12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out/”
I was raised on soap operas.
My mom was either pregnant and sick and unable to move from the couch, or nursing and exhausted and unable to move from the couch, or she was folding mountains of laundry on the couch, so often she’d open a package of saltines, stab a butter knife into some peanut butter, and let all us kids go at it -- All while Marlena once again forgot who she was and Roman somehow had a dramatic face lift because Stefano had him kidnapped and was doing some kind of experiments on him as an undercover spy. And Bo and Hope were betrayed again, because while they thought the other was dead, they fell in love with someone else, and now they realize that they’re alive and they’re just. so. conflicted. And if only Sammy would just tell Lucas the truth, all of their problems will be solved, but she can’t because Austin is in a coma and she might be pregnant with his baby.
We'd be on the edges of our seats — wondering, will Kari finally confess her love to Austin? — when the characters would suddenly look off into the distance, and a commercial for Dawn dish detergent would come on. Tune in next time, for the same. ridiculous. plots. recycled again and again.
It was kinda fun though, watching fictional characters whom I pretended were real make a complete mess of their lives while I ate peanut butter and saltines and wondered why everyone was sharing beds all the time.
But seriously, guys, read the narratives in the Hebrew Scriptures. Them’s some soap operas. Sarah wants a baby so bad that she tells her husband to have one with her handmaid, and when, at 90 years old, she finally gets pregnant and has a son, she tells her husband to dump Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness to die. Or, Jacob, who falls in love with the beautiful Rachel, and wants to marry her, so he works for seven years and then seven more years to please her father only to get super drunk on his wedding night and realize he’d “married” the wrong woman. And there’s David, who falls in love with one of his commander’s wives, sleeps with her, and then sends her husband out to the front lines so that he’ll get killed and he’ll have her all to himself.
And I don’t know what says “soap opera” more than Solomon walking around his huge palace wearing purple robes adorned with pomegranates surrounded by thousands of his concubines and eating grapes off of silver platters. I picture him with a pinkie ring.
Get out the saltines, guys. This is some crazy shit. And it just gets crazier.
And the most crazy thing of all is that this is the story of God’s relationship with God’s chosen people.
These guys are the ones who are supposed to be special, specially picked to do God’s will, and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and on to the New Testament, they do nothing but screw it up -- with a few demands for justice by bedraggled prophets that are subsequently ignored spattered here and there throughout the text.
This is their story. Full of screw ups and morons and selfish manipulators and liars and broken relationships.
And this story all leads up to this, this moment: Peter is standing in front of his gang - his posse, his crew, his people, the folks descended from all those soap opera characters. And he gives them a sermon.
Someone, in perfect soap opera form, has suddenly been healed. No, he hasn’t awoken from a six year coma or had his face splashed with acid only to be perfectly smooth only a few months later. But, he was lame. And now he can walk. And the crowd gathers to find out more about this spectacle. They’re shocked. Amazed. They're fast forwarding through the Tide commercials. They want to figure this out.
And Peter asks, “Why are you screw-ups surprised? Don’t you remember your story? Your story of all your ancestors who screwed up? Guys - you’re the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Of all our forefathers who screwed the pooch more than once."
You’re the children of Abraham, who was so scared of the pharaoh, he tells him that his wife is his sister, and then had a child with his mistress and cast them both to the desert to die of exposure, and then later, would almost kill his own son because he heard some voices in his head.
Or Isaac, who, as far as we can tell, never speaks to his father after that, and who is so afraid of conflict that he moves his family all over creation whenever someone else contests his right to use the well. Who is so scared that he also passes his wife off as his sister, and then plays favorites with his two boys, preferring Esau over Jacob — and then — and then is so naive, he lets Jacob trick him into giving Esau’s birthright to him.
And you’re the children of Jacob - who tricks his father in order to steal the firstborn inheritance from his brother, and then runs away like a coward when Esau chases after him. He schemes and manipulates his whole life, and then makes the same mistake his grandfather and his own father made - he has a favorite son. And he's got a whole slew of sons with borderline personality disorder. And then he wrestles with God. And walks with a limp for the rest of his life.
Think about all these people, all these screw ups and failures and schemers and faithless people who are in your story, whom you belong to. All failures, morons, manipulators, power-hungry rejectors of God’s will.
They’re all part of your story, your “soap”. They are a part of you. And yet, God still loves. God still walks with you. God still tunes in. Throughout your whole history, even when you were watching bad television, even when you hoped beyond hope that the plot line would move forward, even when God was desperate to wipe you out and start all over, God’s love relented, God’s care endured.
