Scripture - Acts 4:32 - All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
Theme - Community
Devotion - This verse is so unsettling to American Christians that most commentors begin by explaining away any interpretation or application of it that would challenge the status quo of our economic lives. But a plain reading of the text is clear. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit so transformed the disciples and those who joined them in the community of Christ that even their economic values and goals shifted. Jesus was Lord not only of the their spiritual lives but their financial lives as well. And their community conformed to God's will not only in spiritual practice, but in practical, material practice as well.
The thing is, this isn't nearly as shockingly radical or even as innovative as commentators seem to treat it. If we remember rightly when Jesus sent the discipes out on mission in Luke he sent them with little to nothing. They needed to rely on the kindness and generosity of families and communities they traveled too. In so doing Jesus was establishing communities of sharing, establishing practices of giving and receiving that shaped the disciples vision of what healthy and wholesome community should look like and be.
This expectation that communities that worshipped God would be generous is not new to Jesus. The laws that Moses received from God and established that we find in Exodus, Leviticus, & Deuteronomy repeated encourage Israel to have no poor among them, to organize systems of debt relief, such as the Jubilee year, and warn against the idolatry of wealth and possession. No, what Luke tells us about the early church isn't all that shocking. They are carrying out God's vision for human community since the very beginning. If you claim Jesus as Lord because he gave his life as a gift, and so you see your life as a gift carrying on his life of giving, how could you organize your life any other way. Do you think the church lives out this mission of sharing and giving? How do we do it well? Where do we need to grow? Might we need to repent and return to this vision of life in the community of Christ?
Prayer - Forgive us Lord for being more shaped by consumer culture than by your wisdom which makes us whole and happy. Continue to teach us how to live generous lives that find more joy in giving that buying, and more satisfaction in providing for others than in purchasing for ourselves.
Scripture - Acts 4:33 - With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Theme - Gift
Devotion - I think its fair to say that a good many of us strongly identify with the disciples caring service for the poor and dispossessed. But in our story for today the apostles connect their powerfully gracious service to those in need to the death and resurrection of Jesus. How often would we say that we care for the poor because Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead?
I suspect that our service to the poor is something we would say is rooted in the life of Jesus, not the death and resurrection. So how do the apostles make that connection? First of all Jesus speaks of his mission as gift. 'For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” he says in Mark 10. And in Luke 9 Jesus describes the life he calls disciples to as denying themselves and losing their own lives. These are meant to be blunt and shocking words, but they do speak of giving ones self as a gift. And in this passage Jesus connects the self-giving of the disciples to his own gift of himself on the cross. Paul too would describe Jesus life and death as a gift writing of Jesus in Galatians, 'who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.' Life wasn't taken from Jesus by the powers and authorities. Jesus gave himself as a gift.
In return for this gift, God in turn gives Jesus back to the world by raising him from the dead. The apostles had come to see the crucifixion of Jesus not as a loss, but as an illustration of the abundant generosity of God. In Jesus God gave God's self to the world. On the cross God gave God's self to the despised and rejected, becoming one with them. In resurrection, God is honoring all the dishonored and vindicating those treated unjustly. The experience has been transformed from loss to gain. If Jesus gave himself to and for them, the disciples now see themselves as gift as well. How might God's will be done on earth if more people thought of life as a gift, thought of themselves as a gift, as the poor, the immigrant, the vulnerable in society as a gift?
Prayer - As difficult as these days have been and real as the losses are, you are still bestowing your gifts generous God. So we pause to be grateful for your gifts which give us hope. strengthen the ties that bind us as those who give and receive from one another, sharing in your love, mercy and grace. Continue to lead us in being those who give and receive of your abundance by sharing our lives and our selves with one another.
Scripture - Acts 4:29-30 - Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Theme - Boldness (Power & Grace)
Devotion - I think its fair to say that this weeks story can be read and interpreted as illustrating the power of the disciples. Their prayer celebrates the power of God, in creating the world and disciplining the rebellious leaders of the world. The prayer closes with a petition for God to give them to power to boldly proclaim God's word. So how do the disciples exercise the power receive from God?
Right away we notice that the disciple's power is coupled with grace, 'With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ' It may be tempting us to interpret the grace in these verses with the doctrine of God's mercy, but I would encourage us not to jump immediately to concepts. Instead what we see that grace is at work. Grace is an action the love of God in action. Equally important is the object of God's active grace. The dispossessed and disadvantaged are the objects of the God's grace.
