Sunday, April 12, 2015

Witnessing with our lives

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.
 After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:
“Why did the Gentiles rage,
   and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
   and the rulers have gathered together
     against the Lord and against his Messiah.”

For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant
Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. -- Acts 4:13-31

Peter and John had been preaching in Jerusalem, a rather brave thing to do considering that not all that long ago they had hidden with their brother disciples as their teacher and master had been crucified publicly not very far away. This time, though, they had healed a 40-year-old lame man and suddenly the crowd saw them as more than uneducated Galileans who preached about the impossibility of a dead man who came back to life. Those sermons and speeches got the temple leadership all in a tizzy. What to do about these men whose actions were causing such a stir throughout Jerusalem?

The answer was to haul Peter and John off to prison until they could decide what to do. Their final solution was to tell them to just shut up, to quit talking about this Jesus, and let things go back to normal. Peter and John must have grown some spine since the resurrection; they not only refused to keep quiet, they continued to speak out, to pray openly, and to attract more and more attention.

Each of us probably hears thousands of words a day. Conversations with friends, family, coworkers and sometimes almost total strangers like the server at Starbuck's or the clerk at the grocery store, news and entertainment on the radio and TV, readings and sermons in church, exchanges of ideas and proposals at work; the list is almost endless. Sometimes we might even hear a sermon from a street preacher or pass by a religious channel on the media. Now and again, a word or a phrase or even a tone of voice might cause us to pause a bit to hear more of what is being said.

Perhaps that's how Peter and John's message got through to so many. It's certain that the miracle of the lame man gave them an extra credence. Still, the bumbling disciples who seemed to have been so slow to catch on when Jesus was with them had become persuasive, even eloquent speakers. Looks like the Spirit had taken over and turned their lack of understanding into tongues of gold.

We get used to seeing miracles or what we call "miracles." On almost every newscast there's a final story about something that would make people feel good: a lost child found, a veteran with an amputation takes his first steps, a dog saves a family from a fire, people risk their lives to save other people or animals from risky if not potentially fatal situations. It's easy to call them "miracles" and, perhaps they are. A lot of what makes us pay attention is the words the newscaster, reporter or eyewitnesses use to describe what happened. The people in Jerusalem had seen a lame man healed, but they were told about a man rising from the dead. Now that was a true miracle!

We hear the words about that miraculous event every Easter and, in fact, we hear it throughout the year in church. What we don't hear is talk about it outside the church walls unless you run into a street preacher or tune in to a religious program on radio or TV. Oh, we get sound bytes of Christians around the world walking the pilgrim way or doing the stations of the cross during Holy Week, carrying crosses on Good Friday,  marching through the streets and around the churches on Palm Sunday, and joyous celebrations of Easter a week later. After that, nothing unless there's a funeral or wedding of a prominent person or someone around whom a community rallies.

For people enjoined to spread the good news, we aren't always that good at it. We let the clergy and the church do that for us with ads in the paper about times of service and maybe a bit of the mission statement which isn't always understood by the target audience. We put banners outside the church or church or denominational logos on bumper stickers or cling-ons for our car's back window and think that's being a witness. It's better than nothing, but it really isn't up to the par of Peter and John. We aren't called to be them, but we are called to witness, as the prayer book puts it, "...not only with our lips, but in our lives..." (125).

While we are still in the Easter season, it might be nice to be a witness whether by words or by actions. Acts of kindness, forgiveness, empathy, and presence are things we can do on a daily basis. Maybe we won't mention the name of Jesus, but maybe, just maybe, Jesus will work his way into the conversation. It's worth a try.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 11, 2015.

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