Acts 5:27-32 – Peter to the high priest: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’
Revelation 1:4-8 – The opening of John’s apocalypse: Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
John 20:19-31 – Doubting Thomas. Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Hymn: Given the second lesson, Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.
During the 50 days of Easter, I will be writing my lectionary posts on the texts from Acts.
- March 27, 2016 – Resurrection of Our Lord: Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day. We are witnesses.
- April 3, 2016 – Easter 2C: Acts 5:27-32 – Peter to the high priest: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand. We are witnesses.
- April 10, 2016 – Easter 3C: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) – Saul’s conversion.
- April 17, 2016 – Easter 4C: Acts 9:36-43 – Peter’s resuscitation of Tabitha in Joppa.
- April 24, 2016 – Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s vision and eating with the uncircumcised.
- May 1, 2016 – Easter 6C: Acts 16:9-15 –Paul’s vision during the night: A man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come to Macedonia and help us.’ The gospel enters Europe.
- Thursday, May 5, 2016 or Sunday, May 8, 2016 – Ascension Of Our Lord: Acts 1:1-11 – Jesus is lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Note: This is also Mother’s Day in 2016.
- May 15, 2016 – Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost. Roaring wind and tongues of flame.
Luke’s story does not end with the resurrection. In fact, the story is just beginning. Many of Jesus’ enigmatic sayings and doings in Luke are hard to understand without the witness of how the apostles lived them out in Luke’s volume 2: The Acts of the Apostles.
The resurrection sparks a new hope, a new faith, and a new community. It turns disciples who are fearfully huddled and hiding in fear for their lives in the upper room, into apostles who take their faith on the road, out to the world, eventually giving their own lives for what they believe to be true about Jesus and the world.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus gives his followers a mandate: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The story of Acts is just that. It begins in Jerusalem and moves outward to Judea and Samaria, and then the ends of the earth. “But wait!” he tells them, “until you are clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit.” Nothing is done apart from the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, we have the coming of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised. The Good News explodes on the earth in a multilingual way. In Acts 3, Peter continues the healing ministry of Jesus and preaches in the Temple. In Acts 4, Peter and John stand before the high priest and the council.
Let us look ahead for just a moment. In Acts 6, we appoint the seven. In Acts 7, one of those seven, Stephen, preaches and becomes the first martyr. Preaching can get you killed. They didn’t crucify Jesus for nothing. In Acts 8, Philip preaches in Samaria and bumps into the Ethiopian eunuch on the desert road to the Gaza strip. Faith spreads to the much maligned Samaritans and even to an ostracized sexual minority. In Acts 9, we have Saul’s conversion. This is where we will pick up next Sunday. Then we will read further in chapter 9 about the resuscitation of Tabitha in Joppa on April 17.
By Easter 5, April 24, we are in Acts 11, watching the mission-minded Peter explain to the stodgy Jerusalem church council of Jewish Christians why he ate non-kosher food, an abomination in Scripture, with uncircumcised men. Peter gets in trouble for doing the same thing Jesus did (Luke 15:1-3), eating with outcasts and outsiders. Finally, on Easter 6, May 1, we jump right over Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13-15) and into Paul’s second missionary journey, which takes an unexpected turn into Europe, due to a dream that Paul had.
On May 8, most congregations celebrate Ascension, which technically falls on Thursday, May 5. May 8 is also Mother’s Day this year. Pentecost is May 15, 2016. May 19-21 is Synod Assembly. With that quick run through of the next seven weeks, let’s go back and look at Acts 5.
The text is short:
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Just before our text began, the apostles were arrested (v. 26). Saul was not yet mentioned, but it is worth noting that he was part of the Temple Guard at this stage. It was his job to root out errant Jewish heretics like the followers of Jesus.
“We gave you strict orders not to preach in Jesus’ name,” the High Priest asks the detainees. “We must obey God over people,” Peter and the apostles reply. Pastors may find this a challenge from time to time. If Jesus and Stephen were killed for what they said and did, can we expect that there won’t be any push back? If we only tell people what they want to hear, are we not tickling their ears (2 Timothy 4:3)? How do we balance the prophetic and pastoral? What are the ditches on either side of the road?
I like to imagine the Dominican priest Matthew Fox, standing before Cardinal Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Of course, he never “stood” before them per se, but his writings were rejected for being too feminist.
The year I was ordained, 1988, Fox wrote a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger entitled, “Is the Catholic Church Today a Dysfunctional Family?” That probably sealed his fate. He was forbidden to lecture or speak. Fox is now an Episcopalian.
I’m sure that Fox’s immersion in Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, and Nicolas of Cusa, along with his mystical experiences of God, left him no choice. How can you not talk about the expansive God you encounter in prayer? Once you catch a vision for how much more expansive the divine is than the human religious structures, there are not enough words to proclaim this good news.
Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.
– Meister Eckhart
“You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…” Another challenge to us as preachers, and also to the whole congregation. Could someone level this accusation against us: You have filled the town with your teaching? Do you have a message the town needs to hear? It it sticky? Will it go viral? If we wanted to fill the town with our teaching, what means might we use? How would we get the word out? How can we preach viral messages that make messengers out of our people?
The apostles are part of a movement of the Spirit that is moving through the Roman Empire. Are we? This movement is a new way of relating to the God who loves us beyond our comprehension. There is nothing that any high priest or grand inquisitor can say that will be able to stifle the joyful need to share with those who are in fear that God loves them with an everlasting love that is greater than death itself. And there is no way to stop those who are spiritually hungry from listening, even if their words are unsanctioned by the religious magisterium. Fundamentalists are moved by adherence to the rules. Mystics are drawn to experiences of the Spirit.
“We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit…” What revelations of the living God have you witnessed, along with the Holy Spirit? What informs your life and your serving? Where is God at work in your life and in the world, that you cannot help but speak and act, clothed with power from on high (Acts 1), regardless of the human consequences?
And they continued to “constantly” teach in the Temple, and at home, that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 5:42). Let us do the same.