To whom or to what do we submit? As citizens of the United Kingdom we, quite rightly, submit to British law and, for the moment at least, to European law. It is sound Christian teaching that the Church should fit into all aspects of civil and criminal law within the country where it is based. But, what if that law contravenes God’s law? Should Christians speak out, risk imprisonment and then be rendered impotent? Or, should Christians be ‘wise as serpents’ and seek to influence things for good from within? What does the Bible speak into this? Well, of course, the Bible says many things but, in this week, the week following Easter week, the New Testament passage is highly informative. The ‘council’ (ruling authority of the day) ordered the Apostles to stop telling the people in Jerusalem about Jesus. The reply by the Apostles is simple and direct. Peter replied: “We must obey God rather than human authority.” Peter then goes on to spell out the facts, clearly and with respect to the high priest who is questioning him: “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by crucifying him.” Extra-ordinary courage from Peter which incensed the high priest who wanted to kill them all. However, that was not what happened. Following the advice of a pharisee called Gamaliel, the Apostles were released. The reasoning of the Jewish council was if Christianity came to nothing, then it wasn’t worth getting angry about. If it flourished, then not even all the legal and spiritual leaders of Israel could do anything about it. Of all the weeks of the year, Easter time is when Christians in the UK can speak out, even at the risk of upsetting people, if not (yet) breaking the laws of the land.
What things are certain in our Christian lives? Perhaps different people would give slightly different answers, but for the first Christians, their faith was based on the certainty of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In our ordered and highly planned world, we might think that the Gospels were written down in the order of which the events happened, starting with the nativity, then Jesus’ teaching and healing and then ending with the resurrection accounts. Of course, this is quite wrong. For the early Christians, the first stories to be told and written down were the resurrection narratives. This was what fuelled the church and from which all other previous stories about Jesus made sense. What is the significance of the resurrection? The answer, for the Christian, is everything! In the Epistle reading for this week, Paul puts it this way, “Without the resurrection your faith is in vain.” How does it work? God, in his sovereign wisdom has not chosen to disclose this to us. However, the Apostle Paul goes onto throw some light onto the situation. He writes, just as death came into the world through Adam, the first man, so the resurrection from death is through another man, Jesus. Jesus the perfect man has replaced the imperfect and fallen man, Adam. All who are only related to Adam will die but those who are now related to Jesus will rise to life just as Jesus did. Wonderful theology; simple, powerful and certain! Alleluia, praise God.
How much do we throw ourselves into our lives in this world? How much do we value our careers, possessions, homes, entertainments and even our families? How sad would we be to give it all up and move to an existence somewhere completely different? Although we are all called to be ‘salt and light’ in our communities, the Gospel passage assigned to this week reminds us that our home is elsewhere. When Jesus prays for his disciples, he notes that, they are not ‘of this world’ any more than He is of this world. The question returns. Are we too much in love with this world? It is a lingering question, which should make us continually reflect.
Why do some people in our society accept the Gospel message while others do not? This was a great historical debate between, amongst others, John Wesley and George Whitefield. John Wesley was adamant that all people could be ‘saved’ while George Whitefield had different views. In our Gospel reading this week, Jesus seems to suggest there is some mileage in the latter’s views. Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I chose you..” However, we need to consider other things that Jesus said. Jesus is on record as saying that ‘the harvest is plentiful’ and also ‘go into ALL nations baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. Whatever our views on predestination, what is clear is that God has not chosen to reveal to us those who are pre-destined. Therefore, we proceed to proclaim the Gospel by all the means that we can to all people that we can until told otherwise. Peter captures his Lord’s sentiment on this issue when he writes: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. It is our joy, calling and privilege to do nothing less!
One of the mantras of the modern age is that you end up enjoying the lifestyle that you have earned. Work hard and you will be successful in life. Is this true? The Gospel reading assigned for this week is the account in John’s Gospel of Jesus as the true vine. In one verse, we come across the words, ‘apart from me you can do nothing’. It is so tempting to believe that our skills, qualifications, possessions, career, status and reputation are the fruits of our hard work, dedication and ability. After all, we have made something of our lives. Here Jesus delicately reminds us all, that this is simply not the case. If we are skilled with our hands, it is a gift from God; if we are good at written exams, it is a gift from God; if we enjoy high paid jobs in a peaceful and thriving economy, it is a gift from God. Our health, our energy, our artistic, creative, analytical and social abilities are all gifts from God. The education and health services we benefit from are gifts from God. Every single ability, talent and opportunity comes from the God who knitted us together in our mother’s womb. What is our response? It is to be eternally thankful and not to boast. It is to live in a permanent state of humble gratitude to God and not to condemn or criticise others. After all, apart from God, we can do nothing!
How many wars or conflicts are caused by one group of people believing that they are different from others? In the Gospel reading assigned for this week, Jesus addresses this whole issue of exclusivity. In Ancient Israel, many of the Jewish religious leaders believed that Israel was the only nation important to God. They believed that other nations were ultimately destined for destruction. Jesus made it clear that God’s sheep are not only from Judaism but also from the non-Jewish world. True, Jesus, for practical reasons, encouraged his followers to start with the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ but then made it clear that the Church’s mission was universal. Jesus stayed and taught in Samaria, praised the Roman centurion for his faith, told a story about a good Samaritan and declared that many from the North, South, East and West will sit down in the Kingdom of God. Lord forbid that we should ever think that our Christian faith is only for us and people like us.