Thirds Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
On Easter Sunday, we walked with Mark’s account of the Resurrection: spare and focused on the fear and amazement of the women who encounter the empty tomb. Last Sunday we welcomed Erin Flinn who told us something about John’s Resurrection story. Jesus comes into the locked room, breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples, and says “Peace be with you,” before sending them out to proclaim the good news. Today, we have Luke and a very visceral Jesus, who brings with Him the violent marks of the crucifixion. It is I, he says, and eats something in front of them, so they will know it is He, not some figment of their imagination. But, he quickly moves to the meaning of His Resurrection which they are to go out into the world and lay claim to and share: you belong to God. You are children of God. I have made you mine.
Resurrection means that God has laid hold of us once and for all. Resurrection brings the disciples to their senses, back into cohesive community, and gives them the strength to proclaim to the world: We are God’s children, now. What we will be has yet to be revealed; yet to be decided and much of that is up to us.
But does the Resurrection, the reality of our being God’s children tip the balance of the world? Do we feel that tilt? Are the Resurrection’s claims enough to square the human ledger that is so full of challenge? Does it outweigh the horror? Let me explain.
As of Monday (April 9th) missiles had come screaming into a military base in Syria that is not in dispute. No one has yet claimed responsibility, as far as I know. It seemed to be in response to the use of chemical weapons by dictator Assad (gas of some sort) against his own people. It has certainly happened before. But some are challenging that notion, saying maybe it was the rebels, gassing their own people Assad would be blamed and the west would not lose faith in their failing struggle to overthrow Assad’s regime. If you are brave, you have seen images of children, women, etc. after having been subjected to sarin or chorine gas, gasping for breath, dying. Or people hosing off others who have been gassed to try to get the residue off of their body and/or clothing. And someone strikes against Assad or whoever seems like a reasonable response, right? To stop a madman, you sometimes have to use any means necessary. But the cyclical horror of war is about violence and using violence in response; it seems to be a means justifying this end. In this conflict hundreds of thousands have died, millions upon millions have been displaced. And this is one tiny country in the Middle East. Have we learned nothing in the history of humanity, violence, and war? This does not reflect on soldiers, sailors, or pilots but of those who would exert power in the world through force of arms.
And of course, violence is not limited to war. We see it through domestic abuse, shootings in our streets and schools … it is horrible, yes? But there are the horrors that we face each day: families torn apart by addiction, infidelity, apathy, ridicule or neglect. People dealing with horrific disease, heartbreak, or mental illness.
When I was in seminary, I did my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the Goodwin House in Alexandria, VA. The Goodwin House is a continuing care facility, with independent and assisted living and skilled nursing care. I was assigned to an elderly gentleman, well into his 90’s. He was suffering from a rare form of leukemia which had progressed slowly but had left him weak and confined to a wheelchair. He had grown up in the Episcopal Church, gone to an Episcopal high school and to Sewanee for undergrad. Now, as an old man, he considered himself to be an atheist or agnostic. We had many wonderful conversations but I remember him clearly saying one day: “How can I believe in a God who would let all these horrible things happen in the world; there is so much bad. I cannot believe in God anymore but I would like to; I really miss believing.”
What do we have to combat the horrors of the world, the real struggles of violence, mean-spiritedness, selfishness, illness, etc.? Well, might the root cause of inflicting damage on another really begin and end with our inability to see the Resurrection in others? When we fail or cease to see our fellow humans as children of God, or ourselves in that way, then cheating, killing, ignoring or excluding the other is far too easy.
Dr. MLK, Jr. preached at the famed Riverside Church in NYC, one year to the day before he was assassinated, April 4, 1967. His words resonate so strongly with what I am trying to say. Even though he was talking directly about the war in Vietnam, I would like to think it applies to universal things.
“I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men – for the communist and the capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that He died for them? … I must be true to my conviction that I share with men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of son-ship and brotherhood ... We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls the enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”
Martin Luther King was making a terrifyingly countercultural claim, absolutely!! It is hard, seemingly impossible, to look at people with whom we are in conflict as brothers or sisters. Yet that is what Jesus called us to do. To forgive, to love, and to embrace each other as siblings in the Divine Light and love. The reality of Jesus’ sending forth of us is that proclaim the good news of the Lord’s favor; the here and now reality that we are God’s children, beloved forever by God.
Loving each other as if we were brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom is quite possibly the hardest thing Christ asked of us. But we are called to be witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the world, the only force more powerful than the horror of the world, stronger than death, more beautiful than anything ever. The Resurrection has made us all co-equals, sons and daughters of God, now, regardless of race, church status, gender, or background. The Resurrection means we are to shake off the sins of apathy, prejudice, anger, violence, and fear and, instead, of love. What we will become is still being revealed. Who do we desire to be in God’s kingdom, in relationship to others in the kingdom? How are we going to get there? Let us begin by simply listening to the voice of God this day, He who raised Jesus from the dead has made us His children.