Preached on 15 April 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Oh right! The kingdom of God, it’s here.
Oh right! Christ is risen – and that matters!
Oh right! We are children of God.
That’s why we’re here, right?
As I said last week, we spend the Season of Easter delving into the Book of Acts. We learn about the early church as it is working out how to be a community of faith in this new reality; a post-resurrection reality – an Easter Church. And we see what we might learn from them for our own community.
We heard that the Easter Church is a community of one body and soul characterized by generosity and service. We heard that in this post-resurrection world, God is creating communities that manifest salvation and that the Easter Church bears witness to Christ.
This week, we’re listening to Luke, and again, we hear about witnessing as Jesus tells the disciples, “you are witnesses of these things, to the ends of the earth.” Now this is still on that first day of the week; the day of the resurrection, but an awful lot has happened. In the morning the women come to the disciples to say that the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen. The disciples don’t believe them, but Peter goes to check it out and sure enough, the tomb is empty.
Meanwhile, two other disciples are leaving town, walking to Emmaus. Along the way, Jesus joins them and talks to them about the Scriptures and the Messiah, but they don’t recognize him until they stop for the evening and he breaks the bread. Then Jesus vanishes and the two of them race back to Jerusalem to tell the others, “We have seen the Lord.” That’s where we come into the story today.
Jesus shows up. “You are witnesses of these things,” he tells them. Witnesses of all of it: Jesus’ life and ministry, his crucifixion, his resurrection, the betrayal, the despair, the wonder and amazement, the joy, the disbelief. All of it. He doesn’t say, “Please be my witnesses” or “you will be,” but “You are.”
We are. There’s no choice involved. It’s part of who we are, a state of being. Our words, our silence, our actions or failure to act; our whole lives witness to our faith, to what we believe in our bones about God. They witness to what we stake our lives on.
What do we find in our reading from Acts today about what characterizes the Easter Church? Peter is preaching to a crowd that has gathered, in fact they run to see the man who was unable to walk since birth is healed. Peter commands him, in the name of Jesus, to get up and walk and he does.
Now, I don’t suggest you do that to the vet in the wheelchair as you head up the ramp to the Mariners game. But maybe, rather than shrug it off as just the way it is, we can imagine the kingdom of God and question the barriers we, as a society, put up to keep them from getting the care they need.
Peter and John go on to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, following what we heard Jesus say in the gospel.
So, we could say that the Easter Church is characterized by healing and the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness. We see that they don’t go it alone; they go together. They point to Jesus, the Author of Life, as the source of healing and new life. It is God who brings life out of death. And they turn to Scripture as their authority to try to explain what new thing God is revealing in light of what God has already revealed to them in the past; what they already know about God.
Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness. That sounds a bit daunting and a little too much like street-corner preaching. Remember, our whole lives witness to Jesus, to our faith, to what we stake our life on.
We proclaim repentance by repenting.
We proclaim forgiveness by forgiving.
Now I don’t mean just telling people you forgive them or that God forgives them, although that may be appropriate at times. No, I mean by actually forgiving as we have been forgiven. Seeing Christ in the other and letting go of whatever it is you hold against them, or think others do.
We can begin by remembering God has already forgiven. That Oh right! I am forgiven, and so are you. My neighbor is forgiven and so is that person who cut me off in traffic.
The person who actually harms me is forgiven and so is my enemy. And so it that person who drives you up the wall.
Now it’s our turn. See each person as already forgiven and worthy to stand before God; worthy of dignity and kindness. And forgiveness.
Forgive them, let it go. Ask God to help you see the goodness in them – it’s there.
Now, I always have to point out that forgiving doesn’t mean that you let them hurt you again. It doesn’t mean staying in a harmful or toxic relationship or putting yourself or others at risk. The practice of forgiveness is a process – sometimes a very long one. It isn’t necessarily easy; in fact it is only possible through the grace of God. Which brings us to repentance. The two go hand in hand.
We proclaim repentance by repenting. Don’t groan.
I know, we just got through Lent. Through the resurrection, God is creating a new reality. Part of repentance is turning to see this new view of the world. Repentance is noticing God’s activity in our lives and in the world. It’s keeping that Easter outlook as much of the time as possible: hopeful, optimistic, seeing the goodness and value and Truth in ourselves, our neighbors and all of Creation. Not in a Pollyanna-ish kind of way, but one that sees the Good and challenges the Evil.
You see, the world and the news will try to convince us of a different reality. One in which our value lies in what we consume. It will tell us that there is no God, that life is about getting what you can while you can. It will skew our sense of beauty and worth and goodness and Truth. It will claim that the world and people are mostly evil. It mocks God’s desire for human flourishing.
The Truth of Easter, however, is that God brings life out of death. Every day. All the time.
Repentance is about turning our gaze and cleaning our glasses, so to speak, to look at the world from an Easter point of view; through God’s lenses.
It’s countering and challenging the false reality that is proclaimed by so many of the voices in the world around us, voices that insist on maintaining the status quo; that the problems of the world are insurmountable.
Repentance is drawing attention to that which is Good and Right and Just, that which is Beautiful and True; it’s pointing to the kingdom of God breaking through and insisting it is worth working for.
Repentance is that moment of “Oh right!”
And that’s why we’re here. We can’t sustain it alone. The Easter Church is a community of salvation.
It’s a community of repentance.
It’s a place where we can say,
“Oh right! The kingdom of God is here!
Oh right! Christ is risen and God is on the loose.”
It’s where we hear,
“Oh right! You are a child of God.”