Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Freedom in Philippi Acts 16

Review and Introduction to This Sunday’s Text: Acts 16:16-34

In the history of the liturgy of the church there is a prominent tradition of lingering in the book of Acts for the two months or so of Sundays that separate Easter from Pentecost (Pentecost is next week, by the way). We have talked together a bit about the reasons for our lingering in Acts but maybe we should remind ourselves again. The book of Acts, as many of you know, is a historical account of the growth of the early church. Importantly, among other things, as observed early on in Acts, it is an account of Jesus’ followers growth - their growth from those who deserted him to those who will give their lives preaching about God’s love for all of humankind, the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, in many important ways the book of Acts is a deep reminder to us that God worked through human frailty to build his church, that the growth of the early church is always a matter, to borrow words from Saint Paul in his letter to church in Corinth, a matter of God’s strength working through human weakness and frailty. But there is another important ongoing theme in Luke’s Acts and it is this- Luke wants us to know that God’s love is truly meant to reach all people and all sorts and kinds of people. The gospel is not a message for one religious or ethnic group - it is not meant to be a private religious experience but is supposed to be for the redemption of the entire world and to touch all of humanity. We hear this foreshadowed in Jesus’ words that Luke gives us at the beginning of Acts: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Luke is very eager for us to understand the growth and development of the early church as a missional movement of God - - as God, through his people, makes his love for all of humankind known to all of the peoples of the world, regardless of who they are ethnically, socio-economically, etc.

Homily Recap:

However, in the passage before us this morning we are reminded that not everyone wants to hear the good news about Jesus. The ones in the story who really don’t want to hear about it are the men who have been trafficking this young girl. What a tragic picture, a girl whose life was completely out of her control and under the control of dark forces out to exploit her, whether the forces be supernatural or the flesh and blood men who owned her. When she is healed and her life is given back to her her owners retaliate against Paul and his cohort, bringing them before the authorities and charging them with “disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” What is truly disturbing, however, is the fact that this girl’s life is given back to her from the powers of darkness and her owners don’t even stop for one moment to ask themselves whether they ought not to be happy for her? And they certainly don’t pause and ask themselves whether or not exploiting her had been a wicked thing all along! Far from stopping for reflection, they move to retaliate against Paul and Silas.

Remarkable and chilling is the behavior of these men; this is very sobering for those who have ears to hear!!!

Luke gives us a provocative literary clue as to why her owners are unable to see her new freedom as an occasion for their own repentance, In verses 18 and 19 Luke uses the same Greek word, “to leave”, to describe the evil spirit’s leaving the girl and the owners’ hope of money leaving them. He says quite literally, the spirit left or departed and the money left and departed. And so in this little word play we are soberly reminded that one of the most common causes for spiritual blindness is greed. But that is not all that is chilling in this vignette. Next in this little scene we see what we often see in our own day. Those whose motives are to exploit others for their own profit hide their agendas behind any subterfuge available. In this passage the men who own the girl, of course, do not haul Paul and Silas before the magistrate and say, “hey we were making money off of the misfortune of this girl and they healed her and took away our ability to do that!”. No, they appeal to the fear of foreigners and suspicion of Jews. The crowd does the rest of the work for them and very quickly Paul and Silas end up flogged and in jail. It is a commonplace for Luke in his gospel and in the book of Acts, in the words of NT scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, to.... “connect spiritual dispositions to the disposition of possessions.”

And so all of what has happened so far in this story reminds us that the message of God’s love for the world will often be met with opposition, especially by those who are unwilling to see their spiritual blindness. We are also reminded again of the tragedy that comes from confusing illicit carnal pleasures with human flourishing. The owners’ slave is freed but those men chose to remain slaves to the bondage of their greed. How about you and me this morning? Do we have an attitude or disposition towards money, sex, or power (those are usually the three big idol factories) that keeps us from seeing God’s grace for us? Have we confused illicit carnal pleasures for human flourishing? Sobering thoughts but Luke reminds us here that the gospel is sometimes going to be felt as confrontation, especially when we are suffering from spiritual blindness

And yet God can move us in an instant from blindness to sight as we see in the rest of our story which is saturated with hope.

