Beloved, today Peter has his mind blown…..Pow!
God says: I am doing a new thing….and folks, God ain’t jokin….
You see, Peter had been taught by religious leaders that some things to eat are holy and some are not;
That some places and activities are sacred and some are not;
Peter had been taught to only associate with certain people---believing that some people have God’s favor and some do not.
And then the truth of God’s plan and dream break into Peter’s life and this truth about how God really desires us to live, well, this Truth is radically different from what Peter has been taught---what Peter has held as his beliefs---and this new understanding of God’s truth and love turns Peter’s world on its head. (Pow!)
So Peter responds: Who am I that I should hinder God?
To “hinder” means to prevent, to slow down, to put up a barrier…
Beloved, we cannot stop God. No one can. Nothing can. Easter proclaims that there is no power stronger or more enduring than God’s love. None. Not death. Not hate. Not violence. Not fear. Ultimately, love wins. And Beloved, when the church is truly the church……..then Presently, love wins.
But, let’s get real: we all know that we CAN prevent love; we can slow down love; we can put up barriers to love; we CAN hinder love. If we were in Peter’s situation, we might find ourselves saying: Wait! What? The Holy Spirit pours down on THOSE people? The Holy Spirit is in THAT place? The Holy Spirit is participating where exactly? Over there? Nah….can’t be…..
Again, sound familiar? Let me show you a short video…..
Beloved, as the church we are those couples in that commercial and God is calling us to be bold….to put ourselves into the midst of the stranger, what we might term as the “other”……God doesn’t call us to simply welcome the stranger…..God calls us to go out.
In fact, the Greek word for church “ek klesia” means the gathering, but it also means the ones called to go out. We are both the gathered and the sent…..sent to go out because the Holy Spirit is being poured out all over the place…….yes, poured out on over THOSE people and in THAT place….and we are called to go and participate in that work, with those people, and to go to the places the Holy Spirit is working and moving out in the neighborhood and in our world.
And let’s be honest with ourselves, many of us have a problem with the term the “other.” Because we believe that in Christ there is no us and them, there is only us. And this is true; I have often preached it, but it is more nuanced than this. This weekend, John Herder, MaryJo Laube and I had the pleasure of attending Synod Assembly, and we heard a fantastic speaker, Pastor Sunitha Mortha, an ELCA pastor who is from India, and she shared a wisdom from the theologian Miroslav Volf that I want to share with you today:
In the Body of Christ, what is removed is the HOSTILITY toward difference…..not the difference itself.
We have differences as the Body of Christ; we have differences as the human race. God doesn’t desire to erase those differences; God created those differences. What God desires, what God calls us to do, is to remove the hostility toward the difference….hostility that is often grounded in fear. Fear because our truth is that we don’t really want to believe the “other” is created in the imago dei---that same image of God in which we are created.
Because if we believe that God created all of humanity and God loves all of humanity….if we believe that God loves all of Creation and desires its vitality…….. what implications do these beliefs have on how we live? How we exercise our spending power? What does it mean for the systems and legislation we support? What implications does this have for how we treat the immigrant, the refugee, the one of different faith, the female, the mentally unhealthy, the black, the brown, the indigenous?
Beloved, who are we that we should hinder God?
And when the Holy Spirit knocks us on our head as she did to Peter in today’s reading-----then the wideness of God’s mercy blows a hole into our worldview.
And this is exactly what we need to happen…..we need our understandings to be blown open so that we can become vulnerable enough to receive God’s love, but also so that we can become vulnerable enough to share God’s love.
But for that to happen, like Peter we have some work to do. First, we must unlearn some things we have learned. Even as the Church, maybe especially as the Church. The Church hasn’t always gotten it right, and I am pretty sure we will continue to get it wrong from time to time. But, like Peter, can we be open to a new thing? Can we hold our learning with a bit of lightness so that there is room for the Holy Spirit to continue to work….on us? And for us? And through us?
Secondly, like Peter, we are called to deep listening. We are to deeply listen to those who don’t see and know the world as we do. And we are to listen without the assumption that our way is the best way or the only way or the right way. It is a way. But there are others: Other ways with richness and goodness and beauty. Beloved, listening to the other is listening to the Body of Christ. A part of the Body that may look differently or sound differently or believe differently than us. Rather than listening with judgment, can we move from curiousity? Like Mary, can we sit at their feet and learn?
For then we will hear and see, like Peter and anyone else in Scripture who is paying attention, that God works on the margins; God works on the edges. God comes to the least expected and into the midst of the most unexpected places---shining grace, mercy, jaw-dropping love and life-giving restoration.
Nick and Allison, this is the journey, this is the life, that Tatumn and Jersey are joining today. Not because before today they weren’t God’s children but because today, as their parents, you are saying YES to God’s claim on them and on you. This is a journey of learning and unlearning, learning and re-learning, a journey of deep listening, recalculating, returning and turning. A journey in which we learn to expect the unexpected because God’s grace is always at the center and is the ground on which we stand.
