Beginning a New Chapter 3rd Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 Luke 24:13-35
During this time of quarantine, I have read a lot of comments saying something to the effect of, “When this is over, I’m going to be living differently from what I was before.” Instead of just “getting back to normal,” many folks are going to be intentional about taking what they’ve learned and using it from now on! Yes, we can step into a new way of living!
I was reminded of something I heard during Freshman Orientation week. Gar was a returning sophomore, and he had come back to school early to help us “first-years” get a good start on our college life. He was talking to a handful of us in the music building lounge, telling us some advice that he had received as he headed off to college. “You are going to a place where no one knows you. You can choose to be any kind of person you want to be, and no one will be able to compare you with the old you—so you won’t be considered a phony. Just imagine what characteristics you would most like to have, and then step into being that kind of person!” What Gar was telling us was that we were beginning a brand new chapter in our lives, and we could choose to be the kind of person we always wanted to be. A new chapter!
I thought about this moment in my life (almost 50 years ago!) as I mulled over the Scriptures for today. Both of our texts are about coming to the end of one chapter and launching into the next!
After the Resurrection
The crucifixion of Jesus had put an end to the hopes of all who had been following him. The Twelve (minus Judas) stayed hunkered down in the upper room where they had celebrated Passover. But there were many additional disciples in a much wider circle who also followed The Master. Two of these left Jerusalem on Sunday for the long walk (7 miles) back to their home in Emmaus. They were still puzzling over the recent events when Jesus fell in with them and asked what they were talking about. They explained how their hopes had been crucified with Jesus, but that some women of their company had found the tomb empty and had experienced some kind of vision of angels who told them that Jesus was alive. These two disciples were both sad and perplexed. You see, for them, DEAD is DEAD, and they were not quick to change their world-view!
So Jesus said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?!” Then he went through the Scriptures and interpreted to them all the things that applied to him. When they sat at table and Jesus blessed the bread and broke it, their eyes were opened to Who he truly was!
As tired as they must have been, they returned to Jerusalem that very night. The Disciples there told them that Jesus was alive indeed. And they told everyone what had happened to them on the road to Emmaus. Their world-view had shifted!
Those Who Welcomed the Message
In our passage from Acts, Peter stands and addresses a crowd. He quotes from the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” Then he describes the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the man they crucified. “But,” he said, “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (He was trying to help them adopt a new “world-view.”) He continues, “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
The crowd was cut to the heart! They asked, “What shall we do?!” (They obviously sensed that this new understanding required some kind of response—they needed to DO something.) Peter knew just what they needed to do. “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” In other words, “Embrace this new reality and mark this moment by being baptized.” Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and about 3000 persons were added to the followers of Jesus!
Turning the Page
Imagine with me for a moment that you are reading a truly great book. Sometimes, when you get to the end of a chapter, the characters are in a discouraging, or tragic, or hopeless situation. You are suspended in tension, which can only be relieved by turning the page and reading on! We get to the end of one chapter, and we must keep going with anticipation.
The same is true in our lives. We often have discouragement, tragedy, seemingly hopeless situations—but we keep trusting in the face of our fears, our loss. This is how we “turn the page to a new chapter.” The crowd asked Peter, “What shall we DO?” His answer: Repent, and seek God’s direction through uncharted territory. His answer affirms that God can help us, and God will help us. God takes the seemingly hopeless and transforms it when we give it to God!
To illustrate this idea (which runs all through Scripture), I want to share with you a poem by Myra Brooks Welch. It’s called “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.”
‘Twas battered and scarred, and the old auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile. “What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried. “Who’ll start the bidding for me?” “A dollar, a dollar,” then, “Two! Only two? Two dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three dollars once, three dollars twice; going for three…” but no. From the room far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow. Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening up the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said, “What am I bidden for the old violin?” and he held it up with the bow. “A thousand! And who’ll make it two? Two thousand! And who’ll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going, and gone,” said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, “We do not quite understand what changed its worth?” Swift came the reply, “The touch of the master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin, is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like this old violin. A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine, a game, and he travels on. He is “going” once, “going” twice, he’s “going” and almost “gone.” But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.
I love the passage in 1 Timothy that affirms God’s love for us. “God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Remember with me the moment when Jesus addressed a crowd in Jericho, people who were upset with him because of his kindness to Zacchaeus. You see, Zacchaeus had repented and had promised to start a new chapter, and Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Just look at Peter, the man who preached so powerfully in our passage in Acts. Peter denied Jesus and ran away—but the resurrected Jesus spoke encouragingly to him, and restored him! It makes me wonder what might have happened had Judas repented and been forgiven and restored? What amazing things might God have done through him?!
Well, I’ll finish today by acknowledging that you and I are in the middle of a difficult chapter, the Covid-19 pandemic. Loved-ones have been lost, livelihoods destroyed, and everyone has been forced to re-evaluate their lives. The question arises, “When things get back to normal, how will we live differently?” In other words, when we turn the page and begin a new chapter, how will we write it? We have an opportunity to change direction, to pursue the adventure into which God has placed us!
As a church, we can capitalize on the technology we’ve been forced to get acquainted with. As families, we can hold on to the closeness we have developed in recent weeks. As individuals, we can give thanks for all the blessings we took for granted before the crisis, and deeply appreciate the joy of being together with people we love.
We’re getting ready to start a new chapter. Let’s be aware that God’s never-ending love is right here with us, already at work making beauty out of ashes!