April 25, 2021 (Liturgical Year B)
The passage read in the lectionary today was Acts 4:5-12. If you want a fuller context, I recommend you read Acts 3:1-4:22.
Today’s gospel passage was John 10:11-18.
Over the course of our lives, we each encounter times when we must decide what it means to “do the right thing.” Sometimes, “the right thing” is not always obvious. There may be several choices to make, several options which are equally good (or equally bad!). Or, the right thing may be quite obvious — but something which is especially challenging to do.
In today’s reading from Acts (as well as in the verses leading up to and following today’s events), two disciples must defend a choice they made. Several days before today’s trial, Peter and John were on their way to the Jerusalem Temple. At one of the entrances, they noticed a disabled man begging for alms. Peter and John stopped before him. The man looked at them expectantly, awaiting their material gift. But material was not what God had in mind that day! Instead, Peter proclaimed him healed in the name of Jesus. Immediately, the disabled man stood and walked, fully healed.
We heard the results of Peter and John’s choice today. The religious authorities’ reaction was similar to their reaction to Jesus. They order Peter and John to stop. Like the weak hired hand in today’s Gospel, it would have been easy to run away from what was truly important the moment danger presented itself. The authorities could have done much to harm their religious and social status. But the two men were strong. They experienced the power of Jesus’ ministry and His resurrection. Those experiences empowered them, and they knew their call. They stood by it, and refused to back down, even in the face of powerful opposition.
It was an ordinary day in late May 2020 for then-seventeen-year-old Darnella Frazer. She took a younger cousin to the store. It was during this visit that she saw a man being arrested on the street outside. Something didn’t feel right. She sent her younger cousin back into the store. Then, she took out her phone, pulled up her camera, and began filming.
One officer kneeled on the man. One knee pressed into his back and the other knee pressed into his neck. He said he couldn’t breathe, over and over and over again. Despite his protests, the officer remained in place. Three other officers stood by. The small crowd urged the one officer to stop what he was doing, and the other three to get the man medical attention. Whatever the man may have done wrong, he didn’t deserve this. As tensions escalated, the officers ordered the bystanders to disperse. They even threatened them with mace.
Sheep flee at the sight of a wolf. They sense imminent physical danger and respond accordingly. It’s a God-given part of their nature designed to ensure their survival. Sometimes, we humans must make the difficult choice to face the danger, counter to our instincts, even at the threat of our own safety.
The danger was apparent to young Darnella that day. It would have been so much easier to flee to safety. And yet she refused to back down. Like the companions of our passage from Acts, she faced powerful opposition. Despite very real threat to her physical and emotional safety, she continued to record. She faced the danger, head-on, for ten terrifying minutes.
At our ten-thirty service today, we baptized a child. Right now, she is under the careful and loving care of her elders. For now, they choose what is best for her, what will help her to grow up to be healthy and strong and whole. Over time, she will gradually make more and more decisions of her own and on her own. Since she is a toddler, I imagine she is already making some decisions for herself! When she’s much older, she will, like all of us, be called to discern “the right thing.” She will be called, as we all are, to live into the baptismal promises made on her behalf today. As a congregation we joined in that proclamation of faith by re-affirming our own baptismal promises…
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
May we, like the brave ones before us, face the difficult choices of our lives with steadfastness and strength. And may the Love of Jesus shine forth in every choice we make — especially the difficult ones.
May we love those like us and those vastly different from us equally, just as God loves each of us equally — and infinitely.
Image courtesy of NPR, who credited the AP. Triesman, Rachel. Darnella Frazer, Teen Who Filmed Floyd’s Murder, Praised for Making Verdict Possible. NPR.org. Originally Published April 21, 2021. Accessed here on April 23, 2021.