But paradoxically, our narrative this morning takes a turn towards hope only when Paul and Silas are put into prison. So, we are reminded here that the mission of God goes forward with its greatest power when the servants of God are in situations of powerlessness, following the cruciform God in mission. What is illustrated here in the cruciform pattern of Paul and Silas is put in lovely prose in Paul’s letter to the church which forms in Philippi from this very visit:

2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him

It is in his cruciformity that Jesus is exalted and so we expect to see the same pattern in Jesus’ followers. Here are Paul and Silas prisoners in the form of the slave, in stocks and in jail in Philippi - - all because they freed a slave girl from an evil spirit and a life of exploitation. But as I just mentioned, this is where our story takes a turn towards hope. There is an earthquake and all of the prisoners are presented with an opportunity to escape but they don’t take the opportunity!! Somehow, Paul manages to keep everyone from leaving, knowing that the escape would result in the jailer losing his life, either by preemptive suicide, which he is apparently ready to do, or as a result of the capital punishment that would be dealt to him for letting the prisoners escape.

Now, understand, earthquakes were often seen in antiquity as the work of angry deities and that is about all we should take from the jailer’s question: “how can I be saved?” He is frightened by the earthquake and sees Paul and Silas as the ones who are able to tell him how to be saved from the punishment of the gods. The jailer, unlike the human traffickers responsible for putting Paul and Silas in jail, actually sees Paul and Silas as people who can tell him something he needs to know about the supernatural world. Paul sees this as an opportunity to tell the man about the one true God and how salvation is to be found in Jesus.

And so we meet salvation in a prison where those who are freed from their shackles remain in jail in order to save the life of a man who was essentially their enemy. Sounds like the gospel. The cruciform pattern of discipleship comes into clear view. I wonder if the Philippian jailer was in church at Philippi some few years later when Paul wrote that Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be used for his advantage, but took the form of a slave. I wonder if he thought about that night when Paul and Silas did not see their freedom from their shackles as an opportunity to take for their own advantage but remained, so to speak, in chains so that they might speak the truth of salvation to this poor man. And so in all of this we are given the clarion reminder that true freedom comes from following Jesus, not in the avoidance of suffering.

In commenting on this narrative, Dr William Willimon, preacher and scholar, remarks: “in this story everyone who at first appeared to be free, the girl’s owners, the judges, the jailer, is a slave. And everyone who first appeared to be a slave - the poor girl, Paul and Silas is free.”

What makes for true freedom? Luke reminds us in the way he tells these stories that there are many ways to deceive oneself into thinking that one is flourishing as a human being, but only in following the cruciform Christ in mission can we be truly free.

Questions for discussion:

1. Do you have practices in your life that help you detect when you may be suffering from the onset of spiritual blindness?

2. Do you think of yourself as someone who is capable of hiding under subterfuge in order to not name or ignore your real reason for doing something? Why is acting in this way so sinister and life-destroying? Given the fact that people in leadership (e.g. political leaders, captains of industry) do this all of the time, how should the church respond in a non-partisan, yet prophetic way?

3. Can you think of a time when you made a profound sacrifice (cruciform-like) for someone in order to bear witness in words or deeds to the gospel?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

After Easter - Cornelius and Peter

In the passage before us today we meet a fellow named Cornelius. He lives in an important city called Caesarea and he is an official in the Roman army. He is also, like the Ethiopian Eunuch we met last week, drawn to the God of Israel. And so we are reminded this week, as were last week, that Luke is very eager for us to understand the growth and development of the early church as a missional movement of God - - as God, through his people, makes his love for all of humanity known to all of the peoples of the world, regardless of who they are ethnically, socio-economically, etc. Cornelius is an example of that growth and development. While not being fully converted to Judaism he has become a practitioner of the Jewish religion; his worship of Yahweh is replete with daily prayer and the life-giving discipline of the giving of alms to the poor. Luke, the author of the gospel in his name and this book of Acts, thinks that this latter aspect of Cornelius’ worship is very important, for he calls special attention to it using the motif of Old Testament sacrifices (e.g. the alms are a memorial before God as Cornelius will later talk about them when Peter comes to visit him).

The reason why Cornelius’ giving of alms is so important to Luke is because the giving of alms to the poor is a sign that God is at work in the depths of the human heart.

Talented authors often use intertextual echoes to bring points home to their readers. In a novel, for instance, something may happen early on in the story, the importance of which is seen in its fullness only later in the story when something else happens that connects back to the earlier scene.

