Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sermon: Easter 2

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.

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive involves beholding God.”

These words come from St. Irenaeus of Lyons of the 2nd Century. They are from his famous book "Against Heresies" which was written to refute the teachings of various groups in his region who were teaching that the material world was the accidental creation of an evil god, from which we are to escape by the pursuit of gnosis (special wisdom). Irenaeus argued that the true gnosis is in fact knowledge of Christ, which redeems rather than escapes from bodily existence.” (Wikipedia)

So the glory of God is when we are fully alive, living in that abundant life that Jesus talked about, redeeming our lives. And through such a full life, we behold our creator, the great ground of our being.

So what is this abundant life? It is a resurrected life for sure, living life not enslaved to death, for Jesus conquered death on the cross for us and in this Easter season we will consider what it means to be fully alive.

This week the Gospel of John tells us that to be fully alive in light of Easter is to live in peace & not fear.

After the crucifixion, the disciples (or at least most of them) had locked themselves away. They feared being caught, jailed, and even crucified. Hidden away they could not proclaim their faith. Hidden away they could not really live. They had effectively cut themselves out of the world.

It’s not that they hadn’t heard the Good News, Mary Magdalene & the other women had already told them about the empty tomb and Jesus being raised from the dead. Did they believe her? Did they doubt the resurrection?

Whatever it was, they couldn’t practice resurrection, they couldn’t celebrate, they couldn’t let go for fear had taken hold of their lives. But they never guessed it would be Jesus who would end that fear, for Jesus burst into their midst, standing among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Peace. Something the disciples had not known for days after the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.

Peace. It was an unexpected gift, much like the resurrection, and to remove any doubt, Jesus shows his wounds and the disciples rejoice and they begin to feel that peace.

But his peace is not just a sit and be quiet sort of peace, this is a peace that is full of go and do. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Jesus presence, his incarnation, helps set them free from their fear, and it begins their ministry in the world.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."”
And we should notice that Jesus’ appearance in the locked room culminates with the practice of forgiveness. “As a practice, forgiveness entails doubting our own fear-based conclusions. Forgiveness calls us to trust in God’s power to initiate resurrection in our midst, precisely where we least expected it.” (

This morning, Jesus comes into our lives this Easter, bursting into our locked rooms, letting his light on our fears. Peace he says to you and me; and we need to cast off the fear that can envelope us, for God is with us, calling us to go forth and practice forgiveness and be fully alive…

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “Strange, that again and again, precisely in the hour we most ardently hope for Jesus' presence, we lock the door to him in fear of many other things. But far more wonderful, that Jesus does not let himself be hindered by those locked doors. The resurrected one does not let himself be held up by humanity on his way to humanity.”

Jesus will not be held back by our fears or locked doors, he still comes into our lives. Breathing that same Spirit he gave the disciples, a Spirit that when embodied in us will not let our faith sit still or stay in fear.

An example of this for me, is a story from last fall…

On Monday afternoon in October, Washington D.C. police officers broke up two groups of fighting teenagers. A few minutes later, a female officer approached the lingering crowd and told the teens to disperse.

That’s when Aaliyah Taylor, a 17-year-old senior at Ballou High School, walked up to the officer and started playing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” on her phone. Then she did the Nae Nae dance. (If you are not sure what it is, ask Norah later.)

The officer, according to Taylor, laughed and said she had far better dance moves than that.

What happened from there on the 200 block of K Street SW was a rather impressive dance-off between the police officer and the teen, and an example of positive community policing at a time when national attention is focused on discriminatory and abusive police tactics. The onlooking teens caught the dance battle on their cell phones while a song by rapper Dlow played in the background.

“Instead of us fighting, she tried to turn it around and make it something fun,” Taylor said. “I never expected cops to be that cool. There are some good cops.” (Washington Post)

On Easter night, Jesus greets his terrified disciples with "Peace." But the peace of the Risen One is not merely the absence of conflict nor the quiet, unchallenged acceptance of others' expectations. Christ's peace is the hard work of putting aside our own doubts and fears to imitate his compassion; it is the hard work of pulling ourselves out of our own tombs of despair and anger to live our lives in a spirit of joy and gratitude and forgiveness.

On a fall afternoon on a block in DC, a police officer offered the teens gathered peace and forgiveness in a situation fraught with fear, on both sides.

The peace of Christ is realized in loving when it is most difficult to love, in putting aside our own disappointments and doubts for the sake of another, in forgiving when we are too angry or disappointed to forgive, in reaching out when we expect to be rebuffed or rejected. The Risen One's gift of peace is centered in Christ himself: it is the peace that mirrors his selflessness, his compassion, his joy.

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive involves beholding God.”

And to do that we must live into and share his peace & forgiveness and let go of our fear. Amen.

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