Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prison Break - Acts 12:1-17

Today’s topic is about recognition of the church in the world. Today’s not Easter Sunday, but let’s talk a little bit about resurrection. Resurrection - being dead and coming back to life. Resurrections stories are so meaningful. so hopeful. When things look hopeless resurrection promises hope. When there is nothing but despair, resurrection means future. We can’t get enough of stories about resurrection.... And today we have one: Peter, the person Jesus said was the church upon which he would build the church (Mt. 16:18)... He’s a prisoner. Captured by King Herod...he’s already MURDERED James, the brother of John. This is James, the son of Zebedee, who was with John fishing when Jesus called them to follow. THis is the James who was part of the inner circle who went up to the mount where Jesus was transfigured. This was James who could command fire from heaven. James, an original renowned disciple, had been murdered by Herod... People opposed to the movement, were delighted. If we can get Peter, that will be the end for sure.... Something we have to wonder....what was it about the time back when the church was not a building -- the early Jesus people that made people want to do away with them? People in many churches are concerned for various reasons, for a loss of societal position and influence in society, but maybe Jesus followers should be more concerned that they were so part of the establishment to begin with. So Herod releases the special operatives. Peter is captured. Clearly seen as a threat, he is surrounded by four squads of soldiers... And when the angel comes to rescue him, entering with a dazzling light..the angel has to rouse Peter from sleep...most likely he was a beaten and battered man. Hurry! Get dressed! Let’s move. Even though this is an angel engineering this jail break, the threat is still ominus. They push through the big heavy iron gate and move to an abandoned place. Peter, in a dream like state about all that is going on around him, comes to, and realizes he’s free. Out of jail free. The angel rescuer has moved on. Peter’s on his own. Where does the church leader go now? Mary’s house. Always a good choice to go to Mary’s house. There the believers--who surely had been praying for his release will be overjoyed to see him. All the subtle ironies in the next scene: Peter, who just passed through a locked heavy iron gate, is now banging on the gate outside the house where his friends are, and he can’t get in. Rhoda just leaves him there banging away she’s so dumbfounded that it’s him. When she tells the others, they don’t believe her...what up with folks never believing women in the bible?...For they did not beleive the women for their words seemed to them nonsense....was the disciples reaction to Jesus resurrection. And here, “You’re out of your mind!” (The Message) All the while Peter is knocking...knocking.... “Guys, it’s really me..” Hurry, they could come after me at any moment. “It must be his angel...” Some say. What was their thoughts on angels back then? “This is not my angel”, it’s meeeeee Luke brilliantly captures the drama, joy, and danger. Even to the end, Peter’s life is under threat. His friends are excited, but word can’t get out.. “Quiet down” He’s an excaped prisoner...the neighbors would quickly report the unusual commotion. And so, he gives a few instructions, and passes the baton if you will, to James and the brothers. And just like that, the story of Peter, the rock upon which Jesus would build his gone. We don’t know where another place is. Maybe Luke didn’t either. With the exception of a brief mention of Peter in Acts 15, this is the last we hear of Peter. Peter, the rock upon which the church would be built, had been locked up.... Peter, the rock the church, came back to life, so to speak...and his people didn’t recognize him.... Peter, the church, was gone.... What would the church look like now? Without James, without Peter... In a world of persecution, and uncertainty... This is why, I think, there is so much emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts, because there was uncertainty, and definitive leaders were here today and gone the next. The church community was again and again reminded that they had to rely on God and the work of the Holy Spirit and not necessarily those who had lead them before, or the fledgling systems that had been put into place. This early church community, scattered across various parts of the Roman empire, with access to only shared stories told by different people, and varied understanding of who Jesus was and what he was about..had to depend on the Holy Spirit to know what God wanted them to do, and how to be God’s people in the world. And Christ’s church has always been diverse and varied in opinion what God wanted them to do, and how to be God’s people in the world, but trust in the Holy Spirit waned, and church authorities and herearchies were formed in order to have something more predictable than the Holy Spirit to lead. Something more certain and easier to control than the Holy Spirit. And in a sense, this work to outline, define, and explain the faith over the centuries, threatening hell as the fate of non conformists...something some churches still do, evidently, if you make bad investments on behalf of the church. In case I haven’t been succesful thus far in suggesting Peter and his predicament in prison and with his encounter with his friends in which they think it’s his angel who’s come to visit...I want to suggest that that scenario be a metaphor for the present day church. In a sense, the very church, the very institution that was so well constructed and became so very established as part of the establishment, has become it’s own prison guard and set up its own prison system, keeping those who want to believe and become part trapped in its dogma and doctrine. But what happens, when everything changes. What happens, when that established institution, is no longer really part of the establishment? What happens when clergy, the leaders, who once held a prominent role, are no longer trusted or respected in the society, be it for proposterous claims, hypocritical actions, or abuse scandels. What happens when life as we once knew it is no longer how it once was...and will never be the same? We rarely write letters anymore, most of our correspondence is through some electronic device. Most relationships are now beginning through online dating rather than meeting face to face. We live in an age of Pandora--where I can listen to whatever kind of music I want to online. We live in an age of the App Store, which is controled by an open-source network of ordinary people. We live in an age when I can listen to most any radio program I want to, from any where around the world, whenever I want to and wherever I want to through a podcast. We live in an age where oceans are rising...and where species are going extinct at an overwhelming rate. So many things are much of what was known to be truth, no longer is so. Pluto’s no longer a planet for crying out loud. Some people call it an age of crisis and fear what may be coming. Some see it as a time of great joy and renew and even a story of resurrection. And particularly through the lense of the church, the established institution that once was so meaningful and promenint and, where many people would proudly claim membership, has become in many ways if it were locked away in a prison... What angel will come to her rescue? But when that angel comes and frees the church to once again be the hands and feet in the world focused on the mission of Jesus: to bring good news to the poor. proclaim release to the captives recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor That those actions become the defining mark of the church, not bible memory verses, not swift christian apologictic abilities not political party affiliation, and not social issue positions. Back when the church was not a building, the church was trying to make its way in the world, and even in the early stages, as they are praying for a miracle... praying for Peter to be released from prison, He shows up...perhaps he didn’t look like he had before-- it must be his angel! they thought. They didn’t recognize him. So what happens when the church which has been locked up and in prison by powerful forces beyond anyone’s control.. is suddenly rescued...freed, it’s a little tattered and ragged....weary from a tough time in prison.. but it is freed from behind a heavy iron gate by an angel.. An angle of the Lord, that brings it out. and the community that once adored the church... may not recognize her at first, but when it sees this re-imagined way of being in the world... it is overwhelmed with joy. We can finally go about doing the work we have been called to do, and not get caught up on all these issues about who is right and who is wrong. But instead who is willing to love with a deep passionate love.

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