The boldness then, or the power that the disciples prayed for was the power to put God's love into action in service of those most in need. The authorities that arrested Peter and John showed no concern for or awareness of the paralyzed man that Peter had just healed. They exercise their power through threats and intimidation, not grace. And they wield their power in order to maintain power. The popular understanding of power is being challenged and undermined by the disciples. They are not men of education or influence. They have no wealth, & carry no weapons. Yet our story tells us they are powerful because they can give life and nurture life especially among those whose lives are diminished. This is the power God bestows and God honors.
Prayer - Lord, we pray too for boldness, not as the world defines it, but as you do. Our boldness is not competitive and does not seek superiority over others. Our boldness seeks to serve, to nurture, and to encourage others. Continue to empower us Lord to proclaim you through generous acts of grace for those most in need.
Scripture - Acts 4:29 - Now, Lord, consider their threats
Theme - Threats
Devotion - Peter and John faced the threat of violence, literal death, as they faced the authorities. I suppose it would be easy to dismiss this as discontected from our experience. We don't face that particular threat. But that doesn't mean we won't face threats.
If we think back to the life of Jesus we can think of illustrations of those who found that following Jesus was too threatening. For instance in Luke 4 when Jesus announces that he has come to announce the reign of God and its good news for the dispossessed, incarcerated and oppressed, the people are excited. When he further announces that this liberation will be for all people and not just Jews, they become furioius and drive him out of town. The welcoming of strangers & immigrants, community of care for all regardless of nationality or ethnicity if a threat. A wealthy ruler approaches Jesus in Luke 18 seeking to be a follower. When Jesus announces he must sell his possessions and give to the poor, the wealthy man goes away. Letting go of the financial security as well as the social power he gains from wealth and possession is too threatening.
Finally, in Luke 14 Jesus offers this unsettling statement, '"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple." It's so shocking that it is easily dismissed. Not meant to be taken literally, this is still an important reminder that allegiance and fidelity to Jesus can negatively impact our social networks, our friendships, our standing in our neighborhood. This is the threat we face more than literal physical violence. The threat, perhaps never actually stated, still echoes in our minds, 'what will my friends and family think, what will the neighbors say, if I follow Jesus and his radical generosity, welcome of stranger and alien, & solidarity with the poor?' What is it about Jesus life that is most threatening to you? that is most threatening to our culture and society?
Prayer - Remind us Lord that while you did come to comfort those who mourned and suffered, you also came to disturb and unsettle those who were complacent about such suffering. Forgive us for domesticating you to the role of friend only. Take your place as our leader whom we follow even when your commands are challenging. And give us courage when following you is threatening.
Scripture - Acts 4:24 - When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
Theme - Prayer
Devotion - The first thing Peter and John do upon their release from the authorities is to return to the congregation of Jesus followers and together, they pray. When we look carefully at the prayer we notice that it is an act of connecting the experience that Peter and John just had to the death and resurrection of Jesus as well as to God's ongoing relationship with the world.
First the congregations proclaims the power and authority of God and recall that they serve an authority that created and continues to create life. Having just faced an implicit death threat they tell the story of an authority, greater than all others, because it bestows life. Next the congregation recites a psalm as they pray. Together they recite Psalm 2 which is a story about the rebellion of the worlds rulers against the will and way of God. Specifically the psalm syas that the rulers of the nations resist God's anointed one, God's messiah. What Peter and John and the congregations have just experienced is nothing new. David sang about the rebellion of the worlds political leaders, Jesus experienced that same violent rebellion and now the church experiences it as well. This early portrait of the church reveals that they are not surprised when social and political forces resist and constrict those who follow God's ways. They do no expect to be supported or valued, but to face opposition.
Interestingly the close of the prayer is NOT for God to allow the church to avoid the opposition and resistance of the powers and authorities. I suspect this is what I would be praying for. But they do not. Instead, they pray that they be able to maintain a faithful and courageous fidelity to the way of Jesus despite opposition. On the one hand I am grateful that we do not face opposition for living and practicing our faith. On the other, I wonder if we have not dulled the sharp edges of following Jesus in order to not face opposition or threat. What do you think? And if we have dulled the faith to make it more palatable, praying as these disciples did might be more unsettling than comforting. In what way do you think the church could/should pray for boldness?
Prayer - We pray Lord your mercy and forgiveness for the ways your followers throughout have made faith conform to earthly powers and authorities for the sake of comfort. We are also grateful for our experience of receiving your gift of boldness which has enabled us to take risky stands for others. Continue Lord, we pray to give us a courageous faith that is not complacent but bold in living into your reign.
