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Monday, April 01, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 5:27-37, Psalm 118:14-29, Psalm 150:1-6, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

Religious faith, movements, etc., often arise from experiences of hardship and oppression.  Religious organizations have often been coopted by the forces of empire, used to subjugate as often as liberate, but their faith has also provided the basis for resisting abusive authority.  Faith sees life through a different lens and offers an alternative for the measurement of life, worth, and daily living.

Those of us in the more “progressive” branch of Christianity sometimes offer scathing critiques of our more conservative brethren.  Some of us, however, came out of that tradition and see a people who were not afraid to be different.  Don’t misunderstand me; I’m glad I moved on.  The places they chose to be “different” are not always the places I would choose today, but the people of faith taught me that I didn’t have to go along with everyone else.  I didn’t have to make my faith (and the resulting behaviors) fit with majority opinion.

Let me give just two examples, which may seem lame and pathetic to some of you.  I offer them simply as examples of not going along.  I was taught that dancing was something inappropriate.  I no longer believe that, although I never learned enough dancing skills to be very comfortable doing it.  During my school years I was so convinced that it was wrong that I refused to participate in dancing when it was included in our Physical Education classes.  Silly?  Probably!  It certainly caused a stir.  An early experience, for me, of nonviolent resistance.  The school system came to respect my wishes, and those of others like me.

Fighting was also something I was taught Christians didn’t do.  (Just overlook all the bickering among the various factions in the church.)  I applied it to schoolyard and playground behavior, where fights seem to arise among children, sometimes involving bullying.  Whenever anyone challenged me, I simply refused to fight.  If they attacked me and began to pommel me or trid to wrestle me to the ground, I let my body go limp, leaving them in a somewhat embarrassing position.  Again, it’s not unlike the behavior we see when protestors face arrest by the police.

At least two of the lectionary readings for this Sunday remind us that our faith calls us to live according to an alternative authority than that of imperialism.  The story in the passage from Acts comes after an angel has assisted in allowing the apostles to escape from prison.  (Acts 5:19)  Earlier they had been ordered “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”  (Acts 4:18)  They immediately went back to their preaching.  (Acts 5:25)  They were brought before the Jewish council and reminded, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching . . .”  (vss. 27-28)

Their response is what triggered my theme for this week’s thoughts:  “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”  (vs. 29)  It’s a resurrection message, an Easter statement.  The power of the resurrection is stronger than the power of governments.  Situations may arise that call for civil disobedience, and we find the apostles leading the way in that activity. This is but one biblical example, Daniel being another.

There’s more in this Acts passage.  It gives us a glimpse into the position the council members find themselves.  “ . . . you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us,” they say.   (vs. 28)  They are embarrassed, perhaps even blamed and endangered because of the stir this preaching is causing.  Words like these have inappropriately been used in the cause of anti-Semitism, when, in fact, they just reflect a power-struggle among religious factions in that day.  Are we going to resist the wrongs of power or not?  As in last week’s reading from Acts, we also find again the emphasis upon being “witnesses” to the power of the Resurrection.  (vs. 32)

The reading from the Gospel According to John offers us “peace” as an alternative to triumphalism as we consider the Easter message.  So much of the church’s language, even today, is that of victory and triumph---adapted from military language.  I’m not suggesting that we entirely do away with such language.  It’s there in some of our lectionary readings for this Sunday.  We repeat again the reading from Psalm 118 which speaks of “glad songs of victory.”  (Psalm 118:15) The reading as presented this week, however, ends on the simple and profound note:  “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”  (vs. 29)

John records Jesus’ arrival in a house where the disciples “were locked for fear of the Jews.”  (John 20:19-31)  Three times in these verses, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  (vss. 19, 21, & 26)  Jesus doesn’t walk into the room and move around slapping hands in dramatic “high fives.”  He does not shout, “I guess we showed them who is more powerful.”  He doesn’t ask them to drop to their knees in obeisance.  He offers an alternative to the power that has scared them into this locked room.  The power of the resurrection is the power of peace rather than of empire.  We don’t have to go along with all the violence.  What the risen Lord offers is peace.

Again, there so much more in this Gospel reading.  The breathing of the Holy Spirit as an alternative to the more popular and familiar Pentecost story.  (vs.22)  The bequeathing of the power to forgive sins.  (vs. 23)  Poor Thomas, who only wanted to see what the others had seen.  His desire is granted a week later, but is told, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (vss. 24-29)  And again, the closing word that this story is being told “so that you come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  (vs. 31)  Each of those verses could be the basis for another blog, providing a perspective on resurrections life and alternatives.  Feel free to go off in one of those directions if you wish.

That leaves another reading from the Psalms and one from the Book of Revelation.  In Revelation we find another of those shots into the future, one in which there is expectation crying out:  “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.”  (Revelation 1:7)  I’m not even going there today.  When I think about issues of authority and power and the ability to resist, I lock onto two verses in this reading.  Jesus, the writer says, has “made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”  (vs. 6)  We are an alternative kingdom.  We are citizens of an alternative world where the rules of love and peace reign.  We don’t have to go along with abusive imperial power, power based on intimidation and violence.

And the reading from Revelation ends with the declaration;  “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  (vs. 8)  There is much that I don’t understand and can’t explain, but I believe the eternal forces of the universe are empowered by peace and love.  That’s an alternative that gives life.

Finally, Psalm 150 (the last of the Psalms) is another Psalm of praise.  In the context of this particular discussion we could see it as a song of praise sung in celebration victory---or resurrection.  I choose to see it also as a Psalm of peace in which all life sings in a harmony almost beyond imagination.  “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!”  (Psalm 150:6)  If we all did that together, it would be something that the councils of this world couldn’t silence.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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