April 19, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
I want to start off this morning with two lessons from Bible Study 101:
You may have noticed that this week’s and last week’s resurrection stories are fairly similar. It is one of those rare moments when Mark, Matthew, or Luke agrees with John. Mark, Matthew and Luke are called the synoptic Gospels because they see things pretty much the same way, and that is what synoptic means in Greek. John, on the other hand, apparently decided to do an independent study and is often completely different from the other three in tone, style and emphasis. This is not to discount the differences between Mark, Matthew and Luke, but to point out that the vast differences between John and the other three have been known to the church since the Bible was put together.
The second item that is important for us is the way Peter is talking in Acts this morning. He is calling out the Israelites. Similar to how last week’s story from John has the disciples locked in a room for fear of the Jews. The Jewish religion, as we know it today, specifically the Judaism of the synagogue and rabbis, is descended from the Pharisees. But we should not judge Judaism by the way the Gospels speak of the Pharisees. Nor should we put too much weight on John’s description or Peter’s calling out.
There are two reasons for this:
First, Peter and all of the first disciples were Jews. They were Jews who followed Jesus as the messiah. As John Dominic Crossan points out, for the Apostles to call out the Jews, for the disciples to lock themselves in for fear of the Jews, this is a family fight, meaning it is Jews on both sides of that locked door. Later, the two religions would split, between those who followed Jesus as the messiah and came to be known as Christians and those who followed the Torah and continued to be known as Jews. But any fight between the disciples and the Jews in the Bible is between people of the same religion.
Second, imagine your great-great grandchildren could only learn about your life from the writings of people who disagreed with you. How fair of a picture do you think they would get? Or if the only thing people know about Christianity came from the Quran?
In the Gospels, the Pharisees are used as a foil; they stand in the place of the religious system. To judge Judaism based on the Gospels’ descriptions is to rely on caricatures to try and get an accurate portrait.
Why does this matter? Because for centuries, from when Christianity became the state religion under Constantine to the present, Christians have used these passages, poorly read, to justify the use of political and military might to slander, sanction, ghettoize or kill the Jewish people.
When Martin Luther was being tried by the church, he wrote that he took solace in knowing that he was like the Jews, beset by the church wrongly. When he had founded what would become a major part of the Protestant church, and he was no longer under threat from Rome, he wrote that the synagogues should be closed and the heretical books of the Jews burned. When Christians come to power, something gets lost.
From Constantine to the Protestant reformation, from Russian pogroms to Nazi death camps, the Jewish people have been demeaned and killed to shore up the power of those in charge, and it has been justified by bad theology from poor understandings of scripture.
Okay, Bible study 101 complete. Pop quiz on last week’s sermon:
When Jesus shows up among the disciples after the crucifixion and resurrection, what is the first thing he says?
“Peace be with you.” Very good.
And our readings this morning echo each other. Peter has just raised a man from being crippled, and then preaches to the crowd. Jesus has just appeared following being raised, and he teaches the disciples.
And they end on the same note:
and turn to God
so that your sins may be wiped out,
Jesus tells his disciples:
Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Being from the south, I am used to hearing the word “Repent” used as an epithet, something yelled at people, a word thrown like a stone at those deemed sinful.
But what Peter and Jesus are saying is that it is not only good but also possible to change. And this is a hard lesson. Nobody likes change. Well, not nobody. Wet babies like change, but even they cry about it. Walter Brueggemann says that conservatives don’t want change and liberals only want change that can be controlled. This is a problem for all of us.
But what we are talking about here is the power of the resurrection. The power of God to change death to life, despair to hope, hatred to love, conflict to reconciliation, to take the ashes of mourning and replace them with garlands of joy, to shore up the feeble and to strengthen the weak.
Repentance and forgiveness is good news because it means that our fear that tomorrow can only be like yesterday is unfounded. Repentance and forgiveness means that we need not stay stuck in the same old ways. Repentance and forgiveness means that even on our darkest day, even in our deepest despair, even in our worst moments, there is hope.
And it is not enough that we are given hope in the resurrection. We are called to be witnesses to hope. By our baptism we are called into the ministry of Jesus Christ to offer hope. Not because we are particularly nice or good or reasonable. As Peter asks, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?”
We are witnesses to the power of God, known to us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that God can make all things new.
Thanks be to God.