Scripture - Acts 4:21 - After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people,
Theme - The Insurgency of the Spirit
Devotion - As unusual as it may seem to us, Spirit has a long and active history of insurgency against the powers and authorities of the world. Israel's founding story is one in which God intervenes to liberate the hebrews from Egyptian oppression. And many more of Israel's stories reveal the cruelty and injustice of political powers; Esther and the Persian King Ahaseurus, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Elijah's confrontation with King Ahab, Jeremiah's criticism of the religious and political leaders of Judah. Israel even includes a story of the great King David's violence and cruelty when he has one of his own soldiers Uriah in essence murdered in order to marry Uriah's wife Bathsheba.
The Spirit's insurgency isn't violent nor is it for political gain. It is a response from God to cruelty and injustice. It is rooted in the strong belief and hope that God is a just ruler, the ultimate authority. For instance, in Psalm 10 we find this plaintive cry and bold testimony, 'The Lord is King for ever and ever; You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.' Unlike the powers as described in this weeks story, God's power and authority is always directed toward and in service to the poor, the vulnerable, those ignored and abused by earthly powers and authorities.
As Paul taught us earlier this week, the insurgency of the Spirit is meant to reveal the wisdom of God to the powers and authorities. There is no simple or easy answer as we discern how it is we are meant to carry on Peter's call to take a bold call of repentance to those in power and authority in our time and place. But it is clear that God has NOT created and called the early church to be complicit or compliant when the power and authorities enact laws and systems that oppress and dispossess. Perhaps it is best that we begin with the spiritual discernment encouraged last week, which is to ponder if, when and how we have been manipulated by powers and authorities. Then we can consider the social implications of returning to a new covenant that is based on the sharing of bread and the washing of one anothers feet.
Scripture - Acts 4:18-19 - 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;
Theme - powers of the age
Devotion - In our stories last week and this week, Peter has been revealing the truth behind popular and widely accepted lies. Last week he revealed to the crowds that they had been manipulated by the religious and politically powerful, to act against their own interests and advocate for the death of Jesus. This week he reveals the truth behind the political and religious powers.
Peter reveals this truth when he responds to the final command of the powerful. They claim the authority to control Peter's speech. But there is more going on here than an attempted violation of Peter's rights. And his response reveals it. He asks whether it is right for him to obey the powers rather than God. Which is inspires two more interesting revelations. The powers are claiming ultimate authority in their command. They do not serve the spiritual or material interests of the people, but themselves. In serving themselves they have given themselves to other gods of the age. The first of those being the god of supremacy who places them over others. In order to maintain power, they are willing to do violence. That is another god they worship. They maintain power because it positions them for wealth. So that is another of the gods they worship.
But how is Peter able to discern the truth behind the official story of the authorities who claim to serve and represent God? Because he has seen their rule from the underside. He witnessed the unjust suffering and death of Jesus. He continues to see that unjust suffering in the paralyzed man who sits outside the temple. When we not only worship Jesus, but follow him, which means we see the world through his experience, we begin to learn how to discern the truth of the powers and authorities.
Scripture - Acts 4:5-6 - The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas,
Theme - Power & Authority
Devotion - In today's verse the 'archon' arrive to interrogate Peter and John and put them back in place. The archon, according to Walter Wink are the political, religious and economic structures and functionaries with which people had to deal,' at the time. Literally in our story it is the religious archon, but Wink further tells us that one can indeed represent them all. In other words, Peter and John stand before not just those who are influential in the religious circles of society, but before the powerful or before Power.
The confrontation that Luke describes here is profoundly unsettling if we accept Walter Wink's suggestion that this story isn't limited to a religious dispute. If these authorities represent symbolic all authority, Peter is confronting social and political powers here as well. Walter Wink reminds us of these words of Paul in Ephesians, '[Jesus'] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.' Remember that this whole confrontation is rooted in Peter's compassion for an impoverished man and healing of this man. Peter is testifying to the wisdom of God which creates whole people, body and soul, material and spiritual. His authority isn't limited to spiritual matters because Jesus wasn't just spiritually raised from the dead. He was physically raised from the dead.
While there are many Christian voices that limit the admitedly complex issue of the churches interaction with those in political authority to Romans 13 in which Paul instructs the church to submit to the governing authorities because they are 'established by God.' This weeks story of Peter and the Rulers shows that the bibles instruction is more complex than just simple submission. Peter confronts the authorities with their injustice and idolatry. The verse from Ephesians reveals a more full understanding of Paul's thought which includes the responsibility of the church to make the wisdom of God known to the archon, to those in authority. It reveals his expectation that not only religious but social and political systems should conform to God's will and way of Shalom.
