Sermon on Resurrection Life: In the wake of fear, live hope!
This is the third in a series of sermons on Audacious Faith: Living the Resurrection.
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.
He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.
Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
This is, for me a set of power packed texts. The Book of Acts itself is alarming. Its alarming because of just how much good news is packed into it… overwhelming good news. Peter making the lame walk, the dead rise? What are we to do with that? This reeks of magic and miracles and mystery that is far beyond us.
We don’t live in an age of miracles do we? Miracles, it seems, are a thing of the past if they ever were. I mean few of us would want to say it that bluntly but I doubt any of us believe we could do today – even through the tremendous power of prayer – what Peter just did in this text. So when we read these texts about miracles – what do we do with them? What do we do with Peter who said to a man just get up, and this man unable to walk for eight years did just that?
How many of us have walked into the home or hospital room of someone who had just died and feeling the hurt and hearing the weeping, and beholding the treasured memories of this departed loved one, how many of us in that place have wished we could just take away all the pain bring this treasure life back to life – Tabitha get up. And she opens her eyes and she is well and all is well with the world.
Don’t we wish we could do that???
Don’t we wish we still lived in an age of miracles?
We had a rough week here in the United States. We are not a people truly accustomed to rough weeks. We live fairly safe lives compared to so many other places in the world. We imagine ourselves to be reasonably safe when we go out our doors, every time we go out our doors.
Two blasts rang out at the Boston marathon. Two blasts filled not only with harmful shrapnel that would take lives and limbs… but also filled with hate and fear and terror. A city went into lockdown, an entire country was gripped by grief and fear and confusion…
And yet… and yet in the midst of that people kept recalling a phrase from Mr. Rogers – he of the sweaters and the changed shoes for indoors and outdoors. He of the invitation to be his neighbor to the children, and of imaginative flights of fancy into a whole different world with his trolley. Mr. Rogers is often quoted at such time from a story that his mother used to tell him, that when fear and terror raise its head, we should look to the helpers. This message kept ringing out this week because in photo after photo in a moment of terror people began to notice something. The people in those photos were not running away from danger, they were running into the danger to help. The photos were people holding, cradling, walking with those whose very life blood was spilling out from them, those who were dazed and confused, and those who were lost.
An entire nation stopped to grieve with them, and hope for them, and seek to help them. And in the midst of this the message I heard ringing out was not fear. I saw more messages about trying to prevent the response of fear and hate than anyone actually expressing hate or fear or terror. Yes there were some comments of hate for the people who would do this but as a general rule I saw far more care and love than hate and fear.
Hope was strong with week. Did you feel that? Did you hear that? Do you sense that? Coming out of the week I did not hear a people who were frightened and would no longer run marathons or watch them. I’m sure there are lingering tendrils of fear, but the overwhelming message seemed to be one of resilience and care and hope. We still run.
Isn’t that a miracle? Isn’t that a message of resurrection that walked into our lives and said that it doesn’t matter that in this moment you should be afraid and feel the cold grip of death – there is life here, there is hope here, and there is good news here: look to the helpers. Look to the small yet strong tendrils of life that are breaking up through the rubble to testify to hope and the human spirit that resiliently seeks life and good news in the midst of the shadowed valley of death.
That is a miracle. That is resurrection!
I get struck by something when we think about the resurrection. I think that as a general rule we turn the resurrection into far too small a thing. We think that the resurrection is about Jesus coming back to life. That’s fine, it’s nice. But if that is all that the resurrection is about – if the resurrection is only about Jesus than it’s a pretty small thing. God was already alive. God did not need to die and rise again to affirm that God was alive. God’s people did not doubt that God was alive. That wasn’t the problematic that needed to be addressed. If resurrection is just about Jesus, just about God – than resurrection is a pretty small blip on the radar screen of the life of the world.
But what if resurrection is about how WE are to live. What if it is about the story we wish to preach with our lives. What if it isn’t just about a Jesus’ life rising from death but the life of world rising from death? What if the real miracle here is the human life awakened to reality that life is stronger than death and we can live our lives as a testimony to hope in the midst of fear and darkness. What if the real message of the resurrection has is that care and good news are a more captivating story than death and mayhem.
What a story to get involved in, not that we watch as Jesus comes to save us, that he died, and he rose so we have a better place to go to in the end of the story. And it’s all done and we are safe and saved and we know the end of the story and it’s all good – the rest of the horrible junk along the way will eventually pass away so just don’t worry about it because in all work out okay in the end. Again – if that is what resurrection means than this whole God thing really is just an opiate of the people. A thing we use to deaden our senses to the hurt and pain in the pursuit that something outside ourselves will remove us from it all in the end.
But if the story is one of ascendant love and care in the midst of death – hope as the response and not hate… if resurrection is a way of living in the world that testifies to good news, care, and love in the midst of the pain and the terror, the death and the fear, in the midst of the bombs bursting in air – If that is what resurrection is about than it’s a radical and awesome way of transforming our lives in this world right now! It’s a miracle we participate in every day – Aeneas get up, Tabith get up.
How many times do we say something akin to “but I’m only human.” It’s right there in the text of John 10 too, “because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” But to that accusation what does Jesus say? Jesus says our own scripture names us all gods from the mouth of God. Psalm 8 with which we opened worship said that we really should be nothing… I’m only human, but instead we are little less with God charged with being care takers of all of the wonderful works of the Most High. Jesus says, ye are gods, there isn’t really anything I’m claiming about myself that is more than what I claim for you.
And Peter and all those apostles are living that message in the Book of Acts. Acts scares us because it imagines that Jesus truly meant that we are to live as agents of the resurrection. We are meant to live as a testimony to hope and good news in the mists of terror. It means that we do not allow that my only-human, little less than God spirit will cower in fear but will boldly live care and love in the face of death.
In the midst of the worst the world offers I will be the best the world offers in response. That is good news. That is a miracle.
Two people choose to strike out, and they took lives and it’s a tragedy, and it is tragic. But only 2 people chose hate and confusion, and a whole country chose to testify to life, and hope, and courage, and love of our neighbor at the risk of our own lives. And friends, that is a miracle to me on par with anything the Book of Acts has to offer!
No we cannot bring those 3 lives back today – still wish I could do that… God I wish we could do that. But we can do all that we can – and that isn’t just a little insignificant act – to limit the reach of fear in the wake of death. We do not deaden the pain of our loss; we do not mask the hurt. But we also choose to not let the pain and hurt dictate our response. We can choose to respond not with hate but with love, and in love care for the world. Look to the helpers!
What is the resurrection, what does it mean to be people who participate in resurrection in the world?
I think it means to recognize that we are gods. Yes you heard that right, your pastor is up here saying we are gods and that is blasphemy. But I’m here because they are Jesus’ words. And if charged with blasphemy then I’m in good company. Jesus isn’t worried about blasphemy. If you don’t believe me than believe my works, he says. Let us not get caught up in names and categories, whether I’m God or Son of God or Son of Man… let us not get caught up in ways of salvation, and creedal assertions, and magic words or beliefs… let us not get caught up in the laws and the rules and the approved ways and means… let us just be the helpers. Let us live in such a way that people look at us and feel that the world isn’t so dark after all. That is what my life is all about. Let us be the helpers. And whatever you want to call that… that is living resurrection life – and it is good news.
It is a miracle of the only-human, little less than God spirit we have been created to be for the sake of the world.
Thanks be to God, Amen.