Sunday sermon April 8: Still I Rise
Easter 2 April 8, 2018
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; John 20:19-31
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It is so good to be at Easter. You know, it is still Easter. You know, that we have to keep up our whooping and hollering for Fifty Days at least, fifty days all the way into Pentecost.
We are a people of the resurrection every week, 24/7, from baptisms when the Paschal Candle is lit, all the way to our funerals where the Paschal Candle is also lit.
And I want to tell you that we are not a ■ Church, but a movement, a people of the way as it is recorded in the book of Acts, followers of the crucified and risen Christ, who do not gather to worship primarily on the seventh day, the Sabbath day, but who worship on the 1 (Sunday), 2 (Monday),3 (Tuesday),4 (Wednesday), 5 (Thursday),6 (Friday),7 (Saturday), 8th (Easter!) day of new creation, into forever time, Sunday, the day of resurrection.
Pratt Green puts this forward-looking, innovating idea of church in a hymn:
The church of Christ, in ev’ry age
beset by change but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.
Evangelical Lutheran Worship 729
What does that look like? Where is the movement going on today? Who can articulate resurrection, embody resurrection, step into new life with joie de vivre?
The Psalms are great at lamenting, grieving, and cursing, but they are also great at unabashed joy and praise.
Today’s Psalm 133 is to the point, short, and a burst of hooray:
How good it is, how wonderful,
wherever people live as one!
It is like sacred oil on the head
flowing down Aaron’s beard,
down to the collar of his robe.
It is like the dew of Hermon
running down the mountains of Zion.
There God gives blessing:
life for ever.
Can you see this community together in purpose, opening up to the possibilities that freedom and forgiveness and blessing are flowing?
In the snapshot of the early church from the first reading of Acts today the movement and that joyful band held all possessions in common. Try not to apply 21st century American values of individualism, individual net worth, amassing a retirement portfolio, or anything like that. In this ancient Middle Eastern Jewish venture still tenuous at best, they broke away from their deep and abiding connection to close kinship circles and instead ventured into the risk of generosity where everything was held in common. And there was not a needy person among them. Can you imagine?
Of course it didn’t last, this communitarian utopia. In the very next chapter, Ananias sold some of his property and gave the income to the community. But secretly, he withheld a portion with his wife Sapphira in agreement. And, shockingly, within a few minutes, Ananias was dead. And when confronted, his wife Sapphira lied about the price they had received, and within a few hours, she too was dead. The author of Acts reports that “great fear seized the church and all who heard of these things” (Act 5:11).
Post-resurrection life spills into joy, and yet this new reality is complicated. Surely forgiveness for other misbehaviors is part of the Jesus’ story. Peter himself, now a leader in the church, denied Jesus as Jesus was being crucified. No one in the Acts account was required to share their money. It seems that the key piece was deception.
Bethesda House, our student residential community, is nearing its fifth year of existence. What we have learned about sharing space and time intentionally is the gift of mutual conversation, over community dinners, and in informal and spontaneous moments. Unity of purpose and of behavior, fulfilling its charter to be a bridge between the divinity school and the congregation, is not easy or utopian. Its success is largely borne out of commitment, mutuality, negotiation, and the recognition of the gift of Bethesda House is recognized over months of living into it, usually like now, near the end of the school year.
And to be a ministry of the congregation, to be an explicitly faith-oriented community within Bethesda, means something. We pondered wisdom in reading from a resource on community by Christine Pohl that says this about truth-shaped living:
When we allow God’s grace, truth, love, and righteousness to be the framework for interpreting community life and relationships, then individuals and congregations are in a better position to address their sins and failures, Because of grace, we can see more clearly and acknowledge more truthfully the gap between our goodness and God’s. We can also more confidently face our need to repent and change.
–from Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us (Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company © 2012), p. 114.
When I once served a rather toxic congregation, which had been deceived by leadership, and had struggled to face its own part in deception, telling the truth became necessary again and again, so that it could serve as a kind of cleansing of the open wound of hurt and wrong, and in time that history could find healing with a clean scab. And over time, we were able to weave the story of the congregation as one of pain and healing, forgiveness and new life.
Christine Pohl in her book on community says “A community that is truthful will not necessarily be tidy.”
Martin Luther says this in his Large Catechism says “now we are only halfway pure and holy. The Holy Spirit must continue to work in us through the Word, daily granting forgiveness until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness.”
With scars in his hands and his side, with his breathing peace on the troubled beloved community of disciples, Jesus ushers in resurrection life. It is not tidy. In the second generation of the church in Acts, it is not tidy.
But maybe we can say it is beautiful. It is blessed. The church, Bethesda Church, with its new members now joined with us, is not a ■ Church, but a movement, a people of the way that on this eighth day of the week, with Christ, rises from the dead.
April 4 of this past week was fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, who had a dream where he said that people wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. April 4 this past week was also the ninetieth birthday of poet and writer Maya Angelou. I leave you with a portion of her Easter-like stance in her poem Still I Rise:
Still I Rise
BY MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
[Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?]
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Tags: Christine D. Pohl, Christine Pohl, Community, Jr., Martin Luther King, Martin Luther's Large Catechism, Maya Angelou, Psalm 133, the Book of Acts