Here in this story of Cornelius we encounter just such an echo, an echo that comes to us from another story Luke tells us in his gospel, another story that talks about alms and the human heart.

In the gospel of Luke we meet Jesus talking about the importance of giving alms to the poor; this happens in the midst of a confrontation with the corrupt religious leadership of his day Luke (11:33-34). Invited to dinner at the home of one of those leaders, Jesus deliberately skips an important religious rite; he does not ceremoniously wash before the meal. When confronted, he says in so many words, you foolish people; you are dirty on the inside as evidenced by your greed and your obsession over your social status. This is made painfully obvious by your lack of support of the poor people in your midst. Deal with the inside of your heart. Repent of your selfishness and greed and this repentance will be reinforced by your giving alms to the poor.

Jesus is teaching in this passage, as in the whole of the gospel, that it is the cleanness of the heart that counts with God, and the evidence that God is at work in the heart will be in the way people treat the vulnerable in their midst. Fast forward from that encounter, through the cross and the resurrection and into the growth of the gospel in the early church and here in the text before us we have our echo of the importance of alms for the poor in relationship to ritual cleanliness. But this time someone gets it right and the someone is one who is by definition ritually impure - he is a gentile. The one who is counted by the Judaism of that day as unclean and unwashed gives evidence that God is at work in his heart by how he treats the poor.

We will meet Cornelius again in the homily that follows communion and he will teach us a lot about God’s love for all people but as we get ready to receive the sacrament of communion let us remember that at this table each week we are invited to come close to God’s heart; we confess our sins and we are cleansed so that we may love as Jesus loves, and care for others as Jesus cares for us. It is not what is on the outside that counts but that which is on the inside - it is what is on the inside, twisted and broken that we bring to Jesus to be straightened and made whole.

Part Two:

In the time we have remaining this morning I want us to come back to Cornelius. We have already noted that Cornelius is a signpost of what God desires to do with the whole of humanity - to change us from the inside out so that we might participate in Christ’s self giving love. The evidence of God’s work in Cornelius is seen clearly, perhaps most clearly, in the way he treated the vulnerable in his midst, by giving alms to the poor. But Cornelius is a signpost in another important way too. His response, as one outside of Israel to the God of Israel is a signpost (like the Ethiopian Eunuch of last week) that the mission of God is to bring his redemptive love in Christ to the whole of humanity - to every sort and kind of people.

In a conversation this week with a friend who is a New Testament professor, I learned something that I was not aware of: I quote Aaron Kuecker here almost verbatim: “Every time the Spirit speaks directly to a person in Acts, sends them toward a gospelled relationship that crosses a significant social barrier”.

And so last week the Holy Spirit tells Philip to go and talk to the Ethiopian Eunuch and this week, Peter, is told by the Holy Spirit to go to with Cornelius’ people.

We have remarked before that part of following Jesus is learning to see people as God sees them and nowhere is this drilled home more clearly than in what the Spirit teaches Peter in this mysterious vision; but, it is the way Peter applies what he learns in the vision that is most remarkable. Look at the two passages below - one is about food and one is about people.

Acts 10:14 But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ 15The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Acts 10:28 You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

In the vision Peter is told to regard foods that he regarded unclean as clean; and yet when he comes into Cornelius’ home he says that God has shown him that he should regard no person as unclean or profane. What is going on here? In the vision, there is pork and shellfish and the like, but in Cornelius’ home there is no mention of food but only of people - ONLY OF PEOPLE.

Well, something very important is going on. In the religious and socio-cultural context in which Peter lived what a person ate and how they were to be regarded as a human being were inseparable..... but here Peter says I have been taught by God to pull those things apart and to see all people as precious and dear to God.... it is what is going on in the inside that counts!!!!

Church, friends, brothers and sisters: we have no right to expect that we can follow the Spirit at work in the world when we regard the other, the one who is different from us as unclean, profane and not loved by God. To put it positively, we follow the Spirit and Jesus in mission when we take as a starting point that all people are loved by God and precious to him even though we struggle to see people that way because of our sinful fear and judgment of the other.

Questions for discussion:

1. I suggested above that the giving of alms, or our modern day equivalent, reinforces the work of God in our hearts? Do you agree with this? If not, explain why not. If you agree, why do you think God works that way?