Prayer - Forgive us Lord, your church the body of Christ for being silent when faced with the power and authority. Help us and instruct us Lord to learn how to, like Peter, share your wisdom with those in authority so that our community is shaped by the loving shalom of God. Remind us to never seek our own power, but to always speak in service to the powerless and voiceless.
Scripture - Acts 3:9,12 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed...Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Theme - Salvation & Healing
Devotion - Yesterday we looked at Peter's bold response to the intimidation of the authorities. Today we look at what it was that he said so boldly. Like in the first part of chapter 3, Peter sermon is confrontational. He will not let the truth, which is that Jesus was neither a criminal nor heretical go unsaid. He will not let the truth that God vindicated Jesus and reversed the best laid plans of these powerful men go unproclaimed.
But this is not simply Peter boldly proclaiming doctrine, Jesus is the Messiah or personal belief, God's authority undermines the rulers authority. There is a lasting material impact to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus at work in today's story. Despite the authorities best (or worst) efforts, Jesus remains powerfully present. They have not been able to end him or his ministry. We see this illustrated in the verses above. Peter proclaims that in Jesus there is (still) salvation for all humankind. That ongoing salvation is proven in the healing of the disabled man. But In the original greek Peter doesn't say healed. He says saved.
There has developed an unnatural split between salvation and healing, as if they were separate manifestations of the loving presence of God. Healing is for the body, salvation for the soul. Healing for now, salvation after we die. But in these verses we see that for Peter there is no split. Salvation is, as we discussed last week, wholistic. The Shalom, or peace of God has come to earth in Jesus and that brings about a renewal of the whole person, body and soul, material and spiritual. This is what Peter is proclaiming and why he is found so threatening. God will no longer be safely walled off in the Temple by the authorities leaving the material world to them. God has come, in Jesus to save and heal. And what's more, Jesus is still present and active through the Spirit in the disciples. So the question we are invited to ask is, how do we together as a church proclaim the full salvation offered by Jesus in a world that wants Jesus to stay out of the material, physical, social world?
Prayer - We thank you Lord that salvation is not something we need wait for. Your wholeness, spiritual, physical, and social is offered too us here and now. Forgive us for accepting less than your wholeness in our lives and in our community. Awaken in us even now, new hope and intention to move toward the Shalom your resurrection continue to offer to us even now.
Scripture - Acts 4:13 - When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men...
Theme - Boldness
Devotion - Let's jump right into the middle of this weeks story. The authorities, having arrested Peter and John and held them overnight, now gather to intimidate and threaten them. Annas and Caiaphas, who oversaw the plot to have Jesus crucified, have been invited. But they are shocked at Peter's response. Their coercion isn't met with fear and intimidation, but with courage. Some translations render the word, 'boldness.' When we think of the gifts or fruit of the Holy Spirit we think of love, joy, peace & patience, among others. But the Holy Spirit doesn't give Peter peace or patience. The Holy Spirit gives Peter boldness.
Today we ponder boldness as a spiritual gift. It may not feel a comfortable. Boldess doesn't always appear kind. Boldness troubles the water, rocks the boat. Boldness will not comfort with proclamations of peace when there is no peace. Boldness could offend. And Boldness could be misdirected and easily misused. There are many Christian preachers who boldly proclaim rejection of our gay, lesbian, & transgender siblings, for instance. So do we really want this spiritual gift?
The key to discerning how and when to be bold is found in our story. First, today's verse makes note that Peter and John were unschooled and ordinary. In the King James version they are described as unlearned and ignorant. Their boldness is rooted in their humility. They are not speaking boldly to either attain or maintain power. They do not speak from a place of authority or influence. Second, we recall that Peter speaks out on behalf of an impoverished and previously disabled man AS WELL as for a crucified criminal, Jesus. When our boldness is rooted in humility and is in service to those who are powerless and abused our boldness, as uncomfortable as it may be, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The question for today is, how do you feel about the spiritual gift of boldness on behalf of the poor and powerless? on behalf of the socially rejected?
Prayer - May we be bold in our testimony of your son Jesus and the Kingdom of justice and peace he inaugurated. Guard us from a boldness that comes from superiority and keep our courage rooted in service to you and to others. Keep us from a boldness that is secure and keep us safely in a boldness that is an expression of vulnerability.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.