The theme for today’s readings is the Good Shepherd. The Collect, Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), and the Gospel from John all discuss the Lord as our shepherd and how good a shepherd he is. However, this is not what I’m going to talk about today in this sermon.
I really like this season of Easter for its Lectionary readings; for this year our first reading each week is from the book of Acts. I think this is one of the best books of the Bible, because it is truly where the activities of the first Christians are written down. Acts tells the story of theApostolic Age of the Early Christian church, with particular emphasis on the ministry of theTwelve Apostles and of Paul of Tarsus. The early chapters, set in Jerusalem, discuss Jesus'Resurrection, his Ascension, the Day of Pentecost, and the start of the Twelve Apostles' ministry. The later chapters discuss Paul's conversion, his ministry, and finally his arrest and imprisonment and trip to Rome. Many traditional scholars believe that this book was written by Luke the physician (a Greek), and was written not long after the events had taken place (around AD 65); this is important to me as a historian type (I really like history!) who wants to understand how the Biblical events tied in with the history of the times.
Today’s reading in Acts is really interesting, as it happens to be the first confrontation between the apostles and the Jewish authorities after the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In Acts 3, Peter had healed a blind beggar and then spoke at length about it to large crowds at the temple with the other apostles. In Acts 4 just before our reading today, Peter and John were confronted by the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees, who were really annoyed because they were teaching with authority and proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. So they had them arrested and held overnight, until they could charge them in front of the rulers, elders, and scribes and the high priestly family assembled in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin.
With all of this “firepower” you might think that Peter and the other apostles would be fearful and try to talk their way out of this predicament. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Peter stood among the Powers (as I’m calling them) and told them flat out that their healing powers come in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, “whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ ”
What comes right after this reading today is the following in Acts 4: The Powers, when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. They also saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, and they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.
After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God, praising Him, and asking Him to grant to them to speak His word with all boldness, for the powers to heal, and to do signs and wonders through the name of Jesus. When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Now THIS is what is meant by following in the steps of Jesus’ ministry and His resurrection with the power of the Holy Spirit, and being a true community of Christian believers! This is something really new and exciting and scary to those early Christians, but they followed it and grew the early church in many and bold ways. It is also something that we all can model in our daily lives, with our families and friends and in our everyday communities and our church community at St. Mark’s.
Peter basically talked to the Sanhedrin about how they could be saved—to believe in Jesus Christ and to follow Him. It’s likely we have heard this word “saved” used many times, and in some very exclusive contexts—to separate Christian “believers” from others who may not yet believe or who feel there are other ways to God. Our Christian faith I think says more about being "saved"/delivered from the bondage and delusions of the domination system in place in our society, and being empowered to set others free--if it means ultimately transforming the system itself and renouncing domination in all its forms. This way Jesus is indeed the one who can yet save the world.
Now I’m going to read an article I received from the Rev. Bob Moore, the husband of our Bishop Nedi Rivera, and a tour guide at Safeco Field and major fan of the Seattle Mariners.
It is titled: “Why it may be that God is on the Mariners' side just now---or---the musings of an eternally hopeful baseball fan.”
On a Safeco Field tour yesterday, I somewhat jokingly said to the group I was with, "One challenge for tour guides this season is to be able to pronounce correctly the really unusual names of our new General manager, Manager and rookie pitcher. They are, respectively, Zduriencik, Wakamatsu and Jakubauskas. All these folks, plus of course Ken Griffey Jr., are new to the team since last year. A new culture, as it were, inside the team structure, and on the field. Then I remembered the team slogan for 2009: "A NEW DAY, A NEW WAY'. And it finally hit me---Mariner fans of all types and ages are thoroughly enjoying the results of the Mariners' version of resurrection. There is a new front office, a new leader in the clubhouse and new talent on the team-new day, new way. Can that not be related to the experience of the early Christians? They experienced the Resurrection of Jesus in ways not comprehended before that incredible day, with those women at the open tomb and their friends. They most certainly experienced a new day, a new way-of experiencing the presence of God, of a totally new understanding of the gift of life.
The most notable difference, of course, between the early believers and baseball fans, is that the former have no worries whatever about "when will this end'? Our faith teaches us that Jesus' resurrection is the eternal gift of life to us. We fans, on the other hand, in spite of our loyalty to the team and our wish for them to win, will spend each day wondering in some form or another, "Can they keep this up? Is this for real"? But for now, for today, I can tell you that baseball and all the attending drama and stories, is fun at Safeco Field, Seattle, Washington. That is close enough to a resurrection experience for me. God is smiling upon the Mariners.
May the peace and love of the risen Christ be with you all, now and always!