The other day, my son asked me why I want to be a Christian. The question – and the word want – caught me off-guard and I didn’t know how to answer. I think I just said “Want?”
And then he said, “okay then – why do you like being a Christian?” Ah, there’s a question I can wrap my head around. I haven’t thought about it in those terms either, but I found the question intriguing.
Why do I like being a Christian? Because it means I’m not alone. It means that I have someone with me when I’m going through a hard time. I have God’s strength when I don’t know if I can do something. Because not only do we have God but we have a community of other believers who are walking with us.
The question stuck with me and I was reminded of it the next day when I read the blog of a mother. Like my child, her children thought there was too much church Easter weekend. Their question was why so much church Easter weekend. Their question was why do we have to go? Why so much church? She wanted to say, “because its time to remember all the rotten ridiculous things you do and need to apologize for”.
But that’s not what came out of her mouth. Her answer was much more sincere. “Because I’ve messed up, guys. Because your mom has messed up bad. Did you know that? That I get mad and really jealous of what other people have. I’m broken and I just can’t make things right by myself. I need to be rescued.”
These questions went through my mind as I started to think about this morning – the first Sunday after Easter. Easter’s over – so what? What’s changed? In some ways, that’s what my son’s question asks. So what?
What do Easter – and the resurrection – mean for our everyday lives? Beyond that, what does it mean for those in our church family and beyond who are staring cancer in the face? For those who walk with them?
Those were some of the questions I had as I thought about today and as I first looked at today’s passages.
We’ve heard those passages already today but lets walk through them again.
Its Easter Sunday evening and many of Jesus’ disciples are together – with the door locked because they’re afraid. Perhaps afraid that they’ll be next. That the rulers will realize that it wasn’t enough to kill Jesus – they need to kill his followers too. That the rulers will accuse them of stealing Jesus’ body and perpetrating an enormous traitorous fraud. They’re afraid but feel safer in numbers.
And there – suddenly – is Jesus in their midst. For those who’d already seen him – a validation that they hadn’t made it up. Perhaps even a reassurance for themselves that it wasn’t a hallucination born of wishful thinking.
And the others? At first it was hard to put myself in their shoes. But then I remembered that for a number of years after my mom died, when I was sad I would imagine her coming back. That it was all a big mistake. And in that imagining, all the sorrow was wiped away, irrelevant because she was with us again. Perhaps that was part of what they felt – coupled with a sense that ‘this can’t be real’.
And then Jesus speaks. Peace be with you. At a time when their world is chaotic and falling apart – when everything they knew to be true wasn’t anymore. Peace be with you. But they can’t rest in that peace long for in the same breath he adds ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Here they are hiding away and Jesus tells them they must go out – they are being sent away from him.
But they’re not alone for he also gives them the Holy Spirit. One writer (perhaps many, but one that I read) described this as John’s description of the Pentecost moment, the coming of the Holy Spirit. So in this moment they are given peace, the Holy Spirit with them, the power to forgive, and they are sent out.
It seems that their early attempts weren’t too successful. They started with someone who should have been a ‘soft sell’, a warm call in sales language – Thomas. Thomas was one of the disciples. He had followed Jesus, heard his teachings. Who knows why he wasn’t there – maybe family commitments, maybe they forgot to invite him, maybe he was an introvert and three years with a group of people had taken its toll, maybe he felt safer alone. Either way, convincing him should have been easy.
But no – he’s having none of it. He cannot believe what they are saying. He knows Jesus died and what they say isn’t possible. I suspect most of us would respond like Thomas. Show me this imposter, this fraud who is pretending to be Jesus. I’ll prove its not real. Unless his hands are pieced all the way through and he has a fresh sword wound in his side – he’s a fake.
A writer named Jenee Woodard puts herself in Thomas’ shoes:
I “am” Thomas. I am the one who wasn’t there. I am the one who refuses to pretend that I “get it” even when everyone else is pretending that they “get it” in order to go along with the group. I’m the one who asks about the emperor’s clothes. I am the one who is used to being disappointed when I do, and the one who turns up my cynicism another notch. But this time. This time. It’s real. I’m the one who struggles with exactly how to respond when I finally find something that is actually, really truly real. How does one respond to the real thing when the response means giving my life to something I finally know is real, but do not at all understand.