2. On what grounds does Peter state his desire to baptize Cornelius’ people? Why does he ask if anyone wants to withhold baptism? Is that a rhetorical question?

3. Do you think, as a church, we receive outsiders as enthusiastically as does the early church as exemplified by how eagerly and quickly they assimilate the gentiles?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

after easter again - the Ethiopian eunuch

The book of Acts, as many of you know, is a historical account of the growth of the early church. Importantly, it is among other things, as we have been observing recently, an account of Jesus’ followers growth - their growth from those who deserted him to those who will give their lives preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ: God’s love for all of humankind through Jesus. So, in many important ways the book of Acts is a deep reminder to us that God worked through human frailty to build his church, that the growth of the early church is always a matter, to borrow words from Saint Paul in his letter to church in Corinth, a matter of God’s strength working through human weakness and frailty. But there is another important movement in Luke’s symphony, and this is the movement - that God’s love is truly meant to reach all people and all sorts and kinds of people. The gospel is not a message for one religious or ethnic group - it is not meant to be a private religious experience but is supposed to be for the redemption of the entire world and to touch all of humanity. We hear this foreshadowed in Jesus’ words that Luke gives us at the beginning of Acts: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Now, earlier in Acts Luke has shown us the power of the gospel at work in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and in our text this morning we come to this truly amazing encounter that Philip has with the man from Ethiopia. The thing to note here, in light of Jesus’ words about God’s love coming to the ends of the earth, is that Ethiopians were regarded as living pretty much at the end of the earth. In fact historians note that Homer, in the Odyssey, mentions Ethiopians as those who live on the “Southern edge of the earth”. So, for Luke, in the way that he organizes and emphasizes the preaching of the early church leaders he clearly wants us to understand that a big Ethiopian flag is being raised here on this road from Jerusalem; and God is saying, I love these people as much as my beloved Israel, as much as their half-sisters and brothers in Samaria - go find me some people further away from Ethiopia and guess what, put another flag in the ground because I love those people too. There is always enough of the love of God to go around; human beings are the ones that are stingy with it and that should give us pause to reflect and be sure that we are not stingy with God’s love.

Back to the text: there is something about our Ethiopian man here that is just as important to Luke than where he is from. It is that he is a eunuch. Luke tells us five times that he is a eunuch; five times in a very short story. Luke thinks this is important to know about him. Now, a quick reminder about eunuchs in the ancient world. They were often taken from their families and castrated before puberty - they were people whose bodies were butchered in order to make them a unique kind of slave to the powerful master or mistress they served, for the eunuch had no family and no chance of having a family to get in the way of his singular devotion to the one who had power over him. Also, many times the eunuch-slave was entrusted to be around royal females or harems because he had been castrated. A eunuchs life was cruelly crafted to belong to no one but his master or mistress.

This particular eunuch had, apparently, come into contact with the God of Israel through Jews living in Ethiopia and his interest in the God of Abraham had drawn him to Jerusalem on what seems to have beeem a pilgrimage of sorts. He was apparently interested in becoming a follower of Yahweh and because of his position as treasurer to the Queen of Ethiopia, he actually has the means to make this trip.

Now, the first thing that comes to my mind about a long trip like that is that the one who takes it is being a bit, or maybe a lot, vulnerable. The Ethiopian was coming into Jerusalem to the temple as an extreme and exotic foreigner, a curiosity even among the Romans and Greeks, not to mention the people of Israel. The eunuch may have felt the same way some of you have felt when you have extended yourself to go to church for the first time or a first time in a long time; or maybe it is how you have felt when you have decided to draw closer to people within the church community - it feels risky - you can feel vulnerable and a bit nervous. What if my good faith efforts are rejected? Well, the thing you need to know about what would have happened to the eunuch in Jerusalem is that by and large his good faith efforts would have been in a very real sense rejected. The thing to know about what would have happened to him when he reached the temple is this: he would have been denied entrance. This is because according to Levitical law, no eunuchs (regarded as ritually impure due to their castration) were allowed in the temple. Their worship would always be, at best, at the margins of the community. After being reminded - and reminded when he is already in a vulnerable spot - of the multi-faceted scars that come with being a eunuch he gets in his chariot to head home.

