Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sozo: to be healed/to be saved. Sermon for April 26, 2015; Acts 4:5-12

Rev. George Miller
April 26, 2015
Acts 4:5-12

It’s been an interesting 24 hours for Peter and John. Yesterday they were hanging with their homeboys Andrew, James and Matthias. They were praising God, breaking bread, and having the goodwill of the people.

As faithful Jews they went to the temple for afternoon prayers and encountered a man down on his luck. They empowered him in the name of Christ to get up and to move forward.

Together, they went with him inside the temple to worship. They were greeted with utter astonishment.

“Why do you stare at John and I as if we healed this man?” asks Peter.

Then, not exhibiting the most pleasing public manner or gentleness of words, Pete says “God glorified Jesus- you know- the one you rejected and had crucified.”

“Ya’ll killed Jesus, the Author of Life, but God raised him from the dead. And by the name of Jesus this man was given wholeness and healing.”

Not really sure if we should be proud of Peter or a little worried about his career.

But he keeps speaking. “I know you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. Repent so God can forgive you. If not, and you refuse to listen, you’ll be rooted out like a weed.”

As Peter is saying these things, the captain of the temple, the priests, and the Sadducees gather around him and they are not too pleased. In fact they are annoyed.

So they have Peter and John arrested and kept in jail for the night.

They next day, when morning has broken, they bring the two before the “who’s who” of Jewish law- the rulers, the elders, the scribes, the high priest and those from the high priestly family.

Now keep in mind- this is Peter we’re talking about. Peter, who on the night Jesus was betrayed, denied knowing him not once, not twice, but three times.

Peter is now standing before the Jewish Supreme Court- the most powerful people in the land who could stop his career and end his life like “that!”.

They ask their “why?”, they ask their “how?” and they ask their “who gave you the right?”

And Peter, the one who once lied to a servant girl about knowing Jesus, continues to find his voice and states exactly why, how and who.

Peter gets to what he thinks the real issue is- “You’re upset that we did something ya’ll couldn’t do. You’re angry that instead of enabling that man, we empowered him.”

“Well,” Peter says, putting any sense of gentleness aside, “If you’re upset that a good deed was done, we’ll tell you why, how and who- it was in the name of Jesus.”

“The one you killed, the one God raised. Jesus, the stone you rejected; Jesus who is the most important stone of all.”

Now that he’s on a roll, Peter throws in this point for good measure: “There is salvation in no one else and there is no other name by which we must be saved than Jesus.”

Now, keep in mind Peter is standing before the most powerful religious leaders of his day. He is standing before the priest, the moderator, the council, and the ones whose family started the temple, about 71 people total, and he’s saying “None of you can do what Jesus does.”

Holy schmoley, this guy has some big matzos!

Now, let’s pause here for some education and reflection. First, let’s briefly explore verse 12 and the word “saved.”

In Greek, the word is “sozo.” I like that word; I’m surprised no one has named their child that- sozo.

Sozo actually has two meanings. It can mean “to save”, but it can also mean “to heal”.

Now, let’s do some reflection. Peter states that the lame man was healed by the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom they crucified.

We as Christians living in Florida in 2015 cannot comprehend what Peter has actually just implied. We are unable to hear this statement for what it actually is.

Jesus had been crucified. Crucified: a form of corporal punishment that was used by the government for criminals.

The fact that Jesus was crucified meant he was seen as a threat, as an enemy of the state, and that the best way to silence him was to shame him, to humiliate him, to desecrate his body.

To say that healing came in the name of a criminal is outlandish. To say that healing can only come in the name of a criminal is out and out blasphemy.

Peter is utterly insulting the court, the religious leaders, the house of worship.

What he is basically saying is akin to saying that in no other name but Osama Bin Laden there is healing; in no other name than the Oklahoma Bomber is salvation.

Peter’s words, his intent is to create something so visceral, so in-your-face that it stirs things up and people’s world is turned upside down.

But note something else- although it was Peter and John who stopped to talk with the lame man, although it was Peter and John who looked at the man, who lifted him up with a helping hand, who empowered him to get up and walk, they do not take credit for it.

They give all credit, all the glory, all the honor to Jesus Christ.

They do not shine the light on themselves or claim they are the ones who offered salvation and healing.

They give it all: good health and good news to the name of Jesus.

Not Peter and John, not Mary Magdalene or Mary the Mother of James, not Caiaphas or Alexander, not Pilate or Caesar.

But Jesus- the criminal who was crucified, the one who God raised.

Sozo- healing, salvation, comes from God; sozo comes from the name and knowledge of Jesus…

…it seems like 2,000 years later we have still to fully recognize this. 2,000 years later we have yet to fully place our faith in the name.

Instead we place our faith in others. We meet someone who we think has the answers or is worthy of being put on a pedestal, only to discover they are just as human and confused as we are.

We place our faith in personalities like Oprah or televangelists and motivational speakers without realizing all they really want is to sell a book and make a buck.

We place our faith in leaders like Rubio or Clinton, O’Malley or Paul, but though they say they care about we the people, not a one of them can truly offer the healing we need.

We place our faith in fads and objects like stones and statues, a bigger building or the latest electronics, but they come and go, to be replaced by the newest thing or destroyed by the ravages of time.

We place our faith in so many areas, hoping for, and expecting that healing to come about. What Peter claims today is that healing comes one way- that is Jesus.

Jesus- the one who exhibited God’s love for all when he was willing to engage a woman at a well, a sick child with her mother, and the lowly servant of high powered soldier.

Jesus- the one who exhibited the wisdom of God when he captured people’s attention with his parables and stories of reconciliation.

Jesus- the one who demonstrated God’s concern for our bodies when he fed the masses and took care of the sick.

Jesus- the one who exhibited God’s welcome to everyone when he taught about a kingdom that was like a tree in which all birds may find rest and sing their song.

Peter rankled more than a few feathers with his speech today. He forced the people to look upon a truth that were still unable and unwilling to look upon.

But we of today have the knowledge of 2,000 years. Knowledge that says we can continue our journey, we can continue our wrestling matches of faith.

We can continue to look for answers, to be inspired, to feel motivated, but we are not to confuse the messengers with the message.

We are not to confuse a building or an idol for the invisible reality of God.

We are not to confuse a mortal man or mortal woman for the eternal reality of God experienced through Christ.

To know, that for us, it is in the name of Jesus that we experience healing, in the name of Jesus we experience the gifts of a new life, and in the name of Jesus we find our footing.

In the name of Jesus we are all empowered to get up and walk the rest of the way.

In Jesus Christ the love of God is made known. In Jesus Christ we have found the most wonderful, important stone.

Amen and amen.

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