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Sermon – “What Should We Do?” – May 4, 2014

Sermon for Sunday, May 4, 2014

First Baptist Church of Lewisburg

What Should We Do?

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41; Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19; Luke 24: 13-35

Now and then youʼll notice a big scuff mark on top of my head. Sometimes thatʼs because Iʼve had a baseball cap on when Iʼve gone to duck into a car. My eye and brain evidently have learned to work together through the years to gauge how low I have to stoop to avoid creasing my skull, and itʼs always been done unconsciously. However, when I wear a cap with the bill out front, the system breaks down. My eyes donʼt get enough information, and my automatic ducking sometimes guesses wrong.

Itʼs when that happens that I realize how smoothly and behind-the-scenes my senses and reflexes work when they have all the information they need. The mind is more alert to whatʼs going on around it than you may be aware, and ready to respond to things that it sees as problems without your having consciously to do anything. Thatʼs why when youʼre chopping vegetables in the kitchen with a very sharp knife, it pays to remind yourself that if you drop the knife you donʼt want to grab it on the way down. Otherwise you might snatch at it reflexively, the way your hand will try to catch most things you let slip.

Bumping your head is a thing your brain avoids. When it comes to things you want to keep from hitting the floor and things itʼs better to let go, your brain has to make decisions. On higher levels of complexity your conscious mind has to do more of the work.

Something similar obtains regarding the warning lights and gauges in your automobile. Some lights can come on and itʼs okay to keep driving. Other things flash and youʼd better pull over. You have to know which is which.

Life is more full of things which you can ignore for a while, like the “check engine” light, than of things like the oil pressure gauge, which announces a crisis. If you stop to think about it, thereʼs probably good advice from doctors, articles about health or savings, the experience of other people, and your own common sense that you choose to ignore. You have those things in the category of warning lights with which you donʼt have to bother. Most of the time youʼll be right.

This is a hard thing about the way we now do health. There was a time when health professionals were trusted with taking care of you, and all you had to do was to go see the doctor when you were ill, and the doctor would treat you with a procedure or medicine or both, and that was that. Now, however, we are given more responsibility for our own health. We are encouraged to know all the warning signs of stroke, and heart attack, and various cancers, and, depending how many different businesses solicit donations from you in order to boost awareness of some other health problem, who knows how many other conditions and calamities? Our conscious mind is harnessed to more and more of the work about whether or not we are well, because many maladies and medical misfortunes first exist in a form which our unconscious mind canʼt discern. It may be getting some information but it is not alarmed by it, because itʼs too much like other little troubles that we have learned to ignore.

This is one of the things modern American medicine does. It acts as though we will be responsible for permitting or prolonging possibly fatal diseases if we arenʼt always reacting promptly to sinister symptoms, and at the same time it chides us for allowing ourselves to suffer too much stress.

All of this comes into the category of knowing something which calls for a response. We are thinking creatures, and life teaches us to recognize patterns and act in a way which is in our best interest. When we understand whatʼs going on, when we have new information which makes a difference to us personally, then there is always the question “should I be doing something in response to this?” One of you may remember this old Peanuts cartoon, which I couldnʼt find by Googling, so I canʼt quote exactly. I think it has Charlie Brown speaking with Linus. Linus relates some slightly obscure fact to him, about the real nature of something commonly misunderstood, or the origin of some common phrase or practice– the point is that itʼs not vital information of any kind. Itʼs trivia. Charlie Brown listens, and hears what Linus says, and then Linus leaves. Charlie Brown asks aloud, “Now that I know that, what do I do?”

Itʼs funny when Charlie Brown says it, because though Linus finds it interesting to relate and therefore treats it with some importance, itʼs not information which requires a response from anyone. Some information needs a response, and some doesnʼt.

Before proceeding letʼs admit that sometimes the response is halfhearted. We get a recall notice in the mail saying the dealer will fix free what might be a defect in the car we now own, but we got the car used, and the dealer is in another county, and we have our own mechanicʼs assurance that it looks okay. So we keep the notice, vaguely intending someday to do it, but we donʼt seem to get around to it. Or weʼve read an article about the benefits of walking a mile every day, and we have done it a couple of times, and mean to do it more often, but it only happens when itʼs convenient, and the weatherʼs good, and thereʼs nothing else to do. Those are still responses, but thereʼs a lot of choosing to ignore built into responses like those.

I mention halfhearted responses because what God does for people is almost always spoken of as decisive. The preaching from the book of Acts which is our scripture for today leads its hearers to the question, “what must we do?” They are given a way to save themselves from the crooked generation among which they live, and they take it. That doesnʼt mean that at some later date, when the urgency of their initiation into Godʼs salvation has been overtaken by subsequent events, and obscured by other emotions, they wonʼt settle into a less determined approach to their Christianity. Time doesnʼt only heal wounds. It also dulls delights, and dims the memory of having felt vitally engaged.

So what do we do? What do we, who are on Peterʼs side in his preaching to the crowd, agreeing with his take on what Jesus Christ means, do now that we know that? How do we change the way we live in order to respond to Easter? What old habits do we suppress, what new habits do we cultivate?

Itʼs hard enough to quell old habits, so that developing new ones is the best place to start. Make some time daily for devotions and prayer, and you may find those crowding out something else about which you arenʼt entirely happy. Worship on a regular basis, get yourself into a pattern where you notice somethingʼs odd if you havenʼt been to worship. Think of it as a gym for your spiritual self, a routine exercise for your soul. Thatʼs the kind of thing our psalm today declares. It says “God has done so much for me that Iʼm going to make a gesture of gratitude to God.” It may be that God wants attention not for Godʼs own sake, as though God were insecure or had an ego, but that God wants attention for his childrenʼs sake, because God knows itʼs good for us human beings to take God seriously. So donʼt make a problem out of the question whether God is really pleased by hearing you sing that hymn. What pleases God is when people who havenʼt been paying attention to God begin to do that, and one of the things which makes that likelier to happen is when their neighbors act as if God is important. Your going to the place of worship reminds other people that this is a place where people can go, and find something worthwhile.

The story of the two disciples who are joined on their journey to Emmaus by a fellow traveler who is revealed to be their Risen Lord is also about a response. In this case, itʼs not the Easter response that Peter proclaims in his preaching. Itʼs not assurance of resurrection and Godʼs vindication of Jesusʼ special meaning and revelation of heavenʼs predominance over earthly things. Instead itʼs disappointment, and discouragement, and having no comprehension at all of what those who announced resurrection could mean.

Thatʼs still a reaction to Easter. Thatʼs still a part of discipleship. They had hoped. They had hoped, and though their conversation is about whether they can still hope or not, theyʼre talking about it. They are going home, but they arenʼt entirely moving on, because the topic of what Jesus should mean to them is still with them. They share this sorrow and confusion and wonder together about it, and that invites Christ into the conversation.

All these scriptures are about answering Easter. What has God done for you? What do you believe God has achieved for you through Christ? What is it that you must do not to remain merely part of the mass of humanity living as though none of this happened, that this makes no difference? When you believe you have been blessed, what are your options?

What do you do when your faith has been challenged, when you canʼt make out how the meaning it once had still makes sense? Youʼve got to talk about it. You should talk about it with someone whoʼll understand both the peace you once felt, and the pain you now feel– and in that seriousness about who you are as Godʼs child, youʼll be met by an answer.

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