God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…
Isaiah 65:17-25 – I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – God’s steadfast love endures forever.

I Corinthians 15:19-26 – Paul’s discourse on the resurrection. Death as the final enemy.
Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…

John 20:1-18 – Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to Mary Magdalene
Luke 24:1-12 – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women with them find the stone rolled away, encounter an angel, and run to tell the apostles.

Looking Ahead Through Easter

Easter is March 27. The great 50 days of Easter takes us to Pentecost on May 15, 2016, a week of weeks. This Easter season I will be focusing on the texts from Acts, as appointed in the Revised Common Lectionary. I will lay them out below, and then lay out the gospel texts for those who are using them. We bounce around Acts, jumping in this order: Acts 10, 5, 9, 9, 11, 16, 1, 2.

Acts At-a-Glance

  • 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.

Easter Gospels At-a-Glance

  • March 27, 2016 – Resurrection of Our Lord: The women at the tomb find the stone rolled away
  • April 3, 2016 – Easter 2C: Doubting Thomas. Revelation: He will come on the clouds.
  • April 10, 2016 – Easter 3C: Breakfast with Jesus on the beach. Be fishers and shepherds.
  • April 17, 2016 – Easter 4C: Good Shepherd Sunday.
  • April 24, 2016 – Easter 5C: New Commandment. Love as the mark of the church.
  • May 1, 2016 – Easter 6C: John’s vision of the Holy City Jerusalem. Jesus’ vision of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, who will teach us everything.
  • Thursday, May 5, 2016 or Sunday, May 8, 2016 Ascension of Our Lord: While he was blessing them [at Bethany], he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
  • May 15, 2016 – Pentecost: John 14. In my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.

Note: Synod Assembly is May 19-21, 2016.


But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
– Acts 1:8

Acts 1:8 is Luke’s exordium, his theme verse, if you will. Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth: this is the outline of the rest of Acts.

  • Acts 1-9: Jerusalem
  • Acts 9-12: Judea and Samaria
  • Acts 12-28: The ends of the earth

Luke wrote Acts (Acts 1:1-2. Luke 1:1-4). The author never identifies himself, but following tradition, let us call him Luke. Acts is a 28-chapter volume 2 of Luke’s gospel. “The story in Acts is essential in understanding who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he means,” said Dr. Ed Krentz as he lectured us in Houston, Brenham, and New Orleans in 2009. He encouraged us to use Acts for the second reading during this Lukan year.

Luke claims to be a traveling companion of the apostle Paul on the journey in which they get shipwrecked. Luke speaks of Paul and his team as “they” until Acts 27:1, when all of a sudden he starts speaking in the first person (“we”). So, we assume that’s when Paul’s entourage picks up Luke. Someone by the name of Luke is mentioned several times in the Bible: Col. 4:14, 2 Tim 4:11, Philemon 24.

Luke is the only one who coordinates the gospel with secular history. Luke is the only gospel that mentions any Roman Emperors. Without Luke we couldn’t date anything. Luke mentions:

  • Caesar Augustus
  • Tiberius
  • Claudius (Acts 18)

The title is The Acts of the Apostles, but it might just as well be the Acts of Peter and Paul. Peter figures large in the first eight chapters, then a little bit after Paul’s conversion (chapter 9). Chapter 13 to the the end of Acts, chapter 28, well over half the book, is devoted entirely to Paul’s missionary journeys.

When Stephen was being stoned (Acts 6 and 7), those who stoned him laid their coats at the feet of someone named Saul. Saul approved of the stoning (Acts 7:58, 8:1).

Saul’s conversion happens in Acts 9:1-19a (our text April 10, 2016). It is Luke that tells us that Saul was from Tarsus (Acts 9:11, 30; 21:39; 22:3). Paul never mentions it in any of his letters that we have.
Tarsus is the capital of Cilicia, the easternmost region in southern Turkey, abutting Syria. 
It is where Antony first met Cleopatra, 33 years before the birth of Christ.
 The Romans governed Tarsus in Paul’s day, and as a legacy, left a system of roads that facilitated Paul’s travels.
 The overland route through Asia (modern day Turkey) could be followed even when sea travel was impossible.
 The trade route went from Troas to Pergamum (the capital of Asia) onto Sardis, through Galatia to Tarsus.
 Tarsus was therefore linked with the main roads westward, and therefore to the great Roman centers of Ephesus and Corinth, as well as Syrian Antioch and Jerusalem to the east and south [Paul, The Mind of the Apostle, A.N. Wilson]
. The ancient writers speak of the Tarseans as pirates, seafarers, and worshippers of Mithras. This accounts for Paul’s comfortability with travel and sea travel in particular.

