Sunday, 7 July 2013

Acts 5 - The Gamaliel Principle

It as great welcoming Eric last week … and sharing with him.  It was good to hear the response he shared with us for his grandson Noah, giving an account of the faith that is within him.

I put a summary of the thoughts Eric shared morning and evening up on the web site in the hope that maybe the family would be able to have a look and see some of Eric’s thoughts.

I also put up the video clip I played on Sunday morning in which he told of his invitation to come here to Highbury and of that first meeting at which Dick was present as a Deacon.

It was ? Wright’s sense of vision that caught Eric’s imagination.  Highbury was looking for someone who was prepared to experiment even if the experiment should fail.  With a vision like that Eric thought this was a church worth belonging to.

It’s been great to have such encouragement from Eric and indeed from Lawrence, Eric, hrough Bunyan meeting in Bedford, Clifford, and of course Clifford  Small.

It is an honour and a privilege and humbling to share in ministry.   But the ministry I share as Felicity observed last Sunday is shaped by all of us who belong.  We are part of  one another.

It is easy to forget just how radical Eric’s thinking was as he moved from afternoon Sunday School to Junior Church and all age church with his tremendous emphasis on children, young people and the whole family of the church of every age and every generation.

It was that sense of vision and risk taking that Eric shared as he arrived here – put across in that little book and put into practice here that is very much the spirit of the church as we go forward.

But that  has risks.

How do we know that it is of God?

I think there is much to learn from the book of the  Acts of the Apostles and the experience of the early church.

It’s hard to realise now how radical and different thigns were among the first followers of Jesus.

Something was happening that for them was the fulfilment of all the prophets of old and very much the fulfilment of all it meant to be authrencitally Jewish.

The waiting in fear and expectation, above all in prayer of chapter 1

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2 and the devotion they had to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

There was a sense of awe as the healing and loving ministry of Jesus that had seemed to be cut short at crucifixion was now let loose into the world by the unseen yet very real strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit of God.
And so chapter 3 finds Peter and John bringing healing to the lame man at the beautiful gate and going head to head with the authorities.

Something new is happening.

The people are moved.

But it is disconcerting for the powers that be – the priests, the captain o fthe temple, the Sadducees, the Council – the Herodian power base in Jerusalem had been un-nerved by Jesus’ take on what it means to be Jewish … and they were now deeply disturbed that this Jesus thing had not been suppressed but seemed to be catching on like wildfire.

They had Peter and John imprisoned, instructed them to keep quiet.  But with the prayers of the believers they refuse to keep quiet.

There was a sense of the filling of the Holy Spirit and they found they spoke the word of God with boldness.

And they shared.  They lived out a life of love.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

A real sense of sharing and of community.

This is something new … but how do you know it is authentic?

Ananias and Saphira found out the hard way.  They thought they could play the game their way – holdback some of their possessions.   Their untimely death was seen by the early Christian community as a warning.

The way hurting people were healed was seen by that Christian community as a sign of the presence of God with them.

Here are two indications I think we can draw on today as we test out the authenticity of what it means to be church.

I read the Ananias and Saphira story as a story of consequences.  It is as we depart from the pattern of sharing, of caring of mutual love that consequences happen – divisions creep in, things fall apart and things turn to dust.  It is important in church to reaffirm the basic commitment we have to one another in a community that shares and cares and loves with one another.

And at the heart of what we do we bring healing to hurting pople’s lives.  Not to underestimate the importance of prayer for healing.   It was moving at our Church Meeting on  Thursday when we agreed the new framework for the life of the church, and having already got a Minsitry Leader for children in Carolyn, appointed the second of our Ministry leaders to a job share Ministry Leader for Pastoral Care – Lorraine and Diana.

David and Betty, Phil and Joyce, took on the role of co-ordinating pastoral care from Olga and Joan and said they would do that for five years.  Earlier in the year, they said they wanted to hand over by the end of August.  And it seemed right not just to appoint someone to co-ordinate that work, but to appoint our Ministry Leader for Pastoral Care.

Part of that process involved an interview the main part of which Lorraine and Diana shared at the Church Meeting.  It was moving to hear Diana speak of the way as a student physiotherapist and member of the Christian Union she visited in hospital of a Sunday afternoon and would share a prayer with those she visited.

Moving too to hear Lorraine speaking of her commitment to hospital chaplaincy and the prayer chain that has become so very much part of the prayer life of the church.

It is not just a ministry of pastoral care, it is a ministry of healing as we sahre in that prayer … and that sense of healing is a mark of what church is.

Then the powers that be step in.  It is the herodian dynasty Luke is careful to tell us – The High Priest took action, he and all who were with him (that is the sect of the Sadducees).  This is no the Jews – it is that narrow band of people with power.  Power that had scandalised and deeply offended Jesus’ sense of what it truly means to be Jewish.  Power that stood in the way of Peter and John and the others.

So it is they are brought before the council and questioned by the High Priest.

And then comes a remarkable statement in response to a clear question …

The high priest questioned them, 28saying, ‘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.’ 29But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.

This statement has been the inspiration of a William Wilberforce, of a Martin Luther King – the grounds of so much authentic Christianity – the willingness to stand over against the powers that be.

30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.

Luke is very careful – it is not ‘you’ the Jews.  But ‘you’ the power base of the Jerusalem Herodian hierarchy.  This is so important for us to realise!!!

 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’

If the cap fits, wear it.

And those Herodians when they heard it were enraged and wanted to kill them.

But then it was that someone spoke out.

A Pharisee.

A cursory reading of the NT can make the Pharisees appear to be the baddies.  A careful reading shows that among the Phariseess were some very genuine people, seeking to live out their faith and seeking the truth.

Here we arrive at a key principle.

A key thing to test innovation, change, the kind of experimenting Highbury looked for in Eric, the kind of risk-taking Eric saw to be so important to the church’s vision, the kind of change we are at the moment working through.

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. 35Then he said to them, ‘Fellow-Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36For 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. 37After 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. 38So 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; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’

It’s what I think you could call, ‘the Gamaliel Principle’

if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’

It is by the fruits that people’s faith can be seen and that the church is known to be truly the church.

Into God’s hands.

We do what we can.  We seek out wisdom.  In all our sharing we listen to each other, and then in Chruch meeting we seek the mind of Christ.  And then we act on it.

If it is of  God it will go forward and will be to his glory.  And if not it will fail.

We don’t know.  We need to take the risk and go with it.

Interestingly even the powers that be could not gainsay Gamaliel.

They were convinced by him, 40and 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.

What was their response?

 41As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name.

And did they obey the authorities and from that time on keep quiet?

Did they water down their message?

Not a bit of it!

42And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Worth testing –

  1. Seek to be of one mind and not just out for your own
  2. Be caring and bring healing where people hurt
  3. Stand firm for Christ against the powers that be
  4. If it’s of God it will go from strength to strength
  5. And most important of all – do not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah

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