Scripture: Acts 4:5-12
The late John Lewis, ordained Baptist minister and congressman, once famously said, “Never be afraid to make some noise and get into good trouble, necessary trouble.” Lewis was speaking from experience. As a young man inspired by Martin Luther King, he became extremely involved in the civil rights movement. He found himself in a lot of trouble as a result of speaking up against, standing against, and protesting against the deep roots of systemic racism. Most infamously was the time when he helped organize a non-violent protest march that was met with extreme violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. During this incident Lewis suffered a fractured skull. Yet his conviction for equality and change did not change. By the 1970s Lewis found himself advocating for equality in the political arena, which eventually led him to being a long serving member of congress. When John Lewis died last year he was remembered by members of congress on both sides of the aisle as a man of deep and unwavering conviction. He stood by what he believed to be right even if it got him into trouble, good trouble.
I think for a lot of us though, the idea of good trouble sounds a lot better on paper than it does in practice because good trouble is still trouble. For a lot of us getting in to trouble is something we work actively against because we have had it ingrained into us that getting in trouble at all is bad. We are taught from an early age that following the rules is a virtue and that good people do not get into trouble. Chances are a lot of us have internalized those lessons and might even pride ourselves on being a “rules follower.” However, when we look at the examples of faith that we are given in the bible we see examples of good trouble all over the place. Jesus for instance got in a LOT of trouble, he got in trouble to the point of being handed a death sentence, and that trouble was all good. In this morning’s scripture we see that trouble would follow Jesus’ disciples in the early days of the church. Peter and John also give us an example to follow. When it comes to obeying the rules or obeying Jesus, we should always choose Jesus even if that gets us in good trouble.
This morning’s scripture picks up in the middle of the story, and it is actually the continuation of the same story that we read last week. Last week we heard read a scripture from Acts chapter 3 where Peter and John healed a man who crippled and then preached the good news of Jesus to a crowd that had gathered. This morning’s scripture is the fallout from that event. The events of the miracle and the words of Peter were compelling and they must have gathered quite a crowd. This really unnerved the religious leaders as Acts 4:2 records about these religious leaders: “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and because it was evening they put them in jail until the next day.” I find it interesting that nowhere does it actually state what Peter and John did wrong, what rule they broke. Essentially the authorities in power did not like what they were up to, and figured since they did not like it there must be some rule it is breaking.
That gets us to this morning’s scripture, Peter and John are now before the assembled religious leaders who are questioning Peter and John about the healing that had happened. Peter answers the question and makes two things clear about the healing. First, they healed the man as an act of kindness. Second, it was through the name of Jesus that the healing happened. Because Peter never misses an opportunity to share the good news he goes on to proclaim that it is only by the name of Jesus that salvation is found.
Peter and John performed an act of kindness in the name of Jesus, but it was not just in the name of Jesus it was also in obedience to Jesus. Being the good disciples there were, they sought to continue to live out and follow the way of life that Jesus had taught them. Jesus healed the sick because he had compassion for the people. Jesus told his disciples to love their neighbors as themselves. This is what Peter and John were doing. Yes, they demonstrated the power of Jesus’ name and it provided an opportunity to preach the good news, but the motivation for doing the healing in the first place was kindness in the name of Christ. It was an act of faithful discipleship. This act of obedience though threatened the powers that be. If we peak ahead beyond where we stopped reading, we see that the religious authorities really did not have any good grounds to charge Peter and John with so they command them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. The two apostles then tell the religious leaders, they absolutely are not going to follow that rule as Acts 4:19-20 record: “But Peter and John replied, which is right in God’s eyes; to listen to you or to him? You be the judges! As for us we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Following Jesus instead of the religious authorities led to the apostles to get into more trouble. As promised, they did not stop preaching about the resurrection, they did not stop teaching that Jesus is the only name under heaven by which we are saved, and they did not stop healing people as acts of kindness. In Acts chapter five the religious leaders once again arrest the apostles, Peter once again uses it as an opportunity to proclaim the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus. This time though, the religious leaders had them beat with the traditional Jewish punishment of 40 lashes minus one. Supposedly this was on the grounds of not honoring the authority of the religious leaders by continuing to talk about Jesus despite being ordered not to. Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles were faithful to following Jesus, they were faithful to listening to God, and it got them in trouble, but it was good trouble.