Whatever happened in Jerusalem, however, was not enough to deter this man’s interest in Yahweh, for we meet him reading from the prophet Isaiah. And the text he is reading, well, let’s say that it is really catching his interest -
“ In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’”

In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.

Who is this about, the prophet or someone else, the eunuch asks? This was not a casual question for the eunuch, for like so many who have suffered under the powerful, the eunuch knew about people who had been humiliated, who had justice denied to them. Like millions of others who suffer injustices on this earth the eunuch knew that the person he was reading about in this messianic Psalm was someone with whom he could identify. There is something else about this passage that is especially poignant and another translation really brings it home.... the NIV renders the phrase about his generation, “who can speak of his descendants”.

The eunuch knew also of those whose lives were taken away from the earth, and whose descendants would never be spoken of, namely, eunuchs, namely him.

Who is being spoken of in this passage?! Who is the prophet talking about?! These were not casual or abstract questions. There was something about this Holy Book that spoke to his story, to his life. The answer that Philip gave no doubt invited the eunuch to see the story of Jesus’ suffering and humiliation in redemptive solidarity with his own (Philip begins preaching the gospel at that very passage from Isaiah). The eunuch in that moment came to know that God, in Christ, shares in our suffering so that he might claim our scars as his own, so that he might give us newness of life beyond the scars. There is a very important principle here in this and please don’t miss it: the story of God’s love in Scripture is always about you and Christ’s sharing in your suffering and pain to draw you into his redemptive love.

The eunuch was one who was forced to be without a family, but in this picture before us he is brought into the family of God. Philip’ solidarity with the eunuch is a picture of Christ’s solidarity with him and of the enfolding love of a new family, the family of God consisting of all of Christ’s younger brothers and sisters. Remarkably there is a passage that comes later in that scroll of Isaiah - just three chapters later in our version of the OT.

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

I wonder if Philip showed this to him? I bet he did.

A New Testament professor friend of mine reminded me the other day that eunuchs were really segregated in a cruel way in the ancient world: “eunuchs are a stock figure in antiquity for the 'grotesque other' - neither male nor female (A. Kuecker)”. Grace Chicago Church, we know we are following Jesus when we are known to be a community that boldly embraces those who society has put at the margins and declared to be outsiders, those who are made to be the butt of jokes. May God pour out his love on us so that we may pour it out on everyone else.

Questions for discussion:
1. As mentioned above, Philip began with the text the eunuch was reading and used it as the door through which to walk to tell the rest of the story of the gospel. Does this approach stimulate your thinking about how you might talk about the gospel to those who have not heard or understood it? If so, how so?

2. Can you give two or three examples of kinds of people who are contemporary equivalents to eunuchs in the ancient world (stock figures of the grotesque other).

3. How do you think our church is doing at welcoming the examples you offered in answer to the above question?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

After Easter 3

In the text before us this morning we have before us another passage of scripture that is familiar to many of us (Acts 4: 5-12). The passage often comes up this time of year, as the lectionary reminds us that we need to take time to ponder together the remarkable events that follow quite closely on the heels of the resurrection of the Son of God. The rhythm of the lectionary, so to speak, is inviting us to linger for a while on the impact of Easter. And so for the past few Sundays we have been taking note of several of Jesus’ post-Easter visits with his disciples. DON’T FORGET that the one common theme to all of these visits was Jesus’ desire to help his followers face their failures and weaknesses and restore them them to their vocation of following him in mission. As someone has put it, “On the far side of the resurrection, vocation and forgiveness occur together....”.

In the passage before us this morning we meet Peter, recently forgiven and restored by Jesus, now proclaiming boldly the gospel of Jesus Christ in the very city where Jesus was crucified, in the very city where Peter had denied him three times. Stop there for just a moment. Isn’t it amazing how powerful a hold geography can have on us?! I think all of us can relate to being back in familiar surroundings - even literally geographical surroundings (for Peter, Jerusalem) - where our past actions in those surroundings confronts us with our failure. In those moments it can at first feel like nothing has changed. You look up and you see a park bench or a cafe and you think unpleasant thoughts. Yet because of God’s forgiveness and acceptance in Christ the landscape of our pasts can become places of hope instead of a reminder of our failures. I am not suggesting that this happens lightly or automatically but if we learn to practice seeing ourselves as those who have been forgiven by God in Christ slowly but surely even the most haunting of landscapes can become vistas of God’s grace and love for us. It is because this stuff doesn’t come easily or automatically that some spiritual traditions with our faith have emphasized joining confession and acceptance of God’s love with physical practices like breathing, praying with icons in hand, getting on one’s knees, coming forward to receive communion each week, etc. This is because leaving the difficult practice of accepting God’s love and forgiveness simply to a cerebral exercise is too tall an order for our feeble minds.

