Saturday, April 11, 2015

Transformed and Transforming: Sermon for Easter 2 (John and Act)

Look at the change in the Christian community between our two texts this morning!  Look at the transformation that takes place between our story in the Gospel of John and the description in the Book of Acts!  In just a few short years, Jesus’s disciples have been completely transformed, from a frightened and uncertain group hiding from public view into a thriving community of worship and mission.  They experience the Risen Christ, and look where he takes them!      
Let’s look more closely at what our stories have to tell us, beginning with the gospel narrative in which Jesus appears to the disciples a week after his resurrection. And what are the disciples up to?  They’re hiding out!  Frightened, terrified actually, that they will be associated with the man who has been crucified for insurrection against the government.  Lost and bewildered: what are they to do without the leader they have come to depend upon?  Inside, behind locked doors – this does not look like a group with a lot of promise insofar as spreading the word of the resurrection is concerned.
And on their own – they are not.  Of course not. 

But Jesus appears in their midst—twice, as it turns out – and two things happen.  Two encounters, two conversations, in which they are transformed by his resurrected presence.

In the first encounter with Jesus, the disciples rejoice.  Of course they rejoice! Wouldn’t we, too, rejoice in the re-appearance of someone whom we deeply love who has died?  Rejoicing  would be the order of the day.  But there’s more to it than their own rejoicing, because Jesus has a commission for them:
“As the Father has sent me,” he says, “so I send you.
Send.  Pay attention that word, send.  It’s one of the most important words in the Bible.  Jesus sends.

The word in Greek, in the language in which this book was first written, is pempwo; it means to send, to insist that something – in this case, the good news of the resurrection and the unfolding kingdom of God – be carried or sent to others.  In Latin, the language into which it was first translated by the church,  the word is missio – mission, in English.  We might think that a mission is a plan, an idea for getting something done – but at its root, a mission is a sending.

Jesus sends.  Jesus does not say, “Oh, this is excellent  -- stay here, locked up by yourselves inside, and be afraid.  Don’t even try to go anywhere, because it’s too scary and challenging out there.”

No – Jesus does not say that at all.  Jesus says, “I send you!”  Get going.  Be bold! There is a whole world out there waiting for good news – I am sending you out to share it!

But there’s more.  More to these encounters, and more to what we are called to do, and to be. 

You may recall that one of this disciples is absent from this incredible, tremendous meeting.  And you may recall that when he returns and hears what has happened, Thomas says. “I don’t believe it.”  We get that, too, don’t we?  If I walked in here and told you that this morning I had seen someone who had recently died, seen them in the flesh and talked with them, you would not believe me.  “Show me,” says Thomas.  "I'm not going to believe this until I see Jesus for myself, and touch his wounds with my own hands.”

And so Jesus, who never leaves anyone behind – Jesus, who is always gathering people to himself – Jesus, who understands us, and understands our skepticism and our grief and our anger, because he is one of us – Jesus comes back for Thomas.  Jesus makes sure that Thomas has the experience of proof that he needs.
And Thomas?  Thomas’s response is, “My Lord and my God!”  “My Lord and My God!” What sort of response is that?  That’s a worshipful response.  That’s a response of praise and adoration and wonder and awe and humility.   That’s worship.
In this one short story, we have the essence of Christian life in community.  Worship, and mission.

When I was in seminary, we had to take a course called Missiology – the study of mission.  Who knew there was such a thing? (Not me!)  Now, I was not looking forward to this required course.  To me, the word mission was about something like missionaries – about sending people out to the far corners of the world to proclaim the news of Jesus Christ.  And that was not something that held any appeal for me.  As a former world history teacher, I knew a lot about the damage that had been done to cultures across the globe by Christian missionaries who so often though they knew best.  I didn’t think that I wanted to study missiology.

But, to my surprise, I loved that course.  I practically inhaled everything I learned in that course.  Because, as it turns out, mission does not mean setting yourself up as the expert and running roughshod over others in the process.  Mission means being sent – and in Christianity, it means being sent with the good news of the kingdom of God among us.

Our professor had a thesis for his course – a main idea.  And what he told us was this: That the church does a lot of things.  We do education, and spiritual formation, and we care for each other and we feed and clothe the needy, and we visit the sick, and sometimes we remember that we do those things in the name of Jesus and sometimes we don’t.  But his conclusion, his main idea, he told us, was that everything we do – everything – comes down to two main projects: Worship, and Mission. 

We worship, God, and God sends us into the world with the good news.  That’s what all of church -- all of who we are and who we are called to be --  that’s what it all comes down to: Worship, and Mission.  If we aren’t doing worship and mission, then we aren’t church.  If we aren’t transformed, if we don’t hear Jesus saying “I am sending you” and if we don’t follow Thomas in saying, “My Lord and my God!” – then we are not church.  If we are not, like those very first disciples, transformed by the Risen Christ from a huddle of frightened people clinging to one another into a community sent into the world, then we are not church. 

So how do we do this?  We are two little churches gathered here on this fine second Sunday of Easter – and how do we do this?  We are scared, aren’t we? – we are small in numbers, and low on funds, and we might close and we might disperse – we are in a tough spot, and where are we?  We’re inside, talking to each other!  How do we open ourselves up to become people transformed by the Risen Christ among us?  How do we open ourselves up to become transforming people, a community sent to transform our world? 
We start, I think by looking at what happened in the earliest church communities.  In our second reading today, from the Book of Acts, we are offered a glimpse of one of the first of these communities, a flourishing community in which – guess what? – people have been transformed themselves by the Risen Christ and are completely engaged in the transformation of their world.  They share, they care for the needy, and they proclaim the resurrected Christ.   Hiding out in upper rooms has come to an end.  The time for hanging out with only one another for company is long past.  Sharing the good news – witnessing to the resurrection in word and deed – that’s what the first churches are up to.
Now this early community – it sounds a little extreme  to us, doesn’t it? These folks own everything in common – no private property – and they sell their homes and use the proceeds to care for the needy.  A different world!  But let’s not let ourselves be stopped by the radical nature of their particular approach.  Let’s ask, instead, how can we adapt what we learn from them to our own circumstances? 
How can we, like the first churches, become people “of one heart and soul?” 
How can we, with this bold example before us, how can we ourselves, perhaps even as one congregation, become a community of worship and mission with “one heart and soul?”  How can we open our hearts during this sacred time, this time of Easter, of resurrection, of hope, of new life, of new possibilities – how can we open our hearts to the Jesus who walks among us?  How can we be transformed by his risen presence into a transforming people, a people who gather to worship and then welcome the invitation to be sent, to care not only for one another, but to practice kindness and to pursue justice in that big wide world out there?

This, my friends, is an important day for us all.  Today is a time to gather, to talk, to question, and to wonder, together.  It’s a day to pause, inside, to worship, to say in unison, “My Lord and my God,” an to take stock and allow our hearts to be cracked open by the Jesus who is here, stopping with us as we consider the future. 

But it’s also a day to recognize, with great joy, that as followers of the risen Christ, we are sent.    We are people who have been invited to the greatest of missions, the mission Dei, the mission of God.  The mission in which children are encouraged and the hungry are fed and the imprisoned are visited and the sick are attended to. 

Worship, and mission. They’re both right there in Scripture.  Their potential lies among people who are unsure and hesitant, but who recognize Jesus when he walks through the door. Their fulfillment lies among people who respond to the calling to be church, proclaiming the good news and serving the world.

That’s us, my friends: B and B Churches. Called to worship and to mission.  Called to be both transformed and transforming. 


1 comment:

  1. I think these are the perfect texts for this message! Well done.