelites gathered needed to hear from Peter that it was God sending the Holy Spirit.
This speech in Acts 3 is much like Peter’s speech on Pentecost; this speech also follows a mighty miracle of God and Peter has to tell the Israelites gathered what had happened. Peter starts by announcing that it was not his own power that had healed the once lame man. It was by the power of the name of Jesus Christ that gave the man strength. Jesus Christ is the same man who was delivered into the hands of the Roman authorities and crucified in the place of Barabbas who was an actual criminal, a murderer. He says that the killing of Christ was a sign that they did not trust the One who had been sent to save them. God overcame their mistrust and denial when death was defeated by the resurrection of Christ. Peter calls Israel’s wonder and amazement ignorance. He says, “Do you still not get it?” He calls for them to repent and once again be God’s people. He says repent for only the repentant are forgiven.
Repent. The first image that comes to my mind is a guy with a bullhorn on the corner of some busy city street wearing a sandwich board sign announcing the impending end of civilization shouting about America’s need for repentance to be saved from the coming fiery abyss. In light of the bullhorn’s message, Christians tend to think about repentance as something pagans or non-believers need to do. We don’t think about our own need for continued repentance.
Repentance is not a once and done act of faith. Remember the five-finger exercise I taught you a few weeks ago: faith, repentance, baptism, forgiveness, Holy Spirit. That initial repentance before our baptism is just the beginning. Christians often think that once we repent we can just go about trying to be a good person and learning about Jesus. The truth, the uncomfortable truth, is that no matter how good we try to be we will always fall short of the perfection and maturity in Christ that we seek.
As individuals, we must regularly examine our lives. We make the decision to turn away from actions and thinking that are contrary to what we believe God expects of us. We repent of these behaviors. We confess to God the ways in which we have failed.
John the Baptist begins the call to repentance in Luke 3. The Bible tells us that he went throughout the region proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to the Israelites. Many came out to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. He warned the crowd not to rely solely on God’s covenant with Abraham for their salvation.
Peter’s speech once again calls the Israelites to reflect on the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant is the one God made with Abraham to make his name great and make him a great nation. God made a covenant with Israel that Israel would be God’s people and the One True Living God would be their God. Peter reminds the crowd gathered on Solomon’s portico amazed by the healing of the once lame man that it was God at work in this healing, the same God that made the covenant with their father Abraham.
This covenant came with the caveat that all nations would be blessed. The covenant said that God would bless Abraham and his descendants and by them all nations would be blessed. In other words, Israel would be blessed so that all nations would be blessed. Israel was called to be a blessing to all nations. Peter’s call for repentance was not an individual call for each to accept Christ as his or her personal Savior. Peter called all Jews as a whole to repent of their denial of Jesus and as a nation to accept Him as God’s Chosen One. The call to repentance was so that Israel may once again be a blessing to all nations. Peter perceives Israel’s failure to deny Christ as a failure to be the true Israel. And, he really preaches at them about not recognizing the Messiah. He asks: “How can you possibly have failed to recognize the One whose coming was prophesied by no less than Moses himself?”
Peter, a Jew, was confronting Jews about denying Jesus, a Jew. Imagine this: we Christians have been anticipating the second coming of Christ issuing in the complete reign of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Jesus returns, but not as we expect. We fail to recognize Jesus among us. We deny him to the point of the worst possible public humiliation. Then, another Christian confronts the Church quoting New Testament Scriptures that we should have been expecting this second coming. Yet, we failed to recognize Christ and the advent of the Kingdom. This preacher goes on to berate us for failing to be true Disciples of Christ and teaches about what it means to truly be Christ’s church. This Christian finally leaves us with the hope of a call to repent of our denial and turn to accept the One who has returned to restore the world.
That’s the best way I can describe this event of Peter preaching to the amazed crown gathered on Solomon’s portico.
Peter’s sermon to the Jews about their failure to accept Christ thus failed to be the true Israel, is a call to the modern Church to reflect on the ways we have denied Christ and failed to be the true Church. It is not a call to repent of our individual failings; it is a call for we as a community of faith to reflect on our failings. Theologian William Willimon says: “The contemporary church which today may be tempted to rest upon the smug self-assurance of salvation by biological birthright ought to listen to Peter’s depiction of God’s determination to have a people who will be faithful to the promises.” Let me put it another way. The contemporary church has the tendency to rest on the assurance of salvation and overlooks God’s desire to have a people of faith.
So, how have we failed?
Are we too comfortable with who we are and what we do?
Have we become a museum for saints rather than sinners on a mission?
