The disciples are not named in this morning’s first reading, Acts 5:27-32. Peter is the main character in this chapter and so we can assume the he is among the ones brought in front of the authorities but we do not have that specifically, it is not a point being made.
It could even be disciples who are not named in the Bible at all, all it really says is that they were teaching in the temple, where they had been told not to, by the people in charge of the temple, the owners, if you will.
They had been told not to teach in the name of Jesus, their fallen and then risen leader, to keep the good news to themselves because it was upsetting the apple cart, it was bothering the powerful, it was keeping things from settling back down after the crucifixion, which was, of course, meant to settle things down.
It was the name, you see. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk Peter says only a couple of chapters ago in Acts, imagine how upset they would have been if they got wind of that there teaching!
There is something in the name.
Not the names of the disciples, as we have established, they are grouped together this morning, it’s “when they had brought them” instead of “Peter and James and whatshisname with the scar on the back of his hand,” because who they are is not important. Their names are not at issue this morning, it is the name of Jesus that is the question
Or rather it is the name of Jesus that is the statement.
For days they have been moving about the city, people would crowd around, praying that even the shadow of Peter would fall upon them, laying their mats in the street so that they would be healed. Was it in Peter’s name that the lame would walk? Was it for the greatness of Bartholomew that the mute would sing?
Or was it something else? Was it something that, unlike our own names, threw a challenge in the face of the authorities, the rightful authorities, that left a wake of transformation and change, throwing over the established order and replacing it with a new vision of what people were worth, how they should be treated?
The disciples are not listed by name because they are us, or they are supposed to be us. They stand for all of the disciples throughout time, each of them standing when it would be easier to bend, each of them speaking when it would be easier to fall silent, each of them proclaiming Christ crucified for our sake, and risen on account of God’s great love and mercy for us all.
The disciples in this morning’s first reading, the first of the scriptures assigned to this day are just that, nameless, faceless, throughout history there have been those unafraid to speak out in His name.
Some of them do not fare well. We read their stories every year and we silently thank God we do not live in the same time that they did, a time when Christians were persecuted for their faith, a time when Christians were asked to die for their faith. It still happens to day, but we don’t often hear about it in mainline churches. Our evangelical brethren know about it all too well and while I do not share their fervor or very much of their theology, I do appreciate someone keeping an eye on things.
I like that Ernie prays for them each Sunday, I like that someone keeps them in mind because otherwise we might forget that this kind of thing still happens, that people like us, only much less fortunate, are occasionally called upon to really lay it all on the line, to confess Christ in the temple and in the marketplace even if it means being brought in front of the council.
Do you think they ever thought about it turning out this way when they started following Jesus? Not as believers but as actual disciples, when they literally followed Him around for three years, ministering, learning, serving and finally inheriting? Sure they knew that any idea worthy of crucifying someone over wasn’t going to be embraced with glee, but do you think many of them thought it would cost them their lives?
Do you think Peter ever saw himself crucified, upside down, when he cut off the servant’s ear at Gethsemane? Easy to be bold with a sword in one hand and Jesus standing right there, it’s different when you are all alone in the face of the hostile world.
And they are in the world’s face, in the modern sense, they are all up in the world’s face.
You see, it takes faith to believe that the entire way that things are being managed is wrong and that Jesus’ vision for us all should take its place, it takes faith to believe that and then it takes courage to stand up and say it to the very people you seek to overthrow, to get all up in their face.
It took courage back then and it takes even more now.
I know that sounds odd, considering that Peter is, as I mentioned, crucified, but consider for a moment what is at stake for them.
They have nothing. Jesus sends them out without even an extra tunic because they are close enough, their faith is profound enough to trust in the promise. I wonder if we can even imagine having so little that we could list everything from memory? With such a life, risking it for the sake of the truth, well that doesn’t even seem all that outlandish.
We, on the other hand, have an abundance almost inconceivable to even the kings of old. You want to see how someone clings to even the most common of riches? Try and pry the video game from a kid’s hand, try and convince a Sonoma County chauvinist to drink wine from anywhere else, try and get someone to risk even a little bit of embarrassment, even in defense of something they really believe in.
