Caught by Surprise Let us pray… Rev. Stuart Buisch
Surprises are not rare in scripture: Moses at the burning bush, the flood, various acts by prophets, Jesus raising the widow’s son, to name a few.
But then there are those stories that I wonder if they were surprised: the woman finding her lost coin, the shepherd finding #100 sheep or when he got back to the 99 and they were all still there, the father of the prodigal son actually seeing his son coming in the distance.
But the surprise I am focusing on today is different. The insiders were surprised by the outsiders. Fishermen weren’t supposed to have confidence as speakers or with regard to faith issues. The Presbyterian church split at one point over such an issue. The Cumberland Presbyterian church said what matters is not what you know but who you are called by. Not by your education but by the Spirit of God working in you.
Some churches are struggling with an aspect of that today when they can no longer afford a trained and ordained minister of Word and Sacrament. But let’s be clear education or passion are not opposites. Drab and boring, scattered and uninspiring is not the result of education or lack of education. Fire and passion, charisma and charm are not key to a healthy congregation.
Let’s look a bit closer to this story.
A lame man has been healed. The Religious authorities are deeply concerned. These authorities are listed as the ‘priests, captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees.’ Let’s think about that for a minute, priests are responsible for liturgical functions – sacrifices, prayers etc. If there is a captain of the temple guard by implication there is some extensive corps of guards – or figureheads just got more prevalent. Why a guard for the temple, what were they trying to keep safe? Jews from Romans? From Gentiles? Apparently, this guard was responsible for temple security in structure and in funds. The guards were all priests and Levites serving in this role. When ministry is about protecting the fabric and money it seems to me that something central to faith has been lost. Finally, Sadducees were a group of priestly individuals who ruled the ‘truth’ of Judaism as practiced in the Temple. They made the decisions. Now this group, who are confronting Peter and John, find their way of life at risk. As has already been coming clearer – they think they are in control of faith and practice.
Faith does call all aspects of our life into question. At one time preachers threatened congregations to scare them into ethical practices. While some of this still exists in our world it seems to me that each person is responsible for thinking out their own religious practice. Perhaps two reasons: people no longer respect the clergy or clergy no longer inspire respect in their own life practices.
Peter could be all consumed, as are his Jewish contemporaries, with his role in all of this. He is not. He is very clear that the healing occurred because God did it. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead. This is the centerpiece of Peter’s surprising confidence. He is not passionate in itself, he is not eloquent in his own words, he is not arrogant in his, some would say Christ appointed position of rock, on whom the church is built. Peter deflects the glory to God where it belongs.
Peter ultimately throws the question back to them – should we obey God or humans. Peter doesn’t spend a moment wondering, he will obey God and simply announce what he has seen and heard.
Pandemic is a surprise that very few imagined possible. I can’t speak for all of you but it continues to call my life, my day to day and my plans into question. The uncertainties that many of us are unaware of that have come out with recent protests are just as much of a surprise for some of us. All of this unexpected is unnerving and most unsettling. We, or at least I, could easily think we are out of control and in chaos, if we haven’t had enough of it already, it is on route to our life right now.
This is precisely one reason this text from Acts is so helpful. It also seems to be quite forgotten. The early church quickly followed its Judaic routes into places and positions of power. For some, such power was borne out of a need for religious purity, authenticity, rightness. Peter, in his behavior in this text warns us away from this. He calls us to pay attention to the real mover and shaker in human history – God. Peter and John could have convincingly argued that ‘they’ had done a great thing. A massive surprise for this poor needing man whose only task was to beg for something each day. They knew in this story who really did the miracle – an understanding we may have lost today.
I wonder when this pandemic is over what we will remember. I wonder what in our faith will have changed. I wonder what surprises await us. I wonder if we ‘won’t be able to stop telling what we have seen and heard.’ Amen.
Creator God, each day cells multiply, this dies and that is born, alleluia…
Pain bearer Christ, open our eyes to your ever presence in our everyday…
Sustaining Wind, fill the lungs of our soul with your freshness, release us from fear and desire to control…