Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sermon: Easter 4

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.

What does it mean to be the Church today?

The Church is the Body of Christ. We are the disciples of Jesus today, doing the work he has called us to do. Our discipleship calls us to prayer and worship, service and fellowship: I think of the refrain from the Song of the Body of Christ:

  • We come to share our story.
  • We come to break the bread.
  • We come to know our rising from the dead.

The words from David Haas, a contemporary hymn writer, speak to our coming together every week as the Body of Christ in this beautiful & holy place. We come to share our story.

We each have a story. In fact, we each have lots of stories. About family, about play, about work. Our loves and hates. Lots of things…

It is here, in this place, where we can share our story with one another. Stories of struggle, stories of despair, stories of hope, stories of loss, stories of love, stories of you and me. And these stories are connected to the stories we hear each week from Scripture, from Hymns, from the service itself. In sharing our story, we are connected to the Body of Christ here at St. Peter’s and in our more symbolic sense, with the Body all over the earth.

We come to break the bread. Each week we gather for a meal, a ritual done since the time of Jesus when he broke bread and shared wine, asking the disciples to do this in remembrance of him.

We now remember as we gather around the altar, inviting young and old, newcomer and old timer, rich and poor, welcoming everyone to the Lord’s table. And here we offer bread and wine, we bless the elements, we break the bread, and we give the bread and wine to all who have gathered.

Bread and wine, gifts of the earth, the work of human hands. Bread and wine, the body and blood of our God, lovingly given to us in the Eucharist, as a gift, and in return we give our thanks for what God is doing all around us and in our very lives. In the act of the breaking of the bread, we are connected to the Body of Christ.

We come to know our rising from the grave. For in our Easter lives, Jesus has conquered death, and has brought us into his new life.

We hear from our scriptures, our tradition, of how God has entered into lives, bringing seemingly dead things back to life. As the biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann puts it, “Biblical faith attests that God, creator of the world, is the giver of life, even in a world of deathliness. While that claim is pervasive in faith, it is rooted in specific, nameable moments when God’s power for life was particularly concentrated and effective in contexts of death.”

Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles illustrates this beautifully.

Tabitha (or in the Greek Dorcas) was a disciple of Jesus and she was a pillar of her faith community in Joppa. She was a widow, which would have meant that she was on the margins of that society and not financially secure.

But what she had was faith. It was that faith that the widows and other disciples also had in that community. They felt her love and her care. She fell ill and died.

They learned Peter (Yeah Peter!) was nearby and asked him to come at once. Peter learned from the widows of the good works & charity of Tabitha, the clothing she made for other widows.

Peter puts them all outside the room where they beautifully laid their beloved Tabitha. He prays and asks Tabitha, to get up. (Reminiscent of the prophet Elisha who raises the widows’ son and of course, Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead, a little girl from the dead, to name just a few).

She does get up and Peter returns her to her community alive. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, raised Tabitha. It was a reminder to the early Christian community that God’s Spirit was still active in the world, just as it is for us today.

God’s spirit is still active, still bringing new life, still resurrecting people from their dead lives.

As we come to know our rising from the dead, we come also to know our place in the Body of Christ. And sometimes when we share our story, we can help others rise from the dead…

A man was walking along the East River promenade in New York City in a very dejected state of mind. He was more than dejected—he was suicidal, was seriously contemplating climbing over the railing that separated the promenade from the river and throwing himself in. Life felt empty, meaningless, hollow. He felt that the writing he had devoted himself to for decades had no real value, and didn't amount to much, what had he really accomplished in life?

As he stood staring at the dark, swirling water, trying to summon up the courage to do the deed, an excited voice interrupted his thoughts. "Excuse me," said a young woman, "I'm sorry to impose upon your privacy, aren't you John Doe,* the writer?" He nodded indifferently. "I hope you don't mind my approaching you, but I just had to tell you what a difference your books have made in my life! They have helped me to an incredible degree, and I just wanted to thank you." "No, my dear, it is I who have to thank you!" he said as he wheeled around, turned away from the East River and headed back home. (from Small Miracles & is a true story.)

We come to share our story. We come to break the bread. We come to know our rising from the dead. And then we go from here, to share the story with love, hope, & peace for all, sharing bread to those in need, and spreading the Good News of our rising from the dead with the world God has made and redeemed in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

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