Second Sunday of Easter
1 John 1:1-2:2
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in community. Amen
Today we hear reinforced in our readings
that for better or worse,
the way Jesus has decided to come to us,
to continue the relationship post resurrection
is through community,
namely the community of disciples
that gathers in Jesus’ name,
or as we sometimes call it ‘the Church’ with a capital ‘C’
Thomas was absent
the first time Jesus appeared to the community of the disciples,
and while his demands
have been played up as doubt vs the disciples’ belief,
all Thomas wanted
is what the other disciples first received,
to see Jesus,
and when he is with the community the next week
Jesus comes again
and Thomas has his chance
and exclaims “My Lord and my God.’
Out of Thomas’ questioning
comes deep faith,
facilitated by the community gathered.
Then the gospel writer
takes the opportunity to offer a blessing
for all of us who have believed
without placing our hands on the resurrected Jesus
as Thomas had opportunity to.
We may not have placed our finger
in the spot on Jesus’ hands
where the nails when in,
nor have we place our hand in his side
where the soldier’s sword pierced him
but we have all encountered the body of Christ on earth,
we would not be here today
had we not come into contact at some point with that body
and members who make up that body,
who brought Jesus to us and into our lives,
because that is how the gospel message is spread,
through the community.
We heard in Acts,
the history book of the early church,
how the church formed and spread
after the ascension of Jesus,
how the believers were of one heart and soul,
how they gathered together to hear the testimony of the apostles
and how each member of the community was as valued as the next,
as lived out in the distribution of communal property
such that poverty in the community was wiped out.
Other places in Acts
tell how this community attracted more and more believers every day.
Now I don’t know about you,
but to me that sounds like a pretty good community to be a part of.
In confirmation this week our lesson,
was on The Church,
each lesson starts out with a Bible passage
and questions to get us into the lesson
and this week the passage was a very similar passage in Acts
as our first reading,
and the writers of the curriculum remarked
that the description of the early church
sounded like a party that anyone would want to join,
then asked the confirmands to consider
how the actions of the church members
helped or hindered how Christ’s message first spread.
In talking about it
we agreed that the character of the community
had a lot to do with the success of the early church,
and then we agreed that it is still the case,
how church members and communities act
make or break how the message of Christ is spread,
whether or not people want to take part in the community,
the primary place in which God chooses to be revealed in the world.
And if the community is like the one described in Acts,
but we don’t have to think very hard
to find an example of when a community
did not live in a way that made people want to take part in the community
in fact I think it might almost be easier
to think of negative examples,
the times of exclusion, hate,
petty bickering and power dynamics
and all of a sudden
what sounded like gospel
the proclamation that Jesus comes to us in community,
starts to sound like law,
because we are intimately aware of the fact
that the church is not perfect,
nor are the people that make up the church perfect
and yet we’re the primary way
that Jesus uses to build relationships with people?
That’s a lot of pressure,
there is a lot riding on our imperfect selves
and the imperfect community we make up.
But lest our despair at our imperfections
cause us to give up on the community
, as so many have done,
there is a word of grace,
that when we sin we have an advocate in Jesus Christ.
John, in our second reading
addresses the reality of the Christian community,
both the good and the bad,
his description of how the community works is beautiful,
how the older community members share their experiences
and build relationships with new community members
so that in these relationships,
relationship with God is built,
and then John acknowledges the reality
that communities don’t always practice what they preach,
just saying we have fellowship with God is not enough,
we must also live out that fellowship.
John doesn’t seem too concerned
about the particulars of the sin
present in the community,
he acknowledges that it’s better not to sin
but if anyone does
there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus,
what John seems more concerned about
is the failure to acknowledge our sin,
from this passage
we get the line that is used in confession and forgiveness
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The key then to the Christian community
is authenticity rather than perfection,
I mean which community would you rather belong to?
one that pretends it’s perfect
and points out others’ imperfections
or one that acknowledges its faults,
asks for forgiveness
and moves forward with the intent of not repeating those past mistakes or harmful actions.
I know which one I choose,
and strive to create.
and perhaps that’s the genius
of God working through an imperfect community
and imperfect people,
it’s the way to connect with others
who are not perfect
and to share with them the grace
that has transformed our lives.
One person who has lived this out in a very public way
that comes to mind
is Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber,
she’s a Lutheran pastor and public theologian and author
and has been quite open about her struggles in life with addiction,
and through her openness about her imperfections
and her experience of grace
God has used her to gather a community of people,
many of whom who have felt excluded by other Christian communities in the past
because of their imperfections.
I’ve heard her speak several times
and a couple times she’s mentioned
that some people at her church
have told her they feel less intimidated coming and confessing to her
because they know that she’s done way worse things
and that God has forgiven her.
