Joe Neville

Acts 2:1 4a, 22-32

John 20:19-31

Brookfield

04-03-05

Vibrant Glow

The last two Sundays were wonderful, werenít they? We remember all of the pageantry and celebration, the anthems; a full house. Such special services, especially Easter, are so moving and uplifting. If only we could bask in the glow of Easter a little longer, dwell for a time in our celebration of Jesusí resurrection.

But, Easter is over; itís time to leave it behind and once again go about our usually business in our lives and in our worship. Weíll celebrate again next year. For now, itís time to put our celebration of Jesusí resurrection back in the storage closet with our Easter baskets and decorations, and forget about it until it comes around again a year from now. Our Celebration of the resurrection would seem to be over, and so its impact on our lives.

But actually, Easter is just the beginning of life for Godís people. Far from an ending to the story, it is a new chapter that is continually being written in and through our life.

Itís like a wedding. A wedding is not an end-in-itself celebration with no continuing impact on the life of the couple.  On the contrary, it is a celebration of a new kind of life for them, the beginning of a new relationship which is lived out in the nitty-gritty of everyday existence. The wedding celebration may be in the past; but, the couple continually lives out its implications; it constantly calls, prods, challenges, comforts, and empowers them in their life together.

So it is with our Easter celebration . . .  it is not simply an ending in itself: a party that we throw once a year, but the beginning of a new life for Godís people, a resurrection life which is lived out in the nitty-gritty of everyday existence.  Jesusí resurrection is merely the beginning of a new relationship between God and Godís people, a relationship that continually impacts on our lives as the risen Jesus constantly calls prods, challenges, comforts and empowers us.

Our celebration of the resurrection, far from being shut up in the storage closet of our minds and hearts until next year, is now the motivating force of our existence, the source and ground of our life in the world. We live in the power of Jesusí resurrection every minute of every day.

A major implication of this is set forth in our reading from Acts and the Gospel of John . . . Godís mighty acts of deliverance in raising Jesus from the dead is not just for our benefit; the Christian faith is not primarily about me and Jesus in the sky after I die, or Jesus getting me through my sufferings because he loves me.  More than that, the Easter event creates a community that is turned outward in mission to the world.  The community of Godís people lives in the power of the resurrection by joyfully looking beyond itself to the spiritual and material needs of the world.

In the first part of our reading from John, the risen Jesus appears to the disciples, and the disciples rejoice when they see him. But Jesus doesnít let them remain and bask in the joy of the resurrection. Immediately after giving them his peace, without a momentís hesitation, he gives them a purpose upon which they are now to center their lives. . .  he sends them out into the world: ďAs the Father has sent me, so I send you.Ē

Jesus continues his work in the world, partly through the disciples. The kinds of things Jesus did in his earthly life are the same things the community of disciples did, as detailed in the book of Acts. . .  healing infirmities and social isolation; casting out demons; and, as we heard in our reading from Acts this morning, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness through Christ sometimes in the face of threats, persecution, and death.

The disciples lived in the power of the resurrection.  Easter had a continuing impact on them, by centering their lives outside themselves on the living Christ who has a purpose for his people, and on fulfilling that purpose no matter what it meant for them personally.

As the community of disciples today, we of course have been given the same mission as that first community . . .  bringing the good news of Godís love in Christ to those who currently do not live by it, and serving those who are sick, poor, oppressed, lonely, and so on.

Obviously, we do not have Jesus appear to us and directly send us out with a mission. But we were commissioned for witness and service nevertheless in our baptism.  Our United Church of Christ Baptismal liturgy declares that, God has brought us into a relationship and gathered a community of believers so ďThat we may celebrate Christís presence and further his mission in all the world.Ē

We are charged to bring healing to the worldís material and spiritual needs, confront evil, proclaim Jesus as Lord, and boldly carry out our tasks in the face of oppositions and threats.