And here you are, Israelites, with your story of screwing up and your story of God’s consistent rescue, and you’re surprised that a lame man can now walk? You’re surprised that God is still working here? You, who formed the mob that is partially to blame for Jesus’ death, who chose a murderer instead of God himself, you’re surprised that God still loves you? That your pig-headed stubbornness and your misguided preferences are no match for God’s persistent love? Why are you so surprised? So shocked? Pull out the VCR, rewind all the tapes, let’s review, shall we?
"And you think I’m the one who did this?" Peter asks. "I’m the one who healed this guy? Ha! I’m a failure, just like you. Just another character in a daytime television series. I rejected Jesus, not once, but THREE times. And I was supposed to be his best friend. My mouth was always running faster than my brain, and I said the most idiotic things, and I fought with my brothers over who would be Jesus’ right hand man, and I ran away when Jesus was being tortured and killed, and I didn’t believe the women when they came to tell us that Jesus had risen from the dead, and when I saw Jesus — face to face — I still didn’t recognize him! Yes. I’m an Israelite too. A screw up. A failure. A wreck among the wrecks.
But here I am. Here I am, a witness to all that Christ has done. A witness who remembers his story, remembers from whom he has come, who comes before you — flaws and failures and all — to tell you that Christ has risen, that God has been among us, and that the story continues."
Even when you try to end the story. The story keeps going.
Like Marlena and all of her memory loss and comas and demon possessions, God keeps coming back.
And God is going to keep coming back. God is going to keep dying at your hand, and is going to continue rising again. It’s the same plot. Repeated again and again until we all finally get it.
Children are going to be killed in drone strikes, and the ice caps are going to keep melting, and we’re going to waste water and drive our cars too often and let our kid cry longer than he should because we are so tired. We are going to be a part of systems and powers that are violent and consuming and power-hungry. But our story is also a story of resurrection, of starting again, of renewal and transformation. Of taking one more breath when we’re hopeless, of trying again when we fail, of stubbornly insisting on justice for the homeless and disenfranchised and abused and lonely.
And aren’t we all part of this story? This story of persistently rejecting what God wants, of thinking that we can do all this on our own, of being stubborn and violent and hard-hearted, preferring war over peace, desiring stuff over relationship, finding self-worth in achievements and busyness instead of just living in the eternal now that God has given us?
Remember your story. Remember God’s constant love for you. For your family. For your ancestors who maybe owned slaves, or who went to prison, or cheated on their wives, or didn't wear condoms, or wrecked their cars, or wasted their leftovers. Remember that God loves them, too.
So that when you think about your failures, your losses and your screw-ups, you’ll know that in this one thing God doesn’t change - God’s love continues. God’s love is stubborn and long-suffering and real. When you feel the shame and start to believe all that this world tells you you are, you can go back to your story, go back to your community, your family - maybe not by blood - but by spirit. And you can remember that God’s love didn’t stop with Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob or David or Solomon or Jonah or Peter. And it won’t stop with you.
Tune In. There is more to come.
"So, repent" Peter says.
And I don’t think he means we should walk over hot coals or wear hairshirts or sit in a windowless room reciting hail marys or watch the 24 hour soap opera channel. I don’t think repenting means to be ashamed and weeping and made to feel like trash. In Hebrew, the word for repent is “shuv” which means “to return.” I think to repent means to go back. Return to who you are. Who you really are. Who God made you to be. Go back to who you are and whose you are. Go back to the community that loves you.
Realize your story. Tune in. Don’t be surprised when crazy miracles happen; instead, repent, literally, “change your mind” — “metanoia” in Greek. Turn your heads — not from your story, but back to your story, your story of screwing up and trying again and God’s persistent relentless continuing love for you. Turn back to that. Return to your story. The story of your community. The story of God’s continual forgiveness. You’ve strayed from who you are. From who made you. From the amazing things that God has done and will still do. Go back. Turn back. Turn your heads. Repent and be saved.
And when you do, don’t be surprised when miracles happen. Don’t be surprised when you or someone you love receives a healing you never thought possible.
Because this is the God of our story. A God who keeps loving and healing and curing and fixing and transforming and resurrecting - mostly - and most frustratingly - in ways that are so tiny we can hardly see it, but it’s there. The buds come back on the trees, someone opens the door for you when your arms are full of kids and groceries, you get to snack on peanut butter and saltines, you drink a really good latte. Or maybe you share a vulnerable piece of yourself, a part of your story, with someone else and they get it, they walk with you in it. Those parts of yourself that you think are lame and broken and unmovable - they’re going to be healed. Tune in.
Thanks be to God.