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Sermon and Reflections For The Second Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
"The Insinuating Power of God"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson

The Second Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
'The Insinuating Power of God'

     Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though 
     you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an 
     indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the 
     outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Last Christmas Eve my wife and I stayed up late to watch that old black 
and white classic The Bishop's Wife.  Remember that one? The story centers 
around a troubled Episcopalian bishop named Henry Brougham (played by 
David Niven).  He's trying to do what Christians often like to do: build a 
monument.  In this case, it's a cathedral and he prays for guidance for 
the project.  Well, his prayers are answered.  The problem is that the 
answer arrives in the form of a troubling angel, named Dudley, played with 
rascally charm by Cary Grant.

Dudley discovers some rather nasty facts about the good bishop.  In trying 
to build his cathedral, Henry is selling out his principles and forgetting 
why he became a priest in the first place.  This is having a devastating 
affect on his wife who begins to fall out of love with him.  The small 
church where Henry was once a pastor has fallen on hard times and will be 
shut down when the new cathedral is built.  Once that happens, the poor 
and needy folk whom the small parish serves will be forgotten.  Needless 
to say, it isn't long before Dudley flies into action helping everyone he 
meets but not in the way that they would have expected.  Before long the 
bishop, seeing his plans for a new cathedral profoundly messed up, becomes 
irritated with the heavenly messenger for which he himself prayed and asks 
God to take him back.

Well, it is one of those classic, feel-good stories that is easy to get 
sentimental about; but somehow, I think, it is more than that.  It is a 
story about the salvation of a clergyman's soul.  It is a story about how 
easy it is for Christians to get caught up in things that are not 
important to God at all.  It is a story about how intent God is in 
restoring things to the way they were meant to be, no matter how much 
trouble it causes him or anybody else.  It is a story about the only kind 
of salvation that matters and at one point the film tells us what that is.  
The bishop's wife turns to Dudley, asking forlornly whether or not he 
thinks the world will ever become a better place.  "It will, he says, 
"when people start to act like human beings." 

No matter how that question is finally answered, one gets the feeling that 
God will not rest until every last one of us starts acting like human 
beings.  Or in the words of Teilhard de Chardin,

     Something is afoot in the universe, a result is working out 
     which can best be compared to gestation and birth...

                                    +

It is difficult not to get the feeling that "something is afoot" in this 
week's Easter texts.  Luke's report of Peter's sermon on the Day of 
Pentecost, for instance, lets us know the effect of Easter on the early 
church.  Nothing in Jesus' death was merited or deserved, Peter says.  
Jesus was put to death for one reason and one reason only: he became 
the target of evil men who were intent on destroying him.  In spite of 
that, God raised Jesus from death to vindicate everything he said and 
did.  There are two things worth noting about Peter's sermon and they 
are two things we need to keep in mind about God.  Good Friday and 
Easter are a celebration that reminds us, first of all, that God chooses 
to be vulnerable to the needs of this sinful world.  That's what God was 
doing on Good Friday.  He was present in Jesus, giving him the strength 
and integrity to withstand everything the world in its cruelty can do, 
without once giving up on such a world.  Secondly, it's a reminder that 
God is powerful.  But God's power is different from George Bush's because 
God's power is seen in resurrection, lifting up that which the world 
considers weak, irrelevant and powerless, in fact, confounding the powers 
of this world by vindicating everyone who dares to be vulnerable like God 
is for the sake of love.  God didn't just raise Jesus up.  As a result of 
Easter, he raised up a new people in the world, a people empowered to live
and witness the way Jesus did.

     "This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses." 

That's why the real question about Easter is not how did God do it? That 
is a question that none of the gospels nor the epistles of the New 
Testament are interested in.  The truth is that we can't explain what 
happened, how it happened or even where it happened when it comes to the 
physical resurrection of Jesus.  The stories we have there, including this 
week's gospel account, are not historical accounts of what happened, much 
less "instant replays".  The truth is: the writers of scripture didn't 
care about such questions.  What they did care about was what they 
believed about it and how it affected them.

That is the connection between this week's resurrection account of Jesus' 
appearance to the disciples, including Thomas, and this week's reading 
from first Peter.  Both texts acknowledge the difference between the 
experience of those who came into contact with Jesus during his ministry 
and resurrection appearances and those whose faith came as a result of 
being told about Jesus.  Thomas is given an opportunity to examine the 
risen Jesus, an opportunity not afforded to later believers.  What is at 
stake in these texts is not whether you were there to see it happen, but 
whether or not it made a difference to your life whether you were there or 
not.

     "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to 
     believe." - John 20.29

The people for whom first Peter was written consisted entirely of people 
who had never seen Jesus.  Nevertheless, they had come alive.  Their faith 
was created as a result of the disrupting power of God that began at 
Easter and carried over into the lives of all those who began to preach 
and live the way Jesus had.

     By his great mercy he has given us he has given us a new birth 
     into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What we can say as a matter of historical fact is that followers of Jesus, 
both those who were there and who knew him and those who were not there 
and who never knew him came alive in ways that totally transformed how 
they went about their lives from that moment on as a result of
their faith in a living Lord.  In spite of their profound inclination not 
to do so.  In spite of clear threats to living the kind of life Jesus 
lived, which were just as real and just as intimidating as they were on
were on Good Friday.  In principle, we can call such faith nothing more 
than self-deception if we like; but nothing takes away from the fact of 
such faith, not just for that first few generations of Christians, but for 
untold numbers of people who have been told about Jesus ever since.

