Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Easter 5 Sermon (April 24)

Be present, be present, O Risen Christ, as you were with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread and in the Scriptures, we pray. Amen.

“Dearly beloved - We are gathered here today - To get through this thing called life”

Those are the opening words of the song Let’s Go Crazy by the musician, artist, composer, Prince (Rogers Nelson), who died on Thursday. In that same song from 1984, which is a song about living one’s life to the fullest and not getting down, he says:

“You better live now - Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door”

He is right. We are here to help one another get through life, and we need to live because none of us knows when death will come.

In her memoir Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son, Anne Lamott writes about getting through life in the face of death:

"The only son of some people that Sam (her son) & I know from town has died. How on earth can the parents survive that? How can the grandparents?

"Same old inadequate answer: They will survive with enormous sadness and devastation. I don't see how this is possible. But looking back over the years, I see that people do go on against absolutely all odds, and truly savage loss.

"Some of us have a raggedy faith. You cry for a long time, and then after that are defeated and flattened for a long time. Then somehow life starts up again. Other people set up foundations so other kids don't die the way theirs did, and so their kids didn't die in vain, or they do political work for the common good. Your friends surround you like white blood cells . . . Some aching beauty comes with huge loss, although maybe not right away, when it would be helpful. Life is a very powerful force, despite the constant discouragement.

So if you are a person with connections to life, a few tendrils eventually break through the sidewalk of loss, and you notice them, maybe space out studying for them for a few moments, or maybe they tickle you into movement and response, if only because you have to scratch your nose."

If we look carefully, with persevering trust, we will realize the love of God breaking through like flowers through the cracks in the sidewalk of our brokenness and pain. Such compassion and care is ours to give and receive in our "raggedy" attempts to follow Jesus and when others suffer trauma and loss, may we possess the grace of God to be a "tendril" of God's love for them.

For Jesus at the last supper, told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The greatest challenge that we have as Christians & our raggedy faith, is to be that open, loving person that Christ calls us to be for others. Who we are as disciples of Jesus is defined by that love we give for one another.

In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter responds to the criticism that he has begun reaching out to Gentiles, by explaining how it was that the Holy Spirit guided him to this work.

“The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

In many ways Peter is not only talking about faith, but about love too. The Holy Spirit helped him see that he shouldn’t be making a distinction (us vs. them), that if they [gentiles/uncircumcised] were called to receive the same gift as he has, he needed to respond in faith and love to them.

I am reminded of a beautiful collect from the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with… "Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace."

What Jesus asks of us, is to help with that saving embrace, how we reach out our arms of love to this world. A world that is so filled with hate, spite, violence, inequality, and death. And yet, it is the little acts of love that can transform our world. A young woman remembers her beloved grandfather:

"Grandpa was a man of integrity. He was a rancher who loved his family fiercely and passed down simple yet important life lessons. My dad tells a story about helping his dad tediously wash borrowed farm equipment before they returned it to a neighbor. 'Why are we cleaning this?' he asked. 'It was dirty when we got it.' 'Always return something a little better than you found it,' was Grandpa's reply.

"A week after Grandpa's funeral, I helped my dad vacuum, wash, and refuel a car he had borrowed from a friend. After accepting the vehicle, the friend leaned over to me a remarked, 'Whenever I loan something to your dad, I know it will come back in even better shape.'

"And that is my grandpa's legacy. He left the world just a little better than he found it. I hope I can do the same." [Katharine Hanschu, writing in Reader's Digest, March 2012.]

A legacy of respect and generosity passed down through the generations and recognized by others. That same legacy of love is the legacy of Christ to us - our very identity as disciples of Christ is centered in such complete and constant love.

Our faithfulness in imitating the compassion and forgiveness of the Risen One is lived in our openness of heart and spirit to love selflessly, completely and unconditionally, as God has loved us in Christ.

Jesus the Healer and Reconciler, Jesus the Footwasher, Jesus the Crucified & Redeemer, entrusts to his Church, the Body of Christ, love that places others first and the common good before our own, love that renews and re-creates all human relationships, love that transforms the world and helps make it a better place.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life, with God’s Spirit empowering us together to live and give such love and hope to make this a better world. Amen.

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