Kenora 4th Sunday of Easter
25 April 2021
1 John 3:16-24
Shepherd of all, by laying down your life for your flock you reveal your love for all. Lead us from the place of death to the place of abundant life, so that guided by your care for us, we may rightly offer our lives in love for you and our neighbour. Amen.
Have you ever had a ‘hero’ in your life?
Perhaps there is or was someone you looked up to, as a child, someone you could emulate and from whom you could learn to be a better example of humanity?
At one time we would encourage young people to select heroes, people they could learn about and from, and whose struggles would help our youth to become more enlightened individuals.
When I was young, a hero would be someone who had or was making a difference in the world, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, or Dale Carnegie, just to name a few.
This week, we also focus on Vocations. Another word that we use in the church, but it’s not used much these days any place else. But a vocation is something, a job, not just in the church, that so suits us, our talents and abilities, that it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like something you’re meant to do.
So then, as we consider the heroes of our lives, and where God is calling each of us to use our talents, then we are able to look at the reading from Acts for today to see the growth of these early leaders of the church, and heroes of the bible.
The reading from Acts for today, follows on the heels of the miracle of healing a lame beggar at the gates of the temple that was questioned by the witnesses of this miracle.
From the verses before today’s passage, we hear: “While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.” (Acts 4:1-3)
Peter and John were arrested because the Sadducees, the captain of the temple, and the priests, didn’t like what they were teaching. After all, this was the core group who were involved in the condemnation of Jesus. This is the group that decided that for the good of all of Israel that this ‘threat’ to Roman rule had to be removed.
Yet, here are two of Jesus’ followers promoting the teachings of the man, of the Son of God, in the courts of the temple for all who hear.
So, considering the fact that we began today by looking at heroes, I would definitely consider Peter and John for this position. After all, they come from humble roots. Peter started out as a fisherman. He’s not had an easy road to his education: he witnessed the transfiguration; he proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, in one breath and then tried to get him to not walk the road to the cross in the next.
Jesus himself said that he would build the church on Peter, and changed his name from Simon to Peter for effect.
On the night of Jesus arrest, Peter betrayed him three times before the rooster crowed twice. Yet, Peter was forgiven by the resurrected Jesus of this action on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Peter was able to see how far he’s grown in his call, in his vocation.
Since the day of Pentecost, his role as a leader has been emphasized, and we see him living that role, that vocation, in today’s reading.
We also see that John has had a similar path to leadership as they were neighbours in the fishing trade and have worked together, side by side from Jesus along the way and he continues to stand firmly at Peters side, as he supports is friend and co-worker to spread the news of Jesus love, of Jesus death and of Jesus resurrection.
Moreover, our reading for today tells us they have been arrested “and put … in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.” (Acts 4:3b-4)
When standing in a place that is intimidating, and an explanation for one’s actions is required, like a school-aged child before the teacher or principal, it’s very easy for us to be tongue tied, for our words to feel inadequate, and for any number of things, that have absolutely no relation to the questions being asked, to go through one’s mind.
But Peter and John are brought from the prison to “Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” (Acts 4:6-8a)
Standing before the very men who condemned Jesus, who tore their robes in anger and frustration at Jesus testimony, or lack of testimony, who goaded the rest of the Sanhedrin, and who encouraged brutality toward the prisoner, our Lord and Saviour, would have to be one of the most uncomfortable places in Jerusalem to be this morning.
But here is where Peter and John have found themselves; and they’ve given their response to these powerful men prayerfully into the hands of the Holy Spirit.
We’re told: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus* is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”*
12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’” (Acts 4:8-12)
What a message! What a teaching in the heart of the Jewish centre of corporate worship! What words to those who know of their involvement in the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus, and who prayed all through Good Friday and to Easter Sunday that the grave would remain undisturbed and that Jesus would have been just another prophet, not the Son of God, not the Messiah.
To this group, how can Peter and John’s message not be anything but a problem to those who wish to sweep this issue under a rug and leave it for history to decide the winner? And yet here we are, today.
And all of this lends credence to seeing Peter and John as our heroes before the rich and powerful. We are able to see the faith, the commitment, the truth in the words Paul and John give, respectfully, but it’s still a full slap in the face, to the hierarchy of the High Priest and his family.
What a way to turn the tables and to point out the arrogance of these men, these descendants of Moses and Aaron who are supposed to represent the voice of the spirituality of Israel, and yet how their position has made them feel the need to protect Judaism from Roman influence at all costs.
And here before them are two former fishermen who have only a rudimentary education. They’re not trained in the religious matters of the day. They aren’t even members of the Levite clan, but they are called and do follow Jesus.
And we see these men defending their actions, they’re declaring the work of the Holy Spirit, as well as the fact that Jesus, is not only risen from the dead, but he has ascended to heaven for the benefit of all who believe.
But what does this mean for us; for each one of us today? How does this search for heroes, this seeking of our own vocations affect each of our lives?
Peter and John are our heroes, not because they intentionally went into the temple to divert traditional and solid Jewish worship away from its existing structures, but because they had a new interpretation, a new way of looking at not only the world around us, but also a way to look at each of our roles in the organization of creation.
They have a way that opens us to seeing everyone around as brothers and sisters, each working for the betterment of the world, of our relationships with God, and with each other.
At the same time, they were going against the grain of those same officials who are worried for their job security, their worried about the mass mentality that may pin on them the death of Jesus.
Peter and John are making changes to the way in which society operates in order to promote the teachings of Jesus all around them. Like our more recent church reformers, Luther, Henry VIII, Cranmer, and Erasmus in the 15th and 16th centuries, for example.
Today we are able to continue to look at how the church continues to adapt through the circumstances of the pandemic that continue to plague us, these days.
In each time, in each place, each of these men, these heroes, have only wanted to correct what they saw as abuses in the operation of the church of his day.
This doesn’t make for an easy road, but looking at their lives, and influence, in the early days of the church, we’re able to learn from their experiences. We’re able to learn of the struggles to keep faith contemporary without losing the message, the teachings, the interpretation of a life of faith as taught by Jesus.
In those to whom we are able to look up, and from whom we are able to learn, there are, in reality, as many heroes as there are those of us who need heroes.
We are able to see how their journeys, their challenges, their struggles to live lives of faith as we see their efforts to make change and to engage the next generation of the faithful where they are in their lives.
We are able to see this as far back as the passage from Acts for today. We see this in the work of Luther, and the work of the English Reformation.
We see this today as we struggle to live our lives of faith in the face of a world that may or may not agree that our actions promote the love in and belief in God.
So, when we stand up within and for our lives of faith, we are in excellent company that goes all the way back to Peter and to John, today, and extending forward to the generations that may see each one of us as a potential hero in and for their lives of faith, as well.