I have to say, I appreciate Thomas. I appreciate his doubts, his questions, his ability to take a stance. And Jesus doesn’t despise him for his skepticism. Instead he meets him at his place of need. And Thomas can only echo what those before him have said. “My Lord and my God.”
And now lets fast forward to the Acts passage. Its not much later – and yet the disciples are almost unrecognizable. Despite persecution, the church is growing rapidly and the disciples – especially Peter – are performing miracles. The high priest and his associates are jealous and don’t like being accused of killing Jesus – and so they have the disciples imprisoned. However the passage tells us that during the night the prison doors are opened.
Rather than returning home or fleeing to a who struggles about exactly how to respond when I finally find something that is actually, really, truly, real. How does one respond to a miracle that’s not a mir-“I”-cle? How does one respond to the real thing when the response means giving my life to something I finally know is real, but do not at all understand? different city, the disciples return to the temple and continue preaching.
Of course, they are arrested again. And when they face the court they respond that they must obey God rather than humans.
The leaders are furious and want to kill them! But one leader convinces them that if they are not of God, then their little movement will fall apart like so many others before – otherwise they are fighting God.
And so they are flogged and released.
What I find fascinating about this part of the story is that its hard to believe it’s the same people who not long before were hiding behind locked doors, terrified of the Jewish leaders.
To tell the truth, I probably wouldn’t have paid a lot of attention to this passage if it hadn’t been for an email conversation with Joan. I told Joan that I thought Scripture passages for today would be the Johan and Psalms passages – but that I’d be able to look at them more carefully that evening when I was at Sam’s football practice. Joan replied ‘on the sidelines? You’re brave.”
I wasn’t sure what bravery Joan was thinking of. That I might be outside for 2 hours on a snowy April evening? No worries. About running the risk of getting hit by a football? Or reading my Bible in public? Assuming the latter – since it was closest to the truth – I emailed back that it was all rather clandestine as I would read it on my iPad.
So there I am a few hours later, sitting in our warm community centre, in the foyer far from the line of scrimmage, discretely reading Acts on my iPad. And there is the story of the disciples who didn’t let jail time, floggings, or death stop them.
I must say – it caught my attention because it was in contrast to my own actions. I thought about my reluctance. I don’t have jail or death to fear.
My hesitance to openly display my faith has more to do with shame related to some of the church’s actions than shame over my own beliefs. At least that’s what I tel myself. Working in social services for so long, I have seen much to disassociate myself from. Abused women told that they must forgive the man who almost killed them and respect him as the head of the household. Children in residential schools beaten for speaking their own language – because it was seen as ungodly and heathen. And most recently, legitimizing the harassment of and both overt & covert cruelty toward people because of their sexual orientation – all in the name of religious beliefs. In fact, using the apostles’ phrase of obeying God rather than humans to justify their actions.
And so I fear that if I’m too blatant with my faith, people will associate me with those cruelties, excused in the name of religion.
But when I read the Acts passage, I had to wonder at their courage to stand up for what they believed – since not long before they were hiding in a locked room. And to wonder if I maybe have created a locked room of my own. And how does this fit with our Lenten theme of Ashamed No More? I assume we don’t just return to our life of shame because Easter is over. What allowed the disciples to be ashamed no more? How did they move from fear to courage?
To explore that question I needed to return to the first story – to the time when they were locked in the room and first witnessed the Resurrection. And to think about what Resurrection means.
As I looked through a number of resources, I found a poem/letter written by Steve Garnaasj-Homes called “On the Third Day he rose”. I found it an interesting take on the Resurrection.
“Blessed are those who have not seen,
and yet have come to believe.”
“On the third day he rose from the dead.”
I don’t have an idea what this means.
I have a trust, a gratitude, a courage,
but not an idea, an explanation.
Nobody got a picture.
Maybe Jesus suddenly took a breath,
sat up and walked out, squinting in the light
like a new-born baby.
Maybe God gave him a new resurrection body,
at first unrecognizable,
not earthly at all, but Something Else.
Maybe the Body of Christ is the community,
as Paul said. Maybe it was a heavenly vision,
a hallucination, a cover-up, a plot.