Back to the Scripture text at hand: so, here is Peter proclaiming the gospel to the very religious leadership who had conspired to have Jesus murdered by the Roman government. Specifically, Peter and John are being detained and threatened for preaching and healing in Jesus’ name and so Peter takes the opportunity to appeal to the religious leadership to recognize the horror of what they have done. He says to them, in so many words, the one whom you crucified is now the one in whom you need to find salvation. Your victim has been raised from the dead; your victim is your judge; your judge forgives you. Repent and accept his forgiveness because there will be no other way of dealing with your sin if you refuse God’s love for you in the very one you crucified.

The language that Peter uses here to confront the authorities is strong and courageous, to be sure. But what is easy for us to miss is how much this tells us about the persistence that God has with regard to his passion to forgive people - even specifically those who conspired to murder the innocent Son of God. The proclamation to them from the OT, a text with which they would have familiarity, the stone the builders have rejected has become the chief cornerstone, is said to them to jar them out of their blindness and to beckon them to see that it is in Jesus that God is at work in the world to bring forgiveness, healing, and newness of life. He does not say to them, you had your chance - now you may as well go hang yourselves because God is never going to accept you. No, just the opposite: and one thinks here of the powerful words of the theologian, M Volf: "If God does not find what is pleasing in an object - if human beings have become ungodly - God does not abandon the object in disgust until it changes its character. Instead, God seeks to re-create it to become lovable again... God is not just generous even to the unrighteous; God also forgives their unrighteousness so as to lead them through repentance back to the good they have abandoned."
Sadly, in today’s religious climate, there are a great many Christian people (and to my dismay it seems like theirs are the voices most often heard in the media) who talk as if God somehow delights at the prospect of condemning the unbeliever. In this sort of climate it becomes even more important that we take great care in how we present the uniqueness of Jesus that is portrayed in this passage. When we talk about “salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved”, we must make sure that people don’t imagine us to be saying that we know the end game between God and any individual person. What we are saying positively is that we, as followers of Jesus, believe that we have found our life in God to be in Jesus Christ and that the forgiveness, newness of life, wisdom, and life-giving community we have found in him can be found in no one else. This approach to dealing with the uniqueness of Jesus - this positive approach (which I think is the approach taken even in this bracing mini-sermon of Peter’s when you really think of it in its context) - is really very important. It is important because in this approach to the teaching in this text we are reminded of something very important that we need to come to terms with: God wants us to experience forgiveness and life in Jesus in such a genuine and palpable way that we are always at the ready to say to anyone and everyone that what we experience of human flourishing comes to us by no other name than Jesus. We should live our lives so that we are able to say to anyone and everyone that it is by no other name than Jesus that we have been drawn out of our selfishness in order to love others with the same love that God has loved us; that it is by no other name than Jesus that I have found the humility and impetus to ask my spouse to forgive me for the way I spoke to her. We should be able to confess that it is by no other name than Jesus that I am put in a space where I remember how much I am loved by God, in turn giving me a proper love of self that can enable me to turn from self-destructive patterns of sin that are appealing only in moments when I forget how much I am loved by God. It is by no other name than Jesus that the landscapes of my life become transformed from fields of despair and selfish wandering into places of hope where I can find my life in Christ and in loving my neighbor as myself. You get the picture.

Questions for discussion:

1. If someone who is not a Christian were to ask you to explain what Peter means when he says there is salvation in no one else what would you say? Would you draw a distinction between uniqueness and finality on the one hand and narrowness on the other?

2. As we noted above, Peter confronts the religious leadership with their sin and says to them, in so many words, there is no way out of the trap you have made for yourself regarding Jesus other than repenting and being reconciled to him. This is shocking in at least two way: (a) his appeal to them is to be forgiven when he is probably angry with them and afraid of them (b) they are given only one route to move forward and it is through the risen Jesus. Does this part of the passage make you think of people from whom you need forgiveness?