Acts 5, 27b-41
by Revd Dr Joachim Feldes, Anglican Church in Germany
Focussing on Participation
Participation means having the chance to be a part of the society at an eye-to-eye level. It is opposite to any limitation, segregation, let alone exclusion in terms of money or culture, in terms of ethnic or religious characteristics. Participation means realising what article 1 of the German constitutions claims, i.e. that the dignity of the human being is inviolable.
Taking account of God’s marvellous plan of a creation living as a complex organism whose members live with and die without the others, participation comes across as a thoroughly biblical issue. This is most significantly illustrated and practiced by Jesus who passionately cares about those socially marginalised and segregated. It is one of his core efforts to do everything possible to make them reconnect with society, sharing anew common tables, risen life, and God’s fellowship. Following that movement and concern of Jesus, it becomes natural and inevitable to live up to an integrative and inclusive calling as Christians, and also to oppose a neoliberal, denigrating and eventually killing economy where seeking short-term profit alone is crucial.
Christians’ vocation is contrary to and has to fight virtually as well as in prayer against global segregation in all its forms. Segregation hindering integration and inclusion of all neglects or exploits humans of this generation or those to come must and will come to an end. We cannot but opening our minds and hearts to others who have been denied access to common wealth. God expects us to strife with everything we have to love and care for creation as he does himself.
Apostles are pretty bold upright. Before the high priest they pronounce the sentence upright people all over the world will keep repeating: You have to obey God more than men. Looking at history, it was such people who were promoting our planet: Copernic, Gandhi, Bonhoeffer and many others – all of them resisting to any attempts of repression by authoritarian authorities. And given the sad development that more and more countries have been falling into authoritarian systems, their message has become even more important. This also encourages dissidents – Julien Asange is only one of them – not to be marginalised and imprisoned, but be given a voice and appreciated in the middle of society. They are a crucial part both of society and common sense, maybe the one who will eventually be proved right.
Acts 5 highlights how deeply the mission of the early church was rooted in her members’ faith. In spite of all obstacles, prohibition and dangers the apostles’ talk becomes a forceful sermon. They cannot help doing so, there’s no fussing around. There’s only bold proclaiming from the heart of the belief, as if their creed could protect them – kind of weird, crazy.
And yet, this has an impact, much stronger than expected. The high priests refrain from their initial goals and shy off from having them killed. Their shyness corresponds to the apostles’ boldness as they feel even more encouraged than before. Mission is crucial to them, entailing the chance for all to share their faith, to participate in their belief. There’s no thought to be wasted about fear of being killed, yet they enjoy suffering for the sake of the name of Jesus.
What a future – grotesque or amazing – is being promised here: it is not an aggressive or intruding lion, but a peaceful lamb that will be sitting on the throne. Might, wealth, wisdom, power, honour, glory and praise, everything that counts on earth will be sacrificed together with the lamb, given for us. What a marvellous rehabilitation, what a great hope for the powerless, poor, weak, scorned and despised. In the end they will take part in the divine life. They will be raised, as they have been cast down on earth. The lamb confirms that this future world is surely to come, a world where no one is marginalised anymore, but everyone invited to be a full member of a divine, welcoming, hospitable and comprehensive society.
Come and eat! Most welcoming is Jesus when offering the fish the disciple just did catch – thanks to his help. 150 big fish, symbolizing whole mankind, symbolizing a mankind united. And none of the disciples claims the fish his own, no one complains that the fish now are Jesus’s and his very gift to us. Whatever God gives, eventually it is and remains his, and never becomes ours. Whatever we receive must be shared or handed on to the next generation.
And yet, the story is not only about fish or food or any material we need to stay alive. It is about mankind, i.e. us who come from God and belong to him. And clearly it is God’s faithfulness and care that fills the net, feeds us and meets our longings. Without him, without the Son of God you do not get anywhere. Without him you labour, you struggle in vain.
By his support and invitation Jesus illustrates the kingdom of God and shows that it has already arrived and is realizing in this concrete world, in our world. And he makes clear that we are not spectators, but followers. We are invited to engage and it is our duty to share. Sharing the goods of this world is a key part of God’s kingdom. God asks us to share in order that everyone may participate – in society, culture and education, that everyone is appreciated, respected, and welcome. Becoming and being a member of God reconciled universal family, this is the way the kingdom of God is spreading. Come and eat! You are invited. You are invited to participate.
by Revd Dr Joachim Feldes, Anglican Church in Germany