According to archeological evidence, Mithras worship was practiced in Tarsus until the fall of the Roman empire 450 years hence. A characteristic of Mithras worship was that worshippers would drink the blood of the sacrificed bull or a cup of wine as a symbol of that blood. (It is easy to imagine how Paul’s Eucharistic theology emerges). They would bathe in the blood, and it was believed that you would inherit the strength and life force of the bull. A child growing up in Tarsus would be impressed by this. Even a Jewish child.
 Paul is a citizen of the Roman empire according to Luke. He writes with a vigorous and distinctive style of Greek prose. This is not his second language. In other words, he is a Greek-speaking Jew, a second class of Jew according to the Hebrew speaking Jews from which Jesus came. And Paul was not a peasant. Any history of Greek prose which omitted Paul would be incomplete. He speaks in Greek. He thinks in Greek. And as a Greek speaker he was a citizen of the world, part of a universe much larger than that of Jesus and his disciples.
 In Paul’s day, Roman citizenship could be purchased for 200 drachmae (two-years wages for a laborer). Luke tells us that Paul was a tentmaker. Tents were for the wealthy. Mostly for Roman troops.

Acts in the Revised Common Lectionary

Acts doesn’t fare well in the RCL. The only time we read from Acts is in the Easter season (including the Day of Pentecost). We read from Acts 1 only on Ascension Sunday/Easter 7. We read from Acts 2 only on Pentecost, and Easter 2A-4A. We have readings from Acts 3-5 in Easter B and C.

Lutherans don’t read from Acts 6, 12-15, 18, or 20-28.

The only time we read from Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 13-28) is Easter 6A, Baptism B, and Easter 6-7C.

This year (C), with all our jumping around (Acts 10, 5, 9, 9, 11, 16, 1, 2), we only read once from Pauls’ journeys, Easter 6C, May 1, 2016: The gospel enters Europe. Paul has a vision during the night: A man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’

Good Friday: Hung from a Tree

According to James Cone, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Martin Luther King, Jr.  was a young, 27-year-old pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till was lynched in Mississippi. His crime? He allegedly flirted with a white woman. He was visiting from Chicago. Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam abducted him, then beat and mutilated the teenager. They were acquitted. Later, protected by double jeopardy, they admitted to killing the boy.

Emmett Till’s lynching was the most recent in a long line of lynchings used to control and strike fear in the black population since the Civil War outlawed slavery. Lynchings were announced in the newspaper in advance and often attended by thousands of people. Postcards were made next to the mutilated and burned body hanging from the tree. Still, convictions were rare. Reports after the fact said the lynchings were perpetrated by “persons unknown.”

Roy Wilkins, the executive head of the NAACP, spoke for many: “It would appear from this lynching that the State of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children.” [Cone, James H. (2011-09-01). The Cross and the Lynching Tree (p. 66). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.]

In fact, after the Civil War up to the lynching of Emmett Till, thousands of black men and boys were lynched, causing some to comment that life was worse for blacks than during the slave era. Some white Christians spoke out against such atrocities, but it was unsafe to do so. Some collaborated, and the rest were merely silent in the face of such evil. Silence, of course, implies consent. The innocent were hung from a tree at the hands of those in power. It is astounding that few could see Christ in the face of the black man, or boy, hanging from a tree.

To be a people of the cross means seeing the cross not merely in the past, but in the present as well. In the cross of Christ, God sides definitively with the despised, dispossessed, disenfranchised, and powerless of the world – those deprived of their lives. Who are these people today?

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.

They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Isaiah 53:7-9

It should come as no surprise that the African American community came to identify with the suffering servant, the crucified one, as had so many oppressed people throughout history. Can the rich and powerful understand the cross? Can they perceive the kingdom of God? Perhaps, Jesus said, inasmuch as a camel can go through the eye of a needle.