That is what first Peter is concerned to tell us: that in spite of the 
fact that this is still a very menacing world, in spite of the fact that 
goodness and integrity are often rejected and do end up on some kind of 
cross in the end, there are people in this world who keep being born into 
something that is

...imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 
who are being protected by God through faith…..  - 1 Peter 1.4-5

Something came alive in this world as a result of the resurrection of 
Jesus and, in spite of the way things are, it shows no signs of dying out.  
The question is: are you and I a part of that something?

                                    +

At the start of this sermon, I quoted the words of Pierre Teilhard de 
Chardin.  He was a visionary French Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist and 
philosopher who spent the bulk of his life trying to integrate the truths 
of science and religious experience.  Most specifically, he tried to 
integrate the findings of evolutionary science with Christian theology.  
The more he discovered through his scientific research, the more convinced 
he became that humankind was moving inevitably toward what he called an 
"Omega point", a convergence at which humanity would finally find its 
heart; and at that point, he said, the human race will have discovered 
"fire" for the second time.  He was an amazing man, an amazing Christian.

And yet, the Church took exception to his writings.  His religious 
superiors began to harass him.  They eventually found him guilty of 
heresy, imposed a sentence of silence upon him, forbade people to read his 
writings and exiled him as a missionary to China as punishment.  He 
suffered terribly for his beliefs at the hands of his fellow Christians, 
eventually making the remark,

     If one tries to break new ground, or to walk in a new path, 
     one walks straight to Calvary.

Rejected by the church, he accepted his exile to China, where he worked 
for 27 years, was one of the participants in the excavation that resulted 
in the discovery of Peking Man in 1929, and wrote two of his most famous 
books, Divine Milieu and The Phenomenon of Man.  He died peacefully on 
Easter Day, 1954, and shortly before his death said to a priest friend, 
"Pray hard for me that I may not die bitter."  In fact, he did not die 
bitter, but he did die as a deserted son of the church.  In spite of that 
he never lost that spirit of excitement and discovery that so energized 
every fibre of his being.  In spite of the way the church treated him, he 
was a living demonstration of that same power that has always raised to 
life all those who simply put their faith in it.

     Little by little the great breath of the universe has insinuated 
     itself into them through the fissure of their humble but 
     faithful action, and has broadened them, and raised them up, 
     borne them on.  - Divine Milieu

That is what Easter is all about, my friends.  Something is afoot in the 
universe.  It is not content to let this be forever a Good Friday world.  
It has insinuated itself through the fissure of all those who exhibit 
humble faith and is drawing us forward to that day when we finally learn 
what it means to act like human beings.

                                    +

Acts 2.14a,22-32 - The report of Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost 
focuses on the centrality of the resurrection of Christ.  Jesus, in spite 
of performing wonderful deeds of goodness, was destroyed by the forces of 
evil.  Nevertheless, God raised Jesus from the dead.  It is one of the 
clearest statements in scripture and one of the earliest statements from 
the early church that 1.  Jesus was not just another good man and 2.  that 
he was not a superman who somehow cheated death.  God is the power behind 
the resurrection for Peter and for all of the New Testament writers.  Life 
has been fundamentally changed because of the activity of God on Easter.

1.	If God was at work in Jesus before his death, what does that say 
about God's vulnerability? How does this change or confirm your 
notion of God?
2.	How does Peter trace God's activity throughout history?
3.	What is the text saying about God's power over all those things that 
threaten human health and happiness?


1 Peter 1.3-9 - This week's gospel reading ends with a blessing.  That 
blessing prompts the selection of this week's epistle.  What was at stake 
for the author was not what the resurrection implied about Jesus, but what 
it accomplishes for all those who have faith.  The resurrection of Jesus 
Christ brings about something like a "new birth" of human beings.  Those 
who are reborn through the resurrection become part of a family that 
nurtures and sustains them from the dangers of living in this world.  What 
the author wants us to know is that Easter demonstrably changed the 
character and purpose of human life both in the present and in the future.

1.	Why would this text have been so important for the second or even 
third generation of Christians?
2.	What does the notion of "an inheritance that cannot be diminished" do 
to your understanding of what is important in this world?
3.	How does such a rebirth change the meaning of suffering?


John 20.19-31 - In the Gospel of John, Jesus' resurrection, ascension and 
the gift of the Holy Spirit do not so much happen chronologically as they 
are merged.  Everything happens on Easter for John.  This week's passage 
stresses the closeness between Jesus and the church.  Although the term 
ecclesia is never used in John, it is clear that John is talking about the 
Christian community.  The church is rooted in and continues the ministry 
of Jesus.  The story about Thomas is not intended to depreciate Thomas' 
experience of seeing and believing, but merely as a way to pronounce that 
the same faith is available to all who believe.

1.	Why is the portrait of a church behind "closed doors" an appropriate 
image?
2.	How is the church to forgive sins? Why?
3.	List some things you or your community have done that exhibit the 
power of resurrection?


FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - My heart is moved by all I cannot save: / so much 
has been destroyed / I have to cast my lot with those / Who age after age, 
perversely, / with no extraordinary power, / reconstitute the world.  - 
Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language


HYMN:  We Shall Go Out with Hope of Resurrection  (Voices United 586)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2005
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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