Monday, April 4, 2016

Believe boldly!

Acts 5: 27-32; Revelation 1: 4-8; John 20: 19-31

Throughout Easter season this year, the first reading is from Acts, and the second reading is from Revelation. The texts from these two books help us understand what the early Christians believed and experienced. The Gospel texts tell us about the first few encounters between Jesus and the disciples, and his plan for them to continue his work in the world.
Let’s begin in the upper room. This day is the day of Jesus’ rising from the tomb. In the morning, Mary has been at the tomb, and so have Peter and the beloved disciple. There are many guesses about who the beloved disciple is; my own guess is that he is Lazarus. In the morning, only Mary saw Jesus. Peter and the others remain behind locked doors.
Our story begins, then in the evening. Everyone is gathered, telling and retelling the story of the empty tomb. And suddenly, Jesus is in the room. If Jesus physically showed up in the sanctuary today, we would be just as amazed as the disciples were that evening.
They had hoped that they could believe what Jesus told them, that he would be raised from death, but so far, only Mary has seen him. They all wanted to see him, to believe that her story was true. And, now, here he is! They surround him, touch him, fall on their knees to worship him, tell him how scared they have been of the Romans.
And Jesus simply says, “Peace.” They all relax as he breathes into them his peace and his Holy Spirit. And then, he tells them they have work to do. They are to spread the good news of his resurrection to everyone else. They are to go about offering forgiveness, with the power of the Holy Spirit.
For some unexplained reason, Thomas is not present the first time Jesus shows up in the upper room. He is upset, and declares he will not believe, just because the other disciples say they have seen Jesus.
A whole week passes, and this time Thomas is present. Jesus makes another appearance. Thomas sees Jesus and falls to his knees to worship him. “My Lord and my God,” he exclaims. Jesus says, “Hey, it’s great that you believe, but those who have never seen me and still believe are blessed, too.”
All the disciples have believed in Jesus, from the beginning. They have made the bold step in faith to follow him and learn from him. They have traveled with him for three years or so, boldly believing in him and defending themselves as his followers to many critics. Now, they are asked to boldly go out into the world and share the good news of the resurrection and spread forgiveness wherever they go. They will go filled with the Holy Spirit.  
After Pentecost, the disciples are empowered to share the good news repeatedly, boldly, despite threats from the Sanhedrin. Twice prior to today’s reading from Acts, the disciples have been called in by the leaders and told to stop talking about Jesus, to stop using his name. But they have persisted.
This time, we hear the disciples say that they are speaking about Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit, so they cannot stop speaking about Jesus. I am reminded of Palm Sunday when Jesus said to the Pharisees, “If the disciples stopped praising him, the stones would cry out in praise.”
The disciples repeat what they have been saying, “You, the Jewish leaders, had Jesus killed, even though God sent him. Now, God has raised him up to life to bring repentance and forgiveness to all Israel.”
The disciples are no longer afraid, no longer hiding behind locked doors, they are boldly proclaiming the coming of the kingdom/reign of God through the power of the risen Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Fifty or sixty years later, the followers of Jesus have spread into communities all around the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the time, they are left alone to worship their God, whom the Romans see as one more god in the pantheon of many gods. But, in some locations, they are experiencing persecution, with local governors and politicians choosing to enforce the laws about emperor worship.
It is a dangerous time in those places for Christians. They risk arrest and possible death for refusing to worship the local gods and the emperor. Some fall away from the church, some are arrested and punished, some worship the other gods by showing up and knowing they are pretending.
We get to read only a few texts from the book of Revelation, a few of the passages which praise God. Let me imagine a little story, with John of Patmos as the Dean of the seven churches in the region of what we now call western Turkey. He is worried about his parishes getting smaller and smaller as people give in to the pressure of the culture. He goes off on a retreat, giving himself over to the Holy Spirit.
In the way of dreams and visions brought by the Spirit, John has a long vision of the conflict between God’s people and the forces of evil in the world. In an epic war, in battle after battle, Jesus is ultimately victorious, and God’s people are blessed. John writes down what he has seen and shares it with the churches.
Today’s text boldly proclaims Jesus as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who was and who is and who is to come. John urges his readers, his larger community, to boldly believe, to boldly share the good news of the Son of God. They are priests in God’s kingdom/ reign, and they are empowered by the Spirit to be witnesses.
In many ways, today’s culture is much like that of ancient Rome. There are pressures to believe only certain ways, or to worship the gods of more and newer, or to not participate in worship at all, or to do one’s own thing – believing whatever feels right.  
In this culture, we are all priests of God’s reign, sent out to boldly proclaim that Jesus is Lord, Alpha and Omega, Son of God, Forgiver of sins. We are sent out just as the eleven in the upper room were sent; sent as the disciples in the face of the Sanhedrin were sent; sent as the believers under John’s care were sent.
We are called to gather and worship and study and pray together in this place. We are called to give of our possessions – our money and our things – to help others. And we do a pretty good job of that.
Where we are not so good is in boldly saying the name of Jesus to those who need to hear some good news. There is no reason for us to be afraid – there is no Sanhedrin or Roman army set to arrest us. And there is every reason for us to boldly proclaim Jesus is Lord of our lives to anyone who needs to know him.
Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, we want you to be the Alpha and Omega of our lives. Help us boldly reach out to others, so they may know you as Lord, also. Amen