Easter 2013 Acts 10:34-48
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013
What’s your story? That’s a question I heard recently in the gymnasium of Centenary College. No, I wasn’t playing basketball or doing anything physical per se. I was there for a fundraiser dinner for the school’s Christian Leadership Center. Even though I am a huge fan of the Center, I am an even huger fan of the keynote speaker from that night, Donald Miller. Miller is probably most famous for his first book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, which was my first exposure to his writing. I loved the book and was drawn in after that. Miller truly has the gift of telling a story, one that will draw you in and allow you as a reader to see yourself in the it, all in a transforming kind of way. Miller’s most recent work has been the development of Storyline: Finding Yourself in the Subplot of God. It is a book and study that helps people see their lives in a story. When Miller asked this question in the gym the other day, it made me think about my story, causing me to think through where I am within it these days. I was encouraged to remember that, while not only in it, I have the ability to create how it continues and how it shall end. If I am writing it correctly, then my story and God’s story intertwine in such a way that mine becomes positively absorbed into His. As a character, I jump into the pages of God’s story and truly come alive there.
We are here this morning because of a story. What we find here in this ancient story, which never tires of being told, is an entrance where we can step right into the still unfolding story of God. It is still unfolding because God wants everyone to be in it. He has a place in it for all of us. It is a story you have already heard here from two followers of Jesus–Luke and Peter. Both of these men found themselves in the story and their telling of it provides us with an opportunity to enter it as well.
But first, what is your story? You do have one. All of us do, even if it is not the one we want or the one we like. If we are like any other congregation gathered for worship this morning, all genre of literature are represented here: Fiction, Short Story (watch out for that one), Non-fiction, Horror, Mystery, Fantasy, Comic, and maybe even Poetry. In these stories of ours, we are interacting with our setting, being passively shaped by it and the the things of which it consists. Maybe at times we are being on the side of shaping it and them. There is a plot, a protagonist, characters, antagonists, crisis, and one day a conclusion. I think we all know the ins and outs of our stories and occasionally are able and willing to share them with the people we love around us.
Donald Miller says that these stories of ours can be so involved that we often are ready to give up on them. He writes,
“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”
I’m wondering if this isn’t what Peter was thinking not long after he became the antagonist in his story, turning on his very best friend as well as the one he would confess as his “Lord and God.” He could look back within seconds of his act of betrayal and see that he had changed the story. He had changed his own story, one I’m sure he chose not to retell. If we did not know more about Peter, we would conclude that this was the end of his story, the death of a character coming as abruptly as it did with Judas hanging in a tree over a pile of the rewards of his betrayal. Not so with Peter, though. His story does not end with his failure, but revives with a real twist. The next time we see Peter is in a brand new chapter, which begins with Jesus cooking breakfast for his friend Peter on the beach just beyond Peter’s old fishing hole. Peter smelled the non-bacon on the grill, saw the face of his old friend, and leapt from the boat into the water to where Jesus was waiting for him. This leap brought him back into the plot line, as Jesus would reinstate him back into the story. Such a reinstatement would lead to Peter’s discovery of himself in God’s larger story, one he would tell again and again until his own death by execution. We have a version of it here in Acts 10 today, one we would do well to hear Peter tell us again.
Peter, whose denial has become a thing of pages past, doesn’t get flowery with his words of story telling here in this text. He knows the story can speak for itself, so he just kept is simple and straight. He summarized the ongoing story of God at work in the world through Jesus. A Table of Contents would be as follows: God and Favoritism, Jesus and Israel, Jesus’ Baptism, Jesus and the Cross, Jesus’ Escape from the Tomb, Witnesses to the Resurrection, . . . He could tell the story now with such passion because it was now his story. He realized that his story was but one part of God’s larger story; that he was but one character and that the central character had been and would be the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He found, as Maya Angelou stated, There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Obviously, Peter was no longer in agony, but happy to tell it to everyone.
Cornelius and the “them” Luke mentioned had a story as well. As Peter told them the greatest story of all time, they had their own stories going. Cornelius’ story involved being a Centurion, getting converted, and being involved in the larger story of Gentile inclusion to the church. The people around him, no doubt, had similar stories. Peter’s story of Jesus, though, provides them with the opportunity to get a better one, to join the one they were meant to be in; to become characters God always intended for them to be within the pages of His eternal masterpiece.
The story has at its core a cross. This was no ordinary cross (actually, what was?). This was a cross, hewn from a tree for it’s height as well as its weight. The most remarkable thing about this cross was what made it so different from other crosses, like the one’s on either side of it in the Golgotha display. Their part in the storyline was punctuation. Crosses were great periods. If you were a character hanging on a cross, that was the end for you. Period. Not so with Jesus’ cross. It was a comma, a semicolon, or actually an exclamation point. Yes, exclamation point. It wasn’t an end for sure, but a point of new beginning, loud and bold enough for the world to hear. Yes, yes. You may say it was the rough backdrop for those famous last words of Jesus, It is finished. But if you quit reading the story on Friday then you miss what is at the end of the sentence. You miss the exclamation point of history, all because you thought that nothing could come after a period. These are the rules. Not so in the grammar of the greatest story ever lived and told. Not to get too hung up on grammar here, but maybe the best ending for this story is not a period, a comma, or even an exclamation point. Perhaps the best way to express it is with an ellipsis . . .
Ok, I’ve talked about stories–and even the grammar within–a lot. I’ve talked about Jesus’, about Peter’s, Cornelius’ and the others in Peter’s audience that day. I’ve even talked a little bit about your story, with the hopes that you might see where you are in it this Easter morning. I hope that you will allow this Easter Sunday to be an entry point into the larger narrative of God, fully entering into it just as much as Peter and the women entered into that empty grave of Jesus so long ago. Madelyn Greenleaf told this part of her story through the picture of her baptism yesterday. She made a public announcement of how she entered the story of God; of how she intertwined her story with God’s. You can enter it as well. As you enter this way, you enter through the character of Jesus. The story begins again for you and ends about you all at the same time. You, like Peter, see that your story is no longer about you. It’s about what God has done and continues to do in the story of our world. It is a story you enter through Jesus as you allow him to be the hero of your story, as you allow him to take over the development of your plot line, and as you unite your life with his. His character, after all, has risen. He has risen indeed.