Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Sermon

"In the Name of Jesus"

Today is the third Sunday of Easter (the 15th day of Easter, if we’re counting) in the 50 day celebration we have every year at this time of year, celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. And today is the last of the resurrection appearances, at least as far as our Gospel readings. After today we have no more stories of Jesus meeting his disciples in a locked room or on a dusty road, no stories about him calling a name or inviting us to touch his wounds, no more spooky stories of him walking into locked rooms or comforting stories of hearing him say, "Peace be with you." After today we don’t hear of him sharing a meal of bread and wine – and then disappearing, and we don’t have any more stories like today’s gospel, where he asks for a piece of broiled fish and eats it. After today, no more resurrection appearance stories. This is the last one.

But even with no appearances, it’s still Easter, we still have many days and weeks more before the 50 day celebration is over. Still more days to say, if we want to, "The Lord is risen!" and reply, He is risen indeed." Still more days to ponder what it means for us today to say these words, and to mean them, still more days to wonder what it would be like for us to live as though Jesus really rose from the dead, not a ghost, not a spirit, but somehow a person who stood before us, in our community, forgiving us, eating with us, teaching us. It was important for those early gospel writers to affirm that Jesus was not a ghost, not somehow still dead but haunting them, but in fact alive again, and with them in a way that they could see and hear and touch. "The Lord is Risen!" – He is risen indeed .... but what difference did that make for them? What difference does it mean for us? Do we live our lives as if we believed that Jesus really rose from the dead?

Which brings me to the story we heard from Acts today – not a resurrection appearance story, but a story of two disciples, Peter and John, living as if Jesus really rose from the dead. It might be confusing at first to hear this piece of scripture, because we have come to it, really, in the middle. We might begin by wondering at the occasion, why Peter is saying these words, why people have gathered – what has just happened? Peter and John had come to the temple to pray that afternoon as was their custom. But of course everything was different already.
Jesus had risen from the dead, and not many days before the Holy Spirit had made a dramatic entrance into the disciples’ lives. So as they approached the temple, they noticed a lame man who was begging, asking for help, asking for a little charity. But Peter and John did not offer charity. They changed his life. They healed the man. That is the source of the commotion outside the temple and the occasion for Peter to preach his second sermon, ever. He knew that the mighty act they did was pretty impressive, but he took the opportunity to point to Jesus as the source of their power.

"It wasn’t us," he explained to the people gathered. "Not our power, and not our piety that healed this man." In other words, it wasn’t because they were so strong and it wasn’t because we were so holy. It was "in the name of Jesus" that they healed this man. They urged everyone to "repent" – which really means to turn toward Jesus, to turn toward the one who makes the lame walk, to turn toward the one who was crucified, but lives. Peter and John were living their ordinary lives that day, but they were living as if Jesus really had risen from the dead.

What does that mean? What does it mean to live our lives as if Jesus really has risen from the dead? – (even though he is no longer ‘making physical appearances’). It means that, first of all, that whatever we do, we do it "in the name of Jesus." We don’t just pray in the name of Jesus or worship in the name of Jesus. But, like Peter and John, we also live our daily lives in the name of Jesus, never knowing who we might encounter that might need healing, or where we might go where we will be called to share life, hope, bread. We live our daily lives believing that, since Jesus is risen, there is a new creation begun and growing somehow, here, in the world, and among us: a world where the poor are fed, where justice is done, where people are healed and raised.We live our daily lives in the hope and promise that somehow we are a part of this new creation. That’s what it means to live "in the name of Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead not simply or only give us the hope of eternal life at some other time and place, but Jesus rose to live in us each and every day and right now. In other words, Jesus’ Resurrection is not just important for our future, but for our present lives.

Pastor Barbara Brown Taylor writes about her experience teaching college students an introduction to religion course. She is often surprised to read comments like these from her students, when they read about Buddhism or another religious tradition, "they have so much in them about how to live. This is different from Christianity, which is about going to heaven when you die." I don’t know about you, but it seems to me, reading this story from Acts, that Peter and John were not simply interested in what was going to happen to the lame man after he died. They were not interested only in what would happen to the people at the temple after they died. They were interested in the lives of the people right now, and so they offered healing and hope to them, "in the name of Jesus." What do you do "in the name of Jesus?" What do you do in your daily life because you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and even more than that, lives in you? (I’d like you to think about that for a few moments, and then I’d like to share a story with you.)

I know someone who works with small children at an elementary school. She works with the youngest ones, those in Kindergarten and in 1st grade, and she works with children who are the most at risk, the most behind, who are poor, who are immigrants, who might not have much going for them. She reads with them, and helps them learn to read, she encourages them; she does whatever she can to help them to catch up. She reports he satisfaction in small things: a young child who wasn’t literate in either English or in his first language reading his first halting words; watching some child blossom and really excel. And she told me about a young boy, one she had trouble reaching. He was angry and lashed out at everyone who tried to help him. She was tempted to give up on him. But she found out a little about him, and that he had had a hard life in his home country, had been abused, and had come here with a family member to escape that abuse. When she learned this she also noticed scars, and she made a decision. She decided that she would begin by giving this child a hug every day. That’s what she did.

"In the name of Jesus." Now she didn’t tell me that she gave the child a hug "in the name of Jesus" – but that’s what she did. And I know that she did it, because I believe that, whether she remembers it in every moment or whether she doesn’t, the risen Christ lives in her.
The risen Christ lives in you, too. It’s true, you aren’t Peter or John, but think about Peter and John for a moment. Especially, think about Peter. Here he is, preaching in front of thousands, telling everyone that Jesus is risen and alive. He was crucified but he lives. Think about Peter for a moment, and how it wasn’t that long ago that Peter had turned his back on Jesus, and denied that he ever knew him. Even so, Peter had experienced reconciliation, forgiveness and life from his friend. He knew his own failure, his frailty, how he fell short, and yet he knew as well, that the risen Christ lived in him. He knew that he was both a sinner, and a bearer of life and grace.

An old saint once wrote:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
yours are the only hands with which he can do his work
yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world,
yours are the only eyes through which his compassion
Can shine forth upon a troubled world.
Christ has no body on earth now but yours.

So "In the name of Jesus" what do you do? Ask yourself that question again. What do you do in the name of Jesus? Maybe that’s a scary question because you know all too well your flaws, faults, frailties. But know that as you set about doing justice, caring for creation, sharing bread with the hungry – know that the risen Christ goes with you and in you. What Peter said long ago is still true
it is not by our power or piety
but by God’s love and grace
that we are able to live and serve
do justice
care for creation
do whatever we do – large things or small things
in the name of Jesus

I said there were no more resurrection appearance. But of course there are many – your life and mine – because Jesus lives in us.

Christ has Risen
He has risen indeed. Alleluia.


mompriest said...

I love that story of the teacher and the student! Thanks for sharing this sermon.

Barbara B. said...

Yes, noticing the scars and letting that inform a new approach -- powerful stuff.