Now we can easily say that in hindsight. Looking back now, especially from the perspective of faith, it is easy for us to say that Peter and John were clearly in the right and that the religious leaders were in the wrong. However, I am not sure that it was all that clear to those living in Jerusalem during this time. The religious leaders they were the leaders, they were the ones who knew the Law of Moses, they were the rule enforces, and the good Jewish people of the time sought to follow the rules. Clearly many responded to the good news proclaimed by the apostles, but there were also those who took the side of the religious leaders. There were also who probably tried to stake a claim in the middle. These people in the middle would have likely appreciated the good work and healings the apostles were doing, but wondered why they had to always make such a disruptive scene. They probably asked questions like “can they just heal people without always mentioning Jesus? “
One of the take-aways we see in this scripture is anything that is truly important, any action that will make a positive change in the world, any step of faith that will transform the world into a more loving and kind place will always, always be met with opposition. The message of this scripture is clear. Even if it gets us into trouble, kindness in the name of Jesus is obedience to God and it is always worth doing.
Even today and in our country it is possible to get into trouble for acts of kindness in Jesus’ name. A good example of this can be seen in a number of anti-food sharing ordinances that can be found in 60 different cities. These city ordinances, with varying degrees of severity, restrict the ability to charitably share cooked food. Under some of these rules, our free meal, as we currently do it would be prohibited. These rules are supposed to be in the interest of public health and safety, but as many advocacy groups point out they tend to be targeted against homeless populations. In a number of places with these rules, people get in good trouble by providing food to the hungry. Fort Lauderdale, FL was an early adopter of these ordinances a number of years ago. And multiple times a 90 year old man of faith, Arnold Abbott got arrested because he refused to stop giving food for the hungry. In 2018 fourteen people got arrested in California for violating a food sharing ordinance, and it has happened as recently as last year in Seattle. In several of these instances the rule breakers were people of faith seeking to be obedient to God and do acts of kindness in the name of Jesus.
I am not advocating that we break the rules just to break the rules, I am advocating that we follow Jesus above all else. Because if we take seriously following Jesus, then we are going to get to a place where we have compassion and love for those around us. Loving others means sharing the good news of salvation with them certainly, but it also means serving them. It means ensuring their needs are met, that they are safe, and they are cared for. If we take seriously following Jesus it will lead us to love the least of these. It will lead us to advocating for the people who have no else sticking up for them, it will lead us to speaking out for those who feel they have no voice, and it will lead to us serving those who have been systematically under-served. If we take seriously following Jesus then we will engage in acts of kindness in his name, and those acts have the absolute potential to transform this world into a more kind, loving, and just place.
Transformation of the world though, leads to change, and change always brings opposition. If we serve the least of these and the people who are in the most need, then some critic will show up to say we should support more deserving people, that we should only help those who will help themselves. Others will complain that helping the least of these is a waste of resources, or our meager service is not going to fix the problem so why even mess with it. In those instances I think our response should be the same as Peter and John when they were asked to stop doing kind acts in Jesus name and stop preaching the good news. They replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes to listen to you or to [God]?” Jesus ate with sinners, had compassion for the poor, and loved the least of these. This is what God is calling us to do, so may we listen.
Who is it that God is leading you to feel compassion towards? Who are the least of these that you are meant to show kindness to in Jesus’ name? In this morning’s scripture and act of kindness was the catalyst for sharing the good news. This is seen throughout the gospels as well. Meeting the needs of others, serving them in love and performing acts of kindness in Jesus name is how we open the door for sharing the good news and making disciples. Doing this will require us to take steps in faith, steps that might seem scary, and steps that will likely be met with opposition from somewhere. May we step anyway, even if it gets us into trouble, because it will be good trouble, necessary trouble, the kind of trouble that transforms the world.