Resurrection Unleashed!

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As we reach the end of the Easter season, today’s lessons remind us that after the resurrection, the power of God is still on the move in the world… and in our lives.  It is on the move in order to deliver God’s unstoppable life… Christ’s resurrection… to all of God’s creation.

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19

May 20, 2012

Peder Stenslie

I teach 6th grade at the Mandan Middle School.  I am one of three social studies teachers there.  Recently, our administrator told us he was concerned about broad differences in the way the three of us teach our social studies classes.  He wanted to see us move toward more uniformity in our classes.  To that end, he directed us to choose one chapter and work together to create a single test that we would all use at the end of that chapter. 

Well, that may sound easy enough; but I’m here to tell you that it was painful beyond words.  We all teach our classes very differently.  We use different materials and cover different topics; we use different methods and approaches in our teaching.  We all have different ideas about what should be taught, how it should be taught and how it should be tested.  I honestly didn’t know there were so many ways to be different in teaching sixth grade social studies.

Trying to weave all those differences together into a good and useful product seemed to be an impossible task, like herding cats through a waterfall.  By the time we were done I felt like I had been in to the dentist for a 3-hour root canal. 

The agony of that experience helped me appreciate today’s lessons.  When you think about all of today’s readings, you can see that a common thread unites them.  They all testify to the difficult challenges faced by the early church.

2000 years ago the church was struggling to be born in a hostile environment.  It was struggling to define itself and find its way as it came into being out of chaos.

We don’t often appreciate how difficult those years were for the church.  Peter, Paul, John and other leaders had to work together under great pressure and unite peoples of very different means, cultures and expectations.  And they had to plot a course forward without any kind of manual or model to follow.  It must have been like herding cats through a waterfall.

Our first lesson from Acts relates the story of the disciples’ first real decision and action after the ascension of Jesus.  And personally, I think this is a very strange story.

My first question is this: “Why do they even need to replace Judas?  What difference does it make?  What’s the point?”  I have to wonder if the reason is, simply, they didn’t have a clue what else to do.  Jesus had just left them.  They were on their own.  What on earth do they do now?  So they started with something harmless… something that doesn’t really matter; but sounds pretty important, like granting someone a title. 

But Even stranger than the issue they decide to tackle is the way they decide to do it.  Verse 26 says they “cast lots.”  Casting lots is like drawing straws or flipping a coin… doesn’t that seem crazy?  It is hardly what I would call a model of good leadership.  It seems to me that these guys are really winging it.  It seems like they’re just trying to fumble through their first executive decision without messing up too badly?

At any rate, the 1st lesson shows the disciples taking their first tenuous steps… making their first leadership decisions without Jesus there to help and guide them.

The background of today’s 2nd lesson from 1st John is some dispute that was going on in the writer’s community of believers.  It is a conflict regarding the truth of the Gospel.  When the church was new, it struggled to find its way.  There were so many questions that begged to be answered.  Early church leaders had to wrestle with how to deal with these questions.  While it’s not possible to know the exact nature of the dispute that lies behind 1st John, the writer strives to resolve the conflict by emphasizing that the power and life of God were present in Christ and they are given to us through Christ.

In the Gospel lesson from John, we have a portion of a long prayer spoken by Jesus the night he was betrayed. When we read this part of the Gospel of John, it’s easy to see that the writer of John had his eye trained very intently on members of the early church that he was writing to.  He put the words of Jesus into a certain framework so that his readers would understand that when Jesus prayed that night in the upper room, he was praying for them.

The verse that immediately follows today’s Gospel lesson makes it explicit:  “I ask not only on behalf of these [meaning the disciples who were eating with him], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word [meaning the readers of John’s Gospel… and ultimately, us].” 

In this passage, Jesus prays that we may be one.  He prays that we may be kept safe, that we might know joy, that we might receive and keep God’s Word and that our lives might be transformed by that Word.  That is God’s will for our lives.

As we reach the end of the Easter season, today’s lessons remind us that after the resurrection, the power of God is still on the move in the world… and in our lives.  It is on the move in order to deliver God’s unstoppable life… Christ’s resurrection… to all of God’s creation.

It is the prayer of Christ and the promise of God that in spite of our troubles… in spite of conflict… in spite of uncertainty… in spite of our weaknesses and failures, the Spirit of God is present with us… and for our sakes it works in us the will of God, it produces in us the fruit of God, and it gives to us the life of God.

The message of today’s lessons is that somehow God raised up a living church from a broken, frightened and confused community of people… including guys who exercise leadership by flipping a coin.  The resurrection of Christ continued in the life that grew out of the early church.  Christ’s resurrection continues through us as well… in our shared life together.

As we face hardships and challenges that seem too great for us to handle, we are reminded by today’s texts that God is always with us and his power and love will outlast any trouble we must face.  God’s power brings life out of the tomb.  Not just that one time 2000 years ago outside Jerusalem; but whenever we – his people – face the darkness of sin and death.

We are given hope knowing that the resurrection of Christ continues in us even as we languish in the shadow of great loss, failure and pain.  The loss of a loved one, the failure of marriage, the loss of a job, incarceration, addiction, abuse, serious illness, the disintegration of a family….  In such times of doubt, pain and sorrow, the resurrection of Jesus Christ beckons us forward like a guiding light, calling us to trust in the life and power of our loving of God.

Though we are often unable to see it, our lives have always been and certainly will be more than we can see.  They are part of an unfolding work of God into which the power of the resurrection has been unleashed.

Being a believer… having faith… doesn’t mean our troubles go away.  It doesn’t mean that suddenly all anxiety and uncertainty disappear and we become masters of the world.  It doesn’t mean that things will come easy for us.  Christians, just like everyone else, must contend with the relentless power of sin and death in this world. 

Being Christian simply means that we are free to live fearlessly and with great hope, because we have seen and we know that sin and death cannot hold on to us.  Out of the dark tombs that our lives sometimes become, God will bring forth new life.  Because he loves us and because the power of creation is at his command, he will forgive us, renew us and uphold us.  He will lead us out of the darkness into a new day.

He will do through us what we could never do.  He will make of us what we could never imagine.  That is the great truth of the resurrection that the early church learned 2000 years ago.  It’s the message that ancient church still proclaims to us today.  May their testimony reach the depths of our anxious hearts and fill us with confidence and hope.

Amen.