“Obedience? Witness? Family?”
By Sara Holland
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
April 3, 2016
God, may the words of my mouth, and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You, my rock and redeemer.
Acts 5: 27 – 32
Nancy Wood – A Long Time
For those who were not at Wompatuck State Park for the ‘Beat the Bunny’ race last Saturday, there was some hearty competition. While I tried to hold up my polyester Easter bunny outfit up, a solid group of athletes, thrill seekers, and folks looking for a good time ran their tails off. . . hoping to win a chocolate bunny – or at least get a good work out. Pete asked me about the results and I just said – ‘we were all winners!’ J
I know this sounds silly to many of us; we are all winners — yeah yeah yeah. I know I didn’t feel that way when I just could NOT catch the person who was 10-15 yards ahead of me the entire race. I kept thinking, “She’ll eventually get tired and I’ll get my second wind.” I never once thought. . . “We’re all winners!” J In the instance of the 2016 ‘Beat the Bunny’ road race, very little was at stake.
In the lectionary reading today, A LOT is at stake. Let’s first just consider the book itself. Acts is an important book of the New Testament; it is in Acts that we find our only account of what many scholars call the early church. This book is a companion to the Gospel of Luke and focuses on exactly what one might expect it to – ACTS or actions. The actions of a Christ follower. This book is a dynamic one, one that may be classified as a ‘theological narrative;’ it sometimes sounds like a homily or sermon, but other times like a biography, an apology, or a letter.
Because this is the book of actions, it is no surprise that many believe this writing was to be directed someone who might have been a recent convert; that is, someone who had started following Christ and wanted instruction or guidance.
In the narrative we hear today, the apostles are rebuked for their actions of proclaiming witness of Jesus, his teachings, his deeds, and what happened to him. We hear in the text how there may sometimes be a stark contrast between obedience to God versus obedience to the authorities in the world. The apostles are reminded that they have received strict orders from those with power. The apostles respond noting that they must follow God’s path. Culturally this relates not only to the immediate setting the apostles were in but also harkens back to the teachings of Plato from before the common era or before Jesus was ever around. Obedience to God was necessity.
When I hear this text from Acts I cannot help but sense some competitive edge. To me, it seems that the High Priest and the Sadducees are competing for attention. They are longing for attention. Like one or a few siblings might. The High Priest vies for the attention of the apostles and wants all attention and honor, even though he would likely not have said this was the case. Honor and glory is at stake. A lot is at stake. And for the apostles we see this dilemma – obedience to God or obedience to the authorities. The High Priest tells the apostles – you had strict orders.
A lot is at stake in the narrative read and a lot is at stake in the world today ; honor is at stake in the story. I know this is true for us in our personal lives. We can take a simple example: I am moving soon and I needed to ask my parents to help me afford the move. Maybe you have had moments like these? These moments when you must ask for help, even though you really do not want to. A competitive world leaves us feeling like the smallest financial set back or need defines our human worth.
In the world of competition we see infrastructure collapsing locally and abroad; we hear of a new disease for every new treatment. We are scared because of wars near and far; we want our families to be safe. The worldly view tells us that this is an ‘us and them’ situation. That they are not like us. Our lives are at stake. Our hope and happiness is at stake.
I think about the way that I have separated myself from the situation in North Carolina with regard to LGBT rights. Quite literally I have made one big life decision after the next, knowing that my own rights would very well be on the line were to move back to North Carolina. So much is at stake for us in this world. It does not matter if you are a minority or not.
You must decide how to treat the homeless person you encounter, how often to listen to the news and which news to listen to; you have to consider what type of food you will eat and how that relates to our earth which is being destroyed. So much is at stake in the world and in our lives.
So much was at stake for the apostles; the apostles were holding this resurrection witness, following God’s path. The High Priest and the Sadducees said, “Oh no you don’t! That is NOT the way we told you to behave.” There is always a lot to deconstruct in any part of our scripture but what I sense as the relevant good news for us this week, what God has put on my heart is this fact: Peter is not alone. “Peter AND the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.’” Peter has family, his kindred. Peter does not bear the resurrection witness alone, but with family. This family is there to support when maybe he was unsure about how to proclaim Christ’s love.
Furthermore, in our scripture we hear of the Holy Spirit’s divine presence. There is paramount importance in our acknowledging this as a key part of God’s grace and the beloved community. When the apostles stood before the High Priest, the Holy Spirit stood there too; the source of courage and strength but also one that provided comfort and composure.
This Holy Spirit of comfort, composure, strength, courage, and so many other ineffable attributes is one that lives on. This family that surrounded Peter is one that lives on. The family of Christ lives on. Part of that family is here, for communion today.
As humans in this fragile world, we encounter a competitive nature that is sometimes just. Too. Much. A competition for this. A competition for that. And a lot is at stake. Sometimes, our very lives depend on the courage of another person in the world.
When we see in the world human worth being measured in a sort of ideological paradigm of competition, we must push back, bearing witness to God’s love. The resurrection witness is one of family and one that lives on. We bear witness to God’s love knowing that so much is at stake for so many people; and we do this together.
In the scripture and the poem read today, we hear of family that offers support in the hardest moment. For Peter, the other apostles stand alongside him as does the Holy Spirit. Nancy Wood writes: “Perhaps I shall be a new mountain so that you always have home.” In our faith communities, at tables like these, we may find our home even though we may feel alone. We see God’s light, presence, and the divine spirit in the candle brought to the front of the sanctuary.
Sometimes, the holy and divine is our new mountain, a new home; sometimes, a friend or family member is a new mountain, a new home. Whatever your truth is today, remember that the resurrection witness was one of family that centered around love. No matter how much competition we see in the world, we may remember that the call of obedience to God may come first in the form of love for others.
The resurrection witness and God’s call to obedience will move us to acknowledge each person’s sacred and infinite value – and this includes our own sacred and infinite value. Amen.
Attridge, Harold W (ed.). The Harper Collins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated (New Revised Standard Version – With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Student Edition). San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 1989.
Boston University School of Theology’s Reading the World: Part I; 2012.
This idea of ‘What is at Stake’ comes from Boston University’s School of Theology class Reading the World: Part 1. 2012
Harold W. Attridge (ed.), The Harper Collins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated (San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 1989), Amos, 1978, 1855.
Attridge, Acts, 1855.