Such cases still take place today, though with less frequency. I was a 36-year-old pastor in Conroe, Texas in the summer of 1998 when James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas by three men, two of whom were white supremacists. He was dragged three miles behind a pickup truck on an asphalt road. He died when his body hit the edge of a culvert, severing his arm and head. They drove another mile, then deposited his torso in front of an African American cemetery. Of the three perpetrators, one died by lethal injection, one is on death row, and the other has life in prison. But locals were strangely quiet about the event.

How are people taught to devalue human life in this way? Or, how is it that we are taught to devalue some lives more than others?

For the loved ones who grieve these senseless deaths, it seems little can console. Suffering poses a test of faith. Emmett Till’s mother found hope beyond tragedy in the Crucified One. The innocent one hanging from a cross, who died and rose again, whose name we know and whose stories we tell 2,000 years later, turned “defeat into triumph, ugliness into beauty, despair into hope, the cross into the resurrection.” (Cone, James H. (2011-09-01). The Cross and the Lynching Tree (p. 69). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.)

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
2 Cor 4:8-10

Cone points out that Barth, Tillich, and Niebuhr, white theologians who spoke frequently about the cross, had little to nothing to say about the manifestation of the cross in contemporary American society: lynchings. How could they have missed this?

Not every white religious leader missed the point. German Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, for defying the Third Reich’s racist policies. “When Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, revised and unabridged ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1959, p. 99.)

The cross is more than a nifty logo for religious folks to hang around their necks. It is a stunning statement of power through weakness. The cross is the defining heart of the Christian faith. It represents God’s love for humanity, all of humanity, even the outcast and downcast. The cross is God’s definitive statement in favor of the poor and powerless of the world, who are so often cast into the trash by the rich and powerful.

It is not enough to place the cross in the context of the Roman Empire. We must see it in our context today. It is the Christian impulse to seek out the least, the last and the lost in our world today. It is our impulse to shed light on evil in our world today.

Jesus is crucified every day. Do we see the miscarriages of justice in our day, and, if so, do we remain silent? Sandra Bland was stopped by a policeman for failing to signal, and her subsequent arrest ended horribly with her death by her own hand in her prison cell. Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore after being arrested for carrying a switchblade knife. Eric Garner was killed after being placed in a choke-hold. Michael Brown, Jr. was shot to death by Ferguson, Missouri police. Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland for brandishing a toy gun in a park.

This is but a small sample of many such incidents across our land. How shall we respond? Do we have eyes to see the cross in these events? Are we willing to speak up and out when we see others become victims of injustice? As followers of the Crucified One, how can we keep silent, and what does it say about us if we do?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us open our eyes to see the cross in our context today.

Easter: Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

God shows no partiality.

Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. God does not make distinctions between Jews, Muslims, or Christians. God does not show partiality to one race or another, rich or poor, male or female. Anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable Peter says. Gentiles who believed in God were called God-fearers.

After John’s baptism, this Jesus went about doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil. Nevertheless, they put him to death by hanging him from a tree.

Peter’s message in Acts 10 (Easter) and Acts 5 (the Sunday after Easter) is the same as the message in his Pentecostal Sermon (Acts 2): This Jesus was put to death by hanging him on a tree, but God “exalted” him on God’s right hand. Of this we are witnesses.

Hanging from a tree was considered a curse in Jewish tradition. Jesus had aligned himself with the outcasts, by eating and drinking with them. He was executed as a powerless man.

But God raised him from the dead, and called us to preach forgiveness in his name. Have you fallen short of the justice to which God calls you? Have you failed in your self-powered efforts at righteousness? Forgiveness is free. All who call upon the Lord receive full pardon and forgiveness for their sins.

That forgiveness frees us to move forward into grace. The knowledge of the resurrection frees us from fear of death, fear of the powers that threaten to destroy us. We are free to move into the new world with joy.

Paul proclaimed the same message. Have this mind that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name. Exaltation comes from humiliation. Life comes from death.

We are invited to see death not as the end, but as the beginning. We are given a glimpse of what we cannot see with our mortal eyes: that there is more to life than meets the eyes.

But death and resurrection isn’t just for the afterlife. It is to be lived now. In Acts, Christianity is called The Way (8:2, 9:25, 18:25, 18:26, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22). It is not a belief system alone, but a way of life, a way of being in the world. The cross, the resurrection, grace, forgiveness, empower us to live as new creations. We die to ourselves, so that we can arise to new life in Christ, now.

So, what grave clothes will you be leaving behind?