When we’re in a less than ideal situation,
it’s comforting to know
that there is someone else who has been through it
and survived and thrived,
and that is the essence of Jesus,
Immanuel, God with us,
who has experienced everything we do,
and who live and loves us still,
in fact on Maundy Thursday we heard Jesus command the disciples
“to love one another as I have loved you, by this everyone will know that you are my followers, if you have love for one another.”
The mark of the community gathered around Jesus
that he first shared in a community,
that he continues to share in community.
Jesus comes to us in community,
Jesus comes to us in community
so that as a community
we can live and share the gospel message of Jesus’ love.
That is why we are all here,
imperfections and all,
to experience the love of God
through one another,
and to share that experience with the whole world
so that like Thomas
all may exclaim “My Lord and my God.” Amen
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
“So they went out and fled from the tomb
for terror and amazement had seized them;
and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
I love how Mark ends his Gospel,
it is so honest,
I mean imagine if you were at the tomb on that morning,
expecting to care for the body of your teacher and friend
who you had seen crucified the other night,
and then placed in the tomb
by other followers with a big stone covering the opening
there would be no reason to think
that Jesus would be any place other than where you left him.
when the women arrive,
the tomb is open,
the stone is rolled away
the first sign something is up
and when they go into the tomb
they find not Jesus
but a young man dressed in white
the traditional color of garments of messengers of God,
a startling occurrence on several levels
and even crazier than not finding Jesus’ body
is the message from the young man,
that Jesus has been raised from the dead,
that he’s alive and moving about the world
and going ahead to Galilee
and that they and the disciples should go meet him there.
“So they went out and fled from the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
God has just changed the rules
on what is supposed to be permanent.
No wonder they are afraid,
it’s a lot to take in,
they probably wondered if someone was playing a joke on them,
and who would believe them if they told anyone anyway,
so they didn’t say anything.
But here we are.
Word obviously got out,
that seems very human to me too,
whatever it is, everyone seems to find out in the end.
Even the first hearers of Mark’s story
knew what happened,
and that’s another reason why I love this end
because it’s not an ending,
it’s a beginning,
it’s the beginning of life
where death no longer has the last say
and it’s an invitation to all of us
to experience that life,
and if we want more than an empty tomb,
if we want to see the risen Christ
we must go to Galilee where he has promised to meet us.
Jesus brings his disciples back to Galilee
because that is where Jesus did his ministry,
a ministry that lived out resurrection in in daily life,
commentator Philip Ruge-Jones remarks that
“Sown throughout Mark’s gospel
are stories that explain
what baptismal resurrection looks like in daily life.”
Jesus’ ministry is all about raising people up,
and this started long before the empty tomb.
So what does resurrection look like in daily life?
It looks like Jesus
lifting up Simon’s mother in law
from the bed where she lay with a fever,
healing her and restoring her ability to serve (1:29)
returning her to her place of honor.
It looks like Jesus calling out to Levi son of Alphaeus
who was sitting in a tax booth
certainly collecting more than prescribed for his own benefit,
and Levi getting up and following him.
And later Jesus eating dinner with the tax collectors and sinners
because they needed him more than the righteous people
that the scribes would rather have Jesus associate with (2:13)
Resurrection in daily life
looks like God bringing growth to seeds scattered on the ground
while people go on with their daily lives
oblivious to the seeds
until it is time to collect the grain from the plants that have grown up (4:26).
And these are only a few of the examples,
small daily occurrences,
moments of new life
in the midst of a world that deals mainly in death,
moments that affirm
that death does not have the last say.
The resurrected Jesus
has promised to meet us in Galilee,
and while Galilee is a place you can still visit,
it is not necessary to buy a plane ticket to see Jesus
because the Galilee where we can meet Jesus
is right next door to us.
The Galilee that Jesus goes to ahead of us today
is anywhere there are people who are hungry, cold,
abused, without power,
Galilee is on the margins
where ‘nice’ people don’t go,
Galilee is where people are dying,
Galilee is where Jesus is needed the most,
where resurrection is needed the most.
If we go there,
we will see Jesus,
who knows what it means to suffer and die,
who answers death with resurrection.
If we go to Galilee we will see the life
that comes after the death of a relationship,
when after what seems like a long time love is found.
If we go to Galilee
we will see nurses and CNAs and other caregivers
taking care of their elderly charges
even though they haven’t been paid in three weeks
and other communities giving funds
to make sure there is food and medicine for the most vulnerable.
If we go to Galilee,
we will see things that we thought were permanent,
sickness, addiction, loneliness,
we will see all these things redeemed
and brought to new life
in ways that right now we cannot even imagine
all because even though Jesus died on Friday,
he rose on Sunday,
overcoming the ultimate power of death.
Today Christ is risen!
And it’s only the beginning,
The story continues tomorrow,
and the next day
and the next...Amen
Many thanks to Philip Ruge-Jones’ commentary on workingpreacher.org for shaping this sermon
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.