Sermon preached April 15, 2012
Texts: Acts 4:32-35; I John 1:5-10; John 20:19-23
I am going to begin this morning with a poem and will show it by Power Point as well. The poem is entitled “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” and the poet is Wendell Berry.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go lie with your love in the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Perhaps this poem startles you a bit, or puzzles you a bit. What’s wrong with vacation with pay? Why praise ignorance? Lose your mind?
Berry wants to startle and puzzle us. He wants us to think, and to laugh. The poem should be read both humorously and seriously. There is humor in his seriousness and seriousness in his humor. “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
The final line may be most startling of all. “Practice resurrection.” Whatever we make of Berry’s critique of the contemporary world or of his humorous suggestions for how to live differently I hope we take seriously his encouragement to practice resurrection, because resurrection is something to be practiced. We are Easter people, and it is meant to show in our lives. And sometimes practicing resurrection will mean that we are counter-cultural, that we will question the easy assumptions of the world around us, that we will be different.
Reading the Scriptures for this first Sunday after Easter, we are confronted with texts which tell us something about what it means to practice resurrection. Some of the ways they encourage us to practice resurrection run counter to the ways of the world around us. From each of the three Scriptures we read I want to pick one way we are encouraged to “practice resurrection,” to live as God’s Easter people.
In the reading from the Gospel of John, following the resurrection Jesus finds his way into a locked room where the disciples had gathered. They met behind locked doors because of their fear. Two of the things Jesus says to them: “Peace be with you…. Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Practicing resurrection, being God’s Easter people, means welcoming God’s Spirit and nurturing the spirit in our lives. In one of my sermons during Lent I quoted a young woman who had posted a blog about 15 reasons why she left the church. Here were a couple of her reasons. I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities. I left the church because I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith. I left the church because sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt. (Rachel Held Evans)
In response to her blog, many wrote encouraging her to find a mainline church. “But we’re avoiding all of those pitfalls. We’re inclusive. We’re not judgmental. We care for the community.” Rachel Held Evans responds: Well when was the last time you talked about why you are inclusive, why you embrace science, why you care for the poor? When was the last time you engaged in a serious, church-wide Bible study or launched a series on the spiritual disciplines? Evangelicals are used to being intensely engaged in their faith. If they don’t sense that your church offers them a safe place to wrestle and grow, they won’t come at all. I speak from my own experience, because, while there is much I love and appreciate about mainline denominations, when I visit, I always leave feeling like something’s missing. I miss that evangelical fire-in-the-belly that makes people talk about their faith with passion and conviction. I miss the familiarity with scripture and the intensive Bible studies. I miss the emphasis on cultivating a personal spirituality.
I share that not because we should cultivate our spirituality in response to one woman’s criticisms of mainline churches. I share that because I believe practicing resurrection means we will tend to our inner spiritual life. We will pray. We will engage Scriptures – with our head and our heart. We will explore spiritual disciplines. We will cultivate some fire in the belly, some passion for our faith. We strive for a faith that is passionate, compassionate and thoughtful. That’s counter-cultural. That’s practicing resurrection.
Practicing resurrection also has something to do with forgiveness. In the gospel reading, Jesus speaks of forgiveness. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” I John speaks both of our need to walk in the light, and of our need for forgiveness.
Over the years as a pastor, I have been asked frequently about forgiveness. It is a challenging topic. I am asked about forgiveness, in part, because people have experienced a lot of hurt in their lives, some of it very deep. People have been wounded, sometimes badly. People have been abused, if not physically or sexually, then perhaps psychologically. Then they hear things like, “Christians have to forgive.” Perhaps a Scripture is quoted, such as Colossians 3:13: Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. The directive seems clear, the feelings and experiences less so.
I think Biblical forgiveness is an ideal toward which we strive and a process in which we are engaged. It is not very helpful to think of it simply as a command or a directive. The language in John is interesting. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” I don’t think this makes forgiveness an optional resurrection practice. I think it provides some important complexity to those who simply say “you must forgive.” As Easter people we need to grapple with and be engaged with forgiveness, in all its messiness and complexity.
Here are some important things to remember along the way. Forgiveness does not mean we continue to put ourselves in positions where one who has hurt us can continue to hurt us. Forgiveness does not mean that we act like nothing ever happened. Forgiveness is as significant for our own well-being as for whatever relationship we want to have with the person we forgive. I deeply appreciate the words of Jack Kornfield on forgiveness. Forgiveness is a letting go of past suffering and betrayal, a release of the burden of the past and hate that we carry. Forgiveness honors the heart’s greatest dignity…. Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past. (The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace, 20, 25)
For Christians, forgiveness is not simply something which we seek to enact, it is also something we receive. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not is us. If we confess our sins, the One who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Maybe not language we use every day, but the idea is that we, too, fall short. We, too, need forgiveness. When we recognize that we need forgiveness sometimes, our own ability to forgive increases.
Practicing resurrection, being God’s Easter people, means welcoming God’s Spirit and nurturing the spirit in our lives. Practicing resurrection, being God’s Easter people means grappling with forgiveness. Practicing resurrection, being God’s Easter people also means tending the common good.
Here is a mouthful. The nexus of relationships that forms our existence is… given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence. And from this matrix come resources of grace that can carry us beyond the meanings of our own making, and alert us to goodness that is not of our own willing or defining. (Bernard Meland, Fallible Forms and Symbols, 151). This is a long way of saying that we come into a world in a web of relationships that we did not create, but from which we benefit. Over time, we contribute to that commons, that web of relationships, as well as benefit from it. This is the gift and reality of community, of the common good.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…. Great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them. Is practicing resurrection counter to private property? I don’t think so, but this vision of the early Christian community should grab our attention. As a church we are not simply a collection of isolated individuals. Yes, we are individuals and the church should be helping us along our journey with Jesus. We are also together creating community, something from which we want many to benefit. In community we ask not only, “What’s in it for me?” we also ask, “What’s good for the community?”
This resurrection practice should affect our understanding of politics as well. There is a common good from which we benefit and too which we contribute and we need to think about what is good for the broader human community, the planetary community. Practicing resurrection is counter to a politics of hyper-individualism.
Christ is risen. Practice resurrection. A story.
When our daughter Beth was in India, she was traveling by train and there met a woman from Paris, a woman around age 50. They began talking and the woman was explaining that she was in India to visit friends, and that she had been there before and gave Beth some tips on traveling in India. Anyway, they had a nice conversation, and a more extended conversation than they might have had otherwise because the train was late. Arriving at their destination, the woman became concerned. She had not been able to get a hold of her friends, who were not sure just when she was coming. It was now late, and the woman was not sure where she was going to stay. Beth told the woman that she had a nice hotel room and would be glad to put her up for the night. She could share the large bed. The woman was deeply grateful and told Beth if ever she was in Paris to look her up.
Beth had told us this story, and Beth, Sarah and Julie discussed it again as they traveled to the Twin Cities to take Beth to her flight to Uganda. Julie said she was both proud of Beth, but concerned for that kind of behavior. Beth said, “You know, Mom, I was raised by you and Dad, raised in the church, and I often ask what would Jesus do, and I think Jesus would have invited that woman to spend the night and share the bed.” Then they all laughed because, well, there is sort of a funny side to that. But Jesus makes a difference. That’s the point.
Christ is risen. Practice resurrection. Amen.