By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“You yourselves judge which is right in God’s sight – to obey you or to obey God.
For we can not stop speaking of what we have seen and heard.” — Acts 4:19-20
August is designated mission month in my church. It is a time to affirm and celebrate the church’s basic nature and characteristics as God’s mission in the world. This is what makes the church different from any human institution for it has been set apart for a holy purpose of making God’s love known in the world.
This reminds us of the story of mission work in the Early Church as written in the Book of Acts. In Chapters 3 and 4, we read a story about Apostles Peter and John. As they went to the Temple to pray, they saw a lame man begging for money. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, they healed the lame man. And those who witnessed the event were greatly amazed.
Then, Peter and John took the opportunity to proclaim the message of Jesus’ life and death. But they were still speaking when the Temple guards arrived and arrested the two apostles and imprisoned them. But many of those who heard the good news believed – about five thousand men (Acts 4:4).
Peter and John were questioned before the Jewish Council, even as they courageously testified for Christ. The leaders of Jerusalem were surprised to witness the courage of the two apostles, knowing that they were just ordinary men. But nevertheless, they warned Peter and John to stop speaking in Jesus’ name.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the two apostles, however, responded saying: “You yourselves judge which is right in God’s sight – to obey you or to obey God. For we cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
The Jewish authorities would like to punish Peter and John, but they could not do it because of the people. They could not do otherwise but to release them.
Now, this aforementioned Biblical story would show us what Christian mission is all about. It could provide us some valuable insights concerning God’s mission work.
Speaking, standing for the truth
First of all, the story tells us that doing God’s mission in the world is to speak and stand for the truth. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter and John spoke courageously about the truth of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Without fear and favor, they pointed to the powers-that-be in Jerusalem as the ones responsible for the mistrial and death of the man Jesus of Nazareth, whom God raised from the dead. Consequently, Peter and John were arrested; they were imprisoned; they were harassed and questioned before the Jewish Council.
Truly, an encounter with truth is oftentimes an encounter with suffering. In our world today, there are in fact torture chambers established to process truth into false confessions. There are investigations and trials being conducted to turn the truth into lies. And worst of all, there are killings being carried out to silence the truth. The wicked spiritual forces of this Dark Age cannot withstand the truth. Truth is so naked that it must be covered with falsehood. Truth is so eloquent that it must be put to silence. This organized crime against the truth defiles our true humanity; it mocks the tears of people, and it defiles the power of God’s love.
Truth is so bright and clear. But those who are blinded by the authority and power in their hands could not see it. The leaders in Jerusalem, at least, saw it. For the truth that the lame man was healed and restored into wholeness was right there in front of them. In fact, they could not help seeing it, because the man was standing right beside Peter and John. This is something we should always remind ourselves, that we could not quarrel against the truth. The bearers of truth may be arrested and imprisoned, like Peter and John, but the truth would always come out. This is our hope. This is our courage to be. Our God is a God of truth.
Taking people seriously
Moreover, the story also tells us that doing God’s mission is to take people seriously. The people are the basic force for the building up of new Christian communities. This is the reason why the disciples directed their proclamations of the truth of Christ to the people. And thousands of them believed the Good News. And because of people’s power, the Jewish authorities were not able to punish Peter and John.
People have the truth. Of course, people do commit mistakes. As a matter of fact, they have oftentimes committed mistakes. Perhaps, we remember the story of the Golden Calf in the Old Testament. In the absence of Moses, the people persuaded their acting leader, Aaron, to make a Golden Calf to serve as their god (Ex. 32). People could be manipulated by certain power groups for certain vested interest. This was also the case of the crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting hosannas, but demanded his death shortly afterwards because of the manipulation of Jewish authorities. We must not make idols of people. People are no gods. We must remember this in our theology of people.
However, there are situations wherein people have the truth. These are situations wherein people are condemned to poverty, exploitation and hopelessness, or even death. This is where God seeks to exercise the power of hope. This is where we could most likely encounter our Living God. This is where we could discover the imperatives of our faith. For God takes up the cause of the suffering people as His own, and calls us to be His partners in this missionary task. It is in being with people and learning from them that we discover what God is telling us to do.
And finally, the story also tells us that doing God’s mission is to obey God rather than men. Peter and John were commanded by the Jewish authorities to stop all preaching in the name of Jesus. However, they answered that if and when they were required to choose between the will of God and the decree of men, they have no other choice but to obey God.
This reminds us of Bishop Desmund Tutu of the Anglican Church of South Africa. He was a very small person, but perhaps he towers above us in terms of his faith and obedience to Christ. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize due to his active involvement in the movement against the Apartheid Policy of their government. By the way, Apartheid, as we know, is a policy that violently discriminates against the black people of South Africa. It is a policy that led to the death of hundreds of children in the townships of Johannesburg and Soweto. Because of his participation in the anti-apartheid movement, Bishop Tutu was arrested several times.
However, it was because of his efforts and those people like him that led to the abolition of this policy and restored the black people of Africa on equal status with the whites. In one of his most celebrated arrests, he was brought before the Minister of Defense of South Africa. And in that confrontation, Bishop Tutu said to the Minister of Defense: “Mr. Minister”, he said, “let me remind you that you are not god; you are just a man. And one day, your name will just be a faint scribble in the pages of history while the name of Jesus Christ our Lord will live forever.”
Oftentimes, obedience to God rather than men would make us live a very dangerous life. But then, it is also such kind of life that brings hope in the midst of hopelessness, and resurrection in the midst of death.
Call of the hour
Hence, the call of the hour is a call for us to be genuine witnesses for Christ in the midst of a world that seems to be dominated by the wicked spiritual forces of this Dark Age. This means to offer ourselves for the cause of fulfilling God’s saving act in the world: to become bearers of God’s truth in a society dominated by lies and deceit; to become instruments of God’s love and forgiveness in a community wherein to deny one’s self, one’s pride, and one’s hatred is the hardest thing to do.
Our world today needs men and women who are willing to manifest the love of God in a world of hatred and greed, and transform it into a world of peace, of justice and of love. This, I believe, is our historic task and our mission. # nordis.net