Or just warm fuzzy feelings.
I don’t know. What I know is this:
Before that day the disciples were fearful, ashamed,
broken, hiding and confused.
And afterward they were joyous, confident
and fearless, and gathered together
to proclaim what they had seen.
Somehow, the Living One met them
and called them out of old lives into new ones.
In whatever form he came, that is the Risen Christ.
Once I was broken, empty, ashamed
and without hope in the sham I called “myself.”
But a loving presence walked me into the darkness,
laid me down, made me over and brought me out.
Whatever that is, that Change, that Power—
Whatever transforms you is resurrection.
Whatever mystery makes you let go of the old life
and makes you more loving, more joyful,
more hopeful, trusting and grateful,
is the power of God. It is all you need.
Whoever forgives you, whoever bears you over
is the risen Christ.
Stop trying to get an ID, to get a picture,
to explain, analyze, dissect it.
Let it be the wondrous mystery that it is.
Blessed are they who have not seen
and yet who have come to believe.
Bruce Maples also speaks of the ongoing power of the Resurrection. He says Easter is more than a one time event – its part of God’s ongoing work in the world. God is in the business of brining new life to dead things – dead persons, dead relationships, dead institutions. The promise of Easter is not just for eternity – it can also be for here and now.
And here’s the part that I found particularly intriguing:
One important point, though, is that when God gets involved, the nature of the thing being resurrected (is that a word?) seems to change. In other words, God seems to be in the business of resurrection, not restoration.
The truth of this is obvious, once we think about it. Jesus indicated that his new body wasn’t the same as his old one. Saul of Tarsus got his sight restored, but his seeing changed. All through scripture, we hear that God is going to do a “new thing” — not just a repeat of the old thing.
So, when we ask God to get involved, to “bring new life” to this or that, we’d better be prepared for resurrection, not just restoration. Yes, life can return, but the nature of the thing will change. Possibly in ways or directions that are completely unexpected.
He ends by saying,
God brings life, of that there is no doubt. But God also brings change, and newness, and unexpectedness. The disciples wanted Jesus back. Instead, they got the Christ.
I find that concept – of resurrection rather than restoration – intriguing, exciting, and also disconcerting. I’m not sure I always want a full scale transformation. I’d rather experience tweaking – I feel a little more control over the outcome.
Many of you know that I’ve gone back to school very part-time. At the orientation they talked about future career opportunities. I kind of reacted – I’m not looking to change my career or go in new directions. I just wanted to do what I’m doing better. Ut they encouraged me to stay open to opportunities.
That’s just a small glimpse of how we may not want to be transformed. I doubt the disciples wanted to preach in the temple and overcome flogging. But they experienced the Resurrection and that transformed them. It took them from fearful, ashamed, broken, hiding and confused to joyous, conflicted, fearless, and unapologetic.
Part of that transformation involved Jesus giving the Holy Spirit to them. They weren’t left on their own – to live out the Resurrection. When Jesus breathed the Spirit into them, he created them anew.
One writer says,
In the grief and shame of confronting our sin, we get the wind knocked out of us. In God’s forgiveness our old spirit of fear and anxiety is blown away. Our old, tangled lives are wiped out and we begin fresh. God breathes a new peace into us, the peace of knowing we are loved and forgiven and free, the blessing of being deeply at peace with ourselves and God and the world. God creates us anew, with a new spirit.
So where does that leave us? I’m not really sure what the big Resurrection means. I’m more comfortable with incremental change. Although there’s something exciting about the idea of being created anew, of new beginnings.
I won’t presume to know what it means for those facing cancer or other health concerns – or for those walking with them.
And so I go back to the early question. What does this mean for my life? So what?
I asked myself again, ‘why do I like being a Christian?’ You may want to ask yourself that question as well – unless you already answered it instead of listening to the first part of the sermon.
- Because I’m not alone
- Because God’s spirit is in me, giving me strength
- Because I am part of a community of believers
- Because I can trade shame for being beloved
- Because I am created anew, with God’s love
- Because the Resurrection reminds me of hope, of transformation
- Because I have access to a power greater than I can imagine
- Because I can be a part of other people’s transformation
- Because I am loved and forgiven and free
— April, 2013 —