Sometimes churches become inwardly focused. The museum focuses on Sunday morning worship. It is careful not to be prophetic or talk about sin or confession. The museum wants to maintain the status quo leaving out anyone who wants to deter from what they are currently doing. There is no outreach to the community. Evangelism is focused on bringing in more people like themselves to enjoy what is already offered. The museum wants to maintain clean pews and pious people clad in their Sunday best who take their proper place on Sunday mornings inside the stained glass adorned walls.
We are called to be more than a museum. We are called to be sinners on a mission. This type of church understands that it has a mission and is made up of sinners. I am going to call this type of church a mission. I’ll get to the mission in a moment. Let’s for a moment focus on the sinners – that is sinners like you and me.
Sinners need to be nurtured to health in a Christ-centered community. One of the primary goals of a mission is to nurture the faith of those within the community. Sinners are brought toward health through programs that allow each of us to grow in our faith. These programs teach us to pray and allow us to pray together recognizing our pain and the pain we’ve caused. We study the Scriptures together. We don’t just study to know the details of the story or to be able to quote Scriptures. We study so that we can see ourselves in the lives of the Biblical people. We are nurtured when we see how others like us have had similar struggles, have trusted in God, and have been blessed by God. We fellowship together because we love one another. We see ourselves and each other as what we are, sinners.
Earlier (Pastoral Prayer), I had us confess a sin that is prevalent in our society that is being too busy and making little time for God and God’s purpose for our lives. Let’s try another confession. I want you to turn to your neighbor and say, “I’m a sinner.” Now, turn to the neighbor on your other side and say, “I’m a sinner.” Thanks be to God we are forgiven.
As you, the congregation, and I, your pastor, begin our journey together, we’re still beginning, I want us to consider the ways in which our faith is nurtured. We need to look at who we are and what we do. I have some plans that I will be working with various committees to implement this Fall. I hope they will infuse the congregation with a new sense of being nurtured.
I believe you have been ready for a long time to do new things and had been waiting for a new pastor. You might say you were a race horse in the gate ready for the bell to sound and the gate to open. I have been hesitant to rush in with changes & programs. We are on a journey of faith; we’re not running the Kentucky Derby. I wanted to get a sense of who this congregation is, what her needs are, and where she wants to grow. All of the programs I have in mind will nurture our faith. We ALL need to be partners and active participants to grow. I want us to be offering programs that help each of us grow spiritually through prayer, study, and fellowship.
I called the church sinners on a mission. I talked about the sinner part; now, I’d like to talk about the mission part. A mission is a Christ-centered community continuing Christ’s mission of healing and teaching. A mission nurtures sinners and it reaches out to others bringing healing to their lives and teaching about Christ’s grace and love. A mission recognizes the needs of the community and responds to those needs. A mission is involved yet knows it can always do more… always hoping for more hands to help. The people of a mission are all involved in ministry in one way or another. The people are all using their spiritual gifts.
We’ve confessed today that we are sinners, now let’s make a profession. I want you to turn to your neighbor and say, “I’m on a mission.” Now, turn to the neighbor on your other side and say, “I’m on a mission.”
This Fall you’ll have the opportunity to participate in a small group reflecting on your spiritual gifts. This will give you an opportunity to discover within yourselves how God has uniquely shaped you for ministry, to be a part of a mission. With the knowledge of your giftedness, you can join or create ministries that blend your gifts with your passions. When every person is engaged in ministry, then, that community is likely to be a sinners on a mission, not a museum for saints.
We may not be Jews, but we ARE heirs of the Abrahamic covenant. On the night Jesus instituted the new covenant gathered with his friends, he made a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. The Apostle Paul writes throughout the New Testament that the covenant is first for the Jews, then the Gentiles. We Gentiles are forgiven, like the Jews. We are released from the code of the Law, but we are bound by the Abrahamic covenant. Like Israel is blessed that all nations may be blessed, Christ’s church is blessed to be a blessing. We are a blessing to the world when we are sinners on a mission.
Let’s try one more exercise. I want you to turn to your neighbor and say, “I’m a sinner on a mission.” Now, turn to the neighbor on your other side and say, “I’m a sinner on a mission.”
Let’s end on a positive note. I want you to turn to your neighbor and say, “I’m forgiven.” Now, turn to the neighbor on your other side and say, “I’m forgiven.” Amen.
 Gen 22:18
 The Access Bible commentary accessed through the Oxford Biblical Studies Online.
 FotW, Year B, Vol 2, p. 408.
 Ibid, p. 409.
 Willimon, Interpretation: Acts, p. 48