Sunday, May 5, 2013

6th Sunday of Easter Sermon

Who is Christ for us today?

This famous question asked by Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his jail cell, is the question every Christian of every generation must ask who follows Jesus.

Who is Christ for me/you today? For it is Jesus who transforms our lives…

Consider what you heard today: Who was Christ for Lydia in Acts of the Apostles & Who was Christ for the invalid of Bethzatha in today’s Gospel?

Now, Lydia had it all.

She had a business that was thriving, selling expensive cloth, richly dyed to the movers and shakers, the wealthy and elite, not just to her hometown but to Rome too. But this wasn’t enough, and she was looking for more for herself & her household. Where would it come from?

Lydia had it all, but her life still felt shallow, like something was missing.

He had nothing. He isn’t even named in the Gospel.

He sat near a pool, hoping for healing that hadn’t come in 38 years. He couldn’t remember feeling well. If he could get in at the right time, when the pool was stirred, he would be well, or so he thought. But he couldn’t help himself, where would help come from?

For the invalid of Bethzatha, his health was poor, his illness consumed his life. Family and friends were not there.

And then on the Sabbath, the day God has asked for us to rest and make holy, people entered their lives that would change everything.

Paul on his missionary journey through Macedonia, comes to a place of prayer he supposes, the Greek word hints that it is not a proper synagogue but a place where people use to pray. There he finds some women and engages them in conversation, which would have been highly unusual in that day of age.

And there is Lydia, a worshipper of God, and the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. Her family was baptized and she offered hospitality to Paul and his companions. For Paul brought Christ to her.

The missing piece was found in the words and life of Jesus. Lydia, a woman of stature and wealth, would see in the words spoken by Paul, that all these things she had were not enough in her life. And the God whom she worshipped had brought Jesus to her through Paul, and in her baptism she began her ministry, just as Paul had done after his encounter with Jesus.

Jesus came to the pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem called Bethzatha. There he found many who were blind, lame, and paralyzed lying near the pool. Jesus found the one who had been there for thirty eight years & knew he had been there a long time. What hope does he have left?

“Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks him…I have no one to help put me in the water… and Jesus healed him… “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” The missing piece was the healing words of Jesus, the one who cared enough to stop and help someone in deep need, his heart was open for help and in that word was life and the invalid’s life was restored.

Jesus comes to all of us, weather we are wealthy or not, sick or not. Jesus offers himself as the bearer of life, who will transform us, if our hearts are open and ready to let God in.

This can happen, even in the worst of circumstances.
In the mid-1990s, the African nation of Uganda was devastated by a bloody civil war. One night, rebel soldiers abducted 139 girls from a Catholic boarding school. The parents of the girls and the headmistress pleaded with the rebels for the children's release; the rebels released most of the students - but continued to hold 29 girls. The parents of the remaining hostages agreed not to conduct their own searches at the urging of school officials, who feared that such efforts would upset the delicate negotiations underway between the sisters and the rebels.

Seeking some solace during their long wait, the parents began meeting each week at a local church to fast and pray for their daughters' safety and release. The first night a priest led them in the Lord's Prayer. They prayed Jesus' words together - until they got to “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” They realized that they could not say the words. The service ended right there. The parents silently left the church. One mother remembers:

"We needed God, so we decided to put things right. That prayer was a revival in our lives . . . praying for those who wronged us became our sacrifice."

When the parents met the next week, the transformation had begun. As they prayed to forgive the rebels, their sorrows began to lift. They became vehicles of forgiveness, organizing meetings in their community and region to share their stories. Their work led to an organization of Ugandan parents to advocate for the release of abducted children everywhere and a peaceful resolution to the conflict in their country. It took seven long years before all the children returned home - but the work of reconciliation for lost and abducted children begun by those parents continues today. [From Divinity, Duke University Divinity School, Winter 2010.]
As we continue our Easter celebrations, it is Jesus who will transform our lives, no matter who we are, rich or poor, healthy or sick, victim or perpetrator, we must open our hearts and believe on this Sabbath day. And then go out from here and be that Christ bearer to the world, so by your life, people will see the answer to the question: Who is Christ for you today? Amen.

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