This is the Sunday after Easter. Arguably, it’s one if the most difficult Sunday’s to preach. Not just because Easter feels so far away now and a lot can happen in a week when you have friends coming to town. You should all come over and witness just how clean my base boards are. Easter is our most celebrated day because it lives as the foundation of how we understand what it means to continue what Jesus began. On Easter Sunday we heard promises of a new heaven and new earth and of all the ways that God speaks life out of death. Love has the last word. We expect there to be an exclamation point and a And they lived happily every after.
Just like the first Christ followers we expect the world to be different now, because of the promise of a resurrected Christ who is everywhere now…But the world is not the perfect vision of the lion and the lamb lying down together in peace... The world is the same mess it’s always been. Sometimes it’s a beautiful mess, perfect in its imperfection, filled with green pastures and birds of the air, and good friends and family and celebrations and new babies. And other times the world is a lousy mess, and the mourning and grief of places like Sri Lanka are still raw and wreak of unspeakable fundamentalism and evil like another shooting in a synagogue, just yesterday, in the name of hatred and insanity.
The world is still a mess, which makes the promises of Easter even harder to preach. For 7 Sunday’s we continue in Easter and most of the stories we’ll hear in scripture are resurrection experiences, and a reminder of the ways we witness for one another a Christ who is still with us, within us and calling for us to help repair what’s broken. To help see to fruition what God began through the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The first apostles lived in a world where there was no separation of religion and state. Caesar, was anointed by God, kings were anointed by God… so to preach and heal in the streets about a higher authority, undermined and exposed the corrupt systems that were attempting to keep order and rule over a peasant class. The ruling class was dependent upon the servitude of peasants. The last thing they wanted was people questioning their authority, by naming the authority of a risen Christ as more powerful than they are… The high priests didn’t like it, the Roman empire didn’t like it, the ruling governor didn’t like it.
Even at the threat of being arrested again, The apostles continue healing and teaching in the streets…. They continue to witness and they’re gaining momentum and growing into the first Jesus movement.
This scripture is often used to preach Christianity against and over Judaism and to blame the Jews for Christ’s death because of this line of Peter’s speaking to the Jewish council.
The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.
Peter is speaking to the elite rulers of the Jews, some of whom were used by the governing leaders, paid kickbacks by the government if you will, all part of a system intended to pit groups against one another so that division would create chaos and make people even more dependent of a corrupt system of power.
And in light of yesterdays shooting in a synagogue and in light of the fact that there has been a large increase of anti semiotic attacks in these last few years, let's make this clear. The Jews did not kill Jesus.
Crucifixion was a customary punishment among Romans, not Jews. At the time of Jesus’ death, the Romans were imposing a harsh and brutal occupation on the Land of Israel, and the Jews were occasionally unruly. The Romans would have had reason to want to silence Jesus, who had been called by some of his followers “King of the Jews,” and was known as a Jewish upstart miracle worker.
Jews, on the other hand, lacked a motive for killing Jesus. The different factions of the Jewish community at the time — Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and others — had many disagreements with one another, but that did not lead any of the groups to arrange the execution of the other allegedly heretical groups’ leaders.
But the belief that Jews killed Jesus has been found in Christian foundational literature from the earliest days of the Jesus movement, and would not be easily abandoned just because of historians’ arguments.
So back to scripture….The apostles are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court, this is not a misdemeanor. And they’re willing to die for their cause. Like any movement today or throughout history it’s not a perfect movement. But like any movement today, it begins with a group of people who are passionate about what they are fighting for.
So passionate in fact that Peter and the apostles give us one of the more important verses of scripture when they say…
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.
It’s doesn’t say Peter said that line alone. It says Peter and the apostles, which is an odd thing to say. Did they say it in stereo, on the count of three….Did they rehearse it together ahead of time? Or did Peter say it and the rest nod their heads in agreement.
I bring that up to echo what I talked about last Sunday. That it’s best when taking a difficult message into the world, to have back up. Someone who’s got your back. Movements don’t happen in a vacuum, they happen in community, when two or more notice what’s wrong in the world, and speak about it, witness it for one another, and gain followers and momentum, and threaten the power structures that are in place.
We have examples all throughout history, and in many of your lifetimes, most notable the civil right’s movement. A time when people were willing to die for a cause. And like the quote on your bulletin cover, in the words of MLK not out of district for the law bt out of respect for a law that is need of being changed.
How many of us are willing to die for a cause greater than ourselves?
I remember one day in seminary, this idea came up, are you willing to die for your faith? Are you willing to go into a foreign land where Christianity is banned, and share the good news of Jesus christ knowing that you could die for it. Everyones hand in the room went up except your pastors. I was not willing then nor am I now to die for any cause as long as I’m a mother, nor do I believe that God would want that for me or my children.
But the question remains…..as Christ followers, as a people baptized into a new life in Christ, how deeply committed to righting what’s wrong in the world?
We are called upon, as Christians, to help bring God’s vision for a just world to fruition?
But what does justice mean when we’re talking about biblical justice. It’s very different than what we think today. It’s not an I've suffered at your hand, now you should get yours, be brought to justice. Its not retribution, it’s not revenge.
Justice is a concept that is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible….. The practice of justice and the practice of mercy are one and the same. The Hebrew Bible makes it clear over and over again that justice is about ensuring well-being, or shalom, for everyone. It’s about a way of life that makes it possible to everyone to thrive, not just the privileged few.
The biggest problem we face is that even within our own movement of faith, we disagree with one another about what we believe God has in mind for a world where everyone thrives.
That’s why it’s so helpful to look at the teachings of Jesus and the way he lived his life by example. That’s why the question what would Jesus do is such a popular slogan. It acts like a reset button. A way to check in and ask if we’re listening to God or ego? To what is right and just? or what is convenient and individually beneficial?
Do we do the difficult thing because we know its the right thing to do or do we sit back and let someone else do it? Do we do the easy thing out of sense that we can’t really make a difference anyway?
It’s easy to become apathetic to the world when the world is a mess.
And it’s further complicated because even Christians can’t agree on what it means to follow God. We can't even agree on Jesus anymore. We have people shouting, not my Jesus. And I could go down a long list of preachers who do not preach the same Jesus I understand. So who’s right?
Even if I were to call upon you to look at the written teachings in your Bible, we would have very different teachings if you put me up against Franklin Graham or Pat Robertson.
To be part of the Jesus movement I understand, to follow the God of my conscience is the one who requires me to love the other….That is to take care of others, and like Jesus to look out for the underdog, the other, the one who is being held back by some form of oppression, whether it’s because of their sexuality, their gender, their race or their religion, when a world discriminates and divides, Jesus calls on us to stand up and repair what’s broken.
The world is filled with human authority and laws that are outdated and discriminatory, it’s filled with cultural norms that discriminate, and we’re witnessing movements against that. In movements all over the country most recently with the Me Too movement, the black lives matter movement, the moms demand action movement, and there are more, we see people standing up for what they believe in. I can’t stand here and tell you which movements are right for you. What I can tell you is that God is telling you which are right, which are good, which are restoring the health of the world so that all God’s people are thriving. And it’s up to each one of you to decide how to engage with the world to help repair what is broken.
The Gospel shows us the true story our hearts long for. It’s the story of redemption. It’s the story of overcoming evil with good. Or to put it in the childish terms of action movies: it’s about turning “bad guys” into “good guys.” This is what real justice looks like, and the more that we can imagine and rehearse this, the more we can make that story a reality in our world.