As many of you know, my background is as an actor. I’ve spent most of my life “up in front of people”. And there is this “thing” that actors do. It’s based on the fact that acting gigs are hard to come by. (Did I mention HARD?!) And that thing is this- LIE like a RUG! Seriously, here’s what it looks like. If the director or casting director says, “Do you know how to ride a horse?” You say, “Sure! I was RAISED riding horses!” And then, if you get the acting gig…you immediately go out and learn how to ride a horse!
Here’s a personal example of that mantra. It was the summer of 1982. I was between my Junior and senior years of college. I had to take incompletes in all of my classes second semester of my Junior year because I had a disc in my lower back rupture right before Easter that year and I had to have surgery. Recovery was over, it was already summer and I needed a job. I saw an ad in the paper for a new theme restaurant that was going to open in the area. The theme of this restaurant was going to be live magic! So, they were advertising for magicians.
I knew a TINY bit about magic (Did I mention TINY?!), so of course I went down to apply! The manager was sitting at a card table outside the restaurant (the inside was still under construction) taking applications for ALL positions, including “magician”. I stepped up and told him I was applying for one of the magician positions. He immediately got out a deck of TV Magic Cards and showed me a “trick”. (In case you aren’t familiar, TV Magic Cards are “trick decks” of cards that basically do the tricks themselves. They require NO skill whatsoever…and I KNEW that!)
He did the trick and I pretended to be thoroughly entertained. He then said the words I was fearing he would say. “OK- your turn. Show me a trick!” “Shoot! The wheels might come off the bus before I can even get it out of the garage!” So, I thought on my feet and said, “Oh, the ad didn’t say anything about bringing anything. I left it all at home!” and flashed my most charming smile. The pause that followed was painful. And then he said, “OK, I see on your application that you have a performance background…you’re hired!” Whew! I then ran right out…and started learning about magic! Boldness means you’re willing to go where you’ve never been, willing to try what you’ve never tried, and willing to trust what you’ve never trusted.
Today, we continue our current sermon series- The Explosion, based on the New Testament Book of Acts- the history of the early church. We are focusing on how the early church grew. Two weeks ago, we started at the very beginning…a VERY good place to start, and asked, “What are you looking for?” Last week, we moved just a little farther into the book to see miraculous math happening- 3,000 were added to their numbers that day. Today, we jump ahead a couple of chapters. Peter and John have healed a man in the name of Jesus Christ…and the “powers that be” aren’t very happy about it.
Acts 4:5-21 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So, they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.
The leaders have Peter and John brought before them, demanding an answer and intending to intimidate them into submission. “Who gave you the power and authority to heal people?” Peter, defiant and headstrong, steps right into the fray. “If you’re referring to the fact that we showed kindness to this man, then yes, we did. And it was because of Jesus Christ- you know, the one YOU crucified but God raised from the dead? Yeah, THAT one!- that this man stands before you…healed.”
But Peter isn’t done. “Jesus, the stone that YOU rejected, is the cornerstone. He is the ONLY way to salvation.” Boom! Mic drop. The leaders were stunned by the boldness of these unschooled, sweaty fishermen. But they couldn’t refute the man standing before them…healed. So, they tell Peter and John to STOP talking about Jesus. “Knock it OFF!”
Peter and John aren’t going to back down. “Who do you think God wants us to listen to- Him…or YOU? We simply CAN’T help but tell people about what we’ve seen and heard.” And did you catch what the leaders did next? Oh yeah? Well… Well…just watch yourselves!” The leaders were, as my dad would say, cut off at the knees. The people were praising God for what had happened. What could the leaders do to these guys, who were so bold in their faith?
Peter and John were bold in their faith. They were willing to stand up and be counted. Sounds great…but what does it mean? Boldness means you’re willing to go where you’ve never gone, willing to try what you’ve never tried and willing to trust what you’ve never trusted.
But let me assure you, boldness in your faith doesn’t have to be shouting it from the rooftops. It doesn’t have to be going to exotic and dangerous locations. It doesn’t have to be giving up everything and going into the ministry. It COULD be any of those things…or any number of other possibilities. But it can also be offering to pray with someone who is going through a difficult time. It can be inviting someone to worship, a Bible Study or Wednesday night dinner. It can be volunteering for a ministry that might be a bit out of your comfort zone. Ministry, at its core, takes you out of your comfort zone.
Next Sunday, we are being asked to step out of our comfort zone. Next Sun day, we have the opportunity to step out and be bold in a big way. Next Sunday, we will have an all-church vote. The outcome of that vote will go a long way in deciding who we are and where we head for the next several years. It’s a huge step, admittedly. It’s daunting. It’s challenging. It’s scary.
But something struck me this week. This congregation has a long and storied history of stepping out in faith. I mean, look at this building. This building is here because, MANY years ago, a group of people who called themselves the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Aledo stepped WAY out in faith and built it. Look at the Education Wing. That whole addition to the building, which we use to its fullest on a regular basis, exists because decades ago, a group who called themselves the Aledo Methodist Church stepped WAY out in faith and built it. Look at that elevator. We are carrying out ministries now because, 8 years ago, a group who called themselves The Aledo United Methodist Church stepped WAY out in faith and built it.
We are part of a proud and determined heritage of stepping out in faith, of standing up and being counted. This congregation has been a beacon in this community for more than 100 years. And we have BEEN that beacon because we have been willing to be bold, to step out of our comfort zone, to stand up and be counted.
Albert Einstein had a powerful definition of insanity- to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. The truth is, to get what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do what you’ve never done. We are a congregation who has been willing, over the years, to do what we’ve never done. Stepping further out of our comfort zone is who we are, it’s what we’ve done, what we do. I wait with great anticipation to see what we do next Sunday, to where we head next.