Sermons

"The Resurrection Difference": Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

"The Resurrection Difference": Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

Apr 08, 2018

Passage:Acts 4:32-35

Preacher: The Venerable Chris Wrampelmeier

Series: Easter

Category: Discipleship, Faithfulness, Resurrection

Keywords: abundance, faithfulness, resurrection, saints

Summary:

The disciples certainly changed how they behaved after the resurrection. They moved from being cowering, questioning, and uncertain to being bold proclaimers of the gospel. What is the message for us all this Second Sunday of Easter?

Detail:

What a difference a resurrection makes! In the Gospel, the disciples have huddled together, locking themselves in a house for protection from the religious authorities. Their leader brutally killed, they are scared and aimless. All on which they had counted is gone, their faith shaken. Jesus returns to them, revealing himself.

These are the same apostles who never quite understood what Jesus was teaching when they were his disciples. They were the same who abandoned Jesus at his arrest. They denied knowing him.

When we pick up the story in Acts, the apostles are radically changed from how we saw them in the gospels.While uneducated and ordinary men, Peter and John now stand up to the crowd, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees when the Jewish leadership tries to the suppress their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter and John refuse to be silent and continue to preach.The apostles are confident. They heal the lame. People flock to them. They have becomeleaders and holy men.

That difference is reflected in the description of the community of followers. The believers were of one heart and soul. They were utterly selfless. They voluntarily gave their private property to the community. The apostles distributed goods to each as each had need. No one went without.

          The description is that of a golden age of the church. No believer goes hungry. Church leadership fearlessly speaks truth to power, not backing down even though the powerful have demonstrated their ability to kill. Even when persecuted and flogged, the apostles rejoice that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for sake of Jesus’ name. Rather than being intimidated, they persist in teaching and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.

          Sadly, the rest of church history does not universallyfollow this same example. Church leadership often was the power. Church authorities often persecuted those who spoke the truth. Believers starved while the church built great monuments. In many times and places, the church horded wealth, taxing the populace to amass treasure and temporal power. Bishops became lords, leading armies to preserve and increase their lands.

Other Christian communities, particularly those not in power,chose different, inspiringpaths for Christian living. Some were monastic orders that mirrored the community in the Acts of the Apostles and extended help to those outside of the cloister.A story about St. Francis illuminates the difference between these approaches to Christian living. The Bishop of Assisi visited St. Francis’s order. The bishop became alarmed because the friars had no comforts and no possessions. They ate anything they could get and slept on the ground. St. Francis dismissed the bishop’s concerns, replying, “If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.”Of course, the bishop needed those weapons and laws to preserve the benefitshe had.

Others simply provided aid to thosewho lived near them, even when they did not have much themselves.The winner of the Golden Halo in this year’s Lent Madness was Anna Alexander, the first African-American deaconess of the Episcopal Church. The daughter of emancipated slaves, Anna was born in 1865 in coastal Georgia. Starting with little, Anna took on all types of work to raise the money to buy the land for a permanent Episcopal Church and school in Pennick, Georgia,a settlement of descendants of freed slaves.Deaconess Anna’s students went on to become teachers, nurses, and other professionals, leaders in their communities who went on themselves to promote the education and civil rights of African-Americans in the South.During the Great Depression, Deaconess Anna lobbied for government and private relief for the white and black poor.Good Shepherd Church and School still exist today, carrying on Anna Alexander’s legacy.Being generous, carrying for others, and making a great difference do not require a large budget or even many people.

The history of the church leaves us proud in some ways, ashamed in others. We are writing St. Andrew’s part of the history of the church. How we live as a religious community matters. What we do as a community can change lives and is an example to the world. We may not be called to surrender all our private property for the church community to share, but we are called to discern how our community’s resourcesmay be shared to benefit the needy within our church and the needy outside our church.

These may seem harddecisions.We have a large physical plant that needs maintenance and investment. Our church’s budget is not fully funded; how can we talk about other financial commitments? How do we balance our concern for others with a sense of fairness? No one likes generosity to be abused. We want people to become self-sufficient and not dependent on us. How do we strike that balance?Do we focus our aid on parishioners or on non-parishioners? Do we try to cover everyone’s needs? Can we even make a difference?How do we keep going if our giving attracts more people needing help?

We can address these decisions with guilt about what we have versus what others do not. We can tackle these issues with a scarcity mindset. There are not enough dollars. There will not be enough dollars. The problems are too great for what we can do. We can discuss these issues in misery or with dread.

Alternatively, we can look to the example of the community of believers in Acts. What they did, they did with joy. What they did, they did out of love, not out of some dreadful duty. What they did reflected who they were and what they believed. They were the original Jesus Movement.

For our church, it can be the same way because we have seen it work. This church cheerfully maintains a Sunday breakfast program that now feeds more than just our congregants. Without fanfare, the breakfast has become an outreach arm of this church. Besides providing food and a place out of the cold, the Sunday breakfast offersus a space to get to know visitors, including the homeless, and for them to get to know us. The breakfast provides an environment in which we can share the needs of church members, such as who needs childcare,yardwork, or just a visit, and share what resources can address those needs. All this occurs over bacon and eggs. And this is just one means by which St. Andrew’s is working in the world.

In his book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Jonathan Haidt examines why humans everywhere have religions. He concludes,

We humans have an extraordinary ability to care about things beyond ourselves, to circle around those things with other people, and in the process to bind ourselves into teams that can pursue larger projects. That’s what religion is all about.

As members of the Jesus Movement and members of St. Andrew’s, we are bound together in a team that can do much more than anyone of us individually. This church is exploring new ways to be a community that reflects what we believe, that cares about things beyond ourselves.One idea involves helping our neighbors have better access to affordable vegetables and fruit. Each Halloween, we serve candy, hot dogs, and chips to large crowds at Trunk or Treat; maybe we can add a similar, but healthier ministry. We will explore working with our neighboring public schools to discern the needs of our neighborhood and how to meet those needs. We could grow produce on church grounds. We can find ways for parishioners to grow food at home to share. We may exploreinvitingfarmers to sell their produce here on special occasions to encourage our neighborhood to come outfor healthier food. We have the large parking lot for it.

From these ideas, other ideas will emerge.Some will be successful ideas; some may not be.Some ministries will be sustained by many, some by a few. Together, these ministries will define St. Andrew’s to the outside world and, in large measure, to its congregation. It used to be that buildings could define a church. Times are changing. We are going back to the early days of the church when how we treated each other, not what we had, gave us our identity.

St. Andrew’s is a church shaped by resurrection. One Sunday twenty-two years ago, fire destroyed everything on this land but Lowndes Hall. The congregation grieved, suffered, and split apart. The resurrection of our church, both the buildings and the congregation, took longer than three days, but that resurrection, like the resurrection of Jesus for the first Christian community, changed who we were. That change lives on, reflected in how we welcome others and how we see ourselves. May the members of this community gladly and lovingly show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith, shining as a beacon to the world in how they care for those inside this community and those without.