April 19, 2015

Easter III-B 2015

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3: 1-7; Like 24: 36-48


We continue in this Eastertide to read stories of Jesus' post resurrection appearances among his disciples and it is not always easy to understand  how these can relate to our lives today. There are many theological writings, many thoughtful as well as some rather preposterous theories about these stories. One entire weekend of spiritual encounter is held to journey the Road to Emmaus. By comparison, what can be said in a brief Sunday morning homily is only one or two small nuggets.  I urge you to take these rich readings home with you today and re-read and meditate on them throughout the week.

The reading from Acts is from a sermon Peter gave after he and John had healed a lame beggar near the temple in Jerusalem. This was a man whom others carried each day to his post, where he lay on his mat and begged.  Much like the story of Jesus' healing in a similar situation, Peter and John told the man they had no alms to give him, but would give what they had- the gift from the Holy Spirit of healing, the ability to be a conduit of God's healing grace. The man received their gift and got up and walked away. The witnessing crowd was astounded, causing Peter to make the remarks we just read.

Peter asked them, "Why do you wonder at this as though it were our own piety or power that made this man walk?"  He then summarizes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, fully human and fully divine, and points out they were eye-witnesses to it all. Further, that these things were fulfillment of the scriptures and prophesies with which all Jews were familiar.

In his various appearances, exampled by the Gospel reading from Luke this morning, Jesus does some very normal things. He eats with them; he talks with them;  and he shows them his wounds, scars of his suffering and unconditional love. And Jesus does some very unusual things, like walking through walls and locked doors. His appearance has changed, yet through his words and actions, they recognize him. And this is key.

You see, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes to them the importance of breaking bread together and of taking the message of God's unfailing love and promise of forgiveness and salvation to everyone. He makes it clear that we are all to be conduits of that love and tellers of the story.

Now at that time in the early first century, Christians were horribly persecuted by the Romans, and at least disdained by the Jews. Being a Jesus Follower was a very risky business. We get this when we read that the disciples were frightened, the doors were locked, and they hid from public view. Yet, they believed in what they had lived and they proceeded to form ministries, help one another, and spread the story near and far. And it is because they did so that you and I today have the story available to us in the scriptures, our prayer book, and our music.

Today, we Christians are also under attack. Make no mistake, friends, in most regions of the globe, it is risky business in 2015 to profess belief in Christ. Here in our own country one can no longer assume that others understand the tenets of Christianity and there are times and places where discussion of faith is deemed inappropriate and other times and places where it is illegal. Many of our laws, customs and mores, initially based on the Judeo/Christian model of justice and morality have been diluted and eroded. Within my lifetime, this has come to be so.

This is why it is very important that we gather as a community on a regular basis as the early Christians did, to remember and recite our beliefs, to break bread together in remembrance and in the presence of our Lord, to seek forgiveness for our wrong doings and to encourage one another in our journeys through love - the kind of love which Jesus brought, taught, and lived.

The Israelites literally took up arms against enemies of God, as did the crusaders and others, who were self-appointed judges of who was an enemy. Jesus, however, said to spread our arms in love to honor and respect the dignity of every person, as we are all children of God. He said, love your enemies. To do this, we must not leave the impact, whatever it may be, of this hour of worship in the Narthex when we leave. Rather, we are to take it to the streets, to our homes, to work tomorrow, to wherever life takes us this week, and by golly, share it, as conduits of this grace, with each person we meet through what we say and how we behave. We, like Jesus, can do this through very ordinary acts: how we speak to another, for example. Do we speak as though we truly pray they are filled with God's Peace? Do we share meals, time together, thoughts and conversations?

And we can do some rather unusual things to bear witness to our faith. I say unusual because I think most of us do not do these on a daily basis. We can perform random acts of kindness like paying forward someone's meal or groceries. We can be really radical and invite someone to church! Oh yeah, it is done. And we need to recognize that the enemy is NOT groups of people. The enemy is injustice. We need to be asking, "Why are so many people nearby in need of food assistance and subsidized housing and decent wages?" It is the reasons behind those conditions that Christians need to rise up against, seeking justice for the voiceless.

If some end up wondering how you do it; how you smile and remain calm when there is anger floating everywhere; how you strive to do the right thing even if it costs you financially, in popularity or in other ways; how you are kind and compassionate to everybody - when they wonder, remember Peter's sermon. By faith in the Name of Christ, you are able to remain his follower.

Jesus came to transform us - change our hearts. One of the bases of the Rule of Benedict is Conversion. Simply put, this means change of heart. Our lifelong spiritual journeys, lived as Jesus followers, are made up of conversion experiences; that is, moments of meeting Christ in others wherever we are. But we must venture out a bit to experience this gift of conversion. You have to make appearances.

I have the privilege of helping to form an alliance of clergy from the other churches located nearby. We are small and we are diverse in how we worship. Yet we are Christ followers and respect, actually embrace and learn from our differences. This is the body that is sponsoring the Blessing of Soles next week, and we are look at how we might serve(read, show Christ's love) to the many segments of Heights population through an event that focuses on health and spirituality. As we discuss this, we can imagine many, many ways in which transformative encounters might occur. You are invited to inquire and come, be a part.

This is the promise: In the end, no matter what this age entails, each of us will have a place in God's heavenly kingdom. As God glorified Christ in baptism, suffering, death and resurrection,  so too, we may be glorified through Christ. It is, therefore, important that we give conscious thought and intention to living a Christ-like life, befitting this promise. And it is important that we, as a faith community, come often together to learn, share, worship, encourage, and love one another as Christ loves us.

Brother John of the Society of Jesus has said,"

"Listen to me. You HAVE to decide what you believe to be the most important work in the world and then you have to DO THAT WORK. Because THIS is what happens. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS. God shows up."