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Nevertheless, They Persisted. [1]

Acts (3-4) 5:27-33

Easter 2, Common Lectionary Year C

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones

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Do you remember, as a child,
being hauled before the parental tribunal to account for some misdemeanor,
some disobedient disregard for a prohibition,
and hearing that oh so parental question,
“Why?!” “Didn’t I tell you not to?”
From under the teary eyelashes,
three feet above the squirming toes, comes the answer from your mouth,
“I couldn’t help it! I couldn’t stop myself!”
“Besides, she made me do it!”

Well, that’s exactly what we’ve got here!
Peter and John, and other unnamed apostles,
having to answer now for the third time,
the same accusation from the religious authorities,
the ones who were responsible to Rome
for keeping the religious peace in this rebellious
little Palestinian backwater of the Empire.
“You keep talking about the Nazarene!
An executed political criminal!
We keep telling you not to, and yet you persist! Why?”

“We couldn’t help it!”
“As God is our witness….”
“It’s a compulsion of some power greater than ourselves….”
“It’s God’s fault! It’s all God’s doing!”
“Because when you see Resurrection, you can’t un-see it!”

We are two millennia on from those crazy days in Jerusalem.
We have to work our spiritual imaginations really hard to get
what the big deal was, on both sides of this contested space.
Some of you may be wondering if Luke is stretching the case a little
in the interests of dramatic tension;
was it a big deal in the grand scheme of things?

Well, yes! We’re here!
It has turned into the biggest deal in human history.
Peter, and John, and Stephen and Lydia, and Dorcas,
and Barnabbas, and Thecla, and Paul and Philip,
persisted, despite dungeon and death,
in their proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus,
so much so that now 32%, or 2.3 bn, of the world’s current population
identify as followers of this Risen One, the Nazarene Rabbi.

So, no matter what our modern scientific, enlightenment,
or liberal or conservative theological conclusions may be
concerning the historical, literal, allegorical, metaphorical,
resurrection of a dead body in Jerusalem
in time of the Roman Empire of Tiberius,
this Resurrection of Jesus was and is as real as it gets.

It matters then, to see just what it was these Galileans
persisted in proclaiming about the risen life of Jesus.

We can get at this in two ways:
we can listen to their own words as Luke records them,
and we can also pay attention to their accusers;
what was it that bugged them so about this persistent
proclamation of the Risen Life of Jesus?

First it seems, they were ticked that they persisted.
Peter’s persistence was a flagrant rejection
of the Council’s role as arbiters of religious discourse and practice.
“We told you to keep quiet!
And you didn’t! You don’t!”

For anyone, from parent, to religious institution, to government,
when authority is questioned, ignored,
it tends to provoke a tightening of control,
and when that control is lost, ugliness often follows.
We know only too well that a sense of threat all too often
produces actions that are mean, stupid, vengeful.

Now, blustery, blunt Peter didn’t help by salting this wound of his accusers,
by heaping a pile of guilt on them for their collusion in the execution of Jesus
but we need to look carefully at what Peter says, not just here,
but throughout the book of Acts, in his testimony, and in
that of his fellow persistent preachers, Stephen, Philip, Paul and others.

It seems that the more they persist in proclaiming
the act of God to raise Jesus to new life,the more real it becomes for them.
For them, the life of Jesus didn’t end in death on a cross,
didn’t end in a borrowed tomb.
Rather, this Risen Life, is unleashed upon the earth,
like air, like rain, like a river bursting a dam,…
it’s powerful it’s scary,
it’s irrepressible, uncontrollable,
and it seems, too much!
(As the Gospel can often seem
when it starts to really re-shape our lives.)

But each time they speak, they hear themselves
to a deeper wider, even cosmic truth;
that Resurrection is indeed woven into the fabric of God’s very being,
and into God’s every creation,
from the death and birth of stars,
to the rising of sap in a leafless tree,
the cocooning death of the caterpillar and the rising of its winged self,
the birthing of the DNA of ancestors into new generations….
This raising of Jesus is about the irrepressibility
of God’s life in ours, it is about the persistence in God’s Dreamed Reality,
of abundance, of freedom and justice, of gratitude and joy,
and of what “the gifting to God’s beloved people,
of repentance and forgiveness, and mercy,”
which in our lived experience is the chance to begin new life again,
reconciled with God and with one another.
In the face of accusation, prison, threat, death,
the proclamation persists:
God’s Resurrection life is about mercy, not vengeance.

That’s vital to the understanding of this text,
indeed of the entire truth of the Gospel Dream of God.

It becomes the benchmark by which
anyone of us who wears the name of the Risen Jesus,
be it an individual, or an institution,
measures their claim,
as Peter does here,
to speak, and to act, in obedience to the Dream of God.

Does our living of the Gospel Dream
persist in testifying to mercy, not vengeance?
to life and equitable abundance for all?
Is it our resurrection life about the persistent pursuit of peace with justice?
Does it proclaim itself in persistent gratitude, and generosity,
and sharing even when it hurts?
Can it be heard in the wideness of our welcome,
and felt in our care for the lost and least?
Can it be heard in our speaking out for the voiceless?
Does it result in our commitment to build longer tables, not higher walls?
Does our proclamation persist in seeking and giving forgiveness for wrongs? [2]

If the Gospel we proclaim meets this benchmark of life and mercy,
then, when whatever authority tells us to be quiet,
to comply, to collude with injustice.
Don’t.
Persist.
Persist in proclamation of the Gospel of the Dream of God,
for God’s sake, and for the sake of the world God loves.

[1] The title is a deliberate allusion to the viral meme and feminist rallying cry that emerged in 2017 when the US Senate voted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren’s objections to the confirmation of the nomination of Jeff Sessions for the post of Attorney General. In both cases, those who held power tried to use it to silence dissent; in both cases the attempt of institutional power to silence proved ineffective.

[2] The recently published Interdenominational Statement by Christians in Jaffna (Sri Lanka) concerning the Easter Sunday Attacks https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/1-Jaffna-Christians.pdf is a graphic example of how the Gospel Proclamation can be made in our current global context: in part it reads: “In condemning the Easter Sunday attacks we resolve to put “life” before any agenda. We appeal to all our fellow citizens to stand for a life for all communities that is free from fear, respression and violence.” Earlier the statement also ‘repents’ of Christians’ earlier “ambivalence to our attitude to violence and aggression towards our so-called enemies. Never again would we waver in rejecting the violence of any actor that takes innocent lives.”

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