To Whom Will You Listen? 2nd Easter Pastor Pat Mecham
Acts 5:23-32 April 24, 2022 John 20:19-31
Forty-something years ago, I began reading The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. I used to read them through every year, starting on my birthday, but these days I only pick them up every now and then. They are very entertaining, and I am still blessed with new insights as I read these tales. The “Christ Figure” in these stories is a huge lion, Aslan. And the main characters are four children from a family in London who have been magically transported to the land of Narnia. While there, they learn many wonderful lessons to take back home to England.
In one scene, Aslan says to the youngest child, Lucy, “Child, you have been listening to your fears.” That phrase has stuck with me all these years—causing me to wonder how often I listen to my fears! I am still learning how to do 2 things:
- Accept all my feelings, including my fears;
- NOT listen to my fears;
- In other words, acknowledge the feeling without acting on it (without doing what the fear moves me to do).
In the process, I am learning how to ignore other “voices” that keep me from living fully.
Our scripture readings for today are all about discernment—all about listening for the voice of God and responding to that voice, rather than listening to our fears or the voices of others that would mislead us. Let’s dive in.
Jesus Came and Stood Among Them
The Gospel text tells us that the disciples were gathered behind locked doors because of fear—fear that they would be the next to be arrested and crucified! Despite the locked door, Jesus came and stood among them, saying, “Peace be with you.” (In Luke’s account of this story, the disciples “were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” Then Jesus shows them his hands and his feet, and even eats a piece of fish, proving he is not a ghost!) John simply says that Jesus showed them his hands and his side, and told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” I am sending you.
[This is the point at which the disciples go from simple students to Apostles—“the sent-out ones”—the name deriving from the Greek apostello, I send you.]
Thomas was not with them when Jesus came to them. We know from earlier texts that he was a very earnest follower of Jesus. And when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he declared, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (As Presbyterians, we know it’s okay to have our doubts—and to want serious proof before we accept a new truth!) Thomas was certainly listening to his skepticism when he heard this news.
A week later, Jesus gave him an opportunity to see and to touch, and told him, “Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas then said, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus said something that has echoed down through history. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Friends, Jesus is talking about you, about me! Those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!
At the end of today’s text, John states his purpose in writing down his whole gospel. He tells his readers, “These are written so that YOU may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
John was hoping that you and I would not listen to our skepticism, or our fears, but simply listen to God.
(Next week, we will continue John’s description of the interaction between Jesus and these Apostles.)
We Must Obey God (rather than human authority)
Now let’s jump to our passage from Acts. The Apostles are not hiding behind locked doors! They have been out preaching and healing and drawing people to Christ. The High Priest was jealous, and had them arrested and thrown into prison—but an angel set them loose and directed them back to the Temple to continue their teaching. The Temple Police went to the prison to bring them to the Council—but they weren’t there! Then someone told them, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the Temple and teaching the people!” So they went there and grabbed them and took them before the Council—the Sanhedrin.
The High Priest told them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!” (This was an authority who was used to being obeyed!)
And the response of the Apostles is another of those phrases that continues to echo down through history, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Then they proclaimed the Gospel to the entire Sanhedrin!
The Chief Priest appeared to have all the power, but they stood defiant and would not be bullied! They remind me a bit of the spirit of defiance we have been witnessing among the people of The Ukraine. Russia, a mighty super-power, tells them to surrender or die. And the people have replied that they would prefer death to living under Soviet-style oppression!
Allow Me to Direct Your Attention
Friends, you and I don’t have bombs and missiles and tanks destroying our homes around us, but we DO have a lot of voices clamoring for our obedience.
- There is marketing all around us through TV and radio, billboards and signage, trying to get us to buy something or vote for someone;
- Gossip is always coming at us, and sometimes we have to be rude to stop people from sharing it with us;
- Political parties, “influencers,” social media ALL tell us how to think and what to believe;
- The “tyranny of the urgent” steals our peace and makes us anxious.
Our scripture readings for today seem to be telling us: Take Command of Your Attention! You and I have both the right and the responsibility to determine what we will choose to focus on. We must choose.
I love Paul’s advice in Philippians 4: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—THINK ABOUT SUCH THINGS.”
You see, by being intentional about what we focus on, we can choose to listen for God’s voice and IGNORE the distractions with which we are surrounded. The choice is ours.
Let me sum up. The Apostles ignored their fears and focused on listening to God, obeying God. And Thomas The Skeptical, when given proof, wholeheartedly accepted the Risen Christ as God’s Messiah.
The question for you and for me remains: To whom will you listen? Where will you fix your attention?