April 3 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter
‘WITNESSES OF CHRIST’

BIBLE READING
Acts 5:27-41

REFLECTION

What is the oldest creed of the Christian faith? The Apostle Creed? The Nicaea Creed? Many scholars believe that the oldest Christian creed was the declaration that Jesus is Lord! And this creed means that for those who followed Jesus, their lives belonged to Jesus. These early followers of Jesus, many of whom were free men/ women, saw themselves like slaves whose lives belonged not to them themselves, but to Jesus their Master.

And if Jesus was Lord, then that meant that Caesar was not Lord. Living and dying under the rule of the Caesars in the Roman Empire, such proclamation would lead one into all sorts of problem. It was akin to someone living in North Korea today daring to say that Kim Jong-Un is not the Supreme Leader. And we know what would happen to those kinds of people in North Korea.

Now these early Christians must have taken inspiration for their courage from the story that we read in the book of Acts this morning. “We obey God, not people,” said Peter before the Jewish religious Council and the High Priest. “We are under the authority of God and not of people!” he said. The Greek word for obey that Peter used was peitharecho, which literally means “to follow or to do first”.[1] Indeed for Peter and the other disciples, God and His commandment were their first priority.

Everything else must come after this first priority.

Now the Jewish religious council thought that they could decide what Peter and the disciples must believe. They acted similarly to the sharia police that operated in parts of the world that follow strict teaching of Islam like in Saudi Arabia or the Indonesian Province of Aceh.

But for Peter and the other disciples all authorities, including the authority of the Jewish Council, must come under the authority of God. This council could not tell them what they should or should not believe. Peter and the disciples had witnessed the resurrected Jesus and they could not stop themselves from proclaiming what they had witnessed. In Jesus’ own words: if they were silenced, the stones themselves would shout out! (Luke 19:40)

Indeed the book of Acts moved from stories about Jesus to stories about the community whom Jesus created, namely the church.[2] The church, represented here by Peter and the disciples, is the witness to the resurrection of Jesus and his Lordship over the world. But being a witness doesn’t mean that one has to see Jesus being raised from the dead or met the risen Jesus himself. Being a witness means that one accepts the account of the resurrection from Peter and the disciples; that one accepts Jesus as Lord not only over one’s life, but over the entire world.

Accepting the Lordship of Jesus doesn’t mean, however, that one has to challenge all kinds of authority in the world. No. Accepting Jesus and his Gospel as the highest authority means that we are to challenge only the authority that goes against the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

In December 1955, a middle-aged black woman named Rosa Parks finished her work in a department store in Montgomery, Alabama at 6 PM. She then boarded a bus, paid the fare, and sat in the front row of the seats reserved for the black people.

At the time the segregation laws between white and coloured people were still in place. When the seats at the front of the bus reserved for the white people were full, the bus driver moved the “coloured” sign to the seats behind Parks. The driver then asked the black passengers, sitting in the row where Park was sitting, to move to the back to give their seats to the white passengers. Three people who sat with Parks moved as ordered, but she did not. She felt a sense of determination covering her body. When the driver asked her whether she was going to stand up and move to the back or not, Parks answered, “No, I’m not.” When the driver told her that if she did not then he would have to call the police, Parks said, “You may do that.”

The police did come and she was arrested for violating the segregation laws and would later be fired from her job. But her act of defiance inspired a non-violent protest that lasted for more than a year, leading to the United States Supreme Court ruling that bus segregation was illegal.

Because of her courage and determination, Rosa Parks became an icon in the civil rights movement in the US. Her act of defiance was one of the most defining moments in the modern US history.

But her action did not only come from her political activism; her action was also deeply rooted in her Christian faith. She was a devout and an active Christian, a lifetime member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church who always carried a Bible with her. Her Christian faith had indeed nourished her belief in human dignity and equality. She once attributed her determination in that bus to the “Lord’s power within me.” In her autobiography, she wrote, “From my upbringing and the Bible, I learned people should stand up for rights just as children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh.”[3]

Just like Peter and the disciples, and countless of ordinary Christians throughout the ages, Rosa Parks dared to challenge the world’s authority. For her, God and His values are the ultimate authority in the world. She may not say it in words, but just like what Peter said to the Jewish council, her action spoke loudly that she must first obey God and not human authority.

Indeed friends, being witnesses of the risen Christ, we are to proclaim Jesus’ lordship in our words and deeds. And if we accept Jesus’ authority over our life, than everything and everyone else must come under his authority. Jesus is risen from the dead so that all authorities in the world will be put under him. And it is our duty as witnesses of the resurrected Lord to proclaim his Lordship to the end of the world and until the end of time.

Amen.

[1] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFusion - Lent.Easter 2016, p.130

[2] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFusion - Lent.Easter 2016, p.130

[3] Daniel B. Clendenin, Remembering Rosa Parks: The Radical Faith of a Rebel Christian, on http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20130401JJ.shtml (April 1 2013)