God’s (Non-existent) Witness Protection Plan

In many ways, it seems as though there is no reason to preach today. We’ve all heard the story before. We know resurrection. In fact, everything about our faith, the way we worship, the day we choose to worship—all of this relates directly to the fact that Easter is at the heart of everything about our faith.  It is the most important story in our lives, and that’s why this reading from Acts is appropriate. Like us, Peter knew the story. He had told it before. He was an eyewitness to it! Yet here he is, ten years later recounting the events of Jesus’ life once again.

In our text for today, Peter is at the house of Cornelius, who had sent for Peter while he’d been praying on the roof. It was lunchtime, so he asked someone for some food. While he was waiting for his lunch, he had a vision in which he sees a tablecloth filled with non-kosher foods.  And a voice told him to eat—which Peter didn’t want to do since these were unclean items for Jews.

This happened three times! Still unclear of what the message was, Peter was told by the Spirit that servants of Cornelius were coming to see him.  So, when they arrived, Peter went with them. It’s easy for us to forget that the early Christians saw themselves as Jews first, Jews who happened to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, the first to be raised from the dead. They still had clear lines that excluded Gentiles like Cornelius.

It was that particular aspect of the Christian faith Cornelius was challenging. He explained to Peter what had happened in his vision and then asked Peter to tell him what God had to say about it. Peter has been put on the spot and has to make a statement. It would be a statement that would change the nature of the entire church, setting a precedent for all future generations.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was awake in the wee hours, unable to sleep.  He was reading quietly in his downtown Bluffton apartment, hoping to get tired enough to go back to bed. Suddenly, he heard a commotion outside, and when he looked out his upstairs window, he saw a police officer in pursuit of a man running right down the street in front of his apartment.  The suspect had a gun, and as Max watched, the man stopped and turned toward the policeman, aiming his gun and taking a couple shots at the officer!  The man was intoxicated and a bad aim, so the officer wasn’t hit, but Max was trembling as he called 911.  Other policemen arrived and the man was arrested, Max gave his statement, end of story.

One year later, however, Max was subpoenaed to testify about what he had seen that night.  As he entered the interview room on the appointed day, he was seated directly across the table from the suspect.  A thousand things went through Max’s mind as the two of them—suspect and sole witness—were left alone in the same room together while the detective went to get a colleague. 

Max began to panic: What if this man isn’t convicted and gets to go free?  He will know exactly where I live!  He might come after me and shoot me in my own apartment some night when no one is expecting it!  Max wondered if he needed a witness protection plan so this man wouldn’t be able to find him and take revenge on him.

Max tried hard to give details of what happened that night, but it had happened so long ago!  He was afraid he might’ve forgotten something; he was perspiring and nervous. Max left the police station angry, disgusted with the justice system. Fortunately, the man was found guilty and sent to prison, and Max was relieved.

In many ways, Peter’s appearance before Cornelius is like a court appearance. He is being called on to testify. Unlike Max, however, Peter was able to remember all the details about Jesus’ life.

Easter had come into his life in such a way that he had been changed dramatically. Resurrection brought more than just new life for Jesus; it was creating a whole new world for Peter as well. Even in this sermon of Peter’s, he has another realization about the resurrection – it isn’t just for Jews but for all people. Peter proclaims, “Jesus is Lord of all” (v 36). Easter is continuing to unfold in his life and every day is another chance to see God changing the world.

That’s why we are witnesses, too. We are the witnesses of resurrection today. We may not be eye witnesses, but we are witnesses nonetheless. We see the resurrection happen in our lives. Every time we come out of feelings of depression or feelings that God isn’t hearing our prayers, we know the truth of resurrection.  Each time we stop ourselves from a bad habit—gossiping, being negative, judging, or needing to be in control—and we choose to say or do something  positive instead, we are expressing the truth of Christ’s resurrection.  Every time we set aside our own biases and habits and simply allow God’s will to be made manifest through the words, deeds and actions of others, we are affirming the truth that new life is always possible—even for old dogs like us–because of the truth of Easter. 

We are witnesses. We are the ones who can look around us and see lilies blooming and know that life does come from death. We can see the trees budding and know that spring is finally on the way. We are witnesses to these things. And we are called upon to witness to our faith, whether we want to or not because God has no Witness Protection Plan.

But know this for certain: you will be summoned to testify.  You WILL be subpoenaed. Sometimes that subpoena will come in simple and unassuming forms:  

a hug needs to be given to someone who is grieving;  

you will need to answer your neighbor’s question about why you go to church;

an elderly gentleman will need you to help him carry his groceries to his car at WalMart.

Those are the easy ones.  There will also be times when that subpoena will test both your courage and your conviction:

You will need to stand with someone who has been falsely accused of wrong;

You will be called to welcome an estranged family member back into your home;

You will have to engage in a conversation where you will have to admit that you were wrong and someone else was right.

When these opportunities arise, we are given the example of Peter to follow.  We are continually invited to find and proclaim new evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So we don’t need to be nervous, we can be bold!

God has no witness protection plan. If we witness the power of resurrection, we’re called to testify. We have each experienced resurrection in powerful and personal terms; we must proclaim it when called upon to testify. We have no need to be timid because, like Peter, we are living the truth of resurrection.  We see its power all around us; we are its witnesses today.  Amen.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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