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.’
Psalm 118:14-29 – Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. What can mortals do to me? The Lord is on my side…
Psalm 150 – Praise the Lord with every musical instrument you can find.
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.
April 21, 2019 – 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 28, 2019 – 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.
May 5, 2019 – Easter 3C: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) – Saul’s conversion.
May 12, 2019 – Easter 4C: Acts 9:36-43 – Peter’s resuscitation of Tabitha in Joppa.
May 19, 2019 – Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s vision and eating with the uncircumcised.
May 26, 2019 – 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 30, 2019 or Sunday, June 2, 2019 – ASCENSION OF OUR LORD: Acts 1:1-11– Jesus is lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
June 9, 2019 – PENTECOST: Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost. Roaring wind and tongues of flame.
Many of Jesus’ sayings and doings in Luke’s gospel are hard to understand without the witness of how the apostles lived them out 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 what appears to be both a command and a promise: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
The story of Acts follows that trajectory from Jerusalem, 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.
Before we talk about our text in Acts 5, let’s take a sneak peek ahead:
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 May 12, 2019.
Synod Assembly is May 17-18, 2019.
By Easter 5, May 19, 2019, 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, outsiders. Finally, on Easter 6, May 26, 2019, 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.
June 2, 2019 most congregations celebrate Ascension (which technically falls on Thursday, May 30, 2019). Pentecost is June 9, 2019.
With that quick run through of the next seven weeks, let’s go back and look at Acts 5:
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “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.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And 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?
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. What is the cost for speaking out?
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…” Here is 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? Have you? Do you have a message the town needs to hear? It it sticky? Will it go viral? Is it a message that matters? 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. If these are silent, even the rocks will cry out. 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 so 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.
John 20:19-31: Doubting Thomas
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:19-31 is the text for the Sunday after Easter every year in the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the story of Doubting Thomas. I wonder why the framers of the lectionary felt it important to include Doubting Thomas every year. Perhaps they sensed Easter left us wondering. Nancy Rockwell says, “Like a breath of fresh air, Doubting Thomas enters the over-lilied atmosphere of Easter.”
Why wasn’t Thomas with the disciples on Easter evening when Jesus came to them at first? Where was he? Why not all locked up in fear like the rest? Maybe he wasn’t as afraid. Not so easily spooked. Remember, it was Thomas who urged the disciples to go on to Bethany despite the danger: “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” (John 11:16) Maybe he was the disciple with moxie. This doesn’t sound like the voice of one with no faith.
There is a lot of good stuff in this text. We get both John’s Great Commission and John’s Pentecost.
- Doors of the house locked because of fear. How does this track our situation? I recently read that Millennials and Gen Z report more anxiety than older generations. What is happening? What are you afraid of today? What doors has that fear locked in your life? If perfect love casts out all fear, how might the risen Christ be opening doors in your life?
- Jesus responds by saying three times, “Peace be with you.” Jesus speaks peace into our fearful lives. How are we blessing the fearful around us with peace? Bestowing peace on others might be a response to fear.
- Doubting Thomas: There are many skeptics. Generation Z (those born after 1998) identify as atheist at twice the rate of the general population (13% vs. 7%). How do we not shame them for their doubts, but welcome them, embracing their honest inquiry? Studies show they are open to non-judgmental conversation that does not drive to a conclusion. Can we welcome them, along with their questions?
- As the Father has sent me, so I send you. This would make an awesome dismissal for the season of Easter. (This is John’s Great Commission.) How did God send Jesus? “The Son of man came not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Pastor: As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
People: Thanks be to God.
- Receive the Holy Spirit. (This is John’s Pentecost.) This little bit of Johannine Pentecost gets lost in the clamor to deal with Thomas. Pentecost, Acts 2, is part of Luke’s volume 2. For John, the Spirit is given right here, on the first day of the week, Easter Sunday. Easter is Pentecost in John.
Quasi Modo, Octave, Holy Humor
This Sunday is traditionally known as Quasi Modo Sunday, after the introit for the day: Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem si gustastis quoniam dulcis Dominus:
“As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation: If it be that you have tasted that the Lord is sweet.”