Now, to say that our mission is to witness and serve is obviously a very broad statement. The particular form that witness and service will take is unique to each individual and congregation, dependent j on such factors as resources, opportunities, and so n.  Hence, the specific way this congregation will witness and serve must be discerned through dialogue, both formal and informal, both corporate and individual.

Thereís no doubt that God calls us to witness and serve; but discerning the particular things God might be calling us to do is a continual process of dialogue and reflection.

Baptismal life, resurrection Iife, life in the continuing power of Easter, is communal life centered outside this church on the living Christ who has a purpose for this place and on fulfilling that purpose no matter what it means for this church.

Obviously that can be very scary.  Foregoing concern for ourselves and the institutional health of this church raises all sorts of troubling questions: How will our needs be met?  What if an emergency arises?  What will happen to us if we totally trust our life to Christís hands? Will we survive, as individuals, as a church?  Centering our life on Christ and the witness and service to which he calls us is filled with uncertainty and risk, and that always generates apprehension and fear.

Witnessing to our faith and inviting1people to share it raises the fear of offending someone/or being rejected.  Incorporating new people into the church especially, in leadership roles, carries with it the fear of change.  Constantly reaching out to serve others, with our resources, generates fear that our needs wonít be met, our bills wonít get paid.  Confronting evil in the world always carries the danger that weíll be defeated, humiliated, harmed, or even killed.

Because you never know whatís going to happen, a life centered on Christ and his mission can evoke great fear.

The disciples knew fear. They were not always the courageous, self-forgetting community portrayed in the book of Acts. Note how our reading from John began. . . ďThe disciples were hiding behind locked doors because they were filled with fear.

It was only Jesusí gift of peace and the Holy Spirit that overcame their fear. The transformation of the disciples from their fearful hiding seen in Johnís gospel to their fearless proclamation reflected in our reading from Acts was wrought by the Holy Spirit.  The disciples didnít overcome their fear by an act of will; it took a power outside themselves, the Holy Spirit, the living power and presence of God in the world now, to change their fear into courage, their self-concern into concern only for Christ and the mission he gave them.

Jesus didnít just charge his disciples with a mission; he invested his disciples with the power to fulfill it.

Likewise the resolution to our fear lies in receiving the promise of Jesusí peace, and being invested with the Holy Spirit, our power to fulfill our God-given mission of witness and service.

Again, we did not have Jesus directly breathe the Spirit on us.  But nevertheless, we were invested with the spirit and the power the Spirit gives, in our baptism.  The invocation of the Spirit has always been part of the baptismal liturgy, found even in the book of Acts.

In baptism, God calls us to a mission; more importantly, God sends us the Holy Spirit to overcome our fears and empower us to fulfill that mission  The salvation that God has wrought for us through the cross and resurrection of Christ is not just for our benefit; it makes us Godís instruments in the world.

The power of the resurrection, the power of the Holy Spirit, determines our existence in the world, our thoughts, attitudes and actions.

With the emphasis in the bible and Christian thought on humility and not exercising power over others, I think we in the Church have gone overboard.  I think a major problem in the Church is not egotism and pride and the unrestrained use of power, but our failure to claim the authentic power that has been given to us.  We think small acts of witness and service wonít do any good; we think that we canít do anymore than weíre already doing as a community, so we donít look for new opportunities; we think we need to constantly strive for our needs, so we turn inward.

But if the gift of the spirit means anything, itís that our lives are held in Godís hands, and God will accomplish those saving purposes through us. God will bring our efforts, no matter how small they might seem to us, to fruition in Godís kingdom; God will show us how much more we can do, if we give God that chance; God will not let us fall, for we are doing Godís work in this place.

So we live in hope and joy, freed to turn outward and serve. The point of life now is not us, but the work the Spirit gives us to do and the power the Spirit gives us to do it.

Far from basking in the fading glow of Easter, we are surrounded and empowered by the continuing vibrant glow of that day as we live out the new resurrection life our Lord now offers us.

We have been invested with the power of God so that we may accomplish Godís work. Let us claim that power and live by it.