And from this grace-filled center, as we continue to allow our minds and hearts to be blown wide open by God’s audacious love, we hear God calling us to new people, new places, new situations and new understandings; God calling us into the only mission that matters: At-One-Ment. Unity with God and Unity with all people for that is how Creation flourishes. This is how Creation becomes sustainable. Oneness. Through Love. Love that is the working toward the vitality of all created things and all people.
Today, Swain family, we promise to accompany you all----in mutuality. We won’t always get it right. We will probably even disappoint you from time to time. But, we promise to stay at the table with you---to remain committed to you, to Tatumn and Jersey, and to one another. We promise to gather in worship, study and service that will break our hearts and minds open so that we can hear God’s dream and we can see where and how God is already at work. We promise to remain open to learning and unlearning, to deep listening, to expecting to find God on the edges, at the margin, in the most unexpected faces and places.
As Henri Nouwen wrote: To pray…..to listen to the voice of the One who calls us “Beloved” is to learn that that voice excludes no one.”
Beloved, the Holy Spirit is being poured out all over the place. What do you say? Let’s get drenched.
Once the chocolate bunnies are eaten, and the eggs have all been found, and the Easter grass from the baskets is finally no longer dangling in the most absurd of places…….what happens next?
The claim today is that Jesus lives. Really? After the church takes the time to make certain we tell the story of Jesus’ death not once, but twice, in this past week---now we are supposed to believe that Jesus lives? Really?
And, okay, let’s say I fall for that. That I am willing to set aside all logic and reason and enter the mystery and buy the story that Jesus rises from the dead, that life comes from death………and now what? What’s the point? How does believing resurrection make any difference in my life, in your life, in this world?
Well, friends, I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think believing in resurrection is just about getting into heaven. The God of Holy Scripture, the one who forgives the criminals on the cross, who forgives the ones who nail Jesus’ hands to the tree, the God who runs out to meet us after we have disowned him, who leaves 99 to find the wandering and lost one, the God who restores our sight and who heals us so we can walk again after we have crippled ourselves through self-centered choices and greedy decisions, this God of Holy Scripture does not seem very intent on creating a party list to decide who is in and who is out. Instead, this God seems insistent on inviting every last one of us to the banquet---even the one who takes his thirty pieces of silver and betrays with a kiss.
What does it mean then? Why make certain we hear of Jesus’ death if we are only going to be asked to believe that Jesus lives? How do we know Jesus lives? Why would any sane and reasonable person be willing to believe in, to practice, resurrection?
Beloved, God gives us Jesus, this parable of a human life that is meant to help us understand our own lives, so that we can believe that the deaths we face everyday do not have the final word. God gives us resurrection so that we can trust that the tombs of greed, of war, of hatred, the graves of bigotry, of poverty and of indifference DO NOT GET TO HAVE THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY IN OUR LIVES. The stones can be rolled away from these death traps.
Because Jesus lives.
When we refuse to move from fear and anger, Jesus lives.
When we create, vote for, and sustain systems that insure everyone has food, shelter, healthcare, and clean water, systems and laws that recognize every person is equally worthy of having enough: Jesus lives.
When we choose to put an end to violence and vengeance as the cross teaches us, instead of responding with humanity’s sense of justice and move instead from God’s justice of mercy and forgiveness, Jesus lives.
When we recognize that this fragile earth, our island home, isn’t here to serve us but we are here to serve, to tend to and protect her and all the treasures of this Creation, Jesus lives.
When we demand that black lives matter, yes all lives matter, but we know that some lives are privileged and others are not and Jesus has shown us that we are to cross the boundaries and be mindful of and seek to strengthen the status of those who are de-priviliged and weakened and held as less valuable by societal structures, laws, and prison systems, so when we demand that black lives matter, Jesus lives.
When we go to the border and meet the refugee and immigrant with food and water, shelter and healthcare because as we look across the barbed wire we do not see a threat to our own prosperity, but we see a sibling who is created in the same likeness in which we are created, the image of God, when we build a longer table rather than erecting a higher wall, then Jesus lives.
This isn’t political; this isn’t about being republican or democrat, this isn’t about being American or patriotic. This is Gospel. This is about our primary citizenship as members of God’s Kingdom.
So when we stop hoarding, out of fear that somehow we are not going to have enough or we are not going to have as much (preferably more) as our neighbor, and we quit allowing our possessions to possess us, and we look up from our screens and see beloved siblings instead of simply seeing someone else who has something I want or think I need or someone else who got better than me or someone else who has an advantage or comfort that I don’t have, when we look up and out and recognize that we are one thread in this beautiful tapestry of Creation and we actually need all these other threads---even the wonky, crooked, funky-colored ones, then Jesus lives.
When we remove ourselves from the center and put God back on the throne of our hearts and at the center of our lives, Jesus lives. Because then we see differently, hear differently, understand differently. We are atoned---brought back into alignment with God and with one another---made whole and well, even if our bodies and minds still have cracks and dis-ease and dis-comfort. And Jesus lives.
Beloved, we are the Living Body of Christ in the world. Christ has no other hands and feet but ours. We are the beating heart of the One who redeems, the one who saves, the One who lives. Beloved, practice resurrection. Show the world that Jesus lives.a
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.