(1 Peter 2:2-3)
Congregants may know Quasimodo from Victor Hugo’s French gothic novel, Hunchback of Notre Dame. Quasimodo is so named because he was left at the cathedral on the Sunday after Easter, Easter 2, 1467.
This may stir hearts this year after the Notre Dame burned on tax day, April 15, 2019.
Prior to Christianity, a Temple to Jupiter stood on this spot. Four churches were built on this spot before the construction of Notre Dame. In 1160 the Bishop of Paris decided to build a much bigger church, in the “new” Gothic style. In 1163 Pope Alexander III and King Louis VII laid the cornerstone.
The choir was completed in 1177 and the high altar in 1182. Then came the four sections of the nave behind the choir. Followed by walls, transepts, and rose windows. The 13th century invention of the flying buttress kept the heavy ceiling from pushing the walls down and out, making a higher cathedral. In the 14th century, larger and stronger buttresses were added.
Notre Dame was looted in wars. After the French Revolution it was rededicated the Cult of Reason. In 1804 Napoleon’s coronation as emperor was held there. He was also married there in 1810.
Victor Hugo wrote his novel to help people appreciate Gothic architecture, which was being torn down for newer buildings. Stained glass is being replaced by clear glass windows for more light.
Another great book on cathedrals is Ken Follet’s classic The Pillars of the Earth. This book not only helps one understand architecture, but also the important role of churches and cathedrals in the late Medieval period, for culture, for shelter, for sanctuary, for faith.
On Monday, April 15, 2019, Notre Dame burned for 15 hours, destroying the spire, 2/3 of the roof and much of the interior. It is the most visited monument in Paris.
Octave and Holy Humor Sunday
This coming Sunday is also called Octave Sunday, as it is the eighth day after Easter. In the Eastern Rite, the hymns sung on each of the eight days following Easter had the same tone. The eight days were to be considered as a single day or celebration.
Holy Humor Sunday is an old Easter custom that was started by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity. “For everything there is a season… a time to weep and a time to laugh.” (Eccl. 3: 1, 4)
Churches in 15th century Bavaria used to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Risus Paschalis (‘God’s Joke’ or ‘the Easter laugh’). Priests would deliberately include amusing stories and jokes in their sermons to make the faithful laugh. After the service, churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. It was their way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ – the supreme joke God played on Satan by raising Jesus from the dead.
The observance of Risus Paschalis was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Perhaps people were having too much fun.
Today many churches celebrate the grace and mercy of God through the gift of laughter and joy. Others call Easter 2 Holy Humor Sunday. Some churches decorate their sanctuaries with helium-filled balloons with joyful Scriptural messages, cardboard butterflies (a symbol of the resurrection), smiley faces, and posters emblazoned with messages like, “Christ is Risen! Smile!”
What to preach?
When the Jesus says, “And ye know the way, whither I go…” It’s Thomas who interrupts, “Wait. Time out. We have no earthly idea where you are going. We do not know the way. So, why don’t you just cut the mumbo jumbo and tell us plainly what the heck you’re talking about? Thomas is a bottom-line kind of guy. #respect
Only God and certain madmen have no doubts.
In the three congregations I served, when we were doing our best evangelism, there were swarms of doubters. Spiritual seekers looking, and often asking the strangest questions. If you pretend to have all the answers, you’ve lost them. Arrogance and hypocrisy are not of the Reign of God. Kids of stalwart members who confided in me, “I don’t believe in organized religion.” But then they’d go on the mission trip because they knew something important was happening here. Confirmands would “shock” me with their professed atheism, anarchism or nihilism.
Unbelieving spouses of members would nevertheless help with a meal, mow a widow’s yard, serve the homeless folks living in our building. One spouse told me he was a Buddhist, yet he would come and meditate during worship, then comment on the sermon as he shook my hand. We’re all at different places in our journey with Christ.
When a congregation finds ways to open the doors, and make it clear that skeptics will not be met with opposition, they will come. The church can be a place of spiritual discernment, not a place that has all the answers, shutting out those who dissent.
Pastor Ed Marquart (Grace Seattle) reminds us, “Doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to deeper faith and larger faith.”