For the next six weeks, we'll read selections from the Acts of the Apostles (aka Acts). Acts was, most likely, written by the same person who wrote Luke. The gospel according to Luke focused on Jesus' ministry while Acts told a story about the beginning of the church. At its center, Acts used the ministry of Peter and Paul as the pillars of their story. Through them, we discover who the church spread throughout the Roman world. Each faith community was very small but they popped up in the inner cities of what ae now Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. Acts shows us how the Holy Spirit made the people who followed Jesus into a united and loving body of believers designed for the benefit of the world.

Today's reading (Acts 5:27-32) begins in Jerusalem. Jesus' followers had continued to pray in the Temple and shared their faith with their family, friends, and neighbors. The religious authorities were not thrilled with this behavior and had a nasty habit of throwing them in prison. Yet the community kept preaching. Those in authority were not quite sure what to do about this new movement. But they were afraid of it. Jesus' followers proclaimed how the religious and political authorities had killed Jesus. And those with power assumed Jesus' disciples would seek vengeance for what had happened. They hoped that arresting Jesus' followers would protect themselves from whatever wrath might come. Those with power were afraid. And that fear drove them to react harshly to what Jesus' disciples were doing.

But wrath, revenge, and giving into fear were not what the good news of Jesus was all about. In the words of Rev. Brian Peterson, "The gracious surprise of this text is that the result of Jesus’ resurrection, even in the face of continuing posturing and self-protective threat, is not vengeance but mercy." Often, fear of the 'other' is used as an excuse to punish and harm them. We distort the message of the gospel when we use it to encourage violence against 'those people' because they threaten our authority, power, or sense of (false) security in some way. Yet today's text, "from beginning to end, is the unsurprisingly constant story of human fear and self- protection even if it costs others everything, and the surprisingly even more constant story of God’s mercy. What Peter is preaching to the council is not vengeance, but the gospel." And that gospel is centered on the gift of repentance, forgiveness, and love.