Sunday, April 10, 2016

Third Easter

Acts 9: 1-20

The Third Easter Sunday, and the very last verse of the Gospel  of John,   which comes just a paragraph or so after the conclusion of this morning’s reading, hovers over all our Easter Season Sundays.  “There were also many other things which Jesus did,” John says.  Chapter 21, verse25: “There were also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  Over these weeks we’ve had a good sample of the recorded stories.  Mary in the Garden, the two walking home to Emmaus on Sunday afternoon, the disciples in the Upper Room both Easter evening and the next week, with Thomas—and today here the story of the breakfast on the beach at the Sea of Galilee.   A representative selection. 

At the end of First Corinthians 15, probably written at least a few decades before St. John’s Gospel, St. Paul gives a list of Easter stories as well, beginning at verse 5: “he appeared to Cephas,” to Peter, “then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom,” Paul says here, “most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James . . . .”  He misses a few that we read about in the gospels but also adds a couple that aren’t recorded anywhere else.   The point is that something was happening in these days after Easter not just to a few, but to many.  They would see him with their own eyes, and perhaps like Mary hear him say their name in the old familiar way, or like Thomas they would touch his scarred hands and wounded side.  Then continuing in First Corinthians 15 St. Paul says, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”  Of course, by “last of all” Paul is referring to his place among the first group of disciples and apostles, the first witnesses.  From our point of view two thousand years later Paul doesn’t appear to be last, but among the first.  A matter of perspective.   Over the centuries a vast chorus begins to sing the song: Christos anesti;  alithos anesti.  Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.  Or as we recite together in the most ancient creed of the Church, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  We’ve seen it with our own eyes, we’ve seen him,  in the gracious working of the Holy Spirit.

 I’ve shared a number of times a small but actually for me pretty significant turning-point moment in my own Christian life when I was rummaging around the library of St. Mark’s  in Berkeley back in the early 1970’s and came across a newsletter with the title “Acts 29.”  I went home later that evening and with some curiosity picked up my Bible and turned to Acts 29, only to find that the book of Acts ends at chapter 28.  And then a lightbulb went on.  “Oh, Acts 29.  That’s what comes next.  Across all the centuries and around the world, and all the way here, to this time, this place.  The part of the story where you and I somehow show up as the central characters . . . .”  Certainly a theme and implication in our readings through this season and in the proclamation of the Church is to say that in the witness of Easter and in the Pentecost power of the Holy Spirit the risen Lord continues to reveal himself –continues to turn our lives around, continues to build his Church, a great cloud of witnesses . . . .

We hear Paul’s story in some detail.  St. Luke, who was the author of Acts, was a companion of Paul on his missionary journeys and must have heard the story dozens and maybe hundreds of times.    Paul himself alludes to the story several times in his letters.  This is partly of historical and biographical interest, but the point of telling and re-telling it is certainly for Paul what we might call an Acts 29 point.  Paul was chosen by Jesus, called, thrown off his horse, turned around, sent forth.  His story, and then our story.  The details may vary, but the center is the same.  Mary in the Garden, friends on the Road to Emmaus, the gatherings in the Upper Room, the meeting on the beach.  The risen Lord reveals himself to those whom he has chosen, he knocks us off whatever horse we happen to be riding, he turns our lives around, and then he commissions us and send us on the way to build his Church.    Again, the details will vary.  Paul’s story isn’t mine, and my story isn’t yours.  But Jesus – is always Jesus.

 In the first chapter of his Letter to the Galatians Paul reminds his readers that he had been once upon a time a persecutor of the followers of Jesus and a leader of the most zealous faction of the Jewish community.  If you have ever felt that you are an unlikely candidate for God’s purposes, he’s saying, just get in line.  And we notice in the reading this morning how he says in chapter 9, verse 15, “But . . . he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the gentiles . . . .”    It may not really make sense to us in any particular moment, but Jesus knows what he’s doing,  Paul says.  He chooses the people he chooses not in some haphazard way, but with a clarity of purpose.  Even if that purpose may seem sometimes obscure to us.  We understand why Ananias is reluctant to shelter this man who so recently had been a dangerous adversary.   But Jesus speaks to Ananias in a vision, to say about Paul, “go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen . . . .”

So Easter.  As I’ve said over the past couple of weeks, a remarkable story.  A man dies, and then he is alive again.  But the critical question remains, so what?  So what?  What does all that have to do with us?   The question of the season.  Again, the substance of Acts 29, as it is written about your life and my life.  About the Church of Jerusalem and Damascus and Antioch and Corinth and Rome, and Highland Park.  The odd assembly of men and women and boys and girls who happen to walk through these doors on Hampton Street . . . .  What it has to do with us.  The rest of the story.

And so stewardship (perhaps wondered if I was going to get back around to that wondered today—in continuing my promised series through Eastertide).  The expression as we live our lives day by day as disciples and apostles.  Talking the talk; walking the walk.  I’m going to spend some time in the next couple of weeks looking at Scripture and at parts of the tradition of our life in the Church at what we might call the particulars of what that might mean.   The stewardship of my body, of my relationships, of my things, of my gifts and abilities, of my thoughts and feelings—all of that,  unfolding within the frame of Easter.   Since our lives of stewardship, our lives as disciples and apostles, the friends and followers of Jesus, will always be in that Easter light:  in Word and Sacrament, in prayer and service, in the face of our neighbor, in ecstatic vision, in the secret of our hearts, that by the power of the Holy Spirit in a season that is always Easter he reveals himself to us, risen from the dead, ruling at the right hand of the Father, promising to come in consummation to be judge of all.  Revealing himself to us.  Calling us.  Knocking us off the horses we were riding before, turning us around, commissioning us and equipping us to continue his work, to build up his Church. 

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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