Sermon for April 03, 2016

Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter

April 3, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Acts 5:12-20

Sermon Theme:  “The Sunday Following Easter: Feeling Upbeat or the Blues?”

 (Sources: Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; “What Do You Do the Day after Easter,”, “Christian Persecution,”; “Persecution Worldwide,”; “Christian Persecution Quick Facts,”; “Holy Humor Sunday,; original ideas; Online Christian Jokes)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           It has been said many times by many pastors that on the Sunday following Easter, churches experience the lowest attendance of the Church Year.  Because of what they call “C & E Christians,” that is, Christmas-and-Easter Christians, churches are overflowing on Christmas and Easter, but almost empty on the Sunday after.

Yet, if Easter is real, and the Resurrection is a true fact, church activity should increase rather than decrease, shouldn’t it?

One pastor was very concerned that since there were so many C&E’s in his church, the work of the Lord was not getting done.  So one Easter Sunday, he made a special effort to pull aside each C&E as they shook hands with him, and talk to them about it.

He grabbed the first C&E, a well-educated young man, aside and said to him, “Cal, you need to join the Army of the Lord!”

Cal replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.”

‘How come then,” the pastor asked, “I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?”

Cal whispered back, “I’m in the Secret Service.”

The pastor knew Cal would not show up the Sunday after Easter, nor the Sundays after that.  So to cure this C&E syndrome, HOW should a church celebrate the Sunday following Easter?  With a good laugh!, — or, better yet, with a party, a fun party, some pastors believe.  Far from being a strange, new idea, this is actually a long-standing tradition rooted in good Christian theology.

It began hundreds of years ago by a monk whose name has been lost in history.  After the mournful  nature of the weeks of Lent and especially Good Friday, the welcome joy of Easter ought to be extended, this old monk believed.  “And don’t you see,” he cried, “it was a joke, the best joke of history!  On Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, the devil thought he had won.  But God had the last laugh on Easter when He raised Jesus from the dead.”

“We need the Easter laugh after Easter,” the monk argued, “we need a Day of Joy and Laughter.”  Quite a number of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches did develop a “Holy Humor Sunday” for the Sunday following Easter.  It was also called “Bright Sunday,” and the worship service included joyful Easter carols, joyful Scripture readings, and clean jokes, with fellowship afterwards consisting of left over Easter eggs, Easter candy, party decorations, and the playing of practical jokes, and lots and lots of laughter.

Not a bad idea.  However, if we did develop that tradition, folks in the community might think we were crazy.  Not to mention the fact that young people like Cal might not take their faith seriously enough.

There may not be an answer to this dilemma, but finding a way to see the relevance of the Bible in our lives today is a way to begin.

What I have found in teaching young people both in Sunday School and in Junior Confirmation, and what other Sunday School teachers have found, — is that the youngsters often make no connection between what they read about in the Bible and what happens in real life.  That’s true for some adults, too.

In our sermon text from Acts, Luke says, “The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits and they were all healed.”

After the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus, and after Matthias (    was chosen to replace Judas, so many awesome things were happening in the budding church led by the Apostles, that folks would bring sick people out on the street so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them.  Today, many young people, as well as some adults, don’t see how what the Bible said happened in the Early Church might be relevant to us.

“That was then, this is now, and there is no connection.”  They learn, as our text says, that Peter and the other apostles were arrested for their faith and telling others about Jesus, and put in prison.  “What does that have to do with us today?” they ask.

Many folks seem to have little awareness that all over the world today Christians are persecuted, and even killed, for living by the rules of their faith.  Yet Reuters (                        ) recently reported the number of cases of Christians killed for their faith around the world has doubled since 2013.  Open doors and other non-denominational groups believe as many as 8,000 Christians are killed for their faith each year.

The most widely publicized examples are those 21 Coptic Christians beheaded on the Mediterranean beach by ISIS and the 15 Christians  shot in the head on the same day.  As the blade came down on the necks of those Coptic Christians, they all cried out, together, affirming their faith,  “O My Lord Jesus!”

Of the more than 40 countries persecuting Christians, Syria is the worst.  Syria is followed by Nigeria, then Pakistan, then Egypt.  In North Korea, 50,000 to  70,000 Christians have been placed in political prison camps.

Prisoner Alert, a Ministry of the Voice of the Martyrs, reports that in some of those 40 or more nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share your faith in Christ, change your faith to Christ, or teach your children about Jesus.  Those who boldly follow Christ can face harassment, arrest, torture and even death.  Yet, just as in the times of Peter and the other Apostles, Christians continue to meet for worship and to witness for Christ, and the church is growing in those nations which persecute us.

You have your head in the sand if you don’t see the discrimination against and persecution of Christians in America today.  If a citizen refuses to recognize the legality of same-sex marriage, which is clearly against the teachings of Holy Scripture, he is persecuted.  One couple lost their family business and were sued for thousands of dollars, because they refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.  In most American schools, Christmas and Easter concerts have been renamed “Winter and Spring Concerts.”                                                          Children who have brought Bibles to school have had them confiscated.  The Ten Commandments have been removed from public edifices.  Manger Scenes are not allowed in public places.  With the Supreme Court now split, 4 to 4, what will happen with regard to pro-abortion cases remains to be seen.  In one of the shootings in our free country, those who said they were Christians were killed.  When I was growing up in the 1940’s in Dime Box, who would have thought that someday we would be saying, “Even in America.”

Our sermon text for this first Sunday following Easter Sunday consists of four parts:  ONE, “before thrown in prison,” TWO, “in prison for God,” THREE, “out of prison by God,” and, FOUR,  “outside of prison, the witness continues.”  In verse 16 Luke tells us, “[ Those afflicted] were all healed.”  In verse 18, Luke says, “They arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.”  In verse 19, Luke says, “An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out.”  In verse 20, the angel continues, “Go and stand in the Temple and speak to the people all of the words of this Life.”

Because of the wretched world we live in, Christians will find life filled with down’s as well as up’s.  The Early Church found that to be true, too.  So, although situations and problems cannot always be deleted by crying out to God, they can be altered by a person’s attitude, if their attitude contains hope and faith.

A Christian is bound by conscience to obey God rather than man.  Sometimes the Christian will persecuted for his obedience to God, as the Apostles learned so well and as we are discovering today.

God is in charge of His universe, and He did release the workers for His kingdom from prison.  We have faith that He will free us from persecutions.

God freed the prisoners so that they could preach and teach and heal.  We are called and released for such service, too.

Believers must come and worship all year.  C&E-ers don’t see the whole picture.  Yes, we are not free of problems, yes, we may suffer persecution; yes, we must carry the cross of Jesus; — but also, YES, we will receive the loving care and support, healing, salvation, and awesome joy of Jesus Christ who has risen!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.