Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 24 April 2022.
• First Reading: Acts 5: 27-32 (Apostles ordered not to teach in Jesus’ name)
• Psalm 118: 14-29
• Second Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8 (Look, He is coming, and every eye shall see Him)
• Gospel: John 20: 19-31 (As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit)
I suppose that for many the thought of the church leads to thoughts about its buildings, the art within them, the vestments and the formal structures of its organizational life.
Perhaps it is like looking at a car without being interested in the engine, or a school building without thinking about the teaching that goes on in it.
Maybe the glittering offers of politicians without looking at the cost and practicality, never mind the legality of what they are suggesting.
In this sense it is all about the external form but not the internal reality.
And so back to the church: the buildings and their decoration, but not the focus of the worship that goes on inside; the programmes of good works but not the mainspring that drives them.
The creation, but not the creator who inspired it.
Looking at our lessons there is a sharp reminder of what it is all about.
The Jewish Council or Sanhedrin was interested in maintaining order and ensuring that the Roman occupiers did not turn against them. To ensure some kind of peace in the streets and in their own minds.
And all this talk of Jesus, especially of His resurrection was definitely disturbing. People did not rise from the dead and they certainly did not turn a rabble of out-of-town artisans into a religious and spiritual revolution.
So when they found Peter and the apostles proclaiming the life of a crucified criminal, things were going to get awkward, even ugly.
And then Peter was laying it at their own door: this Jesus whom they had denounced to Pilate and had crucified was not only reported to have risen from the grave but to have ascended into heaven.
The rumours were growing and the numbers attending their crude services were becoming alarming. Something must be done, and as in many situations, there was no real substitute for force and threats. That should do the trick.
But no, this time Peter and the apostles were standing their ground. They knew what they had seen and heard and they were refusing to deny it. Rather, they were proclaiming it loud and clear.
This was a happening that was wholly of God – and they were refusing to be intimidated.
It was all about God’s sovereign action in bringing Jesus back from the dead and then releasing this unstoppable spiritual and social force.
And to cap it all the disciples had to bring God into it. Most distressing, especially when the religious council could not argue against it, and their blandishments had absolutely no effect.
Looking at the lesson from the book of Revelation, it is again quite uncompromising. It is about God – it starts and finishes with God and it stresses Jesus’ place in the heavens, being risen and glorified, and proclaiming the salvation for humanity that had been achieved by His atoning sacrifice of Himself.
Now He is promising that when the days are fulfilled and when the plans and purposes of God have been achieved, He will again stand upon the earth.
And this message is quite uncompromising, because it provides a context for all our concerns about social and economic and environmental justice.
It asserts that all our political programmes and manifestoes have to be understood in the light of the rule and the authority of Jesus and of the inspiration that He gives to His followers.
Now there is a foundation to life that is even deeper than political and social action. It is the reality of His will in creation and in redeeming it.
At the end of the age, Jesus will establish a personal rule upon the earth and it will not tolerate any opposition.
The message He has given to His disciples will be vindicated beyond question or contradiction.
And that brings me back to that Upper Room where Jesus appeared among His disciples. The ragged crew from Galilee was now being commissioned into a task to spread across the face of the earth the message and the authority of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
This would be the central task of the church in every land and in every generation.
Whatever good works it would do for the poor or the sick or the dispossessed would spring from this central commission. They would never be substitutes for it in lands where people were sceptical and the authorities were hostile.
The good works would be demonstrations of that central message, never to be seen apart from it.
And that brings us back to the here and now.
In breathing on the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit and to spread the word, Jesus was inviting us into that central mission.
We were never to be apart from it – even when times turned hostile and the public imagination faltered and looked for novelty elsewhere. Where the gospel message is honoured then we also are empowered. When it is not then we also falter.