Saturday, April 7
Putting the Things of Church to the Test
Narrative Lectionary Daily Devotions written by Kace Leetch from Clergy Stuff.
The apostles are on a roll, and the momentum of Jesus' ministry was building. They were making so much noise, the religious authorities were beginning to get spooked. So the apostles were arrested and sent to jail. While there, angels released them. Instead of fleeing for their lives, they returned to the temple to teach and preach. Their brashness certainly rattled the authorities, who were at a loss over what to do next.
Gamaliel, a respected leader suggested that they do nothing. If the message of the apostles was of human origin, it would fail like others before them. But if the message was of God, they truly did not want to be involved in attempting to silence God's word. It was like a test -- of humans, failure; of God, success.
We know how this story ends. The message is of God, and it was not silenced. It was spread to all corners of the world, where it continues to thrive today. There is fear, however, that the church is in decline (at least it is in North America). Many fear that modern culture, technology, and apathy due to the overload of information will kill the church. I suspect differently. I don't think even we have the power to kill the church.
There are many things in today's churches that are of humans. It is likely those things will die out. If pressed, I might guess these might include worship in its performance mode, Sunday School, Confirmation as a classroom curriculum (which hurts me, because I loved teaching Confirmation!!), and committees, to name a few. I believe in 50 years all of these will look dramatically different if they survive at all.
But I also believe there are many things in today's churches that are of God. Worship in its simplest form, the nurturing of spirituality inside and outside the walls of a church, music that inspires and that breaks our hearts, and sharing meals with the community. In 50 years we might be sharing our community meals at the coffee shop or in each others' homes. We might nurture our spirituality through yoga and meditation, or even through the study of other religions, as they help shape and inform our own.
I don't know what church will look like in 50 years, but I think it will be very different from today. But I do know the church will survive. Because the community that gathers for the sake of God, love, and mutual support is of God.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Acts 5:17-42
Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching. When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”
Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.