The Second Sunday of Easter; Year C (4/11/2010)

Obeying God; Not Human Authority

Lessons: Acts 5:27-32 Psalm 118:14-29 (28) or Psalm 150 (6) Revelation 1:4-8 St. John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son.  By your Spirit's breath revive our faith in your mercy, and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

5:27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 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.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”


Acts 5:27-32 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

I’ve long been struck by the vibrant faith, enthusiastic witness and rapid growth of the early church. The fifth book of the New Testament, The Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of these faithful and courageous believers. The second chapter of Acts introduces us to this community of faith:

2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:46-47 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Imagine: a community of faith that spent much time together in their place of worship. A community of faith that broke bread at home, deeply grateful for what God has provided. A community of faith that never stopped praising God (no matter who opposed them), were thought of highly by their friends and neighbors, and grew at a phenomenal rate. How would you like to belong to that church?

Those of us who call ourselves Christians these days would do well to spend some time with the believers of the early church, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do at Saint Peter over the course of the next six weeks. Our 3-year lectionary assigns passages from the book of Acts for every Sunday in the season of Easter this year. Studying those passages, we hope to examine the life of the early church, and perhaps even learn a thing or two about what it means to be faithful today.

We begin, this week, with six short verses from the fifth chapter of Acts. It bears a bit of an introduction. From the beginning of Acts, the leaders of the early church (or “The Way” as it was then called) had great faith and power. One day Peter and John healed a paralytic at the gate to the temple. They were arrested and interrogated, but were let go the next day, after being ordered to no longer speak publicly about Jesus. Yet the Apostles continued to teach and heal — it is reported that even Saint Peter’s shadow had healing powers! The Apostles were arrested a second time, and thrown in prison, but that night an angel opened the prison doors, and they returned to their teaching at the Temple. A third time they were arrested, and that brings us to this week’s passage.

As the religious officials of Jerusalem demand that Peter and the Apostles cease and desist from teaching people about Jesus and the resurrection, Peter and the Apostles make a bold and dramatic statement. They say: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

There are times when a wise and faithful believer must not acquiesce to the powers that be. Jesus understood that, and paid the ultimate price. From this week’s reading, it appears that Peter and the Apostles are headed in the same direction (and, indeed, tradition teaches that they were). Martin Luther stood up for what he believed in the sixteenth century, despite furious opposition from both church and state. The Confessing Church (made up of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller) spoke the truth against Adolph Hitler, and many of them paid the ultimate price. Bishop Desmond Tutu and countless South African Christians (including Lutheran Pastor T. Simon Farisani) opposed their government’s policies of apartheid. There are countless stories of saints throughout the centuries who perceived that civil authorities were acting in ways that were inconsistent with God’s word and will. They, like Peter, decided that they “must obey God rather than any human authority.”

The early church was a vibrant and growing community of faith, but that did not come easily. It came because they put their faith first, and were true to it — even when their very lives were threatened. “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

Most readers of this devotional read in a country where freedom reigns. It is highly unlikely that any of us will be imprisoned, interrogated, tortured or put to death because of our Christian faith. But in many other ways, some subtle and others not-so-subtle, we feel the pressure to let our faith be a private matter between us and God. Perhaps the first step towards a community of faith that is vibrant, enthusiastic and growing (in some of the same ways the early church was), is to resist that pressure and become the church Christ calls us to be: witnesses to all about what our Lord has accomplished, in every way that we can.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

This Week’s Gospel

  1. What sort of presure did the early church feel to keep quiet about its faith?
  2. What situations exist today, that pressure Christians to keep their witness to themselves?
  3. What signs might indicate that our church is wiling to be faithful, even in the face of opposition?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I felt pressure to keep my faith to myself?
  2. When have I taken the risk to be a “public Christian” — and how has it helped me to grow?
  3. Whose bold (and risky) example has been an inspiration to me?

David J. Risendal, Pastor