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Sunday, April 18, 2010, Third Sunday of Easter
If you have ever traveled around the country visiting small towns, you’ve probably noticed that the most impressive building in your average mid-American city is the county courthouse. I’m sometimes amazed at the impressive structures erected in otherwise unimpressive towns. Troy, Ohio, is a perfect example. It’s a nice town, with a pretty central square lined with quaint old buildings and a few good restaurants, but what in all of Miami county could justify that stupendous courthouse? It rivals anything in Washington DC for beauty and solemnity. And many very average county seats around the US sprouted these temples to the rule of law.
Why? To impress us. To impress the miscreant who is brought through its doors and made to stand before the majesty of the law in the person of his or her honor robed in black to represent a power greater than themselves. And the impressive trappings of the courthouse are also meant to reassure the law abiding that the rule of law will maintain the order and sanity on which their daily lives depend. We are all meant to be impressed, and a little bit intimidated, and are to understand that there is something at work within those hallowed halls that demands respect.
So, the captain of the guard and the court officers brought in the apostles and made them stand before the Sanhedrin. Now, the title “apostle” carries a lot of weight with us, but what the Sanhedrin saw before them was a group of Galilean fishermen. The term “Sanhedrin” doesn’t mean much to us, but to the fishermen in the dock they were the highest religious authorities in Israel, the High Priest himself and his cohort. And while it would have been more frightening to have been brought before the Roman Governor, the Sanhedrin was not something that a first century Jew would sniff at. And the chambers of the Sanhedrin would have had all the trappings of the majesty of the law we still see today in any county courthouse.
Of course, the trappings of the majesty of the law don’t work with everyone, or no one would be charged with “contempt of court.” And what these fishermen from Galilee had experience gave them and attitude that the Sanhedrin did not often confront within their chambers. These Galileans had seen their friend and leader, Jesus of Nazareth, wrongly convicted by a kangaroo court convened at midnight by the high priest himself. That was not very respectable. They had seen him thrown to the wolves by a cowardly Roman Procurator. That was not very respectable. They had seen him crucified and buried and then alive again in fulfillment of their Scriptures, alive again with a glorified life that the powers and principalities of this world cannot coerce or control. What these Galileans had experienced brought them to see Jesus in a fuller way, an understanding that St. John, their colleague, later had crystallized in vision, a vision of that higher power:
Countless angels, the four living creatures, the elders, every creature on earth, everything in the universe gathered around the throne of God the Creator, crying in in a thunder of praise: “worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.”
These fishermen from Galilee were supposed to be intimidated by the majesty of the Sanhedrin, but it was too late for that. What these apostles already had in their heads was an awareness of the infinite power that the risen Christ now wields over the universe from the right hand of the Father. What was a corrupt high priest next to that? What was a spineless Roman procurator in comparison? Which is why Peter could stand there and say what he said: “We must obey God rather than men.” And then have the courage to call the High Priest and his cohort to repentance!
Fellow Christians, are we ever intimidated by the powers that be, impressed by the world, enticed by its favors? Do we need to make compromises to buy off trouble, keep silent when the truth should be spoken? No. We need to close our eyes to the pomp and circumstance of this life of empty show and see with the eyes of faith, see the lamb who was slain by this corrupt world reigning over the universe in glory. Hear the thunderous praise of all living things as they recognize their Creator. And then obey God rather than men, as fearless apostles sent into this world to call it to a life-saving repentance.
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