We have internalized Shakespeare’s Othello when he said “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.”
I wonder how many people would even risk their good name for the sake of Christ?
Because the world is not, as you might expect, appreciably better now than it was then. Sure we have more stuff, but war still rages, famine still kills children, injustice still imprisons thousands, tyrants still oppress, and mankind is no less prone to attempt to get the upper hand over their neighbors than they were before, heck that’s even considered a virtue in some circles.
But where are we teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus these days? Not just preaching and teaching in the name, but preaching and teaching the name? Don’t misunderstand me, I love the fact that this is my job and that I get to do it here, but even if I shouted with my very best soccer-dad voice, which, by the way is pretty loud, you probably couldn’t hear it all the way down on Summerfield, the traffic noise would drown it out.
So we have to not stop. We must stop stopping speaking about faith, about Faith Lutheran, about Christ and the changes he has effected in our lives when we walk through those doors. It wasn’t what we had in mind when faith first came to visit us, but it is what happens when someone who knows there is a better way, can’t find it and makes up their mind to make the better way, in Jesus name.
Sure, it might threaten the apple cart a little. Nobody likes being called on the carpet for their failings and there are a lot of failings out there for a person who has been freed in Christ. What are we to do when we see an injustice, theft, oppression?
Are we willing to put down the video game, the chardonnay, and set aside our good name to make things right, to find a better way, to make a better way?
I know it wasn’t what we thought we were getting into in the beginning, but it is what there is for us to do, to put our values into action and make the world over with only our faith and the name of Jesus as our toolkit.
Sure, we still have the rest of the stuff, we can take up the glass of wine again later, lay our heads on soft pillows and not the stones of the field like the disciples must have, but it is the engagement that matters, the commerce, so to speak, with the world, the speaking of the name of Christ into the world as if it could change things, as if it were the only thing that could.
Our blessings are incalculable. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe, Jesus says this morning to Thomas, first among theologians for all of his inquiry and curiosity and stubbornness. Does he doubt or does he just want to know more? Is he any more flawed than the rest of the disciples, or is he just a little braver?
We have all that he had and more because we have not seen, have not carried a cross, have not been persecuted, enjoy the fruits of decades of Christendom, the ascendancy of the faith and still we believe and feel the waters of baptism on our foreheads, feel the anointing, feel the forgiveness, the grace and the mercy. It is enough to make you weep at the enormity of it; it towers over the paltry accomplishments of this world, the mountain of swag we get for being fans of ourselves and our own greatness.
Everything is eclipsed by the mercy, the sweet grace of taking away all that we have done, all that are doing and all that we will ever do in the future that is displeasing to God and putting it to death on the cross and Thomas just wants more, one more seminar with the Lord, a little more sweet words of promise and hope.
Thomas just wants one more minute before he must go outside and tell the story in the temple; one more moment of grace and peace before the trials and the condemnations; one more second of sunshine before the work of discipleship begins.
That is what we are about this morning. This is the minute of grace and hope and love and a little bread and wine, a taste of forgiveness and love, this is Doubting Thomas Sunday because this is always the scripture for Low Sunday, the Sunday after Easter and it is just what Thomas wanted, a moment with the Word, a reminder of all that we have and all that is ours because of the name of Jesus.
All the rest of it will still be there when we get home, it’ll still be shiny and state of the art and everything we ever wanted.
But for a minute think of those who have only the word and the need to share it. Around the world and throughout time there have been those without doubt, who spoke the name and paid the price. The disciples from Acts this morning. That’s them.
Much less is asked of us and yet it is the same.
Trust God. Trust God more than you trust wealth or power or position.
Then go and do what your faith leads you to go and do, knowing that even if you have it good in worldly terms, you have it better in spiritual terms, the Kingdom is yours and at the same time, yours to build.
So come, come for refreshment and nurture and for whatever inspiration this preacher can offer and then instead of putting your hand into the side, or touching the holes in the hands of Christ, take his hand, and together move into tomorrow. You might not get your name mentioned, you’ll just be another disciple, but you’ll be a disciple of Christ and in His name, you have everything anyway.